The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Mark Lingane

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Mark Lingane

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Summary: Ani really enjoyed Mark Lingane's genre-busting novel Beyond Belief and she had quite a few questions for him when he popped into Bookbag Towers.
Date: 25 March 2013
Interviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson

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Ani really enjoyed Mark Lingane's genre-busting novel Beyond Belief and she had quite a few questions for him when he popped into Bookbag Towers.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Mark Lingane: Highly intelligent, good looking people. Cynical yet optimistic. The more you understand the book the more fabulous you are. If I had my way there would be testing prior to reading the book.

On the serious side, it helps if you know your 80s and 90s pop sci-fi and pop culture. So that means you need to be of an age where you may have lived through it, or be well versed in it. If not, then it isn’t a deal breaker. I should do a list, or maybe run a competition to see who can find the most references.

  • BB: You're on record as saying there were 17 years between you starting work on your debut novel Beyond Belief and it being published. Why did it take so long?

ML: Learning to write a novel was the biggest challenge. I had been writing short pieces (non-fiction) for some time. Even university papers weren’t that long and I could dash them off over the weekend. But 75,000 words, that was hard.

I wrote the thing between 1993 and 1995. In 1996 I sent it to a proofreader, because the story was obviously perfect. I then sent it to an agent in the UK. I received a stock rejection letter. So I thought: Screw you publishing industry. If that’s the way you are going to be then I’ll go be a rockstar. But it nagged away.

In ‘98 I saw an advert for a manuscript appraisal agency, aptly name the Manuscript Appraisal Agency. They had the usual line of finding you the right agent if they thought your MS was ready. So, I sent it off. Got back a whole stack of comments. Very precise, well-articulated thoughts and suggestions. What was good, bad, etc. I immediately knew that it was all completely wrong, and it is so boring being misunderstood. So in ’99 I had another look at it and took on the comments. I rewrote the end, then the beginning. And some of the middle. Then I sent it off to another agent. Stock rejection letter.

Then life got in the way for about twelve years. Family and expat-ing takes a tremendous amount of resources, to the extent that people who had known me for a long time didn’t even know that I wanted to be a writer. In fact, I felt that I wasn’t even creative anymore. Then, for some reason, most probably due to an editor’s choice podcast recommendation from iTunes, I subscribed to Iain Broome’s Write for your life.

There it sat ignored on the computer for months. One night I listened to it. Garry Smailes from BubbleCow was on the show. I listened to him and it was personally inspirational. I sent the MS to him, and he was very supportive and constructive. His recommendations helped shape it into what it is now.

I was also writing some of my other books as well, and recording music.

  • BB: Having gone through this first novel process, if we gave you a time machine so you could go back, what would you do differently knowing what you know now?

ML: I would tell myself to believe in the story, and don’t get disheartened by those who either don’t get it, or nit-pick over technicalities. That’s what editors are for. Oh, and find a very good editor, you’ll need it. And learn how to plan. That would have saved a lot of time.

There are so many people who will put their hand up to say what’s wrong for the privilege of you paying them that the already delicate demeanour of the writer can be easily crushed. Emotionally it is a tough road, but one which novices must passive-aggressively sneak down if they want to actually have a finished product.

The gravity of examination about the technical side is so wrong. Few people will actually put down a book with a plot they are engaged in or characters they love because of too many errors. The best seller charts are full of examples of story over technical ability. If you don’t have a good story, then it won’t matter how polished your text is no one will be impressed. No one says ‘read this book, it is really well edited.’ But, of course, good editing is as important to the final product as anything but it isn’t the product. Much like a great cover, it isn’t vital, but it is important. People won’t stop reading because they don’t like the cover.

But on top of all the feedback I have received there was only one person who said there is something worth pursuing. Everyone else has been so buried in the correct usage of commas that there has hardly ever a confirmation that there was a good story. Most have said it’s a good start, shows potential, learn how to use commas. By the way buy my book on writing, cheap at $25.

One of my favourite quotes has been: …with a bit more work, your MS may well reach the point where it could prove of interest to publishers and readers of this genre. (i.e. no one could possibly like it at the moment.)

Yes, there are parts that are over written. There are parts that mean nothing to anyone other than me. But if I didn’t do it now and get it out of my system, then I wouldn’t be free of those ideas. Putting it down on paper is a step in learning about yourself as a writer. Once explored, you can move on.

Book 1 was always an homage to those writers that inspired me. Book 2, Chasing Heart was about finding my writer’s voice. Book 3, is consolidating that and thinking a bit more about complex plots. It is all about the evolution of the craft of being a story teller. Each book is a stepping stone to a better understanding and a better product. There will be experiments that don’t work, but trying new things and learning has to be part of the process, otherwise it will be just another story.

So I would say to myself creativity is your strength, don’t sell out on it. People will find what they want to find within the words, so give them the words and ideas to explore. Then let it go, and let it have its own life. There are more stories to write if it doesn’t work.

