Interview: Mark Charan Newton – Nights of Villjamur

mark-by-the-boat

I’m very excited to have Mark Charan Newton appearing on Next Read discussing Nights of Villjamur – Legends of the Red Sun 1

I can’t really think of much to add as way of an introduction as the interview speaks for itself.

Gav: For those who haven’t yet heard of Nights of Villjamur, would you mind introducing it?

Mark: It’s essentially a dying earth novel set in the epic fantasy style, a multi-POV story where I wanted people to be at the centre of large-scale events. Very much influenced (although I hope not too obviously) by the other dying earth authors – Vance, Wolfe, Harrison – and with references to them for the keen-eyed reader, it’s based in the ancient city of Villjamur, a thuggish, brooding place with all sorts of pure weirdness going on. Into that, I’ve thrown a few characters who I find interesting – with real problems, and played with one or two tropes of the genre in fun ways.

Gav: I’m curious do you like stories with a big setting but a narrow focus? It seems that there are some big things going on, which the reader is aware of, like the dying earth, and some they aren’t like all the events that are going on off-stage. Do you think it’s important that we experience those events through the character real life experience?

Mark: Absolutely. People are people, and due to whatever reasons – social or personal or political – seldom have the opportunity to see past their immediate surroundings. It’s called life. In writing, I’m actually concerned with the shit going on in people’s lives and how they handle that, within the context of much larger and fucked-up events. It might not be every fantasy fan’s cup of tea, but it’s certainly something I was conscious of writing about.

Gav:  Debut authors (Night’s is Mark’s mainstream debut – gav.) seem to get a lot of support from Sci-fi/Fantasy fans. Do you think that’s true and if so what support have you been getting?

Mark: Yes, although I think it’s symptomatic of people always looking for that next big thing, to some extent. Having said that, a few authors – Lynch, Abercrombie – have surfed their wave a little further. I’ve been receiving overwhelming support – a lot of people on the blogosphere have been so kind about the book, I know I’m very lucky. In addition to this there’s major Book Club support – which is a large market for SFF in the UK. Without getting too solipsistic, the reviews have been generally very kind to me; and I’m a big reader of internet fandom myself, so it’s both bizarre and an honour to be talked about at length.

Gav: I’ve had to look up solipsistic:

“Solipsism is the philosophical idea that one’s own mind is all that exists. Solipsism is an epistemological or ontological position that knowledge of anything outside the mind is unjustified. The external world and other minds cannot be known and might not exist. In the history of philosophy, solipsism has served as a sceptical hypothesis.”

Mark: I suppose there’s some irony there. 🙂

Gav: Moving away from your new fan club and back to Nights itself. Why did you choose to write the book you did? I’m asking because you have a behind the scenes job at Solaris and must have a different perspective. I’m assuming it does but maybe not. I guess I’m asking who or what influenced the thinking behind Nights?

Mark: Well, because I’ve worked in an editorial role in the past (although not for a while now) I guess I’ve got some appreciation of the market, and what editors are looking for. To be honest, I’ve constantly tried to separate the day job and the writing – I’ve soldiered on and got my rejection slips like other struggling writers did.

Before Nights I was writing some stuff which was very consciously in the New Weird tradition, and you know what, it took me a while to realise that the New Weird is dead. If you write a New Weird novel, you’re pretty much writing your own rejection letter, since publishers run a mile from it.

So I think I had some commercial realties to face if I wanted to get published – which let’s face it, that’s why we write – and much of that help came from my agent, John Jarrold. And I don’t mean that commercial is selling out, it’s appreciating that there’s a modern readership with modern tastes. I’d encourage all unpublished writers to keep that in mind too.

But ultimately I’m always writing for me – if I wasn’t doing that, I’d get bored very quickly. I’m writing the story I can’t find on the shelf.

Gav: I must admit to never catching on to New Weird. Saying that I think those concepts like Steampunk might be more a way for a writer to structure their writing and set limits than for a reader to demand from a writer. I guess I don’t see them as a genre in themselves.

It’s interesting that you define commercial as ‘appreciating that there’s a modern readership with modern tastes’. Because you’ve packed a lot of concepts into Nights but at the same time it does feel very modern.

Did you set any limits on the series in terms of what you could and couldn’t do? For example the magic in the book is very technological – did you think that you had to do that differently or did that come from another part of the story?

