Interview with Russell Mardell - Author of the Dark Comedy: Stone Bleeding.
Based in the South West of England, Russell Mardell, he originally trained in film production in London whilst trying his hand at screenplays. This led to writing and directing a couple of low budget independent films. Film was always his main passion and is an area Russell plans to work in again.
He was approached to write for the stage, which led to several plays being performed, some of which he also directed.
Stone Bleeding is Russell Mardell's second book after publishing a short story collection Silent Bombs Falling on Green Grass in 2010. He has written and directed for the stage in the UK and had five plays performed, including two: The Seventeenth Valentine and Freestate that premiered in London. He is currently writing his third book Bleeker Hill a dystopian horror novel.
Interview with Author Russell Mardell
Russell Mardell: I trained in film production in London, having already tried my hand at a few screenplays. Following that I went on to write and direct a couple of independent films. They were great training, more so than any course. I think it’s the same with most things, particularly writing, you only learn by actually doing the job. The only advice writers really need is to write and read, a lot. You can study a hundred books on how to write, but in the end you only develop your own voice by writing. My passion was always films and it’s an area I am keen to work in again. I spent a number of years writing for the stage after that, I’ve written five plays so far, some of which I also directed. It was great fun and again, it would be nice to work in that area again one day but the venue rates are so high and the funding system so complicated and unevenly weighted that it’s a tough field to work in. Novel writing was always the plan eventually, though I hadn’t planned to tackle it as early as I did. I had a number of short stories that I had worked on over the years – stories that didn’t justify a novel but were too good to not do anything with, so, despite wise old heads telling me that readers won’t read short stories, I self-published my first short story collection ‘Silent Bombs Falling on Green Grass’ in 2010. It was a long process, but incredibly rewarding, proving to myself that not only do readers read short stories but also that there was a market out there for the sort of thing I wrote. In many ways that was the driving force behind self-publishing the first book, I was under no illusions that it was going to make a fortune or catapult me to a bestseller list, but I wanted to prove to myself that there was a book reading audience for what I did as well. How else was I going to find out? I held little hope of an agent taking it on or a publisher showing interest – it was a dark, obscure, unremittingly weird book by a first time writer. Plus it was short stories (and no one reads short stories) so I saw no point in even trying to approach them. I went straight to publish. There are downsides to self-publishing, but that option is the truly great thing about it. Without it I don’t think I would have had the impetus to even write it in the first place.
Who are your favorite writers, your favorite books, and who or what are your writing influences?
My favourite writers are Paul Auster, Charles Bukowski, William Wharton, Paul Schrader and David Mamet. Books would be All The Little Animals by Walker Hamilton, New York Trilogy by Paul Auster and A Midnight Clear by William Wharton. All the above writers would be influences but the biggest influence would always be any indie writer who has stuck at it, pushed through all the obstacles and made a success of their work. There’s always a lot of people saying ‘you shouldn’t,’ ‘you couldn’t’ or ‘you won’t’ so its always good when people can say, ‘I did.’
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
I always wrote when I was a child; English was the only subject I was any good at at school. I think it was always there. I won a poetry competition back then which is something my mother will happily tell anyone who will listen. I only mention that now, even though it has little relevance, to save her the bother. It was probably when I quit guitar lessons with the crushing realization that I was never going to be a lead guitarist that writing became the (actually achievable) goal.
"I need to discipline myself..."
Tell us about your writing process. Do you have a writing routine?
I always used to write through the night, particularly when I was doing shift work. But now I try and keep a fairly rigid office hours routine. I need to discipline myself because, like most writers, finding a distraction and an excuse not to write is very easy. I bolt myself away, turn the music up, dose up on tea and try and air the room as much as possible.
What do you find easiest about writing? What the hardest?
Once past that awful ‘staring at a blank screen’ moment, the actual writing is by far the easiest part. I tend to write fast, and (usually) I find it easy and fun. I don’t plan too far ahead in the writing, not something I would particularly recommend, but for me it works. It keeps it fresh and a challenge. When you are writing for yourself, which I guess every indie writer does at the start, you may as well try and keep the process enjoyable, because there’s an awful lot that isn’t enjoyable once you’ve finished writing it. The hardest part is always finding the freedom to do it. Real life gets in the way. Usually financially. You shut yourself away, don’t see your loved ones and then suddenly you are reminded you have to step out into the real world and you have no money and look like a tramp.
