Thursday, December 15, 2011

Guest Post: How The Mill Came About by Mark West

I'm very excited to welcome Mark West to Book Den. Mark is joining us today to discuss how his novelette The Mill came about. You can read my review of The Mill here.

My name is Mark West and I write horror stories. I’ve been writing them for a long time (since I was eight, in fact) and when I discovered the world of the small/independent press in 1998, I started to get them published.

In 2005, my son was born and I was whacked by a writers block that took me a long while to climb over. What helped was a friend of mine, Gary McMahon, asking me to contribute a story to a forthcoming anthology he was editing (I later found out that it was all lies - he felt bad for me, asked for a story, then realised he was going to have to put something together). I wrote “The Mill” and it duly appeared in Gary’s “We Fade To Grey”, which featured four other cracking stories and was short-listed for the BFS Best Anthology in 2009 - and my block had started to fall.

Earlier this year, after some prompting from my friend Tim Taylor - who's not only in my writing group, he's also the publisher at Greyhart Press - I decided to give “The Mill” a fresh crack of the whip and it was released as an ebook. What's nice is that it's finding a new audience, it's getting fresh reviews that are very positive and it's doing my confidence a world of good.

So where did “The Mill” come from? I'm a strong believer in the school of 'write-what-you-know', in so much as you can place your characters in the most outlandish situations but they should always react how you - or your friends - would. I first started getting building blocks of ideas for the tale in the early noughties, the concept of a ghost story that wasn't really about ghosts but more about the place though it didn't matter what I did, I couldn't get the story to fly.

It took a while, after Gary’s request, to realise that what I actually wanted to write about was something that I did indeed know, that had been rattling around in my head for a long time. In 2003, after six months of illness, my younger sister passed away (my novel “Conjure” is dedicated to her) and I was still - four years later - trying to process my thoughts and feelings. So why not exorcise it all in a story, get down on the page what I thought and how I felt? And that’s what I did, though for the sake of dramatic licence I changed the bereavement to the lead characters wife.

“The Mill” was a difficult story to write, as you can imagine - although there are moments of brevity in it and some flashbacks to a more pleasant time, it’s about bereaved partners who would do anything to spend more time with their departed loved ones. I ploughed a lot of my thoughts into Michael, the lead character and conversations he and his peers have are ones that I had with friends.

The story was a big departure for me - whereas before, in my short stories and my first published novel “In The Rain With The Dead” (now also an eBook from Greyhart), I used gore as a tool and used it gladly - my sensibilities had changed considerably (this is also noticeable in “Conjure”). I didn’t want to gross people out, I wanted to scare them and make them think and make them cry. In that sense, I think “The Mill” marks a step-change in my writing career - I’m still a horror writer, make no mistake about that at all, but I now want to move the reader without splashing blood and body parts around. I will still spill blood, I will still lop off limbs, but that hopefully won’t be the bit that chills the reader.

As with most of my work, a lot of the places in the story are real. I grew up in a small town called Rothwell, in Northamptonshire and if you take a walk down Shotwell Mill Lane, you’ll see in real life exactly what’s described in the book. There was a mill at the bottom of it, though only the cellar areas now remain and when we were kids, we’d go there in the summer holidays to play war and a variety of other games. The cellars are still there now, but massively overgrown. The hall where the group meets up is based on the one in Kettering, where my first writing group used to meet and the cafĂ© in town is one that my parents like to frequent (and my son loves it too).

The story is set in Gaffney, which is the location for most of my stories. It’s an amalgamation of my home town, Rothwell and Kettering, where we lived when I started publishing and other places - Northampton and Leicester - pop up as and when required. I started using the town in the early days because I didn’t want to inadvertently kill someone in a particular street and then discover that someone of that name did actually live there. Once I’d started publishing the stories, I realised that I had to create a reality of the town,
so there is a basic layout - in my head - to Gaffney and it doesn’t matter if you read a short, the novel or this, the main streets are the same, the town has the same layout and the cinema is always on Russell Street. Gaffney is also the location for a forthcoming chapbook I have coming out through Spectral Press, though I’ve now added a railway line to the town.

“The Mill” is a novelette (that’s the length Gary was looking for - it was the first time I’d tried to write to 15,000 words or so and a process I quite enjoyed) that is now, thankfully, enjoying a new lease of life. And I’m pleased with that.

Thank you so much sharing your story with us, Mark!

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