You're of Scottish/English descent, what does that mean?
It’s probably not as exciting as it sounds. My mother is a Dundee lass and my father was raised in East London; they both have very pronounced accents, which led to me developing a weird syntax while growing up, but in Croydon that didn’t matter too much. We get everyone here. My hometown is a communal melting pot, bubbling over all the time.
Were there things growing up that still influences your writing now?
Of course. Poverty was a constant threat, as was gang crime, especially in the early 2000s. Even on a personal level, my family never had the easiest time of things; my older brother died when I was small and my father was something of a problem entity, with a history of theft, abuse and unpaid debts. These issues persist in my writing.
Also, many of the stories I’ve written over the years (including my novel) are set in or around Croydon. Some might consider that a cop-out, but I have my reasons. Despite its questionable status, Croydon is an immediately recognisable area, with its own brand of culture and a kind of working-class mythology that runs deep into its foundations. You could never accurately describe this town at boring, for better or worse, but no-one ever talks about it, let alone in fiction. I almost feel like it’s my duty to represent the town that raised me.
Can you remember writing down your first words?
Embarrassingly, the first word I had any emotional connection to was ‘dinosaur.’ I was able to spell it correctly from a very young age and my mother was ecstatic, to the point where she told everyone on the neighbourhood about it. I was always reading. I’d read anything I could get my hands on, anything that seemed remotely appealing to me. I liked feeling smart when I was a child. In some ways, that hasn’t really changed.
How did your writing develop as you got older?
As far as fiction is concerned, I was never much of a writer until I hit my teenage years. Even then, I only produced the occasional short story, usually hovering around the 3,000 word mark, and suffice to say they weren’t of the highest quality imaginable. I operated on the throw s**t against the wall until something sticks approach. I knew what I liked reading, and I knew what I would theoretically like to write, but I had no idea what I was really good at. It was only at university when I began experimenting with contemporary realism and finally found my feet.
Tell me about the Litmus2016 project?
Litmus was an independent publishing project, managed by Winchester students, designed to help budding writers reach an audience in the early stages of their careers. I worked as an editor on the poetry and non-fiction side. Things got stressful at times, especially since most of us were attempting to manage our university coursework as well, but we pulled through in the end. I remember frantically scrabbling alongside Wendy Falla (a fellow poet) to have everything assembled towards the end, swearing at the pages we’d been staring at for over an hour. The final product should still be available through the website, for anyone interested. The 2017 team should be releasing theirs at some point soon as well.
You've recently completed your Masters. In what?
To use its incredibly pompous title, Creative and Critical Writing. Yeah. The workload was generally geared towards fictional writing, but also covered research papers and critical analysis, so it was more or less an extension of my undergraduate degree, albeit with higher expectations. So, lots of research, lots of time spent planning things and formulating ideas. As part of my dissertation, a 30,000 word behemoth of a project, I actually booked a solo trip to Holland for the sake of visiting the Academic Medical Centre. This trip has since been documented, in part, through a poem, titled A Death in Amsterdam.
Now that I’ve got my Big Boy Degree, I’d like to start applying for editorial work, publishing houses, that kind of thing. I want something that will engage me and make use of my abilities. I wouldn’t be adverse to journalism or writing articles for magazines, but it’s not my first port of call. Still, I’m open to the experience.
Tell me about your writing now.
Nowadays, I’m pretty much only known for my poetry. I never thought I’d be in a position where I can confidently say that my poetry is stronger than my prose, but there you go, blame the fact that my old mentor was a well-regarded poet. I do enjoy the medium though, and I find it fascinating on a mechanical level; structuring stanzas, the intricacies of line breaks, meter, form and content...
But regardless of the format, I tend to take a thematic approach to my writing; I think there’s a big difference between what happens in your story, and what your story is about, so I tend to start with the latter and use the concept as basis for a narrative. Character is very important to me. A lot of the smaller details in my writing are adapted from stupid things I’ve overheard on the bus, or on the train, minor little humanisms that amused me or hit close to home. I don’t like to indulge in abstractions or fantasy. Enough people do that already.
Do you have a particular writing location?
