I write a lot. I’m only a one-book-a-year chap because my publishers like to have a bit of time off between launches. I bash out thousands of words each day and in the time that I’m not writing, I’m composing lines and conceiving new characters in my head. There is a name for this affliction. It’s ‘annoying’. The Latin escapes me.
Invariably (until recently) my books have been set in Hull. Why? Well, I know the city. I’ve lived around the area for 17 years and I was a journalist in the city for an age. I know that if you drive down Southcoates Lane with your windows down you will smell the cocoa from the chocolate factory. I know if you head for Wincolmlee to avoid the traffic on Beverley Road, the stink from the tannery will make your eyes water. I know that the car park at the shops on Victoria Dock looks like the surface of the moon, thanks to some weird erosion that you tend to get when you in-fill an old dock and cover it with houses. I know that if you pop into The George on Land of Green Ginger, you’ll get chatting with an old sailor who drinks rum-and-blackcurrant and who takes taxis back and forth between his favourite pubs, four miles apart, after every round. I know the sort of customer you will see in Bob Carver’s chippy at lunchtime and the sort who will clip-clop an extra mile to try and find a falafel and hummus wrap on Princes Avenue. I know Hull, and I know how to write it.
But after five books with the city as the star, one can begin to wonder where to go next. I’ve set scenes in all the local landmarks that I feel an affinity with. I’ve described the sky so many times that I’m beginning to think that my anthology will be entitled Hull’s Sky – Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m not bored with it by any means – I just like describing new sights and sounds and sensations.
That kind of thinking can only lead in one direction. Lower East Side, Manhattan. I’m sure you’re presuming I chose the area because I was familiar with it. Nope. Never been. Hadn’t been to America, actually. Clueless. Didn’t even know Manhattan was an island until I pressed the wrong button on GoogleMaps. But I’m nothing if not a masochist. I had a story floating around my cranium, you see. I wondered how McAvoy would deal with a new cast of characters and a whole different landscape to lose himself in. How he would respond to situations when everybody could conceivably be carrying a gun. I wondered whether I could successfully see out through the eyes of a good-hearted New York priest whose good intentions lead him into darkness. I wondered if I could create new Mafioso hitmen and bosses and make them original. Whether the scope and scale of the country would allow a serial killer to remain undetected for decades. And I wondered how McAvoy would feel about asking questions and following the trail in a city where he has no authority and nobody can understand his accent. It was my stranger-in-a-strange-land story and it still comes as a shock to me that agent extraordinaire Oli Munson was able to persuade my UK and US publishers that I could do the project justice.
Was it difficult? Yes, horribly. When you can literally throw a rock in the air and know it will land somewhere stimulating, one can feel a little overwhelmed. How to boil it down? How to pick the bits that work? How to put Aector where he needs to be without it seeming like a contrivance? GoogleMaps was a help. So were the endless newspaper articles I read online. But in the end I did what I always do. I walked the streets, drank in the bars and talked to the people. I soaked it up. 72 hours in New York. Bars, boxing gyms, casinos and after-hours drinking dens. I had a far better time than Aector. I didn’t have to have any bare-knuckle boxing matches or have my skin carved open by a serial killer called The Penitent (who uses human remains in a way that might turn your stomach). I let my imagination become an aerial, picking up the frequencies of dialect, description and nuance. I don’t know if I nailed it, but I know I enjoyed describing things I hadn’t described before.
Aector will be home in the next book and I don’t know if I will take him away again. Hull is home, after all. And on the plus side, while I was away I did come up with a dozen new ways to describe the sky over Hull… ‘As bleak as the post-election mood’.
