The View From Here Interview:
Mark Liam Piggott
Interview by Mike
Part 1 can be found here.
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.
In Fire Horses your main character, Joe Noone says, "I stuffed the project back into the box, vowing that from then on art and autobiography would always remain separate." How much have your own experiences coloured your writing on Fire Horses?
Well we both grew up in a small Yorkshire town and moved to London, so obviously there’s some overlap. I put that line in to play with the idea a bit more. Joe’s a bit like me in that he’s angry, frustrated, and unable to make sense of the world. Unlike me he’s tall, bald, hates football and loves egg.
So you're short, love football and hate eggs?
Short-ish – five foot seven in the old money. I’ve hated eggs since primary school where they used to serve up this stuff called egg sauce – cold – and pour it over everything which you then had to eat. Oh god… (sound of toilet seat lifting).
What football team do you support and do you manage to get to their games?
I’m not sure I should answer this because it will alienate half the readership but Man United. I was born in the city, and was taken to Old Trafford a fair bit in the Seventies. In fact I started following them when they were in the second division so I don’t think you could call me a glory-hunter.
Calling me an armchair fan would be more accurate – I haven’t been for years but I do like to rant and rave at the telly – for footie matches and Question Time.
Anyway, sorry, you were telling us about how much your own experiences coloured your writing on Fire Horses?
I decided to play up the autobiographical element by setting a few scenes in the book in places I was: in the building site I was in the next cubicle; in Cornwall I was at the pub. I also decided to go first person to really get inside Joe’s head. But obviously nothing in the book happened to anyone I know, and none of the other characters are based on any one person.
In 1983 I ran away from home but went back after a few days. I suppose I sometimes imagine what sort of person I’d have been if I never went back and met the people I met.
Ah Cornwall, that's where I come from. Where about in Cornwall and what was the name of the pub?
Ah, Kernow! A strange place. I watched the eclipse near Marazion but I think this fictional village was based on Mullion Cove, somewhere like that. Cornwall’s a bit like my home town in Yorkshire: beauty masks poverty.
There is a lot of sex in the book. Do you find this an easy subject to write about and how is it received by people who know you?
I like writing about sex but it is difficult, and I’m half hoping I get nominated for the bad sex award. You want to write about it in some brand new way no-one’s ever thought of, but of course it’s all been done before. You become paranoid that everyone will think you’re into the same sort of stuff as your protagonist, but so what?
Funnily enough I got an email from my aunty Kath in Australia recently which was rather mortifying, so I may as well share it with you here:
“…Hi Mark - well its Wed arvo and your book arrived late Monday. I was about 80 pages in when mum rang for a chat and to tell me that she'd already read the book, as had dad. Now I don't reckon mum skipped the sex scenes as instructed cos she wasn't too sure about the anal sex bits - "I always enjoyed it the usual way" - yes mum, far too much information….”
Your use of language is poetic. How important is the rhythm and flow of your writing to you and what processes did you go through to find your style?
I started out as a poet but I realised it wasn’t my best format so I decided to make my writing as poetic as possible. I strongly believe that you can depict ugly subjects and places with beautiful prose. Apart from Updike, Saul Bellow was a master of this. There aren’t too many over here who do it well – I do like John King and used to like Martin Amis up till Yellow Dog, which I found staggeringly awful, like a spoof of an Amis novel.
I personally enjoyed Fire Horses, but it took me a while to get hooked. The blurb on the back cover says, "An unflinching lesson in modern history" and "Fire Horses views England over the last 25 years, “and it seemed that they really didn't know how to package the blurb for you. I was hooked once I realised that there was no real plot other than Joe Noone's personal journey and how his actions formed consequences that he then interacted with as he crossed their wake. How would you sum up Fire Horses?
I wrote that blurb, so don’t blame Legend! I’m terrible at writing synopses – I need about 200,000 words. How do you summarize everything the book’s about? It’s about life, and love, and grief, and England, and perversion and politics… god, do you think I’ve made the Private Eye pseud’s column yet?
I wanted to tell a squatter’s love story in a lyrical way, for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider and anyone who wonders how this country thinks. That’s why I set a lot of it in Spain: to regard it from without.
It’s good you spotted how his actions affect him through his life. In fact it can all be traced back to the snowball he throws at Tony because there was this rumour that Tony had read a book.
Have you started on your next book yet and if so can you tell us something about it?
A lot of people said they liked the humour in Fire Horses, and I do have plans to write a series of comedy novels – maybe under a pseudonym. But my next book (provisionally titled Breakdown) is about a man losing his wife, his sanity and his self-respect as England collapses around him, so plenty of scope for jokes there.
Thanks Mark, it's been really entertaining interviewing you!
You can order Fire Horses from Legend here.
To visit Mark's site on MySpace click here.
And you can enter the competition to win a signed copy of Fire Horses here.