Interview – Mark Fleming, author of The Call of the Siren
Self-Publisher’s Showcase: Today we are joined by Mark Fleming; the author the Newly-Released, Fantasy/Thriller ‘The Call of the Siren’. Welcome to the Showcase Lounge, Mark.
Mark Fleming: Thanks
SPS: For those that may be unaware of your work to date. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into writing?
MF: I grew up in Southport, which is a seaside town on the northwest coast of England, before moving to London in the mid 1980s to work in the film industry. I started out as an editor but then switched to visual effects and model making, and worked on many films including Batman, The Name of the Rose, Prince of Thieves and Judge Dredd. Although I enjoyed my time in the film industry, I always felt I wanted to achieve more, and that is where I found my desire to write. I developed an irresistible urge to invent and tell stories.
Although I only began creative writing in my thirties, first with screenplays and then novels, my first experience of authorship came at the age of 15, when I produced a series of monthly astronomy articles for local newspapers. That’s when I first realised I could inform and entertain through my words. I also discovered the pleasure of knowing that people wanted to read them.
SPS: Can you tell us about your perfect writing conditions, do you go for solitude and silence or are you an author that works better with a little background noise?
MF: If merely plotting and blocking out, I like to listen to indie music (Lanterns on the Lake being my current favourites, but I am also partial to a bit of Polyphonic Spree.) However, I find I need absolute silence when writing dialogue. I tend to speak my dialogue aloud, and find music too much of a distraction, even if only instrumental. I do not have a set place to write, although I would very much like a writing shed! I can and do write anywhere. I use a laptop and will write in bed, in cafes, trains and even poolside while my son takes his swimming lessons.
SPS: You spent a lot of time involved in the film industry, is there anything you learned there that has helped you in your writing career?
MF: Whenever I write fiction, I write with the film of the book in mind. I see the book’s settings as scenes, and the action and dialogue as complete sequences. I picture actors for some characters and even hear the music and sound effects. The visual storytelling of movies, and the way movies make viewers feel, greatly influences my writing. The film industry is wholly responsible for my next novel. The Making of…(STREET CLEANERS) is set within the industry and draws heavily on my experience of the sets, locations and actors, plus the perceived glamour and actual hard work of film making.
SPS: October 1st saw the release of your latest novel ‘The Call of the Siren’. Where did the idea for the story come from and how easy was it to draft out?
MF: I wanted to write specifically for a genre and an identifiable market. With my previous writing, I often found it difficult to lock the work into a single marketable genre. With my latest book, I thought about the contemporary fantasy market, and the huge popularity of vampire, ghost, zombie and werewolf books. I wanted to appeal to an age range from young adult to mature, and wanted to create a character that would appeal both to men and women. I also wanted an entirely new character; one not weighed down with the baggage of expectation and stereotypes. With all this in mind, I began to think about suitable characters from myth and legend. I thought about the ancient myth of the Sirens, and of how they drew their victims to their watery deaths. I knew straight away that I had stumbled upon a great character, and could barely believe that no one had tackled her before in this manner. I wanted the Siren to be believable and very real, I wanted her to be compelling, vulnerable, dangerous and yet remain someone with whom the reader will find an immediate empathy.
From having the original idea, it took only a week to make a start on the text. The first line of the finished book was the very first line I wrote on day one: ‘Being killed by the Siren is a wonderful way to die.’ I thought it a great opening line, and from that single sentence the entire book grew. I completed the first draft in sixty-three days.
SPS: Was there a lot of research into myth and legend required before writing about Sirens?
MF: To be honest, I spent about an hour looking online for details of the original sirens. I then did a search to see if anyone had written about the character before, and if so, whether they set her as a contract killer in the modern world. No one had, and so I felt I had the green light to begin.
SPS: The main character is the last of the Sirens, Eleanor Orlen. A perfect killer, but forced to kill or perish. How well does she deal with all the emotions of feeling lost, scared and frustrated?
MF: At this stage in her life she does not deal with it well. Trapped against her will in a job she loathes, she is wracked with loneliness, frustration and fear. She self-harms and often thinks of suicide. She wants freedom but also craves company. She is messed up and confused, but that goes with her being forever in her late teens. At the same time she possesses a dry sense of humour, and is often touchingly sympathetic to others. It is easy to forget her absolute lethality, particularly when cornered or hungry.
SPS: The book is the first one in a planned Trilogy? What can we expect the future to hold for Eleanor?
MF: Revenge, explanations and an increased level of danger for Eleanor, with other people seeking to ‘acquire’ her for their own nefarious ends. She gets around a bit too. The Cry of the Siren is set in Canada, USA and Europe, while the third book, The Echo of the Siren, is set almost entirely in Rome. Books two and three also see more of an involvement with the Americans and the Vatican, who seek to keep her as an exotic specimen.
SPS: Your previous book, the fantasy novel CHALLERTON has been out for over a year now. How has the reaction been and is it what you were hoping for?
