Saturday, 7 September 2013

Interview - Nick Marsh, author of 'The Express Diaries'

Say hello to Nick Marsh, author of the excellent book 'The Express Diaries' and my interviewee today!

Hello, Nick - perhaps you'd like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Nick Marsh, and I'm a writer, blogger, gamer, and veterinary surgeon - which I'm aware is a strange combination. It can be hard work being a geek in rural Devon, but thanks to the wonders of the internet, I get by.

I've written a number of genre novels - The Ancients (fantasy), Soul Purpose and Past Tense(science fiction) and my latest, The Express Diaries (twenties-period horror)

Tell us about your creative history - what got you into the crazy world of strange fiction?

My parents were both teachers, and when I was a kid, they used to take me on three- or four-week-long holidays around Germany and Austria - a lifetime when you're knee high to a wienerschnitzel. They loved to plan the route themselves, spending months deciding where would be best to go - great fun for them, but as a consequence the holidays consisted in large part of sitting in laybys on the Autobahn, listening to my parents intermittently puzzling and swearing over large maps of the Black Forest, or driving slowly around Baden Baden searching for a magical 'Zimmer Frei' sign that would indicate we would have somewhere to sleep that night.

I got into the habit of taking lots of books from their school's library with me to kill the time (I brought them back, I promise!) during these extended foreign invasions, and two in particular must have hit me at a particularly impressionable time, because they informed what I'd be doing for the rest of my life.

The first (it would be called a 'young adult' novel now but back then was a kid's book) was a novel by Douglas Hill called 'Galactic Warlord', about the adventures of the last Legionary of the fabled planet Moros, selling his superior martial skills to noble causes while he pursued his quest for revenge upon the murderers of his homeworld. The second was 'Every Living Thing' by James Herriot, the tales of a young veterinary surgeon in pre- and post-World War II Yorkshire. I read these books, and suddenly I realised what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, as I grew up, I discovered that it's actually incredibly difficult to become an indestructable alien mercenary, so I became a vet instead.

Okay, okay, that was flippant, but it's a neat way of summarising the biggest parts of my life; animals and geekdom. University squashed my writing urge for a while, but a few years after qualifying I started writing a novel - initially it was going to be a straight novel about veterinary surgeons, but me being me I soon found aliens and century-dead magicians creeping into the story. That became Soul Purpose, my first novel, which was picked up by Immanion Press. The writing career sort of grew from there.

As far as being a gamer (and although I do play a lot of video games - currently Spelunky, Dishonored and Saint's Row IV, if you're interested! - I mean a gamer in the traditional board- and role-playing games sense) - well, that was thanks to another book from my parent's school's library - The Forest of Doom, by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. That Iain McCaig cover drew me straight in, and I was sold from the first paragraph. From there I graduated to Dungeons and Dragons, Call of Cthulhu, Traveller and all the various games that have brought me so much joy over the years.

What's your favourite genre to read? What's out there at the moment that floats your boat?

Possibly due to mid-life crisis, I'm currently trying to understand a little more about our real-world history - because where we're heading doesn't seem to be a good place. Consequently, the book I'm reading at the moment is Washington's China by James Peck, about the changing attitudes of successive US Governments to China. Its fascinating, but rather dry, so I'm interspersing that with short bursts of After Liff, a sequel to John Lloyd and the extremely sorely-missed Douglas Adams's Meaning of Liff - and bloody good it is too.

So I don't loose too many geek points I will point out that the book I finished last week wasUbik, by Philip K. Dick. I've read a few Dick before, some of which I loved (Time Out of Joint, The Man in the High Castle), some of which I honestly didn't (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) - but I loved Ubik. Just as you would imagine a Philip K. Dick novel to be - reality-bending and thought provoking. Highly recommended!

As a kid, following on from Lord of the Rings, I read an awful lot of fantasy - starting with the Dragonlance Saga (which I still have a very soft spot for) I read a huge amount of fantasy, but after the umpteenth multi-book saga in which very little happened (mutter mutter Belgariad mutter) I grew weary of it, and turned more to SF. In fact, In the last few years I've been trying to read as much classic SF as I can, and the standouts from recent years would be 1984, Flowers for Algernon and Solaris - all excellent, deep and emotional stories in the ways that Science Fiction is often accused of lacking.

I did recently dip my toe back into fantasy with A Game of Thrones, which I found revelatory - breathtakingly well-written. I devoured the rest of the books. Unfortunately, I then hit a Dance With Dragons - and I'm honestly not sure how such a gargantuan book has so little happen within it. I think I'll stick with the excellent HBO show instead in future - praying that George R R Martin knows where he's going with the bloody thing - and the next fantasy I'm likely to pick up will be The Lies of Locke Lamora, which I'm almost universally told is 'sodding brilliant'.

Out of all your projects, what are you most proud of?

Definitely the book I'm happiest with is The Express Diaries - about which more in a moment!

Tell us more about your recent book 'The Express Diaries', 'a tale of a journey into darkness and horror on the world's most famous train'; what was the attraction in writing the book?

Call of Cthulhu is probably my favourite role-playing game of all time. It got me into the dark and fascinating world of HP Lovecraft, and the malign influence of his alien Old Ones has influenced my writing ever since. So when Paul Maclean, the owner of the wonderful Lovecraftian website, asked me if I'd be interested in writing a novelization of his roleplaying groups play-throughs of the classic Chaosium campaign Horror on the Orient Express, I jumped at the chance.

Paul put me in touch with Eric Smith, the artist for the project, and between the three of us we crafted (I can say this because I just wrote the words) a thing of beauty. Eric's illustrations are fantastic, and Paul's devotion to the project helped us create a wonderful hardcover novel, which has pride of place on my shelf.

As far as the writing of the novel goes - I did have some apprehension about writing up a roleplaying game session. Novels along these lines have a long but not necessarily glorious history, and I was determined that The Express Diaries would be accessible to an audience that had never heard of Call of Cthulhu, let alone Horror on the Orient Express. The book has had fantastic reviews and a wonderful response on Goodreads - especially from people who weren't aware of its origins - so I think I managed to get something right!

What are you working on at the moment?

Well, at the urgings of friends and family, I'm taking a (brief!) break from genre fiction to work on a veterinary memoir. I started my blog, Maybe it -should- happen to a vet, several years ago, as a method of venting the stresses and strains of daily life as a veterinary surgeon. I wasn't really expecting a lot of readers - it was really writing as therapy - so I was surprised at the number of views it got. A number of my posts are due to be published in the Veterinary Times, and one of them - Dog #86324 - is up for a major non-fiction literary award, so I'm quite excited about that. My new work is a novelised (i.e. far less 'bloggy') version of my blog. Given that my writing speed makes George R R Martin look incredibly prolific, it might be a while before it comes out!

Thanks for the questions!

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