The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Russell Mardell

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Russell Mardell


Summary: Jill thought that Cold Calling was unexpectedly delightful and above all, very, very human. She had quite a few questions for author Russell Mardell when he popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Date: 30 April 2016
Interviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy

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Jill thought that Cold Calling was unexpectedly delightful and above all, very, very human. She had quite a few questions for author Russell Mardell when he popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.

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

Russell Mardell: I couldn't begin to tell you. It's not something that writers should really think about. I hope they are a diverse, loyal and satisfied bunch. But who knows? Never second-guess your readers, and make sure they can't second-guess you.

  • BB: We understand that Cold Calling began life as a screen play, then became a short play, and now a novel. How did this evolution occur and why?

RM: I wrote the screenplay about ten years ago, and I do still think it would make a good film. I always liked the main idea, and knew that I wanted to do something with it. I kept coming back to it and wondered whether I could reshape it to work as a novel. Would that medium serve it better than a screenplay? I put some ideas together and began tinkering with the main relationship between Ray and Anya. As part of the book is centered on phone calls between the two, I cherry picked some dialogue that I liked and worked it into a short, ten minute play. Essentially the play was an ultra-condensed story of their phone calls in the book, but I used it almost as a way of workshopping the characters and testing out some of the dialogue. It was an invaluable process, and thankfully the audience reaction was very positive. I do think, if possible, hearing your dialogue performed, or read aloud, by someone is a very useful exercise when you're writing.

  • BB: Ray and Anya develop a friendship without any of the usual real world clues of body language and physical appearance. In an increasingly online world, such friendships are likely to become more and more common. What do you think the advantages are?

RM: It's human nature to have pre-conceived opinions on someone by their appearance, we all do it to some degree. It was interesting to me to examine a relationship where that is stripped away, and to see what could come from it. To me Cold Calling is a love story, albeit one about the love between friends. Instantly, if Ray and Anya meet at the start of the book, other outside factors would cloud their relationship, not least physical attraction, and that in turn can influence how they react to each other. If there were sexual attraction, would they be as honest with each other? Could they be friends? I think what Ray and Anya end up with runs a lot deeper because of the nature of their relationship.

Much of the book was written in reaction to the way many of us interact now on social media. I think it is wonderful and dreadful in equal measure. Technology has connected us all up, yet so much of what we do with it is pretty hollow and meaningless. I wanted my characters to all live very presently in that sort of world, but to have the heart of the story a series of simple spoken conversations.

  • BB: Will we ever meet Ray or Anya again?

RM: It's possible, I am very fond of them and like the idea of meeting them again. I do have, in all my books, some character cross overs, often very small mentions or connections, so we may see them again in that respect. Whether there would be anything more substantial, I don't know. There is a moment right at the very end of the book, mentioned almost in passing, which could suggest further stories in that world. It will be interesting to see if people pick up on it.

  • BB: Writing aside, how did you get the book ready for publication? And do you enjoy the process?

RM: The process can be very rewarding, and also incredibly frustrating! The nuts and bolts of publishing can feel like it takes an eternity. I worked with a couple of editors first, and their input was invaluable. Both highlighted a couple of points that they felt needed some rewriting. A lot of my concerns with the draft I submitted to them were to make sure that there was sufficient balance between the characters of Ray and Anya. It is both their stories, and I didn't want to overly favour one too much. With writing a comedy/drama I was also aware that sometimes too much comedy could smother the story and lose the reader. Hopefully with the editors help we got the balance right there too.

I worked again with my cover designer David Baker and we got the cover sorted quite quickly. Like the genre of the book, the cover is something different from my previous books and I felt it was important to reflect that. Another thing I did differently this time out was to secure a cover endorsement. I was very lucky that the terrific author Caroline Smailes agreed to read the book in advance and give me a quote to use.

  • BB: From where do you get inspiration and which writers are your major influences?

RM: My books usually start with the characters, usually it's someone in a situation or a 'what if?' scenario. I tend not to overly plan my stories when I start, I like not knowing where my characters are going, or at least, if I know their destination, I don't like knowing how I'm going to get them there. Inspiration tends to come once I have the starting point. If it doesn't, then at least it tells me it isn't a story that I want to tell.

Many writers have been influences over the years. Stephen King has been a constant for many years. I'm a big fan of Paul Auster, William Wharton, Richard Matheson, and the wonderful surreal stories of Dino Buzzati. With Cold Calling, the early novels of Nick Hornby, particularly High Fidelity, where an influence.

  • BB: Where and how do you write?

RM: I write at home, always with music in the background and lots of cups of tea on the go. Recently though I've started wishing I had invested in a laptop because the idea of writing out and about appeals a great deal, and I think it is healthy for writers to write away from the same four walls sometimes. When I have a free day to write I try and keep office hours, though it rarely works out that way. I used to write late at night and I try and avoid that now. I tend to write in short manic bursts, leave it for a bit, worry and fret and procrastinate, then go back to it.

  • BB: What three tips would you give to aspiring writers?

RM: Read a lot (of course!) and read widely. Also, when it comes to publication, it's good to grow a thick skin as soon as possible. Find the best, and also the most honest editor you can. Find other writers too, because it's a very odd and isolated existence, and almost all writers need a solid support group who understand what they are doing! Most importantly though writers just have to write. That seems like such a trite thing to say, but it is so true. Write. Write rubbish that you just delete the next day, write things that make no sense, write anything that your imagination comes up with, and most importantly allow yourself to make mistakes. That is the only way to learn how to write well. Slowly you will find your voice, your style, and then you will be telling the sort of stories only you can tell.

  • BB: What would be your desert island book?

RM: My favourite novel and the one that has had the greatest impact on me is 'All The Little Animals' by Walker Hamilton, so I would choose that. I get something new from it every time I read it. I've never read anything like it; it's a perfect little story that constantly messes with my emotions whenever I read it.

  • BB: What's next for Russell Mardell?

RM: At the moment I'm trying to find time to write between the promotion for Cold Calling, what that will be I don't quite know yet. I've an idea that I'd like to work on that is in a similar vein to Cold Calling, so I think that might be the next book, but I'm open to offers!

  • BB: Thanks for taking the time to chat to us, Russell and we look forward to seeing what you have for us next!

You can read more about Russell Mardell here.

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