I interviewed Mark Billingham yesterday at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. He’s another good guy –I use ‘guy’ in the female/male sense. I’d already been to his book festival event on Friday evening, which he shared with Christopher Brookmyre (see here for my interview with Chris). The event was loud and raucous, cheeky and naughty – oh, and downright rude. It began with the words, blaring full blast “I fucked your mum…” and ended on “big soapy tits!” It sounds as if it could have been sexist, but it wasn’t. This has to have been the most unlikely book festival event I have ever been to, and the most fun and downright naughty. Don’t miss a chance to see these guys, unless of course you don’t like swearing ;o)
Who is Mark Billingham? Mark started writing a little over ten years ago or so. His first book Sleepyhead came out in 2001 and was an instant bestseller and the first in a series of hugely successful crime novels featuring London-based detective Tom Thorne. Mark has written nine Tom Thorne novels to date and two stand alone crime novels, which are In The Dark and his most recent novel, Rush Of Blood. Rush Of Blood only came out this month and is already becoming a runaway betseller. He has also written a series of children’s thrillers – Triskellion – written under the pseudonym Will Peterson. I’m really grateful to Mark for kindly given up his time to talk to me and for giving such honest answers to my questions.
To the interview:
Q: The American writer Cynthia Ozick said, “If we had to say what writing is, we would describe it essentially as an act of courage.” Do you think it takes courage to write and if so, how much courage did it take you to start writing?
No, I don’t think it’s an act of courage at all. Em, I think I’m very fortunate to write for a living. So many people want to write professionally. Only 5% of authors in this country actually write for a living, 95% have other jobs and get up at five in the morning to try and fit it in. That’s brave, not the actual act of writing, but the trying to fit it in while working as a teacher, or a bar tender, or, you know, a doctor or something. Em, I just make up stories. It’s not digging a ditch. It’s not brave. I’ve never thought of it like that. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed. I’ve made up stories since I was kid. I wrote stories at school and always wanted to read them out in the front of the class. No, God, it’s something I love doing. No brave not at all. I write about people who are a thousand times braver than any writer will ever be.
Q: If you were offered the chance to travel in a time machine, what time period would you chose to travel to?
Blimey. Probably all sorts of place. Em. I’d probably like to go back to the, you know, the 1930s the 1940s when the writers who kind of influenced me so much and were changing things, like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. It was also a very exciting time in America exciting in very many ways , the great depression was happening and some amazing writing came out of it and not just in crime. There’s Fitzgerald and Hemingway and all that. That would be a pretty decent time to be knocking about , I think.
(Thanks to M. Martin Vicente via Flickr for the pic of Sam Spade)
Q: Do you have a favourite fictional character, someone maybe you’d like to be?
I don’t know about like to be but I was hugely influenced by Sherlock Holmes as a character. Not that my books are remotely in that kind of style. That was my first exposure to detective fiction when I was about twelve and a teacher would read us Sherlock Holmes stories in class. It wasn’t so much the stories I loved as this character, this incredible character, who is still essentially the iconic detective. Yes, Sherlock is a character I like.
Q: Did you like school?
I got loads from school. I was in the sort of school that unless you were a brilliant sportsman or very, very academic, you could be lost a bit, you could be sort of anonymous. The only other way you could get known in the school and not disappear was to do school plays and do drama. I was the kind of school show off, the school actor. I got to be in all the plays and the teachers would call me by my first name, they’d take me to the pub, I got to hang out with the girls from the girls’ school next door, because we needed girls for our plays and they needed boys for their plays. That was my way of getting through school by doing drama, and that lead on to me wanting to be an actor and doing drama at University, which lead to my acting career, which lead to the writing. So everything came from that first impulse to stand on stage and show off, which started at school. I’m still showing off really!
No, not really. Although there’s maybe part of me that wishes that I started writing the novels earlier. I didn’t start writing my first novel until I was 39. I know plenty people who started when they were nineteen. Having said that, had I been writing earlier, I wouldn’t have worked as a comedien, and, you know, that maybe means I’ve got more to put into the writing coming to it later. Aside from that. No. Although. there are books I wish I had maybe written better. I would perhaps write differently if I could do them again. Every writer thinks that. You hope you get better as a writer as you go along. So your early books are perhaps a little bit embarrassing in retrospect. Nothing serious.
Q: What are you most proud of?
Most certainly my children. In terms of writing I’m very proud of the last book I wrote and then again I feel that about each book I finish, and then, ha ha ha, a few years after I’ve written it I think, ohh, should I be proud of that? I’m proud of some of the work I did as a comedian. You know, in a way you have to be proud of what you’re doing on some level, you’re a bit of a fool or a bit deluded if you’re not. Or maybe I’m deluded, but you should feel proud you’re doing something good. It’s not changing the world or anything, just writing good stories, that’s all. Which is why I don’t think there’s anything courageous about what I do. Being courageous is a journalist who writes about, you know, something evil going on when they are under threat. And I do know writers who are writing something very brave because they are writing in the face of political opposition, or danger from criminals, that sort of thing. Yes, that’s brave. Writing a crime novel is not brave.
You treat the writing as a job. You have to take the work seriously but not yourself seriously. Some writers talk about the writing as if it’s physically draining and as if they are dredging these stories from their guts that’s not for me. If I found it like that, it really would drive me insane. But to be serious for a minute, the best part of being a writer for me, is this bit, going to events and festivals and meeting readers, which I absolutely love. The writing is the work this is the perk. Plenty writers don’t like doing that but I do. If It wasn’t for these events, I’d probably go bonkers.
Q: If you could be invisible for a day, where would you go?
Ha ha! Spy on my children maybe. My daughter’s at a Rock Festival this weekend. She’s seventeen and I was joking that I would disguise myself and go as keep an eye on her. No, I wouldn’t do that. I don’t know. It would just be good to get into places for free, like Rock Concerts. I’d probably follow musicians around without them knowing. ha ha! Nothing creepy though.