Wednesday 29 February 2012

Author Q&A with Mark Chisnell

Mark Chisnell is a writer, broadcaster and sometime professional sportsman. He's published eleven works of award winning fiction and non-fiction, written for some of the world’s leading magazines and newspapers, including Esquire and the Guardian, and blogged and commentated on everything from the Volvo Ocean Race to the World Match Racing Tour. On the way, he has also won three offshore sailing world championships, and sailed as navigator with five America’s Cup teams. Mark currently lives on the south coast of England.

When did you first think of becoming a writer and who or what got you interested in writing?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was about 12; I still have a school exercise book with a chapter in it from my first attempt at a novel! The interest came from all the reading I did as a child, I just loved books and always had a pile on the go from the library. 

The Fulcrum FilesHow would you describe your books and style? 

aim to write the kind of stories that keep you turning the pages on holiday, and still thinking about them when you get back to work... They are mainstream action thrillers in the mould of John le Carre or Robert Ludlum, and they all have some sort of moral centre to them, something that will make you wonder about the values and principles that bound your own life. I hope people are left thinking about the characters and their decisions. And perhaps thinking about what they might have done in that same situation – the extreme choices in the books do still reflect on things we do every single day. 

What do you find the most difficult part of writing a book? 

There are two tough bits; the first is the middle 50,000 to 60,000 words of the first draft – this is when you’ve lost the thrill of beginning, but can’t yet even imagine the finish line, yet alone see it. The other tough part is the final check of the final draft, when you know that any mistakes or errors that you miss will be seen by the readers - that knowledge always makes me stressed! 

Do you start a book knowing what the beginning, middle and end will be or does it take on a life of it's own as you write?  

My first book, The Defector, started with an idea for the final scene, and it took me eight drafts to write a story that properly set-up that ending. I wouldn’t choose to do it that way again, but when you have a story that you want to tell, you have to get it done any way you can 

Fortunately, the idea for my next book, The Wrecking Crew came much more fully realised, and I was able to write a complete synopsis before I started. I used a mix of these for the latest, The Fulcrum Files, where I had the set-up but had to work out the ending when I got there. I think that’s probably my favourite method, leaving the story to work out some of its twists and turns as you go along is more fun. 

Are you self-published or traditionally published, and what has been the best and worst thing about the route you have taken? 

I’m both – The Defector was first published by Random House UK, and The Wrecking Crew was first published by HarperCollins ANZ. Once they had gone out of print, I republished both of them myself as eBooks and that’s gone really well – I love the control that you get over covers and blurb and all the other details and so far, I don’t really see a downside, other than the workload! So I’ve gone it alone with my latest, The Fulcrum Files, which is a completely independent effort.  

I also write traditionally published non-fiction books as well – I think it’s good to have your eggs in a few baskets. And it is nice to have someone else do some of the work with these projects. 

If this isn't too much like asking a dad which of his children he likes best, which of your characters is your favourite? 

It’s actually the protagonist of my next novel – Powder Burn – perhaps because that’s the one I’m thinking about at the moment. Her name is Sam Blackett and I’d describe the book as Romancing the Stone meets Stephanie Plum. I’m intending to make it a series, as I love her so much! 

The Fulcrum Files is based on a little known true story, how did you come across it and what about it caught your attention?  

I was originally researching a documentary about Thomas Sopwith and his 1934 America’s Cup Challenge – famous because he sacked the professional crew just before the event, took a team of amateurs, went 2-0 up and then lost the plot and the Cup. It’s still the closest Britain has ever come to winning the America’s Cup, and the fact that it pivoted on poor labour relations intrigued me – especially as this was the era of the General Strike and the Great Depression.  

Part of the research involved reading Sopwith’s biography ‘Pure Luck’ and I found the story that inspired The Fulcrum Files in there. What fascinated me was this larger-than-life character - a billionaire of his era – who was wrapped up in sailing, but took a decision that may have won the Second World War for Britain. I won’t say any more for fear of a spoiler!  

What do you like to read and do you have any other passions?  

I love to read the kind of books that I write – thrillers. I’m a big fan of Lee Childs and Janet Evanovich – those are the crack cocaine of the literary world as far as I’m concerned. But I love non-fiction as well, particularly Michael Lewis’ books with their mix of sports and business 

Outside of books, I grew up on the Norfolk Broads and in a fishing port, so I’ve always had a fascination with the sea. I was a professional racing sailor for a long while, and still do some writing and tv commentary for that sport – and I even get to race myself sometimes! But these days surfing is my ocean-based passion, I’m always happy at the beach. 

Sailing is a theme that runs through your books, do you find it hard to write about something you know so much about in a way that is accessible for those of us who know almost nothing about it?

Yes! But I think that working as a race commentator for the sport has given me a much clearer idea of what’s understood and what isn’t – but I’m slowly easing the sailing out of the books too, which solves the problem completely. There’s very little of the action aboard boats in The Fulcrum Files and none at all in the next one, which is set in the Himalayas! 

And finally, when you read is it tree book, e-book or both?

It’s both – but mostly because I have a backlog of dead tree books to get through! I prefer to read on the Kindle, I think that once you’ve tried it you quickly realise how much better the reading experience is compared to paper – but I’m going to wade my way through that TBR pile of trees nevertheless!

Thanks to Mark for taking the time out to do this Q&A. You can find him online at:

and my reviews of The Fulcrum Files here and The Defector here.

Available in all eBook formats, and second-hand in print: 
The Defector  
The Wrecking Crew 

Currently only available for Kindle: 
The Fulcrum Files 

Available in all eBook formats, and second-hand in print: 
Risk to Gain 
Spanish Castle to White Night 

Available only in all eBook formats: 
Pressure Falling – Short Stories of Stormy Seas