🎉🎉🎉 Happy Publication Day to Mark Pepper 🎉🎉🎉 Man Down is out today!!
Big thanks to Sean Coleman for inviting me on the blog tour and to Mark for his insightful answers!
Matt Spiller drives a souped-up taxi, suffers from SAD, and has a troublesome past.
It’s Christmas Eve, and one of his fares is about to become extremely problematic.
Helen Spiller still loves her husband, but can no longer live with his moods.
She’s a wonderful mum, with a screw quietly working loose in her head.
Now, their eldest daughter has hooked up with a very bad boyfriend.
Spiller thinks he has the skillset to handle all these problems.
He’s dead wrong.
Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you come to write novels?
I left the University of London in 1987 with a Desmond (2:2) in History. Went to RADA, graduated three years later. Travelled to Hollywood and had an amazing acting career, starring in many major movies and winning several Oscars. Woke up, realised that hadn’t happened (still 1990), so decided writing would pass the time while I was “resting” and waiting for the above mentioned dream to come true. An idea for a novel had been bubbling for a while, based on an experience when I was in Los Angeles in the summer of 1987, plus some odd events from that period, and some strange feelings. Gosh, am I enigmatic, or what? That first book was the unpublished “Returntime”, which was later completely rewritten as “Veteran Avenue”. Hodder & Stoughton published “The Short Cut” and “Man on a Murder Cycle” hardback and paperback from 1996 to 1998, then I took a nearly 20-year break from writing, for reasonsbest shared over multiple beers. Loads of jobs under my belt over the years, including taxi driver, bin man, and Class 1 HGV driver. Attempted a teaching career in 2006, attaining a PGCE in Secondary Drama. Belatedly realised I don’t like other people’s children. Come on, who does? Been working as an Intelligence Analyst for various US companies/organisations for the past 15 years. I could tell you more about that, but then I’d have to kill you.
What was the last book you read that made a real impact on you?
The fact that I’ve had to look at my bookcase for inspiration tells you how little I read. I much prefer non-fiction, so, from that category, I’d say “Mortal Error” by Bonar Menninger. Picked it up in the States years ago, and still a superb read.
Who were the biggest influences on you growing up that led you to be a writer?
It didn’t occur to me that I could be a writer until I was 24. No inspirational schoolteachers on that score, I’m afraid. On the writing side, Stephen King. And a bunch of unnamed novelists I disliked that made me wonder if I could do better.
Tell us what inspired you to write Man Down?
I like to ring the changes. “The Short Cut” was horror, albeit a little tongue-in-cheek; “Man on a Murder Cycle” was horror-thriller, and relentlessly dark; “Veteran Avenue” mixed a lot of genres, including thriller, adventure, crime, mystery, military, and romance. For “Man Down”, I wanted to see if I could maintain the intrigue in a thriller where the protagonist is in every scene, and the viewpoint is singular throughout, while keeping it third-person, as I’m not a big fan of first-person narrative. I also wanted to see if I could create reader empathy for an extremely flawed character.
How did you come up with the title?
We were looking for a strapline to go with the original title, “Backstory”, which had been in place since day one. I came up with the simple “Man Down” (which works on more than one level), and the insightful Sean at Red Dog preferred that as the title. Definitely the right decision.
Cast your mind back to the first book you had published… How did it feel to hold your first novel in your hand for the first time? How does that compare to other first times in your life?
Oddly muted, as I recall, which surprised me at the time. Just had the sense that it was only the first hurdle, and the track would be a long one. I remember feeling I should have been happier, but I feel that about a lot of things. Getting married, becoming a dad, and all that family stuff, is hugely more rewarding.
When do you do your best writing?
When I’m feeling upbeat about life. I have plenty of time to write, but I will too often seek out ways to avoid sitting at my desk.
How important is the setting or location of your books in telling the story?
Crucial. I see everything in my head as I write, like I’m watching a movie, so it needs to be vivid and interesting. What Stephen King termed “skull cinema”.
What did you edit out of this book?
Excess profanity. Even I was shocked.
How thoroughly do you plot a book before starting?
I don’t. I have an idea for a main character, and a vague premise. Then I start and see where it goes. Like life, really. I may occasionally jot down an idea for a future chapter if it’s a cracker and I think I’ll forget it. Then I do forget it, and also where I jotted it down. But, if I can’t remember something, I assume it wasn’t that dope in the first place. Can I use “dope” at 55?
What do you do to shut off, or are your characters always talking to you?
They never bloody shut up.
Do you need a big ego to be a writer?
