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Interview: Mark Charan Newton

1 August 09 words: James Walker

"People love to immerse themselves in secondary worlds. You'd be surprised, some series go on for ten books or more."

Mark Charan Newton’s impressive debut novel Nights of Villjamur is not your usual fantasy fiction. Written almost in a noir style, rather than epic battles and endless magical creatures, there is a strong emphasis on character development where everyone’s story is linked. In this sense he is being hailed as one of a new breed of innovative fantasy authors, following on in the tradition of China Miéville, Alan Campbell and Hal Duncan. With suicides, political corruption, sexually ambiguous heroes and an impending ice age forcing droves of refugees into the fantastical landscape of Villjamur, this dying earth fantasy has something for everyone.

Tell us a little about yourself…
In a nutshell: 28 years old, and have lived in Nottingham for nearly five years now, since I moved with work. I've been writing for about six or seven years. It was never an ambition of mine at first, but very slowly it became an obsession. Other than that, I'm just a regular person, I love my music and would regularly trawl Selectadisc before it closed. I love the Alley Cafe (as I'm vegetarian) and I have way too many books.

When did you get the idea for the book?
It's something that came to me slowly, a combination of ideas of which I don't think there was any one spark. I tend to work in layers, I'll have one idea, then link something else on top, then another. I have general inspiration from the world around, but I think anyone can come up with an idea for a novel. The tricky thing is putting it down on paper.

How did you go about getting published?
Well my first step was getting an agent, a guy called John Jarrold who specialises in fantasy and science fiction. I sent him a few chapters of a book about five years ago and he wrote back to tell me he'd like to represent me. I was over the moon, understandably, but it was a long time until I became published. I worked on a couple of books, without success. Then with Nights of Villjamur, he sent it around to all the major publishing houses in London and luckily one accepted.

The book is part of a trilogy, have you written the others yet?
It's actually shaping up to be a quartet at the moment. I've just submitted the second in the series to my editor (for her to hack into with her red pen). I've a rough idea of the third, although I quite like the process of tackling each book on its own. Things change throughout the writing process and I enjoy the creative freedom.

Why are trilogies so popular with the fantasy genre?
That's a good question. I suppose the main issue is the fact that people love to immerse themselves in secondary worlds. You'd be surprised, some series go on for ten books or more. Readers often love to spend their time in such places to exercise their imagination, as the real world can be quite mundane at times. The other aspect is that the stories involved are actually quite epic, so we need more words to cope with the scale.

Given the complexity of these alternative worlds, plot must be perfectly constructed. You need to sign-post readers without patronising them...
If you've built the world well enough, then you can find your way around a plot pretty easily. You can also write plots that you'd expect to find in the real world on themes like love and murder, for example. You'd be surprised that people are generally very good at keeping up with extremely complex plotting. I tend to just expect readers to keep up with me, that way they're not being patronised. But as long as a world and story is consistent, this never becomes an issue. People get lost when things don't make sense.

Who are your influences?
I have quite a few, from all kinds of genres. Whether or not they show in my own fiction is another matter. But in no particular order, the main writers I love are China Miéville, Don DeLillo, M John Harrison, Henning Mankell and Jonathan Letham.

What makes a good fantasy novel?
That's the million dollar question. There are no rules and tastes differ completely. Fantasy is vast, it transcends simply wizards and elves or whatever people might think fantasy is. From Salman Rushdie to Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman to Gabriel García Márquez, they are all writing fantasy. There are no rules, and tastes differ completely.

Do you have a favourite character in your book?
I like the miserable but slightly useless detective. I think he's got a real world charm about him, and deals with real problems in his home life. But I'm surprised with the reactions so far. Readers tend to like characters who I certainly don't think they'll like.

When can we expect the second novel to come out? Is there pressure from the publisher to meet exact deadlines?
It should be a year from this one, so June 2010 in hardcover and around the same time the first book will come out in paperback. They like to release books a year apart for commercial reasons. I'm up to speed so far, but have no idea how I'll be doing in a year from now!

You can invite any four fantasy figures or authors to dinner who would they be?
What a question! Hmmm... I'd probably invite China Miéville because he's a cool and smart guy, Gene Wolfe because he's one of the most intelligent writers on the planet, Silk Spectre II from Watchmen and Arwen from Lord of the Rings (but only the Liv Tyler version). Do I have to explain the reasons for those last two?

Any advice to up and coming authors?
Write and write some more. Believe it or not, that's the biggest obstacle to those who want to be a writer. Try to get all the way through a novel and once you have done that, try another one. It could take years to be published. You have to really want it, and don't be put off by rejection.

Nights of Villjamur is out now priced £16.99 in hardback from Tor publishers.

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