Also of Interest
- Dream Cast for McAvoy Series
A couple of years back, the rights to my first novel were snapped up by a major TV company and I enjoyed lots of lovely lunches with the sort of people who would ignore a telephone call from Kenneth Branagh so as not to be distracted from one of my rambling anecdotes. It was all rather jolly. The adaptation never happened, of course. I don’t think the guy in charge had even read the book. But it was quite exciting while it lasted. Since then, lots of people have asked me who I would cast, if given free rein, in a small-screen version of the McAvoy books. This is the kind of thing that stops me sleeping, I hope you understand.Continue reading >>
- A Bite of the Big Apple
During the research process, I’m pretty much a sponge. I absorb and soak up until I am saturated. Sitting at a bar in Little Italy, earwigging as the wiseguys spoke about ‘some bum’ who needed ‘a talking to’ it occurred to me I probably had the best job in the world but probably shouldn’t be seen taking notes. Drinking rum-filled hot chocolates in an Irish bar, I had a vision of McAvoy’s boss, Trish Pharaoh, getting insanely excited at the selection of whiskies and realised that I needed to get her into the story...Continue reading >>
- Why the Hull Not?
The lock gates look as though they are simply staying up out of bloody-mindedness. The timbers are rotten: sinking, inch by inch, into a sucking chocolatey sludge. The rusty metal struts are half hidden behind hanging tapestries of green slime. Anybody wanting to test the path must first wriggle past lethal-looking metal security railings and a tattered curl of barbed wire. This is St Andrew’s Dock in Hull.Continue reading >>
- McAvoy Takes Manhattan
It’s a little after midnight. I’m freezing. The flight seemed to take forever and the security guy at the airport was a right prick. Apparently ‘a bit of both’ isn’t an answer that they can work with in reply to the question ‘business or pleasure?’ The cab driver who brought me from JFK to the Lower East Side had been thrilled to discover he had an author in his taxi. He took it as an opportunity to outline...Continue reading >>
- A Room Without a View
You’ve got me feeling nostalgic. Until a few weeks ago, I had an office of my own. Green walls. Burgundy leather recliner. My horses looking up at me from the stables and snowdrops sprouting among the headstones in the graveyard next door. Books by the cartload and a cork-board covered in random newspaper articles, interspersed with photos...Continue reading >>
- David Mark interview on Audible
Learn more about David Mark, Hull, the DS McAvoy crime series and Cruel Mercy, in this interview with Robin Morgan in the Audible Studios. 12 minutes. Listen nowContinue reading >>
- Might you also talk a bit about your writing process? Your daily process while you are writing as well as what is it like to write a series—keeping all those plot threads straight!
I’m very lucky that I have the kind of mind that is perfectly suited to writing fiction and which is horribly ill-suited to everything else. I take notes now and again and sometimes find scraps of paper with random words and aide-memoirs scribbled upon them but by and large I think of my skull like one of those candyfloss machines. I just swirl a stick around in there and ideas stick to it. The story I’m living and breathing then squats there in my head and pushes everything else out. Sometimes I look at the clock and I’ve lost a day and I realise I haven’t been to the bathroom since dawn. I write a chapter a day, no matter what. I’m at my desk by 9am, drinking coffee and grinding my teeth. It’s delightfully masochistic. I kind of enjoy the agony of it, which sounds very pretentious for a writer of dark thrillers! As soon as it’s done, my brain just kind of flatlines for a bit. Then it starts preparing for the next project. Two years later, when the book is in people’s hands, I’ve largely forgotten what it was about. Sorry!Continue reading >>
- What is essential to writing good crime fiction? Do you stick to some sort of formula or do you break all the rules? Do you read a lot of crime fiction or thrillers as well?
I read everything I can get my hands on. I love thrillers and psychological fiction but it is rather difficult to read them for pleasure now that it’s my day job. It’s hard not to read with an air of comparing the market. I don’t really take any notice of rules, either in the writing process or in life. Actually, I do have one – if the novelist has mentioned the make and model of a car by the end of the first paragraph, the book isn’t for me. And for God’s sake, don’t start off with a dream. For me, it’s just a case of meeting interesting people and twisting preconceptions on their head. Listen to the radio a lot. People who phone DJs are particularly inspiring – they always seem like the sort of person who could be a killer or the killed. Listen to your inner voice. When some dullard is telling you about their tedious problems, think of ways to kill them, and why. It’s less risky than actually doing it. And you think I’m joking.Continue reading >>