Interview with Mark H. Williams, author of Sleepless Knights - November 15, 2013
Please welcome Mark H. Williams to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Sleepless Knights was published in September 2013 by Atomic Fez Publishing.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery.
Mark: Thank you, lovely to be here.
TQ: When and why did you start writing?
Mark: Writing has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. My first clear memory of creating a story that really excited me dates from junior school, from the age of about ten or eleven. Our teacher stuck a picture on the classroom wall of a fisherman by a riverbank, and we had to write about it. The fisherman became an enemy spy, casting a floating bomb into the path of my secret agent heroes. Everything in it was shamelessly stolen from James Bond films, The Hardy Boys, Marvel comics and the old M.A.S.K. cartoon series! But I remember vividly the imaginative delight that came with the realisation that in a story, you could transform the world, in any way you wanted to.
TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Mark: Actually, probably an extension of the above! I’m an obsessive hoarder of poems, songs and postcards – any picture, idea or tone that strikes a chord in some way. I go back to them frequently, and they usually end up unlocking part of a story.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Mark: Definitely a plotter, especially in the early stages of something. If I don’t know the broad structure of a story, it can feel like I’m writing into a void, and I tend to lose my way pretty quickly. Having said that, it’s also important to allow space for the story to take shape and lead as I write. But I’ve never been the kind of writer who just sits down and starts without any kind of map.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Mark: Novel-wise, probably keeping the numerous plates spinning that any story past a certain length requires. Also, knowing when the moment is ripe to start a story – and when something still needs more time to percolate. And I’m constantly challenged by the fact that nothing about writing seems to get any easier the more you do it!
TQ: Describe Sleepless Knights in 140 characters or less. /like a tweet/
Mark: The story of Sir Lucas, butler to King Arthur, and the events that unfold when the Knights’ existence is revealed to the modern world.
TQ: What inspired you to write Sleepless Knights?
Mark: Initially, simply the idea that King Arthur and Camelot had a butler. Sir Lucas – or Lucan, as he is in Thomas Malory – crops up in lots of the old tales. He was there at the last battle, advising Arthur against continuing to fight Mordred; advice which Arthur ignores. Lucan helps Arthur to his feet, and in doing so, Lucan dies of his wounds. And then Arthur goes to his doom…
It struck me as having parallels with the story of Stevens in The Remains Of The Day – the question of how far a man of service will go, in supporting someone he believes in, even if it means ignoring his principles, or setting aside his heart. Then I started to think about someone working behind the scenes in all those big legends. What would it take to stage-manage something on the scale of Camelot? I’d worked part-time in the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff for several years, and loved the fact that there was this whole backstage world, a story behind every production that nobody in the audience ever saw. All of this then meshed with an idea I’d had for a while, that some of these knights might still be living among us today.
Finally, in terms of tone and texture, books like Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and The Princess Bride by William Goldman, were really inspiring in their mix of a strong story with plenty of heart and humour.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Sleepless Knights?
Mark: Lots! My interest in exploring the Arthurian legend was inspired by a brilliant lecturer at Cardiff University, the delightfully-named Stephen Knight. That course was a terrific primer in the material, and sent me off in all kinds of fruitful directions – from Geoffrey of Monmouth and Thomas Malory, to the re-imaginings of TH White, Mark Twain and John Steinbeck. After that, I discovered accessible modern experts like Richard Barber and Juliette Wood, and began collecting books by writers who had reworked the mythology into countless different shapes. Chief inspirations here were John Masefield and Susan Cooper, and quirky curiosities like JB Priestley’s The Thirty First Of June.
But it didn’t take me long to realise that the Arthurian legend is the kind of subject you can research forever! So I also started looking at various places in Wales to help structure and map my own story. In particular, I made several trips to Cardigan on the West Wales coast, where I’ve set Camelot and Merlin’s Tomb.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Mark: Sir Lucas is probably the answer to both questions! In many ways he was the easiest, as once I had his voice and started to tell his story, I’d pretty much know how he would handle any situation. As the book progressed, he became harder to write for a while, as I really wanted to push him to the limits of his endurance. But once I knew what this was, that in turn helped with writing the ending.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Sleepless Knights?
Mark: I’m really pleased with how the fantastical set-pieces turned out – I enjoyed creating a big apocalyptic canvas across Wales. I started writing a lot of those chapters when Doctor Who returned, and it was inspiring to see the places I passed every day recreated fictionally in that series, with a real sense of confidence and scale. But my overall favourite scenes are probably those in the third Yesterday section, which mixes the knights’ original Grail quest with some of their ‘secret history’. That was great fun to write.
TQ: What's next? /this is where you share whatever you'd like to share/
Mark: I’ve started working on my first TV commission, which is really new and exciting, and will probably be officially announced next year. Novel-wise I’m some way into a sort-of-sequel to Sleepless Knights, which I hope will be the first book in a new trilogy. It starts at the end of Camelot, and it’s about those who were excluded from the traditional tales – and what happens in a legendary landscape when Arthur goes, and a sudden power vacuum appears. I’ve been inspired by a lot of the Taliesin material, which overlaps with the Merlin myth, as well as fragments of Celtic legends about bards, monsters and magic.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Mark: My pleasure, thanks for having me.
Atomic Fez Publishing, September 24, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 418 pages
Sir Lucas is butler to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table — the person who managed every quest from behind the scenes. He’s a man whose average working day involved defeating witches and banishing werewolves, while ensuring the Royal pot of tea never crossed the thin line separating ‘brewed’ from ‘stewed.’ What’s more, 1,500 years after that golden age, he’s still doing it — here in the modern world, right under our noses.
When King Arthur and six of his knights are exposed as living among us, Merlin is unleashed and a grim apocalypse unfolds, uncovering secrets from the past that King Arthur would rather stay buried. When Lucas is forced to confront his own peculiar destiny, will he choose to sacrifice his true love and lay down his life in the service of his master?
Sleepless Knights is a tale of high adventure and warm humour, with a spring in its step, a twinkle in its eye and, at its heart, the ultimate butler.
(from the Author's website)
Forthcoming productions include Here Be Monsters (Theatr Iolo, touring Wales, July – August 2013) and a stage adaptation of Jason & The Argonauts (Courtyard Hereford, touring England, September – autumn 2013).
My debut novel Sleepless Knights, a fantasy novel about King Arthur’s butler, is published in August 2013 by Atomic Fez books.
I’ve written two UK-touring stage adaptations for The Birmingham Stage Company. Horrible Histories: The Frightful First World War (2009; nominated for a Manchester Evening News award for Best Family Show) and Horrible Science (2010). Both plays were based on the best-selling books published by Scholastic. Horrible Science is re-touring the UK in the autumn of 2013.
Past theatre projects include The Theatre Of Doom! for the Courtyard Hereford, Zufall for Cwmni Theatr 3D, Young Merlin for the Sherman Theatre Company, Everything Gets Eaten with the Desperate Men Theatre Company, Use It Or Lose It for Dirty Protest and Opera Max: 9 Stories High for Welsh National Opera.
I’ve written extensively for radio, including My Dog’s Got No Nose, Weekend Film Matinee and My Kind Of Wales for BBC Wales, and The Bethan & Huw Show for BBC Radio One. Television work includes the sketch show Lucky Bag, and I was a sitcom finalist in the inaugural BBC Talent scheme.
I’m currently developing new projects with National Theatre Wales, and a main-stage play for a family audience based on Arthurian legend with the Torch Theatre.
Website ~ Twitter @markhwilliams
Listen to an interview with Mark at Bell, Book & Candle here!