This time I had the pleasure of interviewing author Mark Cassell, about his writing and books
Books & Writing: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Mark Cassell: I live in a quiet country village in Kent with my wife Helen, and a number of animals. We had seamonkeys once, but they didn’t last long. I’ve been several things in life after being a paperboy: I was a baker, then a laboratory technician, and currently I’ve got the freedom of self-employment as a driving instructor. Gives me the opportunity to organise my diary so I can find time to write.
Deep down I’ve always been a writer. I’ve had short stories and poetry published in magazines and on various websites. Back in ’96 the second New Voices Anthology was released in paperback and that featured one of my stories. I was also shortlisted in an international short story competition – narrowly missed that one!
Books & Writing: Do you remember the first story you wrote?
Mark Cassell: Okay, so I must’ve been about six or seven years old, not too sure, but I distinctly remember that I even cut the paper into shape (badly) and taped the thing together – you know, to bind it like a proper book. It was called ‘The Clockwork Man’ (perhaps an early stab at steampunk?) and it was about a clockwork man funny enough. Actually, I think he was more of a clockwork boy. His mother had a problem with her arm, I think her mechanism was faulty or something, and the only thing the clockwork man could do was to find a piece of wire with which to fix it. Well, he looked everywhere and eventually found one in the boot of their car.
That story did have a beginning, a middle and an end, so it was a real story. And I guess it had a bit of conflict in there too. No idea where it is now though. I really hope my story writing’s improved since then…
Books & Writing: Were you inspired by someone or something?
Mark Cassell: That’s a tricky one. In the early ’90s I read a heap of James Herbert, Shaun Hutson and the compulsory Stephen King. Plus I watched plenty of Hammer Horror movies. I guess it was a massive combo of that lot and also my English teacher telling me to stop mucking about in class. He believed I was capable of more, and it snowballed from there. So I took off my Jester hat – but only in English class – and after that, each story I wrote received top grades.
Books & Writing: What do you love about writing a story?
Mark Cassell: Freedom of speech – or the written word equivalent. Just get out what you’ve got in there (*tapping head). If it’s a load of rubbish then sift through it till something coherent comes out. Then it’s fun to pass it on for others to read, and of course listen to their feedback. Sheepishly, in most cases. I just love telling tales. When you’ve got an imagination, it’s fun to share.
Books & Writing: Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming book “The Shadow Fabric”, and the main character(s)?
Mark Cassell: It’s a novel about sins, shadows and the reanimated dead. Yeah, ‘reanimated’ – not zombies as such. It follows Leo, a man who has no recollection of his past. Starting a new life he begins working for a cranky old guy called Victor, and Leo witnesses him kill his own brother. Chased by both his past and the Shadow Fabric, Leo is dragged into a darkness that touches on the history of witchcraft. He soon begins to mistrust everything and everyone… including himself.
Books & Writing: How did you come up with the story for the book?
Mark Cassell: The title I’ve had knocking around for something stupid like 20 years! But it wasn’t until my wife bought me a chunky notebook for Christmas did the ideas begin to flow… and they really did: word association with anything to do with shadows and darkness, and then witches and reanimating the dead. And also the Great Fire of London. It went crazy, and after discarding the unoriginal ideas I jotted down scenes on little squares of paper and stuck them to the wall in my study. Then rearranging them almost randomly, I had to fill in the gaps to create a timeline. Eventually I reached the last page of that notebook and had the makings of a novel. Now looking at that notebook, I can see how the story developed, and it’s quite amazing how many of my daft little doodles inspired me.
Books & Writing: I understand you wrote a 55,000 word novel for NaNoWriMo called “Heroes of Sol”. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Mark Cassell: I did, yes. That was fun: write at least 50,000 words in the month of November (this was back in 2010). Thirty days of hardcore writing. I got myself up every single morning at 5 AM, and just had to write for an hour or so before work… Some of it was crap – just really badly written, but the point of NaNoWriMo is just to get it written. I’d roughly plotted the novel a few weeks beforehand and come November 1st began writing it chapter by chapter, so the story did flow. Only some mornings my muse didn’t wake up with me, but I forced my hand without him.
It’s a Young Adult novel of a boy named Kuo who runs away from home and joins up with the Heroes of Sol. He ends up saving the world from the all-consuming Darknest. The story has a few twists and turns, but there simply isn’t enough characterisation. There’s a lot of shadows and darkness, which I guess sparked several ideas for The Shadow Fabric. One thing NaNoWriMo taught me though, and that was that I could find time to write. And that proved to be the catalyst for me to attack a ‘proper’ novel.
Books & Writing: You started out writing short stories. What attracts you in those?
Mark Cassell: I think you’ve got to start somewhere, and I guess going straight into a novel isn’t going to work – though it may work for plenty of others. I don’t know. For me, it was to learn the craft of writing. To find my voice, if you like.