Russell, please tell us a little about your debut novel 'Stone Bleeding'.
It’s a very dark satire on a modern Britain in anarchy. The country has fallen apart, politics has failed and the system has broken. It poses the question: ‘What would you do if there were no rules anymore?’ The story centers on a love triangle in the middle of the chaos – a private detective, a former TV golden girl and the most wanted man in Britain – each recounting their versions of events as their stories overlap and intersect and slowly reveal the mystery of what happened. Also, not wanting to make the writing process easier than it need be, the novel is told backwards. It is a thinly veiled swipe at the rise in celebrity culture, reality TV and soundbite politics, taking a world obsessed with fame and pushing it to the extreme.
|Click to Read an Excerpt|
What inspired you to write the book?
I have an intense dislike of the current celebrity culture that seems so prevalent in society. Reality shows and anything with ‘celebrity’ in the title. There is something intrinsically disturbing and unhealthy about seeing fifteen year olds on talent shows claiming that ‘this is all I’ve ever wanted to do, this is my dream!’ and then breaking down in tears or a rage when they don’t get in. When I was fifteen I just wanted to get laid. That was unhealthy enough for me. These shows aren’t making dreams come true or giving people opportunities, they are cheap and manipulative ways of milking money out of the gullible whilst selling an unrealistic notion of fame. It amazes me how fame seems to have become something to aspire to, almost an acceptable career path for some. It isn’t so much about what you do, or even if you are any good, so long as you are famous. That, to me, is deeply disturbing. That sort of culture seems to have infested politics too in some ways. People have to look right and they have to sound right on camera. They have to talk in soundbites. London currently has a monumental fool as mayor, elected pretty much on the comedic value he offers on TV. I wanted to merge those two ideas together and take such a society to its extreme. It is a wildly exaggerated satire, but it makes you think ‘what if?’ I think the themes of ‘Stone Bleeding’ will resonate with a lot of people. It’s a story of now, a morality tale that a lot of people can relate to.
Who do you see as your target audience and where can we buy the book?
I’ve given up trying to second-guess the sorts of people who are going to enjoy what I write. Most of my writing is pretty dark, surreal, ranty and a tiny bit offensive and because of that I had a pre-set idea as to the sort of people that I probably shouldn’t be aiming it towards. Often they have been the readers that have seemed to enjoy it the most. So what do I know? I dislike the idea of trying to pigeonhole readers as much as I hate the pigeonholing of books. To me it’s either good or bad. Read the blurb, read an extract and give it a go or move on. The book is available through my website as well as Amazon, B&N, Foyles and all the usual suspects.
"[...] built up a nice little hardcore group of fans"
How would you describe the success of your book so far?
The response has been really encouraging. It’s received some great reviews and I’m often getting lovely comments through Twitter from people who have read it. It’s very heartening. My first book, ‘Silent Bombs Falling on Green Grass’ had built up a nice little hardcore group of fans who then came across to ‘Stone Bleeding’ and who will hopefully follow on to my next too. Some people have found it really funny, others have been really moved by it, one reader even confessed to crying, which I think is a first for one of my books.
How long did it take it to write the book?
‘Stone Bleeding’ started as a stage play that never got produced. It was clear to me that the story would be far better served as a novel. There was too much there, too much that I wanted to explore, that would be limited by the confines of the stage. Already having the structure in place the actual writing was quite simple and didn’t take long, probably about six months altogether, including the editing.
Please, tell us where you self-published the book.