MF: Those who have read the book appear to have thoroughly enjoyed it. Its reviews, be they few and far between, are very good. One person contacted me and told me that their favourite genre was time-travel, and that Challerton was one of the best they had ever read. In their top three no less.
I released Challerton with no advertising or announcement, and I was not even active on social media at the time. It came out with no fanfare whatsoever because I planned the book to act as a back-catalogue piece; something a reader might find after reading and hopefully enjoying The Call of the Siren, which I class as my first proper release.
SPS: The book’s plot involves the ill-fated Titantic, dilapidated houses, time travel and plenty of twists and turns. It must have been fun to write?
MF: I thoroughly enjoyed writing Challerton, and I fairly blasted through it. The first draft took twenty-three days and I think I smiled through most of it. It almost wrote itself, with only a little pre-thought necessary in tying the beginning and end together with a single plot device.
I’ve always found the story of the Titanic fascinating, perhaps through its involvement with my parent’s home city of Liverpool. I had the idea of someone finding themselves in the strange position of knowing the ship’s fate in advance. This led to the time travel theme.
I am also fascinated with ruined places, especially houses. There is an inherent and visceral sadness in exploring ruins, and there is always a compelling story behind the reason for the decay: death, war, feud, mishap and the like. Challerton gave me the opportunity to play with parallel time-lines, and enabled me to present a single setting in both a ruinous state and in perfect condition, all because of a single chance event in 1912.
SPS: You previous work has been non-fiction work looking at Fire and in particular Fireworks. Where did your fascination come from?
MF: My fascination with fireworks came about at the age of five or six, when I sat on the window ledge of my brother’s bedroom watching the fireworks of our neighbourhood on Guy Fawkes Night. Something about the light, the colour and the sounds, triggered a deep interest that has never left.
SPS: We know that you’ve only just finished Siren and surely deserve a bit of a break, but can you let us know what you will be working on next? Will you be continuing the Sirens Trilogy or do you have something else planned first?
MF: I will take a break from the Siren for a while. She and I need a bit of freedom from each other, after too many intense months together. I am currently running through a final edit of The Making of… (STREET CLEANERS), which I plan to publish next April or May. I am also three quarters of the way through a potentially controversial contemporary thriller, titled The Ribbon and the Hawk, which tells the tale of a high-level government cover-up and the underhand methods they use to stop people talking.
SPS: We always like to spend a moment looking at an individual’s book covers; can you tell us about how your covers come about and how much time goes into the design?
MF: I give a lot of though to my covers, and like to have them in my hand before or during the first draft of the book. Having the cover makes the book real for me. The same goes with the title. I find I cannot write the book unless I already have the final title.
I like simplicity in my covers, The Call of the Siren, for instance, was always going to be just a haunting female face set against watery blue. I discovered a beautiful American actress named Maude Feally, who was one of Cecil B. DeMille’s favourite stars. The image I used for the cover was taken sometime around 1905. She is so beautiful, serene and yet mysterious. I still find it hard to believe the image is over a century old. Her face is perfect for my vision of the Siren and hence the cover of the book, which I wanted to stand out from bookshelves and web pages.
For Challerton, which is a book about time, I wanted an image that spoke of the passing and measuring of time. Fortuitously, I was able to use a portion of a painting I made back in the early 1990s, which contained a clock, hourglass and sundial among other things.
SPS: Was the Self-Published/Indie-Published route always your preferred route for your work?
MF: I would have preferred the traditional agent and publisher approach, and feel my books would have done well if handled so. I had two literary agents show great interest in the Siren Trilogy before turning it down. One agent communicated with me for over two months before deciding to let the project go. I was told, in confidence by another, that had I been in some way famous, they would have snapped up the book. If true, it is a sad state of affairs.
SPS: Have you encountered many obstacles in your journey into self-publishing?
MF: The issues I find challenging are mainly marketing and promotion. I also find it annoying how difficult it is to make my print books available in bookshops. Although central ordering and distribution services do exist, they are set up for the mass-market producers and not small independent publishers like myself. Hopefully this will begin to change, as more people make use of print on demand distribution services.
SPS: If you could give one piece of advice for someone looking to self-publish their work what would it be?
MF: Utilise all the help available. There is a lot of help out there, from sites like this, forums and Facebook groups, to guidebooks and even publishing platforms that guide you through the process. Let them ease you through the technical issues of formatting, uploading, distribution and promotion.
SPS: Before we bring this fascinating interview to a close, it’s your chance to name-drop. Anyone who you feel is deserving of more recognition at present or someone whose writing you have recently enjoyed? Now is your chance to spread the word…
MF: It’s sad, but I rarely have the chance to read fiction at present. I spend too much time writing or editing my previous writing!
SPS: Thank you for joining us today Mark, and good luck in the future.
MF: It’s been a pleasure. I have enjoyed answering your questions and wish you all the best with supporting fellow authors through your site.
SPS: All of Mark’s work is available through his Author page, and if you are looking for something new to read, we highly recommend picking up a copy of The Call of the Siren today
IF YOU HAVE ENJOYED THIS INTERVIEW PLEASE DO ADD A COMMENT BELOW.