Friday, April 22, 2016

Featured Author: Mark Pettinger

Featured Author of the Month: Mark Pettinger

Q&A by Susan Lobban, originally posted on our eReader1 UK facebook page, 2015

Mark is the author of detective mystery books The Decalogue (DCI Priest Series Book 1) and Tick Tock Time's Up (DCI Priest Series Book 2)

 1. How did you decide to become an author? What/Who inspired you?
Mark –  I had been fascinated by true crime books for years, and once I had digested all that I could get my hands on I decided to turn to crime fiction. At the time I was driving a lot and had little time to read a physical book, so I invested in my first audio book – a Rebus novel from Ian Rankin. There was no going back from there. I consumed everything that I could get my hands on from Rankin, before expanding my selection into Val McDermid, Mark Billingham and so on. But, my inspiration was definitely Ian Rankin. In terms of why I decided to ‘take up the pen’, put quite simply, there is an old cliché that everyone has a book inside them, and as I sat a continued to read Rankin, I thought do you know what, I can do this. Somewhat of a blasé and arrogant personal statement at the time….but time has shown that I do have it in me – and I enjoy it immensely.

2. Can you describe your typical writing day?
Mark – At present, I am not a full time writer. As such I need to wrap my writing around my day job, which generally means whipping out the old laptop in hotel rooms, airport lounges or on the York to London train. Occasionally I am fortunate to be able to dedicate a sustained period of focus for my writing – say 24/48 hours, this is when I make some real progress with my current WIP.

3. How do you come up with your plot lines/characters?
Mark – LOTS of coffee! No seriously, lots of coffee. Well, not quite. Three years ago I was on a business trip to India, the return flight was long and through the night. Personally, I am unable to sleep on an aeroplane, so I took advantage of the 8-hour self-imposed captivity, and I managed to create and develop a number of plot lines that might serve me for another 3 or 4 books.
I knew when writing the debut, that DCI Priest was going to be as series, so I spent a considerable time developing all of the character profiles and back stories (name, age, physical description, traits/habits, education, work experience, love life). Each of the main characters has a documented profile some 8/10 pages deep. Some of the characters are loosely based on people I know; either partial names or physical descriptions, or some of those annoying habits they have – I couldn’t possibly reveal which friends though.

4. Do you know how your book will end before you start writing or does it sometimes change along the way?
Mark – I always know how the book starts, and how it will end…the middle always changes along the way. My writing style is to understand the main plot, and any sub-plots and to be clear on the start and end of the book. From there I try to map out the structure of each chapter, and key events along the timeline, so I know what is happening as I write….BUT, things change, and that’s fine. You accept change if it is for the better. When you are working through the story, line by line, you know far more than you did when you first sat down to map out the end-to-end storyline. So yes, the story changes, although I have to be honest, it doesn’t fundamentally move from the main storyline that I developed prior to penning the first word, first chapter.

5. Do you ever get writer's block and if so how do you get through it?
Mark – I haven’t experienced a significant, or serious, period of writer’s block. Of course I get the odd time when I can’t seem to find the right words – my brain runs at 1000mph, but sometimes the messages don’t reach my fingers. To remedy this, I simply walk away from the laptop and do something completely different for an hour, before returning to pick up where I left off. They say that a change is as good as a rest, and a short-term change of focus, or activity, seems to do the trick.

6. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Mark – Firstly know that you can do it; you can. Everyone can write a short story, novella or novel. Your first attempt might not be very good, but who cares? Go back to it and refine it, and keep doing so until you are happy with it. Once you are 100% happy with what you have written, I guarantee it will still be rubbish because you are the only one that has seen it. Now you need to engage with your beta readers; send your work to several people to read it and provide you with some constructive feedback. Whilst it is tempting to use your family or friends, I would urge against this as they will generally provide positive feedback ‘because it’s you’. Once you have implemented the changes derived from the beta reader feedback (and you will be amazed at how obvious their constructive feedback is – wow, how did I not see that?) you should send your work to an editor and / or proof-reader. Once again, upon the receipt of their feedback you will realise how far from perfect it was……but this is good….you are continually learning, and your work is getting better after each draft.
The point is this; if you want to write, then write. If you feel that you have it in you; then go for it. You need to apply yourself appropriately as it’s a long haul, but the rewards are, well, wonderfully intangible. It doesn’t matter how many books you sell, or how much royalties you make; the feeling of achievement trumps all the tangible rewards (says the man who doesn’t have JK Rowling’s bank balance).

7. What are you reading right now?
Mark - At the minute I am trying to get started on Luke Delaney’s Cold Killing and The Keeper. This is an author I have been trying to read for some time; if time continues to escape me, I will take them both on holiday this summer.

8. Which do you prefer kindle or paper books?
Mark – There is certainly a place for both formats, and with the exponential growth in all things digital, we can expect more and more of us to be reading a digital book. However, I think it will a couple of generations before paper books eventually die out (like the VHS cassette or Vinyl record). Sorry, back to your question; whilst I read both, I do prefer a physical book.

9. Did you self publish? Do you think this a good or bad thing for the future of books?
Mark – I did self-publish the debut DCI Priest book The Decalogue. Like most aspiring authors, I did an initial round of agent query letters, sending off my first three chapters and a synopsis; then sat back and waited for the inevitable rejection letters. I’m one of the most optimistic people you will ever meet, but even I know that the odds are stacked against you. Even if you have a great story, wonderfully told with engaging characters, and the clear potential for a long running series; you may still be rejected because ‘that genre is so packed right now’ or ‘we already represent enough writers in your genre’.
My personal opinion is that self-publishing is good for the industry, good for the writer, and good for the reader. There are so many great writers out there who would not be read were it not for their desire to publish their stories and let the public decide. I know a few authors that self-published their first book, then went on to publish their second/third by more a traditional route – no doubt catching the eye of those agents and publishers that rejected their debut.
I’m not cynical about the traditional publishing process, good writers with good stories will always find a way to bring their books to the public – and all power to them (and me!)

10. For someone who has not read your books before, how would you describe your writing style?
Mark – Within the genre of crime fiction, my books are best described as a morphing between a sturdy police procedural with an emotional thriller. As such, my writing style is relatively detailed and descriptive, ensuring that the characters back stories and known and presented in support of the plot / sub-plot. Attention to detail is key, with extensively researched, and described, process and procedures, locations, buildings, and so on. I don’t take the descriptive detail to the n’th degree like Dan Brown (Da Vinci Code), but the detail is where the devil lives.

11. Do you have any new books in the pipeline?
Mark – The second in the DCI Priest series Tick Tock Time’s Up will be published summer 2015. The story follows DCI Priest and his team as they try to locate a young boy that has been kidnapped; but after the kidnapper unusually establishes contact, the team know that they have finite timeline within which to save the boy’s life; and the clock is ticking.

12. Where is the best place for readers to find out more about you?
 Mark – Visit my website

13. Surprise us with something we don't know about you?
 Mark – So, as well as fitting the writing in around a day job and a young family, I also find time to coach an U11 football team

14. and very importantly..... which do you prefer tea or coffee?
 Mark – Coffee, preferably a latte.

 Check out Mark's books at The Decalogue (DCI Priest Series Book 1) and Tick Tock Time's Up (DCI Priest Series Book 2)
See his website

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