Marcus Blakeston



1. Introduce us to the world of Marcus Blakeston - the journey to B from that long distant A - where did the urge to spill the written word come from?

I used to write reviews and articles for punk fanzines from a young age, so the urge to write has always been there ever since an opportunity to be read became available to me. The earliest fiction I ever had published was in a fanzine from Tewkesbury or somewhere like that, I can’t remember its name. It was about the National Front winning an election, and The Mekons (the band from Leeds, not the green guy from Dan Dare) were like freedom fighters who opposed them. I was 14 at the time, and my copy is long lost (probably just as well). 

After school I started writing poetry and showing it to a few people, that led to being encouraged to get up on stage and shout it at bemused audiences. It was never planned, I just dived on stage while some band were tuning up, grabbed the microphone, and got as many poems in as I could before they shoved me to one side. I did that for a few years, then got bored with it. Some of the poetry was printed in the UK Horror Society newsletter in the late 80s, the rest of it I think it’s in a drawer somewhere.

After that I had a few children, got married, got my first proper job, and didn’t really have time for anything else. It was only when the children grew up, and the internet came along, that I started writing again. By then I was self employed, so time was more flexible. I saw people putting short stories on their websites, and thought I can do that. Everything else grew from that. 

2. How are your books selling?

Money was never my motivation for writing, it’s more for my own amusement than anything else. But having said that, I’ve made just over £900 so far, which is a lot more than I ever expected.

Skinhead Away has always been my best seller, it outsells the others by about four to one, but Punk Rock Nursing Home is slowly catching it up. The others I usually just sell three or four a month, and I’ve probably given away more than I’ve sold.

3. What kind of feedback do you get?

Every book you look at, even the classics, seem to have their fair share of haters. I guess that’s just the way it is when anyone who wants to can be a reviewer. I saw one recently for Nell Dunn’s Poor Cow that complained it was too depressing, and the main character was too low class. It makes you wonder what they were expecting. Fortunately more people seem to like my books than hate them, and I’ve had a few people add me on Facebook after reading one of them, so I must be doing something right. Someone even asked for my autograph once, that was a bit surreal. 
But the best comment I ever got was from someone who said they hadn’t read a book since leaving school, but they read one of mine and loved it. Things like that are worth a lot more than money. I don’t know if she ever read any of my others or not though.

4. How quickly can you knock off a novel?

It varies. The first one, Punk Faction, took about two years from start to finish. I “published” it originally in weekly episodic form on my website, more or less as I wrote it. It was all crap in its unedited form, but I don’t think I would have ever finished it if it wasn’t for the encouragement I got at the time.

The next couple after that, The Meat Wagon and Skinhead Away, took about five months each. Bare Knuckle Bitch was about two months, but it was fun to write so I kept finding extra writing time to work on it, at the expense of my paying work.

Meadowside took over a year, but within that time I also wrote Punk Rock Nursing Home which was another quickie. The one I’m working on now, a mash-up of 1970s Hells Angel books and the 1950s alien invasion films I grew up reading/watching, is another slow one. That’s taken nine months so far, and I’m only about two thirds of the way through the first draft. I might end up shelving it for a while so I can write another quickie, just to stop me getting bored with it.

5. How do you overcome the dreaded writer's block?

I’m not really convinced it exists, I think it’s just an excuse for lazy writers. There are times when I can’t be bothered, and times when I stare at a sentence I’ve just written and try to figure out what’s wrong with it, but there are a lot more times when I have the urge to write but just don’t have the spare time. A quick blast of music usually gets me in the right frame of mind for a writing session. Usually Argy Bargy, Runnin Riot or The Exploited’s Fuck the System. Or if I’m feeling a bit more mellow it’ll be Burnt Cross or Cress. I try to write in silence, but if that’s not possible due to neighbours or whatever, I put on an instrumental synth CD by Chris Carter (of Throbbing Gristle fame).

It’s not particularly difficult to write a book. In fact I’d go as far as saying it’s something anyone can do if they set their mind to it. I’m living proof of that. The only hard part is keeping the enthusiasm going so you can see it through to the end. Like with reading, there’s lots of other things that compete for your time.

6. The style of your work is simple and flowing with a distinct effectiveness.  It seems easy to replicate but I think it is a style to be applauded and not easily copied.  Do you work hard at your method or do you just let it flow?

I never liked books where the writer drones on for page after page about blades of grass dancing in the wind, or cirrus clouds floating across an azure sky or whatever. It’s boring, and I don’t care. Same goes for whatever inane thoughts their characters might have while they stand there doing nothing, or whatever boring events happened in their past lives. So cutting all that bollocks and letting the characters get on with what they are supposed to be doing seemed to be a logical thing to do. The rest of it, it just seems natural to me. I don’t consciously mimic any other writer, but I suppose you can’t help being influenced by writers you like and the way they went about it. It’d be like learning how to play the guitar. If you did it by studying Sex Pistols records you’d end up sounding a bit like them.

The way I write, I close my eyes and see a scene playing in my head, then describe what happens as if I was part of it. It just flows from that, and sometimes the people in my head decide to do something completely different to what they were supposed to be doing, so I go along with that instead just to see how it plays out. I can type pretty fast with my eyes closed, so I can get it all down in rough form more or less as it plays out.