I hope not. I’d say that would be a huge hindrance. People with egos rarely take advice or accept the need to change. Those aren’t creative traits.
Do you read your reviews? How do you cope with the good and the bad?
Absolutely. Everyone loves a good review. Writers just have to take bad reviews on the chin, but pay attention if there’s a negative consensus. Reviews are our consumer testing, although you have to accept that you can’t please everyone. Tempting fate here, but I’ve only ever had one bad review. An Amazon reader liked my writing but hated the story of “Man on a Murder Cycle” for being too grisly and having too many flawed “caracthers”. I think some people should read the title and back blurb before buying a novel. There’s usually a clue in there somewhere.
What was the best money you ever spent for your writing career?
Setting up a website, www.markpepper.com. My monthly stats suggest I’m the only one who visits, but, hey…
What distracts you from your writing most frequently?
What? What was the question? Ha, look at that fainting goat.
What do you want your readers to feel at the end of your book?
Sad it’s over, so they want to read it again straight away, or seek out another of my books.
Do your characters always do what you tell them?
My characters often behave in ways that surprise me. That probably sounds like arty BS, because of course I’m in control of what they do and say, but, as I don’t really plot, I get a lot of eureka moments with my characters’ actions that probably wouldn’t happen if I mapped everything out. So it often does feel like they’re doing their own thing.
What are your writing routines? Are you disciplined or freeform?
I don’t have any. “Freeform” is a lovely euphemism.
How many drafts did you do of this book?
I am a fastidious, slow writer, because I like to craft my sentences properly (IMHO) first time. Also, my storiesoften end up pretty interwoven, meaning I wouldn’t be able to change a little without changing a lot. It would be like removing a supporting block from a Jenga game. The initial intended publisher of “The Short Cut” (before they folded and sold it to Hodder & Stoughton) put a big red line through the entire second half of the novel. They just didn’t like where it went. So I rewrote. I learnt from that to carefully monitor the plot as it develops to make sure it hangs together and survives scrutiny. Since then,my first draft has effectively been my last. In terms of re-reads and light edits, though, too many to count.
How do you know when a book is finished?
Most of the characters are dead.
What is a dream scenario for you as a writer?
To get some recognition as a story-teller. “Veteran Avenue” has been – ahem – “in development” as a TV series for three years. Be nice for that to finally happen. I turned the novel into a six-part screenplay myself, and I really enjoy writing dialogue, which is far more important when you can’t employ prose. Screenplays are a completely different discipline.
What are your biggest hopes and fears for Man Down?
Hope: TV series, and for positive word-of-mouth to elicit a growing readership. Fear: the usual lack of traction, despite hopefully rave reviews.
Tell us a secret about one of your characters.
No. Because then they’d have to kill you.
Which writers or books have inspired you to put pen to paper?
Stephen King. That’s it.
What’s your party trick?
Not showing up.
What’s your go-to karaoke song?
Elvis, carefully picked so I don’t get scuppered by an embarrassing range-out mid-song. I do a great “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” Actually, it may not be great, but I have to be drunk (or paid) to sing in public, so I don’t really care at that point in the proceedings. Also Bryan Adams’ “Summer of 69”. Proper pissed for that one.
Are any of the characters in your novel based on people you know, and would they recognise themselves?
Because I write visually, I cast my characters as I would for a movie so I can “see” them properly in my head. I may use well-known actors who fit the bill, or people I know, or from my past, but that’s usually limited to them being the correct age, looking right for the part, or having the same outlook on life. Apart from that, I try to keep a wide gulf between my characters and “persons living or dead”, per the disclaimer in every novel. Good job, considering some of the a-holes that inhabit my novels, and some of the shit that goes down.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
What’s next for you?
Currently working on a sequel to “Man Down”. Honestly, I’ve been so out with previous career predictions, I just try to take each day as it comes, keep fit and healthy, and enjoy the abundant love in my life.
Massive thanks Mark, and I love Elvis and Bryan Adams 😍
Who Is Mark Pepper?
Mark lives in Manchester with his wife of 30 years, Jeannifer, and his daughter, Jade.
In his day job, Mark is an Intelligence Analyst for a financial regulator in Washington DC. He is a qualified secondary school drama teacher, and worked as an actor for fifteen years, having graduated from RADA in 1990.
His first two novels, The Short Cut and Man on a Murder Cycle, were published by Hodder & Stoughton, and his third, Veteran Avenue, originally published by Urbane and now by Red Dog Press. Veteran Avenue, is mainly set in LA, and is currently being developed as a TV series by the actor Warren Brown.
Find him on twitter @PepSixSix