The View From Here Interview:
Mark Liam Piggott
Interview by Mike
Mark's debut book Fire Horses came out at the end of May from independent publisher Legend Press. I catch up with him a week after his book signings at Borders in Oxford Street.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I’m 41, born in Manchester, brought up in West Yorkshire. I’ve lived in London since 1985 and have a wife and two kids. I’ve had a colourful life, and lived life on the edge for a long time. I used to get into fights, go on long benders. In fact I once said, only half-joking, “I’ve been on a session since 1978.”
However, it’s been a bit of a schizo existence: even when I was 20 and living in condemned housing I was writing for the Guardian and Observer, and once presented Network 7 on Channel 4. A lot of the time as a freelance journalist I was undercover and not really sure whose side I was on.
What's your ideal night out/in?
Out: a pub with friends, solving the world’s problems with humour.
In: a meal with my wife and kids, then they go to bed without a fight leaving us to drink wine and watch something funny. Boring, eh?
No I don't think so, but then I'm 41 myself! What's your favorite program at the moment?
Peep Show – absolutely brilliant writing, acting and above all its concept – that we all have this image of us that we think is how others see us and its poles apart from what they do actually see. I mean, I look like an angry, yobbish Northerner, whereas in fact I’m only an angry, yobbish Northerner on the outside – inside I’m crying.
What is your favorite book?
Rabbit, Run (John Updike). I love the whole Rabbit series. To me he’s the best at making the everyday world luminous; and I love how he writes about work and marriage.
How did you get your publishing deal with Legend and how many publishers did you approach before them?
I’ve had two agents, both of whom kept trying to make me write “thrillers” because of my background. A lot of publishers get confused when you want to write about drugs, violence and sex but also want to write something literary – Maeve Binchy on crack if you want a lazy label.
How did you come to have two agents and was it one of them who secured your Legend deal?
My first agent, David O’Leary (no, not that one) was back in the early 90s when I was working in a warehouse – I’d go to see him at his little office in Holland Park all covered in sawdust, which he seemed to find amusing. I later found out he represents Ken Russell. I just sent him some stuff and he liked it.
My second agent was Dr Radice at Gregory & Radice (now Gregory & Co). Again, I sent her an MS and she left this message on my phone saying something like, “… I can’t say I enjoyed reading this – it was like a 500 page suicide note – but if you were to try writing something else I’d like to represent you…”
I “resigned” from both agents, due to that old thriller business I mentioned, and since 2000 I’ve gone my own way. I sent Legend something on spec and luckily for me they liked it.
How long did you take to write Fire Horses and what processes did it go through to get to what it is today?
It’s been through several incarnations – I first had the name as long ago as 1991. I knew there was a story there, but I couldn’t get the format right. In the end I went and did an MA at Manchester and that helped me see the flaws, so I tore it up and started again.
How have you found the book signings and readings?
I’m having to get used to readings – I have a strong accent and tend to speak too fast. I used to get over the nerves with a few drinks, but then I start to mumble and rush headlong to the end so now I stay clear-headed. I have to keep reminding myself that people do want to hear this, and even if they don’t they’re unlikely to turn violent.
Does it feel like you expected to have your book out there on the shelves?
It’s funny, I experienced a series of anti-climaxes (is that a word?): hearing they were publishing my novel; seeing the cover; getting the proof copy; seeing the final product. It only really hit me when my sister texted me to say she’d just bought the book in Waterstones, a day ahead of the release date. I went to Camden and saw it on the shelf and then yes, I buzzed. I’d been trying to reach this point for 25 years and now I needed to find something else to strive for.
I’ve found it: trying to get any sort of review into the nationals would be great, but they don’t like indie publishers much.
Care to expand on that throw away comment!
I find it really infuriating when I read reviews of all these established, boring writers, none of whom seem to have the nous or knowledge to write about England now. There are all these billions of books set in the 16th century or among the aristocracy… hang the lot of ‘em with their own giblets. The aristo’s, I mean, not the writers. Well – not all of them.
I just think the nationals – like the big publishing houses - pick books that reflect their particular world view – one that’s easy and safe and unassailable. But real life is messy and contradictory and not enough English books seem to get that. Hence Joe’s motto: embrace your contradictions.
I'm afraid I had The Osmonds' Crazy Horses going through my mind whilst reading your book. I see you like New Order and list a whole host of bands on your MySpace page - Do you listen to music as you write and is your writing coloured by your love of music?
I do love music and in fact each chapter in the book is named after a song released in the year it was set. But I left this off the last draft as it seemed a bit… sad. Go to my myspace page if you want to see the track listing. But I don’t write very well when music’s playing as I start thinking I’m Jools Holland on a piano and start typing risible, stream-of-unconsciousness stuff just to get in the rhythm.
For part 2 of this interview click here.
For the printed edition of this interview at TVFH go here.