  • BB: The world you create in this SF/fantasy/detective noir novel is, in part, extreme 'nanny state'. Was this just a convenient framework for your story and characters or is there something more political behind it?

ML: Parts of it are extreme but a lot of it is a reflection of what I see today. So that makes it political. Much of it comes from a time when I was younger and railed against the stupidity of some over-protective laws. Someone I knew at the time said ‘what are you going to do? You can’t beat the system.’ And when everyone thinks like that then it becomes the truth.

We do live in a world where we don’t have a say. If you really disagree with something, there is no real avenue for debate. Look at the huge outcry in the UK over the Iraq war. A million people marched, yet the government didn’t listen. And you have to ask why this happened. How do we get to a point where we the people have no voice? The answer is that we let it happen. A lot like the banks. They take bit by bit, in such small amounts that you hardly notice them being intently evil. Yet you look back over the last twenty years and wonder how we got to this spot?

So many rules are there to control rather than encourage. Society tends to feed back, rather than feed forward. And people don’t stay angry at civil rights being trampled on. Life gets in the way.

I could write a whole book on this stuff, oh wait…

  • BB: Beyond Belief awards us with a wonderfully broad palate of characters. I particularly love the deaf, aged Mrs Agatha and her ambush book quizzes and think I may have recognised a couple. Are they indeed our-world-existing books and, if so, any reason you included these particular novels in her quizzes?

ML: Yes, they are all from our world and they are spoilers for some of the most well-known mysteries. No reason. It was just fun. Most manuscript experts would say take them out as it adds nothing to the plot, but there is more to story than just plot.

I like the idea of a small little scene, a vignette of life, which has nothing to do with the story, but is simply fun, interesting or poetic.

  • BB: The use of easily readable computer programming code is very clever. Without giving anything away, what gave you the idea? (Are you a bit of a computer geek yourself?)

ML: Yes. I used to be able to read binary. I was a commercial programmer at fourteen. However, over the years I have drifted away from the hard-core tech level stuff, and found it more valuable to be able to translate between low-level experts and the wider population (i.e. as a technical writer). I have a couple of iOS apps planned, but writing takes up most of the spare time. It may be a while before I can get to them.

The idea for the code came out of necessity. Readers were having trouble understanding what was happening with the alternate reality bits. Someone liked the command line interface at the end, which inspired the idea of having reality written, or in this case rewritten, by the engine. Every cause can be seen as an instruction, so let it be a computer instruction. This allowed the compartmentalising of reality within the narrative and made the distinction between the dual realities easier to spot. It also allowed the fundamental dichotomy of fate vs freewill to be examined.

  • BB: Beyond Belief hints at a very complex world beneath the surface and our hero Joshua finishes the story as a very different person from when we first met at the beginning. Will there be a prequel about the origins of 'the Engine' and its curators and can we also look forward to more Joshua?

ML: Maybe. The book takes a look at popular religion and icons within it, and twists the plot around them. I could look at other religions. I was thinking about this earlier, and wondered what a book called Before Belief would be about. We all know that knowledge comes after belief, but what comes before? What, at the core, is belief and how does it relate to what is in our head and how we see the world?

That’s the problem with writing Sci-Fi, it needs to be about something. And it makes your head hurt. And you have to research lots of stuff, understand it then interpret it with terrible jokes.

  • BB: This is a novel that bounces across a few genres. When you're relaxing what sort of books do you enjoy reading and which writers inspire you?

ML: Nothing in particular. I am a big fan of the off-beat uk sci-fi humour such as HHGTTG, Red Dwarf, Discworld. But if stuff is well written, then I’ll give it a go. Also a big fan of Janet Evanovich. I’ll often read things that will help me with what I need to know right now.

  • BB: Is there any interview question that you've never been asked but would love to answer? If so, what is the question, and indeed, the answer?

ML: Ah, this is one of those Zen questions. Defining the hole within the whole shows your true self and what lurks within your subconscious? As this is my first proper interview related to writing I haven’t had the chance of not being asked anything yet.

You can ask me about the title: I came up with the title before I had an idea for the book. I was sitting in my Philosophy 101 class listening to the lecturer explain Descartes, and I started to wonder about reality outside of our own head, which is what he does to you. What if it all was a dream and everything came from our own imagination and beliefs. If that was the case, then what lay beyond that – beyond belief.

  • BB: What's next for Mark Lingane?

ML: I have planned out 2013 to 2015, which has a roster of ten books. All are currently underway. I am targeting to have four complete and out this year, then three for each of the following years. They are all in varying genres. They all won’t be as deep as this one; some are just going to be fun. I Love Lucid will be the next heavy-thinking one. It looks at government manipulation, corporate corruption, fraud, identity, immortality, what we will do for those we care about, and the morality conundrum of what is good and what is bad. And hopefully there will a few laughs along the way.

  • BB: That's quite a schedule you've set yourself, Mark - we're looking forward to seeing the results. Thanks for chatting to us.

You can read more about Mark Lingane here.

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