I am delighted to have Mark Mayes on my blog for this event. His debut novel, ‘The Gift Maker’ was published last month and it is getting a lot of positive reviews. Mark very kindly answered my questions.
I’ve heard so many good things about your book, ‘The Gift Maker’. Can you tell me a bit about it please?
Thank you so much, Sonya, for inviting me onto your wonderful book blog to talk about The Gift Maker, and about writing more generally. I appreciate this opportunity so much. Well, The Gift Maker is a debut novel, and I would say it straddles several genres, in that it has some fantastical or magic realist elements, but it also might be considered a literary novel ( I hope). It comprises a quest, or rather several interlocking quests, undertaken by several characters. In addition, a romantic theme runs through the narrative. So, quite a mixture, I’d say. I’ve been overjoyed with the reception thus far, and very glad that readers have not found the blend of elements confusing or overwhelming.
I won’t recap the blurb here, but will say that themes of identity and the exploration of the purpose of an individual life figure strongly in this story. The theme of personal responsibility also comes up; as does that of how much we should be for ourselves in life, fulfilling our own needs, contrasted with how much we ought to be for others, and the concomitant requirement to adapt to a shared world.
The three young people in this novel, Thomas, Liselotte, and Jo, each of whom are given a gift by the eponymous gift maker, Daumen, have important discoveries to make about themselves, and their resolve and sense of honour are very much tested. There is a maxim that character is revealed under pressure, and this application of pressure is what I attempt to bring to bear throughout the story, so to enable the said characters to question themselves, and (hopefully) overcome obstacles, leading to personal ‘growth’, or possibly even moments of enlightenment.
Both fairy tale and mythical tropes play a part in The Gift Maker, and as these are ancient forms of storytelling, I hope some of the symbolism employed may resonate with readers on a subconscious level. Lastly, for some light relief, I have attempted to leaven some of the scenes with humour, albeit somewhat of a dark(ish) nature.
I absolutely adore the cover. Did you decide what you wanted it to look like?
The cover was really down to Matthew Smith, founder and owner of independent publisher Urbane Publications. Matthew very kindly gave me a selection of cover ideas to look at, and as soon as I saw the open hands and the butterfly, I knew this would make an excellent cover. I love the muted colours and overall texture of the image. Moreover, it expresses a dichotomy of action – are the hands releasing the butterfly, or are they seeking to trap it? This mirrors nicely some of the themes/motifs that are laced throughout the narrative.
Where did you get your ideas from for this book?
When I began it, I didn’t know I was writing a novel. I assumed I was writing another short story, as I’ve been writing stories for quite a while now. All I had was the simple idea of a man in bed being woken in the night by a knock at the door. It might seem a bit vague, but from there I just followed my nose, as it were, and gave my imagination free rein. The characters seemed to appear, as did the setting, bit by bit, and before I knew it I’d gone beyond the traditional length of a long short story (i.e. beyond eight thousand words, say), and thought, Oh, goodness, this could be a novella, or even a novel. I don’t really know where ideas come from, or at least the kind of ideas that might be apparent in this novel – perhaps they have an amalgam of sources – memory, imagination, dream, other stories, the collective unconscious, and some mysterious element, guiding you, for some reason that cannot be discerned.
How long did it take you to write?
About two years, including drafting and editing, although there were some gaps during that period due to various life events and situations, and working other jobs. Often, the editing stage can take quite a long time, but that’s all to the good, I feel.
What would you do if you met any of the characters from your book for real?
I love that question, and the potential for that to happen is quite fascinating. Accepting a multiverse theory, or allowing for an infinite number of universes or realities, perhaps every character from every book or play is out there somewhere. I don’t know. Thinking about that leads to needing a lie down in a darkened room.
If I met one of the characters from the book, I would hope it might be in a neutral sort of place – perhaps a bar, or sitting on a park bench. I would try to keep calm, and pass the time of day, hoping they might reveal things I didn’t know about them, which amounts to an awful lot.
Can you relate to any of them?
Yes, all of them to some extent, except maybe some of the meanies who work at the slaughterhouse in Grenze, but even with them you have to try and get under their skin to some extent. The one I most relate to is Thomas, I suppose. The truck driver character, Peter, also seems to be quite popular, and I can see why. He’s honest, uncomplicated, and has a very good heart – and he likes chocolate!
Can we look forward to more books from you?
I very much hope so. I’d love to one day have a collection of poems, and a collection of stories. I am also working on a longer story just now, but it’s at an early(ish) stage, to be frank. I’d love to do more with my songs eventually (and some co-written songs) – perhaps make a CD, and see if some other musicians could play on the tracks, and do it properly, in a studio. Might need to come up on the horses first.
Where do you do most of your writing?
During the writing of The Gift Maker, I moved a few times, but in each case I did the writing at a desk in my bedroom, fortified by a constant drip of tea and ridiculous amounts of biscuits. Occasionally, I would sit in cafes or a pub, and think about how it was going, or indeed where it might go. Simply going for walks, or waking up first thing, ideas for a scene or a problem that needs ‘fixing’ can just simply come to you – most often when you stop striving for them, I find.
Have you found social media useful?
I think especially these days it is vital; vital to build relationships with readers, and readers who are bloggers, and with more general marketing matters. Great for connecting with other writers, who are usually voracious readers, too, of course. Getting news of a book ‘out there’ relies a lot on social media these days, and word can spread very effectively. People have been so very kind – individual readers, and especially book bloggers, who really are a wonderfully supportive community in themselves, and are part of an invaluable network that gets other people turned on to new books as well as older ones. Social media is also an important means of promulgating such an event, to hopefully create a bit of a buzz.
If you had the chance to live your life again would you still write?
That’s a great question, as are they all, Sonya – and the answer is an unequivocal yes. The only change I might make is to start earlier. I didn’t read much as a child, outside of comics, and only began to develop an interest in writing around the age of thirty (although I had written some songs prior to then). Having said this, things happen the way they do for a reason. In my twenties, my passion was for acting, and nothing really could have got in the way of that at the time.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
In my spare time I love to read – pretty much anything, although I really want to go back and read a lot of the ‘classics’ that I haven’t as yet tried. There’s only so much time, I suppose. I do consider reading an indispensible aspect of the writing ‘journey’ – for inspiration, connection with language, and simply to immerse oneself in worlds created by imaginations and sensibilities other than one’s own. A reader is also a time traveller.
I would love to learn other languages, or at least little bits of them; and then to read some stories and poems in their original incarnation. I keep trying.
I enjoy walking – which can also aid the imagination, as mentioned above. Just a nice gentle pace for me these days due to the old knees. I pretty much drink tea all day – not sure if that’s a hobby, more of an addiction, but not the worst you could have, I suppose.
Music is the other main thing I love, specifically playing the guitar, singing, and writing songs, or singing songs by other songwriters. I’ve been doing it for quite a while, and in the last couple of years have been active on Soundcloud – a site I love, as it has such a wonderful community of musicians, songwriters, poets, storytellers, and spoken word aficionados.
You are given the challenge of staying on a desert island for a month. You are only allowed two books. What would they be?
I know on Desert Island Discs you are given the Collected works of Shakespeare for ‘free’, as it were – but if I didn’t have that on offer, then I’d surely like the Bard as one of my two chosen books. The second book would be either Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching, or Basho’s complete haiku – I think either of those could put me into a nice contemplative state of mind.
Urbane Author Page: http://urbanepublications.com/book_author/mark-mayes/
Urbane Book Page: http://urbanepublications.com/books/the-gift-maker/