I didn’t want to go straight to ebook. I really wanted it in paperback as well. I’m still getting to grips with the ebook, and have yet to read a book on my Kindle. It has benefits, of course, but for me I still always reach for a paperback. I published in paperback and ebook with Matador in the UK after months of research about the best company to go with. I did so much investigating, trying to cut through the mammoth amount of flannel and misdirection out there. There were a lot of interesting stories about dodgy companies, a lot of writers willing to share their experiences and offer advice. In the end it became a bit of a blur but a couple of companies names kept cropping up as the ones to try and Matador were one that people had a lot of good things to say about. They’ve been great, and have been very good with me. The main benefit is the quality of the end product. There is still snobbery (possibly fear) in some quarters about self-published books so if you are self-publishing you really need to put the effort in to make sure the final book doesn’t look out of place alongside so-called “proper” books – don’t give people looking to knock you because you’re an indie, any extra ammo. Let it be about the story and nothing else.
"Marketing is the real job though, and it’s tough."
How smooth went the self-publishing process? Any issues? What are things to look for when self-publishing a book?
The process was fine, but that was a lot to do with Matador guiding me through it and advising me. If you can work alongside a company it is a huge bonus. You must get it proofread and edited (that’s obvious though, isn’t it?) and you must make the most professional product you can. Stories are subjective and you are never going to please everyone, but there is no excuse for not making your product look the best it possibly can. People will ignore it if it doesn’t. Marketing is the real job though, and it’s tough. I think in hindsight I should have planned for the marketing much earlier than I did. It is something I’m trying to change with my next book. The market is huge and you are fighting for space alongside established names and series. How do you get noticed? No idea! But you must give yourself and your book the best fighting chance, and that can start before the book is finished. It is also advisable to grow a thick skin – people will dislike your book, no book or novelist is universally adored. If you can’t take criticism go and do something else.
Did you hire an editor and/or Cover Designer for your book?
Yes, I had both books edited. Even before that, I had trusted people read it; people I knew would tear it apart and give an honest unbiased opinion. It was invaluable. Why anyone would publish a book that hasn’t been edited is a mystery to me. Learning to edit is tough, and writers are, obviously, too close to be necessarily brutal with it. Editing isn’t an optional extra, it is, or should be, a definite stage in the process. A good editor is vital and personally speaking I think if you haven’t had it edited you haven’t done your job. Readers are pretty clued up about such things too – as much as a book with bad grammar would rightly put off many readers, so too the bloated ramblings of a writer that hasn’t bothered with an editor. As for cover designer I’m lucky enough to be good friends with a very talented photographer and designer called David Baker who I worked with on both books. We’ve known each other for a long time and we have a pretty good understanding of each other’s work. He seems to get what I’m trying to convey in my writing, which probably speaks volumes about his state of mind, and coming to the final cover designs has been pretty easy.
"There are so many great writers who are finally getting noticed now..."
Can you give some tips for other Indie Authors regarding the writing and self-publishing process?
Always write from the heart, not the head. You have to be passionate about what you write. Don’t start thinking about current trends, don’t try and jump on a bandwagon just because another writer has just made it big in a certain genre. If you don’t truly love what you do, why should anyone else? Be original, offer your own voice because that is something no one else can do. Social media is important and Twitter and Facebook are part of the writer’s tools, but try not to spam mercilessly because no one likes that. For every two book plugs try and say something else. Readers like to know the writer. Try and make connections with people. I know from experience that the most sales I’ve generated through Twitter are from people I’ve made the effort to communicate with. Be prepared to work twice as hard after writing the book as you did before. You are the marketing and you are your books best hope. Understand that it is going to be hard and at times dispiriting but don’t ever stop, and don’t ever let people say you can’t. There are so many great writers who are finally getting noticed now by self-publishing. Be excited by the possibilities but treat it with the seriousness it deserves. But most importantly is making the very best book you can – proofread, edited, good cover, make it look professional. Also don’t be in a rush to publish. There is an urge now with the ease of publishing on the Kindle to quickly publish just for that cheap thrill of seeing your book listed. That novelty soon goes and then the book has to stand up for itself. Books should last forever, and they are out there in the public with your name on, so make sure you can be proud of it. There is an awful lot of crap out there, books riddled with typos and bad punctuation, books that have never seen an editor or a decent cover, and all they are doing is giving those wanting to knock self-publishing, more reasons to do so. By releasing a book that is unprofessional looking you are dragging yourself down and taking other indies with you.
Are you working on another book project? Can you tell us a little about it?
