Interviews

Wednesday Talk with Mark Newman about #MyFenceIsElectric @OdysseyBooks @FenceIsElectric

Happy Hump day, guys! I am very excited to be chatting with a lovely author today. Before 2020 and the hell it’s been so far, I never posted many interviews because… I was afraid! What if my questions are stupid? What if I can’t find anything to say? What if… But the more this virus forces us to stay away, the more I want to socialize, go up to people, and just have a nice time. Mark Newman was kind enough to give me some of his time to discuss his collection of short stories, and I’m proud to share our discussion with you today!

But first, a little about his book!

A housing estate is in shock following a child’s disappearance. A girl and her invisible friend go their separate ways. A father and a son bond over Post-It notes. A single father and his daughter have different approaches to the disappearance of their dog. A father finds his way to coax his agoraphobic son back out into the world.

My Fence is Electric and Other Stories is a collection of award-winning short stories looking at those moments in life that fizz with the electric intensity of change.

Hello Mark! I’m very happy to have you on Chocolate’n’Waffles today to chat about your debut short stories collection.

First things first! Can you introduce yourself? I won’t ask you to do it in three words because I know I personally can’t do it!

Ah, the bit I hate at team meetings when you go around the room introducing yourself! I’m Mark Newman, I work for Leicestershire Libraries and have just published my debut collection of short stories, My Fence is Electric and Other Stories – fulfilling a lifelong dream just as the world implodes! Great timing, eh!

I know, I hate them too! I never know what to say!

You have been shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award, have won competitions, and published work, this is very impressive! I am curious. Why short stories?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since my late teens and back then was writing short stories and truly awful poetry. Then I tried to write novels and have spent too many years starting novels, getting excited by the jotting down of ideas and then tailing off at three to five chapters in because I’m never sure if I’m doing it right or if it is going to be any good. A few years ago I went to an author event at Loughborough Library that Alison Moore did, and she talked about her route to publication. She wrote short stories and entered competitions and felt it was a great way to get feedback and to see if what she was writing could find an audience. It was sound advice and I started to do the same. My first short story was highly commended in a competition and I was approached by an agent from a large London literary agency. Nothing came of that, but I got some great advice from her and kept on writing. I’ve had a fair few successes in competitions, often judged by authors, and it all helps to boost the confidence.

Now is the dreaded time of the pitch! How would you describe My Fence is Electric and Other Stories?

My Fence is Electric and Other Stories is a collection of award-winning short stories looking at those moments in life that fizz with the electric intensity of change.

What should the reader expect from your collection?

A mixture of flash fiction and short stories. I think if you like Alison Moore and Susan Hill as much as I do you will like the tone and feel of the collection and the writing style. I’d love to quote a review, but I haven’t had any yet!

The blurb on the back goes like this: A housing estate is in shock following a child’s disappearance. A girl and her invisible friend go their separate ways. A father and a son bond over Post-It notes. A single father and his daughter have different approaches to the disappearance of their dog. A father finds his way to coax his agoraphobic son back out into the world.

This is probably the most asked question but we reader like to connect to authors and one of the best way to do it is to know about your writing process. Can you share a bit about this with us?

I tend to start with an idea and then jot sentences down as they come to me, these then build into paragraphs. I write all around the story until I have a thousand or so words then I put these in a rough order and start to fill it out. When I have a story that flows from beginning to end I start to edit, over and over. Sometimes you never get a story where you want it to be, sometimes an idea never takes hold enough to justify the story around it but sometimes, sometimes it all hangs together and you get a sense of satisfaction when you read it back.

What is the key to write a good short story?

I wish I knew. I think it might be the words themselves, making sure each sentence shines.

What inspired you during the writing of your different stories?

Everything and anything. When you are writing a story and looking for moments to put in them you really take notice of the world around you. A carrier bag blowing past you in the wind can inspire a paragraph that has something to say about the story you are trying to tell. Be alert to what is going on around you, there’s a story in most things!

