This week sees the paperback release of Mark Charan Newton’s Drakenfeld, which I am just in the middle of reading and enjoying very much. It also creates the perfect opportunity to catch up on Lucan Drakenfeld’s first adventure in preparation for his second outing in Retribution later this year. In honour of Drakenfeld’s paperback release I got to ask Mark Charan Newton some questions, which I’m sharing with you today. Keep an eye out for my review of Drakenfeld later in the week!
Let’s start with the basics. For those few of my readers who don’t know: who is Mark Charan Newton?
Well I could spend all day overanalysing that… To keep it brief, and practical, I’m a writer in my early thirties, with a weird fantasy series under my belt, and a historically influenced one kicking off now in paperback. I’m a bit of a history geek, especially of the ancient world, and these days I have a love of countryside exploring, whisky and tweed.
How would you introduce people to your main character Lucan Drakenfeld?
He’s a detective-like character who wants to do good in his world. Someone with a strong sense of morals and purpose, and wants to ensure the right thing is done no matter what. In fact, he sees death as a bad thing, which impacts on lives and families down the years. It doesn’t make him soft, but he’s my conscious effort to write a complex character without making him kill lots of people as shorthand to being interesting. He’s perhaps a little pompous and a bit of a prig a times, but his sidekick – a warrior woman named Leana – constantly keeps him humble with her cutting remarks. There’s a nice tension between the two of them, as she’d much rather cut a throat if it meant achieving something more quickly. And his inherent goodness and positivity makes it very interesting when I throw him into a big bag of badness; his morals are similar to those of our real world, and we can feel the horror he comes up against by seeing it through his eyes. He also suffers from epilepsy, which his world does not recognise and which he believes is a curse of the gods.
With Drakenfeld you moved from what has often been classed New Weird to fantasy in a Classical-world inspired setting. Yet as with Nights of Villjamur there is very much a mystery/crime vibe to the narrative. What draws you to writing about investigators?
For me it’s simple. Investigators are a great way of exploring a secondary world without info-dumping on the reader. A detective will get to meet a wide array of character classes, and get a first-hand look at the underbelly of any world you create. I love creating worlds and I’ve found that investigators are, for me, the best way of painting a great picture for the reader. I also like the ‘engine’ of a crime novel, more so than, say, a quest (not to say it’s bad, this is merely my preference). With a mystery there’s an inherent narrative drive to keep the reader turning the pages. No matter what kind of writer you are, you still want readers to follow to the end.
There is a strong Roman flavour to the world-building in Drakenfeld and on your blog you often share art depicting or reminiscent of the ancient world. Has the Roman Empire always been an interest of yours and if not, did you have to do much research before building Drakenfeld‘s world?
It had been a casual interest, but no more than for other periods of history. I’d say in later life I’ve become a proper fan of the period. I’ve not come at it from an academic background, so I’ve explored in a rather meandering way, at first through biographies and the likes, then going to the source material. Wanting to build a secondary world that could just sit off the map of the Roman Empire was one way of encouraging me to binge on anything and everything I could find – from regular museum trips to reading classics, and even a vague attempt to learn Latin. I was fascinated by the alien drama of it all, as much as the aesthetics that inform our own world, so it was very inspirational for a fantasy writer. So I did a lot of research to create this fictional past, but I could pick and choose elements of the past to bring into my own work, and blend it with a more modern slant to see what that might say about both the past and modernity (women could be senators in my , for example).
As I mentioned before you went from writing new weird to a fantasy mystery. What has this shift in style taught you? Has it significantly changed the way you go about writing?
I’ve tried to write Drakenfeld in as minimal and gentle a way as possible. That was mainly because the first book featured a locked-room mystery – I thought it was only fair if even the prose was as clear as I could make it, so that I wasn’t tricking the reader to hid key points behind overblown sentences. Part of the locked-room mystery is to give the reader a chance to solve the case, after all.
I’ve learned about adjusting to first-person writing, which was again a challenge as previously I’d written multiple characters in third person. I need to challenge myself for each book in some way, to keep it fresh and engaging. But it’s very difficult to put the finger on what you learn at the end of each novel. I like to think with each time you write, you fail a little bit less, but it’s not always easy to know precisely how you’ve done that. And the more I write, the less I really want to advise about writing. When you just start out, you’re full of advice for everyone, but over time you realise there are just so many different nuances to the craft of putting a novel together that such advice seems a little futile. Do things your own way.
Your very first published novel, The Reef, is being republished by Jurassic London this summer as well. Why did you want to rework this novel and republish it?
The original book had a very limited print run, and it received only a light edit – and looking back there was much I wanted to change, and much that made me cringe as I had written it when I was much younger. So Jared – at Jurassic – basically asked if we could do something with it, and it kind of snowballed from there. I’m excited! There’s some properly cool and experimental art to go with it, so it should be a great artefact by the end.
What’s next for you? The second Drakenfeld book will be out this fall, are you already working on book 3? Any appearances or conventions planned?
I’m working on book 3, yes, but I don’t really like to tell too much about that (usually because so much can change during and after the process), and there’s a Drakenfeld short story coming out in August, which is of Lucan and Leana’s early years. If that gets some interest, I’d perhaps like to do another of those. But as for conventions, yes – I’m at Nine Worlds and then Worldcon in London.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
Plenty! Whisky is a big love of mine, and I run a whisky review site at malt-review.com, which has been going for a couple of years). I have an allotment, too, so I spend a lot of free time on that, which is great for mind and body as it really gets me away from the computer. It’s nice to handle something real and tactile to contrast against the flickering screen.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
I’m awful at reading the latest titles, unfortunately. Writing leads to me reading a lot of old books, and I’m forever catching up with things. But I am currently enjoying ‘Under Another Sky’ by Charlotte Higgins, which has recently come out in hardcover – it’s about the Roman legacy in Britain. There’s actually not that much written about Roman Britain, and this is really accessible, too.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
I have… a random system! I have shelves for ancient history and classical texts, but that’s rapidly overflowing. And then half a unit for very old books. Clusters of my favourite authors appear here and there, but then it’s a bit of a mix. I really ought to sort it out, but I kind of like browsing my own shelves randomly. I frequently buy titles I forget about, only to stumble across them later, which is a pleasant surprise.
Bio: Mark Charan Newton was born in 1981, and holds a degree in Environmental Science. After working in bookselling, he moved into editorial positions at imprints covering science fiction and fantasy. He has written for a variety of non-fiction publications including the Ecologist and the Huffington Post, and has spoken about science fiction on BBC Radio 4. He is also the author of the Legends of the Red Sun series. He currently lives and works in Nottingham.