Friday, December 7, 2012

Interview with author Mark Keating

I bought Mark Keating’s novel, The Pirate Devlin, on a whim one day as I was browsing in Barnes & Noble. That turned out to be a great choice. The Pirate Devlin had me mesmerized. Here was a literate, exciting adventure novel unlike any other “pirate” tale I had ever read. We struck up a long-distance friendship on FaceBook and I was recently privileged to get a sneak peek of his latest novel. If you haven’t read one of his “Pirate Devlin” novels I hope you do so. It’s already become a cult favorite. I am honored to present this fascinating interview with Mark Keating.

TM: What authors inspired you as a child!

MK: My mother used to be a great reader before she got married so we had a lot of her old books. They were mostly science fiction and poetry so I read Ray Bradbury and Rudyard Kipling. I also devoured my older brother's comic-books and horror-mags. I can still remember a lot of those stories and I used to get corrected at school for using American spelling! When we got to go to the library at first school we were only allowed two books to take home but that wasn't enough so I actually stole books that I would sneak back in when I was done. I was reading at a higher age so I needed better books. I did get caught but when I explained that I needed to read better books and more of them my teacher borrowed books for me.

TM: When did you begin writing creatively?

MK: I didn't write a book until Devlin and I'd never published anything before. I wrote at school but didn't think anything of it. My English teacher persuaded my mother to buy me a typewriter but then it just became like homework. I'd sometimes write short-stories as an adult but that was usually just to impress women! I got to be thirty-eight and realised that it would be pretty cool to publish a book before I was forty. I had no preconceptions about how hard it was to get published. I'd read nothing about the subject and I was too broke to even buy a computer but I told my wife that it was what I wanted to do and it would be handy to have the internet (2008 and we weren't online!) so I got my boss to buy one and I'd pay him off. A year later I was signing a contract just at the time that I was laid off from work and my life changed. I remember meeting my agent for the first time and he asked me that surely I had a drawer full of manuscripts. 'No,' I said, 'That's it. But I've already started the next one.' And that's the way it's always been: as soon as I finish one I tidy my desk and go again. I've written five books in three years and sold every one.

TM: Tell me about the pirate Devlin? What was your inspiration for that character?

MK: I've always loved pirates, everybody does, and at the time when I first thought of writing a book I was reading a lot of naval fiction and I'd got bored with the whole Napoleonic thing that they all write about, so I went looking for a pirate novel and I couldn't find a modern one that wasn't either bad or romance or had a pirate that had changed his ways and now fought pirates or was a reluctant pirate. None of them seemed to treat the notion of being a pirate with respect, a chosen way of life against the grain. I wanted to write about them as if it was a choice and not something to just be endured until you rescued the governor's daughter. I got a lot of inspiration from Errol Flynn's Captain Blood interpretation. There's this scene where he's getting whipped and he gives this look back at the guy and suddenly he's like the Count of Monte Cristo, he's D'Artagnan, he's Tom Joad, he's like John Wayne or Lee Marvin when they're angry, and like them he holds the philosophy of violence just back far enough to show that it ain't acting. I'd read some of Bernard Cornwell's Sharp books which show an officer from the ranks fighting not only the French but just about everything else in his world and I thought “what if Sharp were a pirate?” So I went with that. I've just finished the fourth book so it's working.
TM: Tell me about your writing process. Do you plot everything in advance?

MK: I've never met a writer that had the same process as another but I'm sure the first book you write always has a similar pattern. Now that I get paid to do it I've got my own strokes that I'm comfortable with. I don't plot everything in advance based on the assumption that if I don't know what's going to happen than the reader won't either. I get annoyed at books where by the end of the first chapter I know the ending. I have points that I want to get to, like planning a long trip and you map out the stages so you don't mess up along the way. What happens in the book between those points is up to the characters. I research as I write but I generally know something about the subject in advance as it's usually something that has interested me. It's the idea of learning more about it as I go that drives the engine. I write best under pressure. I've got a young family and I need to steal the time to write as there is always something going on but I use that to fuel my books. I imagine that the person reading is stealing the time to do so. I used to read on the train, chapters between stops, and relished that little escape so I try to write just like that. I haven't got time for navel gazing and I don't write for people who have either. I give myself six months to get a good first draft based on the fact that I will have about four months of revisions to knock it into shape so I do about a book a year. With the first draft it's about getting the story out; the detail will go in later. I don't worry about how much I write a day as long as I'm happy with it. I usually start work with going over what I wrote the day before and that gets me flowing then. I know I'm going to go over the text a hundred times so I don't dwell. That's how books don't get written. Just get the story out. I have a great memory, which helps, and I have a knack of absorbing information very quickly and seeing how it relates to my story. I will print my work about three times over the course of writing. This is the only way to see the shape of the book. Everything looks great on the screen but you will see the weaknesses when it's in print and you can divide the book up into its parts, physically, on the table and see where it needs more or less. I don't have writing habits, I can't force it but I try to do something every day. The only rituals I do is to buy a new A4 pad for every new book and clean my desk so everything seems fresh. By the end of the book my desk looks like a bear has been at it.

TM: I was lucky to get a sneak peak at The Wooden Paterson which you’re publishing under the pseudonym Robert Lautner. This is such a great book but completely different than the pirate Devlin novels. What was the inspiration behind The Wooden Paterson?

MK:  I've always been into guns. When I was eleven I asked for Hogg's firearms encyclopedia for Xmas! From then on for my birthday or Xmas I asked for replicas and I used to take them apart and put them back together. Colt's were always my favourites and I think revolvers can be sensual, beautiful objects. I knew the story about Colt being inspired by the ratchet and pawl of a ship's capstan (not a wheel as is often said) and carving his first designs, in pieces to show a metalworker what he wanted, but I liked the idea that he had carved a whole working model however apocryphal that might be. That fired the story. I imagined what it would take to walk into a bar against a bunch of gunmen, and yourself armed only with a wooden gun and what sort of man would be able to pull that off and that's the scene that shaped the story. I've also always been fascinated by the original Pinocchio tale and the story underneath the adventure is an allegory of that; except my boy has a wooden gun instead of being the puppet! On top of that I couldn't believe that no-one had written a story about the invention of the true revolver before. I truly feel that it changed the world and once it lead to the development of the cartridge everything changed again, for better or worse. It seemed so culturally significant, you can almost see the world changing as you mark each little development of the firearm yet historians tend to not notice these smaller things.
TM: What projects are you working on now?

MK: I've just finished Devlin 4 so I've got about a year to myself before I need to work on the fifth so I'm doing what I did on The Wooden Paterson and writing for myself. I'm the third of the way through a novel about Quint from JAWS. I'm a big JAWS fan and, like most fans, Quint is my favourite character. He's iconic. In the JAWS novel he's a thinner character than in the movie, and even that's pretty thin, so what I want to do is write about Quint the movie character, after the war, after the Indianapolis and how he got to be who he is. It's set in 1953 so I want to show about a man coming out of one war and on the periphery of the end of the Korean and on the edge of the space-race all tied to one man and his boat. Like the Paterson it will be a small story with a bigger backdrop and that's all I can hope to write if I can pull it off and with a heavy respect to the survivors of the Indianapolis. The plan is to get it published for the 40th anniversary of the film in 2015. I'm also in the running to be commissioned to write a novel for Simon & Schuster about the battle of Waterloo for the 200th anniversary to be published in 2015 but there are a lot more famous writers than me in the hat. My advantage is that I have a reputation for delivering on time but personally I'm so stoked on Quint that I wouldn't like anything to stall that. Writing ain't about the money, otherwise we'd never start
You can order Mark’s books by clicking HERE!

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