The collection is described as ‘looking at those moments in life that fizz with the electric intensity of change’ What spurred you to explore our ways to deal with change?

When I came to put stories together for a collection it just seemed that the best ones I had were about those moments in life that really stick with you – some little, some big – but those moments where something changes that can’t be reversed. Sometimes you feel like something has been lost at the end of the story, sometimes something has been gained. Often the stories are about how other people help the central character with a moment of change. I’ve never liked change, that’s probably why I’m drawn to writing about it, in the vain hope it might prepare me for it in the future!

Now, a personal question, at least for me! One of your short stories deals with agoraphobia. As agoraphobia is a friend of mine, I am always cautious when I read about it. How did you handle writing about this mental issue? How much research went into it? Don’t worry, I won’t bite, no matter your answer! 

I don’t have any experience of it and didn’t really feel I was writing about it, to be honest. It’s just the way the story developed. The story, Swedish Marbles, is about a boy who is afraid of the ground and refuses to come downstairs. There is a particular reason for his fear and though his response could be seen to be irrational by some it makes perfect sense to him. We are all frightened by something. I just wrote from the point of view that what had happened to this child had caused this fear to sit with him and it’s totally real to him. If you are scared of spiders, for example, then you should be able to understand if someone is scared about something else. I don’t think you can be a writer if you don’t have empathy. There is a lot in the media at the moment saying writers shouldn’t write about something that they don’t know about – who decided that was a thing? Clearly you need to get your facts right about certain subjects. Something like agoraphobia though, to me, is likely to be something that affects many people in many different ways. I hope I’ve presented a plausible example.

Your work covers many changes and hardships we face in life, such as grief, communication issues, tragedies. Writing about this can’t be easy. How do you cope? Is it cathartic? Do you compartmentalize? Or do you allow your own feelings to help you navigate what you put your characters through?

It just seems to be the stuff that comes out when I write. I guess it is cathartic, a way to process feelings about any number of things. I’m quite light-hearted and jokey day to day. That just never seems to feed into my writing! But push on those bruises you have and use it in your writing – send your feelings off in all different directions. Put your characters through what you haven’t quite yet put yourself through – the good and bad!

Which authors inspire you?

Susan Hill has been inspiring me since I read ‘I’m the King of the Castle’ when I was 17. Her writing style, her phrasing, was just so different to me and resonated with me straight away. ‘The Bird of Night’ is a masterpiece, ‘Strange Meeting’ as well. She had a run of books published in the 1970s that are just some of the best books I’ve ever read and her novels are all so beautifully written. Alison Moore is her biggest challenger in my affections – her first four novels are all masterpieces and I reread them often. Her prose just sings. Jon McGregor likes to play around with the short story form – his best work is faultless.

Finally, is there something you would like to tell your readers?

I hope you enjoy the book and if you do please leave a review in all the usual places – Goodreads, Amazon etc and contact me on Twitter @FenceisElectric and let me know too. It would be nice to know I had some readers! The world situation has meant that my book launch and various planned events have been cancelled so it has been a weird and anti-climactic experience publishing a book so far!

My copy of My Fence Is Electric and Other Stories is on my Kindle and my review should come soon! Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with me, Mark!

You can find Mark’s collection here!

Mark Newman has been shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award, highly commended in the New Writer Prose & Poetry Awards and Bristol Prize longlisted. In 2015 he won the Fiction Desk Newcomer Prize and the VCLL Short Story Competition for authors with a Leicestershire postcode. His work has won competitions judged by Alison Moore, Tania Hershman and David Gaffney. He has been published in Firewords Quarterly, Fiction Desk and Paper Swans. He has eight stories, including the title story, in the Retreat West competition anthology “Inside These Tangles, Beauty Lies”.

12 thoughts on “Wednesday Talk with Mark Newman about #MyFenceIsElectric @OdysseyBooks @FenceIsElectric”

  1. This was great, I really enjoyed it! Would never have guessed this was your first interview. I don’t always get on with short stories, but this collection does sound interesting. 🙂

    Like

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