Tag Archives: Clare Foster

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…

Review of Indie EBOOK Acid Sky – prequel to Below Mercury by Mark Anson

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For those of you who have read and enjoyed Anson’s offering Below Mercury, – read my review here – this book goes back into pilot Clare Foster’s past and gives us a slice of her training, when she first visited the skies above Venus.

Langley plan 250214 150dpiVenus – second planet from the Sun. In the crushing depths of its atmosphere lies a hellish, dimly-lit world of baked rock and furnace-like temperatures, forever hidden beneath thick clouds of sulphuric acid. But high above the clouds, the sky is blue and clear, and a fleet of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers circle endlessly on the high-altitude winds, providing a welcome staging post for crews on long space voyages. For Clare Foster, a newly-promoted lieutenant in the US Astronautics Corps on her first tour of duty on board the carrier Langley, flying on Venus brings new challenges to be mastered. But the endless blue skies of Venus soon darken with an approaching menace, in which the terrifying fury of the planet will be unleashed…

If you enjoy your science fiction on the hard side, then Anson is your man. His world-building is a geek’s dream, with beautiful line drawings of the various craft he portrays in his story. As you can see from the examples I have included – which show up a treat on venusmy very basic Kindle – he has included an extra dimension to the backdrop. There is also a section at the back of the book with additional details about Venus, the acid sky and those amazing craft. However, I have read plenty of amazing futuristic worlds depicted by science fiction authors, who wouldn’t know narrative pace if they fell over it in a wormhole… Anson is one of the other sort – those who not only have an excellent grasp of all the techie toys, but nevertheless can also spin a great story and write convincing characters.

Which is just as well, because his protagonist is young Clare Foster and the nature of the storyline means that this could have gone into some really dodgy territory, with yet another young, good-looking female victimised. Dedicated, talented and extremely hard-working, nevertheless Clare is greener than a four-leaved shamrock when she finds herself on the huge carrier Langley, which is harvesting elements from the surrounding skies as well as providing a convenient stopover for traffic moving back and forth to Mercury.

acid skyShe falls foul of a fellow officer – and rather than just put up and shut up, as she is advised to do, she decides to mete out her own revenge. With startling consequences… The early stages of this book is full of Clare’s experiences as a pilot and the pace is not exactly leisurely, but it isn’t a foot-to-the-floor adrenaline rush, either. But what it does do, is make us really care about Clare and get to know her thoroughly before she is plunged into her adventure. As well as give us plenty of insights into just how everything works on this world, with all the checks and balances and safety regulations, we get the sense that those living and working in this hostile environment know it well and have more or less got it under control… Until it all goes wrong, of course.

It’s a very neat trick. I cannot recall reading a book where I minded so much about the technology and what happens to it. As for Anson, this is his second book and it shows. The pacing is more sure-footed and while he takes risks with the particular storyline he has chosen, I think his depiction of Clare has managed to avoid the accusation that he has set up his female protagonist as a sex victim in a lazy plot device. The situation she finds herself in is all too believable – and Anson’s handling of the whole incident is well done. I’m looking forward to reading Anson’s next book. His particular format of juxtaposing the impressive technical ingenuity alongside the frailty and inherent rule-breaking that goes on in any human community makes for riveting storytelling.
9/10

Review of Indie EBOOK Below Mercury by Mark Anson

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A really good space opera adventure takes a lot of skill to write. The characters have to be convincing and compelling; the adventure Space tug 090613 300dpihas to be engaging and above all the backdrop has to have a major impact on what is going on. Space adventures where it is all exactly like Earth, except for a few mentions of drifting and concerns about vacuum won’t cut it, but neither will I tolerate pages of techno-babble in omniscient viewpoint. So I approached this freebie I’d loaded on my Kindle on the strength of a cool cover and promising opening without too much anticipation.

BelowMercuryMercury – closest planet to the Sun. In the permanent darkness of Chao Meng-fu crater lie vast fields of ice that that have never seen the Sun, and the ruins of Erebus Mine, abandoned and forgotten after a devastating explosion that claimed the lives of 257 people. After an eight-year legal battle, the relatives of the victims have finally succeeded in forcing the Space Accidents Board to reopen its investigation. Matt Crawford, a mine engineer who escaped the disaster, joins a team sent back to the mine to discover the true cause of the accident. The team is led by Clare Foster, a pilot in the U.S. Astronautics Corps, who has taken on the mission in the hope of rebuilding her career after a near-miss incident. But as they set off for Mercury, they are unaware of a powerful enemy ranged against them…

Mark Anson cle71QOg-KZn7Larly knows his stuff and there is a wealth of detail for those who enjoy such things. But he also can write characters – including a convincing female protagonist, and keeps his cast of main characters small enough that we get to know them well, so that when the action kicks off we care about what will happen to them. And I really enjoyed the initial chapters where he sets up the reasons for the voyage back to Mercury – I felt the legal wrangling over the disaster was completely realistic.

While I’ve read one or two reviews who felt the initial pacing was slow, I was quite happy to relax into Anson’s fluid style as he steadily ramps up the tension. The depiction of the mine at the bottom of the crater and the economic and political background is strong and his descriptions are vivid and compelling. I was reading late into the night to discover what happened to the investigating team once everything began to go wrong.  He is also a talented artist, who produces a series of meticulous drawings and maps to support his detailed, well depicted world – a couple of examples of these drawings are here and show up really well on my basic-model Kindle.

While the story denouement wasn’t totally unexpected, Anson produces enough twists and shocks along the way that kept me hooked to the end. And I am reassured to hear this is the first in a planned series, as I will be making a point of looking out for more from this indie author. Anson is One To Watch in a demanding genre where it is difficult to achieve a truly readable, well written book – particularly without the support of a publishing house and professional editor.
8/10