Today Mark Hill talks to us offering some odd insights into secondary characters and bay leaves and mixed up tenses.
What motivates you to write?
I am literally useless at everything else. Some people will suggest that I’m not that much good at writing novels either, but at least I enjoy doing it… most of the time. Sometimes – at least twice a week – it drives me over the edge with frustration and anger. I’ll cry and sob and howl, and vow never to write another word. But then I’ll remember that I’m totally useless at everything else, so I may as well get on with it.
Which do you like to write, series or standalones? If you write both, what do you find the difference?
I have two detective series. Two books feature my unstable North London copper Ray Drake; two are about the altogether lovely and very stable Sasha Dawson, and those are set in Southend.
I’ve just started my first standalone, a psychological thriller. In One Bad Thing my protagonist Hannah discovers that the past has a terrible way of coming back to haunt you.
It’s been a fascinating and challenging experience, and I’ve made a conscious effort to make it as different from my series books as possible. It’s kind of intense, because I’m also writing in first person present tense, so the reader is locked very firmly into Hannah’s head. Sometimes my tenses will get confused, and then I’ll get confused, and I’ll have to go for a nap.
Is there anything you wouldn’t write about?
I’ve written books which have managed to touch on very dark and serious subjects, such as institutional abuse, but I’ve managed to hint at those things rather than tackle them head on. I wouldn’t write about animal cruelty, I’m ambivalent about catalytic converters, and I will never, ever tackle the thorny issue of what exactly a bay leaf adds to a meal, taste-wise.
Who is your least favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?
I don’t have least-favourite characters, because they’re all fantastic and compelling, and it feels unkind to even consider singling out any of them. I tell you which characters it can be hard to write, though. It’s those walk-on characters who pop up as witnesses to a crime. My detectives will often spend a scene interviewing them, and then they’ll head off-page and we’ll never hear from them again.
I think all those minor walk-on characters deserve to be written just as well as the main characters. There’s so little space to give them a chance to shine, but it’s worth putting the effort in. In my book It Was Her there’s a chapter featuring two old gay gentlemen, Douglas and Bailey, who recount to the police a home-invasion they were victims of. Douglas has dementia and mistakes one of the intruders for his dead wife. Douglas and Bailey only appear in one chapter, but I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever written.
Tell us about your last book…
The latest Sasha Dawson book, The Woman In The Wood, is out on March 4th, and it features a former Essex reality star who finds himself in a world of trouble when his mates are targeted by a killer. Abs may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s is a lovely guy. Trouble is, he’s got a dark secret, and as we all know, dark secrets never stayed buried.
What’s coming next…
Psych thriller One Bad Thing is out early next year. Did I mention I keep getting the tenses mixed up? Don’t worry, I’ll have that sorted by the time it’s published, I’m sure I will…
A former radio producer, Mark Hill is the author of four novels. His First Lie and It Was Her are written as Mark Hill and The Bad Place and The Woman In The Wood as MK Hill. He still occasionally gets his tenses mixed-up.
Thank you for joining us, and I agree, secondary characters can be tough – but not always as tough as the tense!
Tomorrow we get to hear from Alison Layland.