Our Q&A With Author Russell Mardell
1. First and foremost, could you give us a short introduction as to who Russell Mardell is?
I originally studied film production in London, and for a few years worked on some independent films. I was always writing in that time, ideas that never really ended up going anywhere, stories that were written for film that ended up becoming something else (Bleeker Hill was intended to be a screenplay but ended up as a novel.) I then spent a few years writing for the stage and was involved in a few productions in Salisbury and London. Novel writing was always there in my mind as something I wanted to pursue but it really only started when I began writing short stories, which ultimately became the basis for my first book ‘Silent Bombs Falling on Green Grass.’ Since then I have written the novel ‘Stone Bleeding’ (based on a play that was never performed) and most recently ‘Bleeker Hill’ and the novella ebook series ‘Darkshines Seven.’
2. What inspired you to become a writer?
It was something I always enjoyed, even back at school I was writing things, never really finishing them, dreaming up ideas. I won a poetry prize at school, which remains a mystery to me. I have always been a big film fan, which is a passion I got from my dad, and it was always an area I wanted to work in. Writing was always the part of the work I enjoyed most and I never really entertained any other ideas for a career.
3. Tell us a bit about your book…what is it about?
My latest novel is Bleeker Hill, a dystopian horror story set in a near future Great Britain that has descended into anarchy. A mysterious group called ‘The Party’ are trying to gain power amongst the chaos and the rioting. A small group flees to a safe house in the snowy and isolated Bleeker Hill but soon find that the safe house is anything but. It is a place with a long and dark history…
I’m a big fan of horror and dystopian stories and the two seemed like an obvious mash up. ‘Bleeker Hill’ starts as a fast paced dystopian thriller, and slowly becomes a creepy, claustrophobic horror. An early reader said it felt like a cross between ‘1984’ and ‘The Shining’ and whilst I could never make such a grand claim, it’s a comparison I’m not going to complain about!
4. Is it part of a series? Are you planning any more books?
I have written a trilogy called ‘Darkshines Seven’ which, although a stand-alone story in its own right, can also be read as a direct sequel to Bleeker Hill. It is set in the same world and features a few of the same characters, as well as delving a little further into The Party.
I would like to return to Bleeker Hill, and the themes and ideas of it, in future novels. I feel there are more secrets held there…
5. Who do you think will enjoy reading the book?
Being a genre novel (or two genre) then I naturally hope it appeals to horror and dystopian fans, and I have had some lovely reviews from fans of both, but one thing I’ve learned from novel writing is never to second guess who is going to enjoy what you write. I think if you aim too directly for a certain perceived readership you can only ever be disappointed. So many readers read across genres, and those moments when you hear that someone you never thought would give your book a go has read it, and enjoyed it, are wonderful.
6. What authors, dead or alive, inspire your writing?
Like most people of my generation that have turned their hand to horror writing, I read a lot of Stephen King growing up. I’m constantly in awe of his output and consistency. Simply a wonderful storyteller. There are other writers that have been important to me in terms of horror/fantasy writing – Richard Matheson was a genius with an extraordinary imagination. So too was Dino Buzzati who I discovered only quite recently. Other writers like Eric Red and Stephen Volk have been inspirations too. I met Steve when I was starting out and he offered me some advice, which has been invaluable. A good guy and a wonderful writer. Outside of horror and fantasy there have been many other writers that have inspired me too – Paul Auster, William Wharton, John Sayles, so many, the list would be long…
7. Is there anything you feel you have learnt while writing that other authors may find useful?
Its hard to suggest anything specific with regards to the actual process of writing the novels, as I think writing is a very personal job, and everyone will have their own way of working that is right for them. Some try and keep regular hours, like office hours, some write in the evening, some write in short blasts, others can roll the words out for hours, so I suppose everyone has to find their own way that works.
There are so many things to consider outside of the actual writing, and that is the area that I have had to learn so much about – editing, proofreading, marketing, there is so much to do that at times the actual writing part feels like the easy bit. I think it is important to try and have a marketing plan in place before you start writing (if you are going the self-published route, certainly) what is the audience you are writing for? How do you reach them? What review sites might do an advanced review of your book? Marketing takes so long and can be such a tedious process that if you don’t plan ahead, so much of that time where you want to be writing something new is taken up with pushing the previous one. Marketing never really ends, reviews can take an age to come in, people rarely respond to you quickly if they don’t know who you are, the whole process goes on and on, so get as much in place as early as possible, then start writing the next.
Proofing and editing is, of course, vital. I don’t think any writer has the skills to properly self-edit, or to see the flab and the mistakes in the story, so a qualified editor is a must. It’s also important to be able to take criticism (another good aspect of the editor) because once your work is out there the bad reviews are inevitable, no matter how good a writer you are. It’s such a subjective thing, people will like what you do, and others won’t, and sometimes they will have no problem in telling you. You need a thick skin, and to accept off the bat that some people will slag your work off. Nothing you can do about it, it’s part of the job.
8. Name your three favourite books and why?
‘The New York Trilogy’ is an important book to me. Paul Auster has always been an inspiration and this, for me, is his best book. I remember buying a cheap small print paperback copy of it and being absolutely immersed in the world he created. It’s beautiful and mysterious like the best books should be. Wonderful. ‘A Midnight Clear’ is another favourite book. Written by the great William Wharton it is one of the very best anti-war books. There was a terrific film made of it in the nineties, which is well worth watching, very faithful to the book. Moving, uplifting and beautifully written. I think my favourite book would be ‘All The Little Animals’ by Walker Hamilton. I can’t think of too many books that have had a greater impact on me. Deceptively simple, it feels a little like a fairy-tale for grown ups. Dealing with alienation, grief, and companionship it has extraordinary compassion and beauty, it is a stunning book, which I never tire of reading.
9. When is your book available to purchase and from where?