Interview with Mark Anson, author of Acid Sky and Below Mercury

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Today I have asked Indie author Mark Anson to discuss his two science fiction techno-thrillers, his writing process and how he produces those fantastic diagrams that accompany his novels.

Thank you for agreeing to let me grill you, Mark. How long have you been writing and who are the writers you admire?
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my work! I started writing short stories while I was still at school, and the stories grew in size until I could tackle a full-length novel. As for writers I admire, for sheer quality of writing and storytelling it has to be Winston Graham (author of the Poldark novels, Marnie and many other works). His ability to immerse the reader in a totally believable world, with beautifully drawn characters and intertwining storylines, is outstanding. For science fiction, I have always admired Michael Crichton and his ability to extrapolate science fact into gripping thrillers – Timeline is a particular favourite of mine as it blends science fiction with an intensively researched historical adventure.

Are you an organic writer, or a planner? If you do plan, how much of the story arc and character development do you work out in advance. How closely do you stick to any plan?
I fall squarely into the ‘planner’ category – not that there’s anything wrong with the organic approach! I use a spreadsheet to map out in detail what happens in each chapter, what the characters’ motivations are, and to keep track of detailed points like time of day, and issues that need resolving later. I try to plan one book ahead of where I am actually writing in the series, so that I have a pretty good idea where the characters have come from and where they’re going. I didn’t use to take such a structured approach, but I ended up wasting a lot of material due to lack of planning and I’ve had to teach myself to work this way. I stick pretty closely to the plan but I do make changes if I think things don’t work. And that’s where continuity errors can creep in.

I’m interested to know what impact your fabulous drawings have on your creative process regarding the story. At what stage in your stories do you work out your spacecraft? Did you have your Mercury mines all drawn before you wrote the story – or do you work out your drawings alongside your storytelling?
I do all the drawings in advance of writing, and the level of detail reflects how much time the characters spend in the situation. So for the huge mine in Below Mercury, I did this in some detail because half the story is set there and it’s difficult to describe the complexities of mine workings without it, while for Acid Sky, all the action is set on a giant flying carrier, so there are several drawings of that. I don’t think the drawings are necessary to read and enjoy the stories, but they certainly help me to maintain a detailed and consistent background. They do change a bit as I write the story, if I feel something isn’t working.

How long did it take you to write the books?
I’m very slow – Acid Sky took two years. Below Mercury took considerably longer as it was my first full-length novel. I am working to improve.

You self-published Below Mercury – had you initially attempted to get it traditionally published, or did you immediately decide to go the self-publishing route?
I tried the traditional route first without success before deciding to go it alone. Having published two books now in both e-book and print, it’s much easier to see things from the publisher’s point of view and understand why the chances of getting a traditional publishing deal are so incredibly slim. I suspect that in the future, unknown authors will increasingly be expected to prove their work first through self-publishing on e-book platforms, before being considered by a traditional publisher.

Clare Foster is a very believable, sympathetically drawn protagonist – is she a complete product of your imagination, or have you based her on anyone you know?
Clare isn’t based on anyone in particular, but I have certainly drawn on character traits of people whom I have met and worked with. I wanted to create a strong, career-driven female character that readers could identify with, and who has a story behind her. And things don’t always go her way – her star is rising in Acid Sky, but when we see her again several years later in Below Mercury, things have gone very wrong for her and she is seeking to redeem herself.

I understand that you are currently writing the sequel to Below Mercury. Can you tell us a bit about it and when it will be available?
Yes. I have a sequel planned in detail for Below Mercury, set on a future Mars, which addresses the questions left outstanding, especially what happens to the bad guys after Matt and Clare escape from the mine on Mercury. I am likely, however, to write another story first which fits in between Acid Sky and Below Mercury, and tells the story of Clare Foster’s time in the elite Asteroid Interceptor squadron. It’s going to be set in space beyond Mars, and I hope very much to have this out at the end of 2015. But of course, plans may change…

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