Books & Writing: Which genre is your favorite?
Mark Cassell: It’s been horror all the way. Always supernatural horror. Not mankind’s horror, you know? Not real gore and graphic violence, I don’t like that… I’m talking about the horror that exists on the other side of what we can see. Yes, in the shadows. Over the years I’ve read all sorts of genres, but nothing quite swings it for me. Always I come back to the horror novel.
Books & Writing: Are you working on something new?
Mark Cassell: I am, yes. My second novel. Though I’m on one of the final drafts of The Shadow Fabric, so I’m concentrating on fine-tuning that right now. But my new project is beginning to surface. At the moment it’s got the working title of ‘Beneath’ – I’ve been toying with some left-over scribbles from The Shadow Fabric. Perhaps it’ll be a sequel. Or maybe not a sequel as such, but I guess it’ll be related somehow. Like the offspring of your cousin.
Books & Writing: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Mark Cassell: I think that if you intend to write – and be successful – you’ve got to recognise that we all have the potential to write a load of crap. Really. And it’s your job to learn from that. From there, when you’ve got your piece written, whatever it is, just edit. Edit, edit, edit and edit. Sharpen it till the damn thing gleams.
Books & Writing: Which author inspires you?
Mark Cassell: Always difficult to point at one in particular, so I’m going to give you three. Firstly, the imagination of Brian Lumley and the awesome crafting of his Necroscope series in which he perfects the crossovers between horror and fantasy. There’s a slice of sci-fi in there too. Next, I’ve got to say the boundary-leaping Clive Barker: his supernatural stuff is off the chart. It’s always been awesome. I love his films too. Hellraiser: brilliant. Finally, there’s Stephen King – when you write horror, how can you not look up to that man?
Books & Writing: Where can people go and read your work?
Mark Cassell: Well, maybe it’s possible to dig up a copy of ‘The New Voices Anthology 2’ and you’ll find my short story called Brother in there. Also if you’ve got a few writer’s mags hanging around you might find me in those, but I am on the internet. I’ll soon be seeking an agent to represent The Shadow Fabric, so that’s my next step. I want to go down the right channels once I’ve finished tweeking it. It’s nearly there.
Books & Writing: Where can people find you on the internet?
Mark Cassell: www.markcassell.com mainly. I’ve yet to add some of my short stories there but I’m working on it. I’m promoting www.theshadowfabric.co.uk too, just to generate some interest and maybe attract the eye of an agent out there. You never know, right? Plus, you can follow me on Twitter : @mark_cassell
Books & Writing: Is there anything else you want to share with the readers?
Mark Cassell: I just want to say thanks. To you firstly, for having me here – I think it’s great what you’re doing for us authors. And of course I’ve got to say thanks to the people reading this. Ha! And not just my family and friends. To all of you: pleased to meet you guys… When The Shadow Fabric’s published go get it. Buy it, enjoy it. You’ll enjoy it, I’m sure. Then tell your friends we’ve met someplace before.
Below is an excerpt from “The Shadow Fabric”!
Staring into his brother’s dead eyes as the body vanished into the shrinking swirls of darkness, Victor stumbled backwards. I could see a mix of emotions flash across his face, his bushy grey eyebrows dancing. He looked first from the bloody knife clutched tight in a white fist, then to the rapidly retreating shadows. The hammering of the mantelpiece clock counted out long seconds before that ornate blade slipped from hand to carpet. It bounced with a red splash and yanked him from immobility. He fell to his knees.
“Oh good God.”
Watching a grown man cry is never a good thing. Being witness to a murder is worse… and then there’s that moment in your life where all you’ve believed real is whipped from under you, and you’re left to survive in a world that’s a lie; its backbone revealed as some pliable matter betraying everything – absolutely everything – you’ve ever known. All the things in life you’ve taken for granted are sheathed in weak veneers.
I bounded across the room as much as my knee allowed, and staggered to a halt beside my boss. At some point on that awkward dash I’d dropped the BMW’s keys. Sobs wracked Victor’s frame and I placed a hand on his bony shoulder. I stared into the empty space where Stanley had been, the violin case still open like a crooked yawn. I had no words for that moment; no words at all.
On reflection, Victor wouldn’t have been surprised that the shadows had taken his brother. After all, those shadows – that darkness – is associated with all that is dead… or should be dead.
I don’t know how long we both stayed like that, with the light creeping almost with reluctance back into the room. Silence drenched the air like we were buried.
When I took to writing this I didn’t know where to begin, and so to get my hesitant fingers moving I’ve chosen to start at the moment where I lost touch of what was real. From then, everything became disconnected from the plain and simple, and from there it got stranger still.
I shall, however, rewind to a suitable beginning; to the first few stages of my new life…