I started writing DUST shortly after the dove brought an olive branch to Noah - at least it sometimes seems that way…
Feeling motivated to write is the first step on an amazing journey of self-discovery. Taking the boundaries of imagination in both hands then, with considerable fear of the unknown, deciding to tear a hole and step through an invisible fence is both exhilarating and daunting... and leads the writer to places he may otherwise never have experienced.
Having been a bookworm child, and loving the special magic of the written word, from adventures with ‘Just William’ and ‘Biggles’, on through Malcolm Saville and teen adventure to the incredible power of Hemingway, Faulkner, Baldwin, Bellow, Camus, Orwell, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, my desire as I grew was to write – prose, songs, music reviews, letters to friends, single pages of observation about the old man sitting along from me on the bus into town, or the view of distant hills from my bedroom window, to letters to newspapers if I felt truly and righteously fired up. I have written three letters to newspapers – two out of three published, including The Times. The subjects? capital punishment, the immorality of football salaries compared to those paid to heart surgeons, and the folly of the proposal to charge for parking in my local high street… It occurred to me that the same thing that drove me to write to the newspapers was the same thing that drove me to write test reviews of live bands to the NME when I was nineteen, to working as a stringer for a provincial newspaper trying to break into journalism to become a ‘foreign correspondent’, and the same thing that had driven me to write short stories as a child. I can distill that thing down to one word. Passion.
Passion is what leads us, as people, to build immense structures up to the clouds, to calculate pi to its furthest reaches, to send men to the moon, to rush into burning buildings to save loved ones or people we’ve never met… and passion makes us write.
It was that passion, that indefinable thing within, that drove me to write DUST. It came from nowhere definable that I can pinpoint and put my finger on, but one day I gained the feeling that I wanted to write the book I had always wanted to read, and that, in essence, is where DUST was born. I’d had a sneaking resentment, which recalled itself occasionally from my childhood, that as a child I had seldom, if ever, been taken seriously – that I never had anything truly meaningful to say – that I was irrelevant. As I thought about that, I tried to place myself many years back into the mind of my ten-year-old self. It was surprisingly easy. Maybe I never really moved on…
Thinking back to that period of my life I then tried to imagine how I now appeared to my friends’ ten-year-old kids. I found, to my great disappointment, that I had become one of the ‘distant’ adults I had viewed as a child – the older people who would come to visit my parents, extend some basic platitudes in my direction, often addressing observations about me as though I wasn’t there such as: ‘My, hasn’t Mark grown. How old is he now? Ten? My, he’s tall for ten.’ My memory of that situation was to think, ‘Yes, I’m tall for ten. Ask me one on music you old ******.’
And so it began… the immersion of myself into a newly-created world, where some small but strong recollections melded with my imagination - my oldest friend Steve Jones and I when we were seven and talked so passionately about music, through being eight years old and ‘smoking’ wax-paper drinking straws, to being nine and smoking our first cigarettes, choking and spluttering but feeling suddenly grown up…
The greatest problem I encountered wasn’t engaging with the feeling – the sense of being ten years old again, it was setting. My memories of the external dramas of my childhood years were really formed from news - images and overheard conversations – my parents discussing newspaper articles, or listening to radio and TV news. But frustratingly, that seemed incredibly dull on looking back to industrial strife - car workers on strike, and occasional power cuts. Then it hit me. My strongest memories were images from America. Riots. The Vietnam War. Huge dual-coloured convertible cars with massive rear-wing fins and acres of gleaming chrome. Tanned and exotically fabulous women in beauty pageants. Powerful speeches from righteous black preachers and gold medal athletes raising black-gloved hands high into the air while staring down towards their feet, as though in shame. Electrifying images that surpassed anything I could recall from British news. Epiphany. I was transplanting my characters, and taking them three and a half thousand miles across The Atlantic. Easy.
Strangely, despite the cautionary words of a number of my friends and observers in questioning how that could ever work, and saying I was crazy to try - that I should stick with what I know – it was just that. Easy.
Having travelled extensively through much of the USA over the years, it all fell pretty easily into descriptive prose. Then came the hard bit – writing a story that I wanted to read.
After crafting, re-crafting, tailoring, sewing, stitching and finally pressing the finished article, I embarked on stage two of my mission – to find an agent for the novel I had written that I wanted to read – hell, that I wanted everyone to read.
I touted my manuscript to agents galore. I maintained my self-belief based around William Golding’s recollection that the sixty-ninth publisher he presented his only copy manuscript of Lord Of The Flies to, told him, to his joy and relief, that he would publish his story. That publisher, keen as he was, somewhat burst William’s bubble by telling him that although his idea was great, his writing wasn’t good enough, and that he first had to re-write it. I had this in mind to keep myself somewhat in check, but maintained my belief – which became something of a mantra: ‘one of these agents will believe in me, eventually.’ I had lots of encouraging letters and occasionally a bright glimmer – some agent would ask for more time to consider their potential with it, only to later say they couldn’t see a mass market for it, and onwards I would march. I was taken to lunch in Kensington, with buoyant hopes, but still no agent signed me up. Despondency would set in occasionally, but that indefinable something kept driving me on. Passion. My passion to see the novel I wanted the world to read - published.
So…. I decided to change tack, and started to research self-publishing, and e-books. I asked writers I knew for advice and attended writing groups and writers’ fairs, and still pushed my manuscript out to agents, always hopeful. Then, on my rounds of flicking through my several copies of Writers & Artists Yearbook and repeated internet searches I hit upon an article from The Independent about Red Door Publishing. And the thing that struck me in that article was passion. The passion of people who created a publishing company because they wanted to publish fabulous books that the mainstream publishers who they had previously worked for wouldn’t publish because they weren’t the kind of books that Tesco would order 20,000 copies of.
Despite reading that Red Door’s rejection rate was very high, I sent my manuscript and held my breath. Fortune smiled on me. Red Door loved it. Passionately.
And that, finally, after a tortuous and ultimately fruitless search for a literary agent, became the strangest experience of all – I suddenly had to entrust my creation – my passion – my baby - to someone else’s hand. To let go. It was an emotional moment; as a parent must feel on taking their first-born child to infants’ school for the first time, urging their tearful child to let go of their hand and accept the hand of their teacher, a stranger, holding out a willing and warm, but never-before touched hand…
Ungrounded fears are often the worst – they sometimes carry a payback of embarrassment, to be hidden with nervous laughter, but in my case, this has been a joyous payback. I have met, and become entranced by, three wonderful women – Clare, Heather and ‘my personal angel’ Anna Burtt… Their encouragement and belief created an infectious enthusiasm within me that led me to wander around Glastonbury Festival, through acres of squelching mud, dressed in a T shirt bearing an image of the cover of DUST, a brief synopsis, and the invitation to anyone and everyone to ask me about it – ‘I’m the author – please ask me about DUST’… and people did!
Three ladies who have, with skill, care, and that magic ingredient, passion, made me believe in me, the writer. With incredible insight they have nurtured my ‘reluctantly-parted-with-baby’ - suggested edits and additions, and occasional deletions - even a change of title, to make DUST a novel which I am incredibly proud of.