I try to avoid writing at home, regardless of where I’m living. I find it much easier to concentrate in a coffee shop, or a library, anywhere that lets me see the world around me more vividly. Public transport, for this reason, provides a good outlet for me. As stupid as it sounds, there’s something about being stationary while moving that gets me thinking philosophically. Varying my environment is really important for me. Too long in one place and I start to feel like a goldfish, staring at my own reflection.
Tell me about the novel you are working on.
The narrative concerns Frank and Wanda, a young, recently married couple attempting to salvage their relationship after the death of their malformed son, while simultaneously caring for the sickly twin he left behind. As the months roll by and their communication breaks down, they discover just how dependent they are on each other, how toxic their relationship has become and the harsh realities of parenthood.
The novel is conveyed through an alternating first-person perspective in the present-tense, and as I mentioned earlier, is set in Croydon, South London.
Sounds a really tough, and probably quite bleak read, why this topic?
I think this story largely stems from my own insecurities about parenthood, combined with my fascination (some might call it an obsession) with death, in all its forms. In the past, I’ve described this story as a work of domestic horror, and I stand by that description. Because the thing that modern horror doesn’t seem to understand is, people aren’t afraid of monsters and demons any more. They’re afraid of things like cancer and bereavement. Just look up the etymology of the word ‘mortgage’. These are the type of fears that I want to play on in this book. I want it to sting, somehow.
If all goes well, I should have this book finished by the end of 2017. Whether or not it’ll be any good, isn’t for me to decide, but I have to get this project finished for my own sake. It’s become my White Whale over the years.
Is writing your full-time job?
I wish. At the moment I’m going from job to job, entering contests, just trying to keep the ball rolling while giving myself enough time to work on my passion projects. Eventually, I’d like to get into teaching, particularly at university level. Adult education was such a positive experience for me and I’d love to give that enrichment to someone else. I feel very strongly about writing as an academic subject, but that’s a topic for another day.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m currently finalising my first full-length collection of poetry – it most likely will be finalised by the time this interview goes up, in which case I have a list of people I intend to send it to. Hopefully one of them will be receptive. But as soon as this is done, I want to finish my novel; I don’t like leaving projects half-finished, and I also don’t like taking long breaks away from my work. I have a couple of vague ideas that I’d like to eventually flesh out, but it makes more sense to take things one step at a time. This poetry collection has taken a lot out of me and I need a change of scenery.
Name your THREE most favourite books and why.
Out of everything I’ve read? That’s impossible to say, so here are the first three that come to mind:
The Contortionist’s Handbook by Craig Clevenger: such a tightly written story with memorable characters that really makes full use of the first-person, present-tense narrative, of which I am an advocate.
What Were You Thinking? by Julian Stannard: I was fortunate enough to have been taught by him, and his most recent poetry collection is phenomenal. It really makes me appreciate how lucky I was to pick up poetry from him.
Things to Make and Break by May-Lan Tan: a beautifully real collection of short stories, centred on the hidden lives of the eccentric population. May-Lan is a fantastic writer and the entire collection would be worth it for 101 alone.
Lastly... what does writing MEAN to you?
That’s a difficult question. I often hear people say things like, “I write because I have to, I only write for myself,” et cetera, and it always sounds so shallow to me, so self-consciously artistic. Writing, like any other art-form, when done professionally is a job. If you write with the expectation of being published, of selling books, then you are not writing solely for yourself, you are writing for an audience by definition. But people have this strange perception of art as somehow being better than a ‘normal’ career. I studied acting for a long time and it was the same there, the same old sets of insecurities and narcissism, played out over and over again.
I write because I want to, because it’s important to me, because I enjoy telling stories, because I find poetry as a literary form pleasing to experiment with… and because I’ve found success from it. If I hadn’t, if I was beating my head against a wall and getting no results, then it would be hard to justify spending so much time pursuing a daydream. Whether or not I can achieve tangible, long-term success is another matter entirely, but I’m willing to work as hard as I need to in order to achieve that success, or at least, a level of success that satisfies me.
For a little bit more info on Marc, and to contact him, CLICK HERE.