I am currently nearing the end of the first draft of Bleeker Hill a dystopian horror novel. It’s a story I’ve been working on for a few years, and by far the most conventional thing I’ve ever written. It’s a mash up of The Road, Day of the Dead and Turn of the Screw. If that makes sense.
Are you planning to move forward as an Indie author or are you looking forward to have one of your next books to be traditionally published?
I think most indies would say they would like to be traditionally published, and I’m no exception. It would be great. I’d like an agent and a publisher, but the benefit now is I don’t need to hold on to that hope to actually create and publish. If I have no other option than continuing the indie route I will carry on with pleasure. I’m in this because it is what I enjoy and what I am good at. It’s what I have to do and I will carry on doing it in whichever way I can. I spent so many years with my stage plays and screenplays trying to secure representation that I have grown weary of the process now. All those weird and wonderful stories writers will talk about in dealing with agents, I’ve had all of them. It’s been ridiculous at times. I sort of gave up the search when one agency began raving about one of my plays, subsequently lost it, asked me to resend it and then asked who I was when I followed it up. I don’t envy the job of an agent, everyone thinks they can write and agents are inundated, but I do think some don’t help themselves either. So often it seems like a relationship that’s impossible to even get to first base with, and I’m too old for that disappointment now! If I find the right fit, great, but I’m not losing any sleep over it. A particular problem with some agents and certainly some publishers, it seems, is their seeming inability to take a risk. They are either shoving all their resources at a few select names, or signing up z-list celebrities, even though they have never written before, and then churning out crap just to make a quick festive bank raid on their name. It’s galling, and not a little ironic, when these same people then moan about self-publishing saturating the market with crap.
"If people want bookshops to survive they need to buy from them."
Where do you see the book market in 5 or 10 years? Will there be only eBooks and will book stores disappear like record stores disappeared?
I sincerely hope not. I don’t think so. Not completely anyway. Ebooks are a tool, a different way of experiencing books. Personally I’m not too keen on them, but each to their own. I don’t think paperbacks will disappear. I don’t see why the two can’t coexist quite happily. I’m sure if you asked most writers they would all say they want to see their work in paperback, on a shelf, in a bookshop. The Ebook explosion is a lot to do with necessity for authors and as such there is an awful lot of books out there just as an ebook. They are also cheap which makes the appeal to the reader even greater. Writers are essentially giving their work away for free or next to nothing in the hope of shooting up the Amazon chart and getting noticed by a publishing house that will take them on and release their work in paperback for more money. Change is in the hands of the publishing industry, they need to offer more variety, take a few more risks, perhaps on writers who have devoted their life to it and not just celebrities with an itch to scratch, and it’s also down to the book buying public who profess to love the paperback, the bookshop and spending hours browsing shelves. They need to stop browsing and start buying. If people want bookshops to survive they need to buy from them.
Do you write full-time or do you have a day job?
I’m writing full time, muddling through the pinch of real life as best I can.
How can readers connect with you?
They can find me on Twitter and Facebook and on those rare occasions I leave the house they can connect with me on the street too, provided they furnish me with a cup of tea first (no sugar).
Thank you very much for the Interview, Russell.
About the Book Stone Bleeding
Zach, Albie & Archie are not your usual love triangle; the private detective unraveling on a case that threatens his own sanity, TV’s former golden girl who’s just looking for a way out, and the country’s most wanted man, theirs are interconnected lives and loves that hold the dark secrets to a country at war with itself.
Weaving a satirical path through reality TV, politics and one darkly demented love story, Stone Bleeding is a story of worth amongst the worthless, hope amongst the hopeless and love amongst the loveless.
- "This book represents everything we fear for the society we live in and in a very realistic and comprehensible way, looks at the breakdown and fallout of that such society. I found it extremely dark and melancholy in places but that combined with the vein of humour that runs throughout the book, makes it an extremely engrossing read...I couldn't put it down!" - J. A. Mathews
Links to the Author and the Book
Connect with Russell Mardell on Facebook
Connect with Russell Mardell on Twitter: @russellmardell
Link to the eBook Stone Bleeding on Amazon (US) with Excerpt
Link to the eBook Stone Bleeding on Amazon (UK) with Excerpt