Today I am all sorts of pleased to welcome Mark A King to the Dust Lounge. The author of brilliant debut novel Metropolitan Dreams, and general all around top dude, we chatted about all things bookish, inspiration and cheese.
So without further ado, let’s get down to the good stuff.
*Bing-bong, doors closing, going up* Give us your elevator pitch for Metropolitan Dreams.
In the UK, it really should be called a lift-pitch, but that sounds totally wrong, in multiple ways.
I have condensed London in a shrinking machine, and covered it in a blanket of light and darkness and underpinned it with hints of the supernatural. London, like many cities, teeters between the tourist dreams and criminal underbelly of modernity. A violent crime throws the stories of a traumatised Tube driver, a police detective, an ageing crime lord and a missing girl together. They live in a world we know, but beneath the streets and beyond the cracks of this world there are forces and mysteries older that the city itself. It is the tale of hidden lives that we walk passed every day. A snapshot of history. A glimpse of a future.
They say ‘write what you know’. So, are you secretly a repentant crime lord?
I love this question. No, I’m not an ex-crime lord. However, there are elements of me, my life, or my experience in almost all the other characters. Cal, the Tube driver, is based on multiple people and stories I used to hear about the life of an Underground driver, it fascinated me and I always wanted to return to it.
I worked in the most raided bank in London for many years. Elsewhere, I was held-up in an armed robbery like the opening incident, only with a shotgun pointed at me.
Another character, Iona, is a police detective who specialises in cyber-crime, a world not a million miles away from my day job.
Maria comes from a region of India based on someone I know. Maria is a girl not far off my daughter’s age, who has cerebral palsy, like my son – it was important to me to tell stories with strong female characters, I made an effort to mix up the more gender ‘traditional’ roles. It was also important to me to show how those that are perceived to be on the margins of society feel. There are very few disabled characters in novels for example, and to me it was vital to give a voice to how it feels to be unseen or disadvantaged. I’m pleased that these characters became the heroes of the tale.
There were some characters that I know I had less experience of so I did some research. I was lucky enough that an urban explorer agreed to help me with my research, he has visited the lost rivers of London (visit his stunning work here).
What did you learn writing Metropolitan Dreams?
I planned the tale with few of the stories linking together. I had read many tales from multiple points of view, often they didn’t link in any way. Mine did, but only slightly. As the book progressed I became excited by more of the characters linking and a turning point for me was when I drew a mind map and linked the characters, stories and possibilities. However, it still wasn’t enough. My editor, Emily, said the central thread needed greater emphasis. So when I went back for the first set of big revisions, this took some time (apparently no more than it does for most people). But I will focus more on the central thread next time, and I have started the mind map linking the characters already (see below, hopefully there are not many spoilers).
I’ve started using Pinterest to capture character images to make them more tangible in my mind.
What one piece of advice would you give someone who is writing their first novel?
Don’t give up, especially before you even start. It is a daunting prospect. It was for me. Most of my stories were only a few hundred words long. Occasionally a one to two thousand. Writing, perhaps 200-300k (by time you write, edit, re-write, polish etc), seems like an impossible job. But a few hundred words a day is a few thousand over a week. Throw in a few thousand on the odd day, and you’ll be on your way to your first draft before you know it.
NaNoWriMo has helped many people, but it wasn’t for me. Too much pressure with a full time job, a young (ish) family, and FlashDogs commitments too. But there is plenty of support there, if you need it.
Many folk have thrived in their local writing communities. The Poised Pen is a great example.
The next stumbling block is turning the draft into a novel. This is the part that many of us seem to be stuck with. I realised this in advance and asked Emily if she would be willing to help. Hiring an editor is probably the best decision you can make. A good one will help turn your ideas into something more coherent and polished. An excellent editor (and I was lucky to have one), will act as a guiding hand, an advocate, occasional writing therapist, and they will make it shine and reach the full potential it has.
Metropolitan Dreams is sitting, pride of place, on the bookshelf. Next to it, there’s a film, another book, and a CD. What are they?
Ouch. Tough question.
I’m going with Pulp Fiction for the film. Because it’s one of my all-time favourite films, but it also deals with different points of view, criminals and ‘evil’ vs ‘good’ (although this is very blurred, which I like).
I’m going to cheat on the book question. I actually have it on the bookshelf now and I’ll show you what it’s sitting next to (some of my favourite books).
CD is also hard. I’m going with Lana Del Ray, because in a world of mundane repetitive music, her songs deal with deep topics and her voice is otherworldly and sometimes angelic, and it’s how I imagine Merla Kali (a mystical character in the book) might sound if she were to go into the music business (which seems likely unlikely, but hey).
Metropolitan Dreams, with its gritty travels around London laced with a dose of fantasy, reminded me of some of Neil Gaiman’s work. In response to the question “I want to be an author when I grow up. Am I insane?” he famously said “Growing up is highly overrated. Just be an author.” You’re an author now, but what do you want to be when you grow up?
I’m almost crying with happiness. I’m a massive fan of Gaiman’s work, so this is just about the nicest thing anyone could say.
I’d like to become more childish. So, according to NG’s definition, that means writing more. I’m only just starting this journey and I feel like I have some incredible adventures ahead. On the childish theme, I’d like to play more, laugh more, enjoy life more. It’s a ride that is over in the blink of an eye and I’m not sure I’m doing it enough justice at the moment.
What’s next for you – a secret project, a sequel, a holiday?
I am starting to plan the sequel. It’s set in New York. It will have a different structure and will have (mostly) different characters.
NYC is very different to London, so it will naturally have a different tone and voice.
So would say that I should have planned a series of books beforehand, but where would the fun be in that?
I have another short story, or novella, in mind. It’s regarding our future ability to store consciousness (or souls) when we die. I’m fairly excited by this, but I’m not sure when I will find time to write it.
Bonus question from the Diester: What’s your favourite cheese?
I am a man of simple cheese tastes (none of that stuff with live creatures, or mould, for me).
I did some research, and as my next book will be based in New York, I thought I’d look at their cheese offerings.
Maple bacon cheddar sounds lovely. I might just have to pay them a visit. For research purposes, obviously.
Read my review of Metropolitan Dreams here.
Mark A. King was born and raised in London. Metropolitan Dreams, his debut novel, was released in January 2017.
In the past, he has been published in several magazines and anthologies. He is privileged to work in a magical place.
Mark is a founder of FlashDogs, a global community of talented flash fiction writers.
Mark now lives with his family in Norfolk, England, with a dog that looks like a teddy-bear, and the terrifying sounds of a sky full of geese.