Wednesday, 25 March 2015

My part in Sue's Bloghop

I've been challenged by my fine friend Sue Moorcroft to join in the Lovely Blog Hop to talk about some of the things that have shaped my life and my writing.

At the end of this post, you’ll find links to some blogs and writers I like. The writers have all agreed to participate in and continue this Lovely Blog Hop.
me, Dude & Sheepy, April 2010.  Dude's probably forgotten this...
First Memory
As the father of a young son, it’s become increasingly obvious that whilst I’m already aware even the most vivid of memories will fade over time, when you’re a kid, they can slip away altogether.  Sometimes I’ll ask Dude if he remembers something and he’ll look at me blankly, even though I know we had a great time doing it and I have the photographs to prove it.  In my case, my first memories go back to living in Corby in the early seventies with my folks - playing with my friends, collecting Planet Of The Apes cards, the toys of the era (especially Action Man), Saturday morning pictures, Bullet comic and Spider-Man weekly.

Bearing in mind that I write horror, this is what I recall as my first memory of being scared (always good for a laugh, eh?).  When I lived there (and it's the same today), Corby had a huge contingent of Scottish folk and some of their cultural elements were brought down with them, including the Highland Gathering.  One year (I reckon it was either 1974 or 1975), my parents took me and my sister to one such gathering and we sat on the grass (near to the rope ‘fence’) and I can’t remember anything we saw, except perhaps for a motorcycle display team.  One act that I do clearly remember, however, was a bunch of clowns that ran into the ring to, I assume, distract the kids attentions whilst something was being set up.  I remember one clown in particular, a short round bloke who seemed to be completely blue, running over towards us - in my minds eye, he’s gibbering and laughing and sticking his tongue out as he waves his arms wildly in the air, but maybe didn’t happen in real life.  What did happen, though, was that I reacted - I was terrified.  I remember Dad hugging me and taking me away, I remember him explaining what clowns were and - later - I remember him assuring me that no clowns could get into the house and none of them would be hiding under my bed when I went to sleep.

I’m not coulrophobic, though they’re still not my favourite thing in the world - there’s just something about their need to hide behind a mask and caper desperately to get a laugh, that jars me.  Not nice.

Me and Dude, reading on the patio, summer 2013
I can’t remember when I started reading for pleasure, but (see above) I was reading comics - Spider-Man and Bullet - from an early age and once we moved to Rothwell in 1977,that took off.  Having an excellent town library - in the old Market Square building, up a spiral stone staircase and into a dark room with what seemed like more books than the space should have fitted - and a great one at my juniors school, I embraced them.  At school, I discovered The Three Investigators series (as I’ve blogged about here) and began reading some of the books from my Dad’s shelves (though his copy of “The Fog” - with the cut-off ladies head on the cover - scared me for years).  In the early 80s, Dad took me and my sister into a second-hand bookshop in nearby Wellingborough and, because I’d heard people talking about having watched it on TV, I picked up a battered copy of “’Salem’s Lot” by Stephen King.  That was a revelation and I gobbled up as much of his work as I could, using his non-fiction exploration of the horror genre “Danse Macabre” (which I blogged about here) as a guide for further reading and I got into Clive Barker early, on King’s written recommendation.

I still love reading and often get through sixty or more books in a year.  I used to be one of those people who, once they’d started a book, couldn’t stop it midway through but life’s too short for that - I have books on my shelves that I know I’ll probably never get to, so why waste my time reading something that clearly doesn’t sit well with me?

I try to read widely across genres and take in crime, thrillers, drama, Chick-Lit, autobiographies, behind-the-scenes stuff on films, Snoopy and Calvin & Hobbes collections, some sci-fi and - of course - horror.

Rothwell's old library, or The Market House, designed by
William Grumbold for Sir Thomas Tresham.  Construction
began in 1577.
As I mentioned above, my first experience with a public library was in Rothwell and even though it’s not in the same building any more (a new one was built on wasteground across the road in the 80s and although it’s lovely and well-stocked, it’s not a patch on the old one), I still use it and signed Dude up for his library card as soon as we were able to.  Back in the day, when research didn’t mean a few sentences typed into Google, the library was where you did homework that required the use of encyclopaedias and it was generally a treasure trove of information (and new Three Investigator books!).  Whilst that research aspect might have been replaced with laptops, tablets and smart phones, the wealth of books, the huge range of worlds that are ready to be visited with the aid of the readers imagination, is a wonder to behold.  I don’t use the library enough - and if you saw my TBR pile you’d understand why - but I passionately believe they should be there, open to everyone who wants to explore the written word.

What’s Your Passion?
My family, especially adventures with the Dude and hopefully giving him a childhood he’ll look back on favourably (assuming he remembers our adventures...).

I quite enjoyed school and have warm memories of my junior school years (I’m a Parent Governor now and although the old building is still there, the new additions mean that it doesn’t really resemble the place I remember) and my stint at Montsaye (especially the Sixth Form, which I think was the best school year of my life).  I wanted to go on to study journalism, though that never quite happened and I fell into accountancy, which led me back to night school, where I got my professional qualifications (the course was three hours a night, up to three hours a week - how on earth did I manage that?) just before Dude was born.

I’ve been writing stories for a long time, starting when I was about eight and wanted to know more about “Star Wars” so expanded the universe and put me and my friends into the various adventures.  I also wrote about Steve Austin (there were always short stories in the Six Million Dollar Man annuals and I enjoyed reading them), spies (for a while, I wanted to be either James Bond or Simon Templar) and detectives.  I didn’t write much about my own life until I went to Montsaye (our Comprehensive, or senior school), which coincided with the start of “Grange Hill” (“flippin’ ‘eck, Tucker!”), but apart from a few stories, I focussed on crime fiction (I homaged The Three Investigators with my own Three Intrepids series).  I hope I’ve come a long way since then and I love the process (though I do prefer editing to writing - I’m one of those writers who ‘likes having written’).  I don’t write as much as I would like to - there’s a lot of life going on, but I’m also still battling a couple of the demons from a serious block that struck me just after Dude was born - but I’m still there, still plugging away.  After all, whatever would I do without it?

Sue's original post can be found here.

These are the links to other blogs from writers you might find interesting. Not all of them write in the same genre as I do, but they're all very good, as is Sue herself.

Anthony Cowin
Sue Fortin
Donna Bond
Steve Harris
James Everington


  1. Great post, Mark. I had no idea that the Market House had ever been a library.

    1. Thank you - and thanks for asking me.

      It seems to take a few people by surprise. I went back in there a few years ago, to the top floor, but it's all cleared out now and the council meet in the huge space. Shame really.

  2. A truly interesting read Mark. I feel the same way about my kids memories. The way I see it is even though they won't have recall the things they forget still shape them. So the memory is there only in another form like how they see the world, how they act, how they think and who they become.

    1. Thanks Tony - and that's a good way to look at it.

  3. Really interesting post, Mark. My older daughter has a 'thing' about clowns, we're not sure where or why it began, but she hates anything like that.

    And, Grange Hill, me and my husband were only talking about that the other day - I swear, everyone thinks of Tucker Jenkins when they think of Grange Hill.

    1. Thanks Sue. Not good that your daughter has a similar fear, I wonder what it's all about? As for Grange Hill, you're right - and maybe Gripper Stebson, if pushed! :)