Mark: With the exception on making sure I concentrated on telling a story, first and foremost, no. Well, that, and making things not self-consciously bizarre and weird anymore. I wanted the magic to be technological to fit in with the dying earth genre – and moreover it would prevent me using magic as a plot convenience. But generally, once I had the story and setting, I did what I wanted, and didn’t think too much about limits.

Gav: Without giving away too many spoilers, either in the question or the reply, you place the reader right in the middle of things. There are at least four different humanoid races with lot unique animals, the world has two moons, and the technology is primitive though there are more than a few hints that there was a higher evolved species in the past of the planet. Are you telling a science fiction story, a fantasy story or a clever mixture or both? (I’m voting the clever mixture of both)

Mark: Fundamentally I’m writing fantasy which has a bunch of other influences – SF, crime, horror. The genres shouldn’t have to be mutually exclusive. One of the things which sometimes irritates me about modern epic fantasy is its conservatism and dependency on predictable, low-imagination stories. Fantasy can do anything; so why does it more often than not do so little; and even in a traditional setting – which I’m not adverse to at all, some books are very good in such a style – very few interesting things occur.

Gav: Can you think of some examples where the boundaries of fantasy have been pushed? Who would you suggest that readers could experience whilst waiting for book two? And have any of them shaped what you are trying to do?

Mark: I say go to the small presses if you want the real experimentation – there’s always so many wonderful books being written that don’t get the coverage of the major presses. I’m a fan of Conrad Williams’ work, particularly “London Revenant“. But if they do like Villjamur, then I could suggest any of the dying earth authors – Vance especially (I believe Gollancz have a good omnibus of his dying earths stories); and also Gene Wolfe – he’s not an easy read by any means, but do persist with the Book of the New Sun series.

Gav: I know that Night’s has a sound track could you give some idea of what music should be playing around certain pages? I’m just curious how the choice of song would affect a scene. This is probably something that should be done after reading…

Mark: Well… I’m a bit of an indie kid at heart so there’s a lot of Death Cab For Cutie, City and Colour, Radiohead, Beirut or Mogwai maybe for the most of what’s set in Villjamur. The more melancholic the better. Although anything that relates to the investigator is strictly jazz: Miles Davis and Duke Ellington go down well for him. Getting me in a conversation about music could take hours, you realise… But if anyone’s interested, the playlist is here:

http://blog.markcnewton.com/2009/03/07/nights-of-villjamur-the-playlist

Gav: Ah thanks. That’s quite a list. I was speaking to an author the other day that uses film scores because they are emotion without the words. Could jazz be similar with Nights? Would it have a Jazz track if it went to Hollywood?

Mark: If it went to Hollywood it could have whatever track it wanted, I wouldn’t mind! I don’t think exclusively jazz though; I’d certainly like to see some heavier stuff used.

Gav: You’ve got a US publisher now. How do you feel about world domination so soon in your career?

Mark: I did a stupid dance when I sold to Del Rey. Chris Schluep seems a top bloke, and edits writers such as Richard Morgan and China Miéville. So I was very excited – especially since when making the offer he was hungry for the book, which is what any writer wants. As for world domination – there are lots of territories left to take over, but I can’t ask for more really. I was happy just to have sold to the UK.

Gav: It’s nice from this bloggers point of view to see books that originate one  sides of the Atlantic getting picked up and promoted to the other. 
Can you give any more info on the US release?

Mark: I’ve not heard too much yet, only that Chris would like to get in sync with the UK for the second title as best as possible.

Gav: Finally, can you give us any hints about what we can expect in book two of Legends of the Red Sun?

Mark: One of the things I’m conscious about in series fantasy is how similar the books can feel, so basically don’t expect book two to be all that much like Nights. New characters, new problems. It’s a LOT weirder, more intense, more violent, maybe a little more controversial in places (if I’m allowed to – I have two editors to slap me down now!) It’s set in a different city for the most part, but I hope to shed more light on the world and what’s going on. I don’t want to get too much in the detail – so much can change – but I think it’s a significantly better book.

Gav: I meant to ask when it was due out?

June 2010 – barring any major issues!

I’d like to thank Mark for a great interview. I had a fun time doing it and I learnt a lot.

You can see my review of Nights of Villjamur here

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