Then when the scene is over I go back to the beginning of what I’ve written and tidy it up, add any background detail it might need, change a few bits here and there that seem a bit far fetched. I work on one scene at a time until I think it works right, then go on to the next. Sometimes I need to go back to an earlier scene and change something so it will make sense in context with the scene I’m working on at the time, or I might decide something that happened to one person should really have happened to someone else. I’ve been told a few times this is the wrong way to write a book, but it works for me.

When it’s all done I set aside a whole day so I can read through it in one sitting to make sure it all makes sense, then send it off to some other writers to see what they think of it. They let me know what works and what doesn’t, make suggestions I either act on or ignore, then when all the changes have been made I put it away for another month before it gets proof read. I usually only make minor changes after that.

7. Tell us about the costs of getting these tomes printed - how does the whole system work - is it a profitable enterprise?

I sell the paperbacks through Amazon, and they get printed to order whenever someone buys one, so there’s no up-front cost there. You upload a PDF and add a description, they handle the rest. I did look into having some printed to take to Rebellion with me one year, but they worked out at £3 each which isn’t much less than Amazon’s cut of the ones they sell there, so I didn’t see the point. I’m rubbish at selling anyway, the copies I do have for myself I usually end up swapping them for CDs or other people’s books, or just giving them away to musicians I admire in the hope they might say something nice about them.

I worked in graphic design for about 20 years, so I can do all my own interior layout and covers. Some of them I’ve had to buy stock images for, others I’ve either used old photos or roped in family members to pose for new ones. Stock images are about £7 each, and one is usually enough if I add a background of my own.

So it’s pretty much a DIY, zero cost enterprise for me. Story structure and copy editing I get from other writers, we all help each other out as much as we can. It’s a good community to be part of, and again it’s all zero cost, except for the time you spend helping others.

8. Spaghetti vests and ravioli underpants - discuss the pros and cons and the possibility of you marrying Geoff Capes?

I think if I had to marry a sportsman it would be Giant Haystacks. Wrestling was the only sport I ever watched when I was a kid, and he was my favourite. Big Daddy always took all the limelight when they were a tag team, but he was just a fat bastard who only had one move. I don’t think clothes made out of food would be very practical with the weather in Yorkshire, not to mention the number of people here living in food poverty, but when they get me on The Culture Show to talk bollocks I might consider it. Maybe I would get a recording contract with Simon Scowl as a direct result, and do a duet with Susan Boyle at the next Royal Variety show.

9. Sorry but another immediate wankoid question - would you wear a jumper made from Geoff Capes’ pubic fuzz, if so why and how many shot putts do you think you could hold in yer duffelbag?

When I was young I had a Dennis the Menace type mohair jumper. It looked good with tartan bondage trousers, but it itched like fuck. I’d guess a jumper made out of pubic hair would feel about the same, so it would ultimately depend on how good it looked. And my duffel bag is always filled with car boot booty, so there’d be no room for any shot putts at all.

10. Your heroes and zeroes in life mate, the things that impress and depress, the same with the music pit as well if you please?

I only have one hero left, a guy called Mark Astronaut who’s a singer/songwriter from Welwyn Garden City. I still get star-struck when I see him live, and get tongue-tied if I try to talk to him after, so he probably thinks I’m a right nutter. I was chuffed to bits when he agreed to me using him as a bit-character in Punk Faction.

Everyone else I ever put on a pedestal fell off it a long, long time ago, and I’ve learnt not to replace them. I don’t blame them for chasing the money, I’d probably have done the same given half the chance. It’s when they seem to have a complete character change that contradicts everything they used to stand for that it pisses me off.

What I like about the modern day punk scene, even the famous people will mingle with plebs like me before or after a gig (well, except for the ones who make butter adverts). They don’t just hide away in dressing rooms like they used to. That’s probably because they don’t have big record label backing any more so they’re as skint as the rest of us, or maybe they’ve just grown out of that type of elitism. Plus you don’t get any fights at gigs these days because we’re all too old for that, and there’s no gangs of trendies waiting outside to beat you up at closing time.

The only thing that gets me down is all the bitchy in-fighting on the internet, all these weird rules people come up with for what can be considered punk or not. I suppose it’s just a continuation of the old Crass versus Exploited thing, or 70s punk versus 80s punk from the olden days, but I thought it was stupid back then and it’s even more stupid now. I bet all the middle-aged teddy boys we used to laugh at didn’t argue amongst themselves as much as we do now.

Then there’s the endless hunt for Nazis that just seems to get more and more far fetched all the time. Listening to those guys you’d end up thinking everyone was a Nazi. But argue the toss with them and you’ll end up branded some sort of Nazi supporter yourself. The really sad thing is, some people just seem to lap it all up and take it as gospel, and shit like that spreads all over the internet within a day or so. Meanwhile, the real Nazis just sit back and laugh.

11. Your favourite books and writers and the things in life that motivate thee?

Growing up it was always Harry Harrison, who wrote the Stainless Steel Rat books and the book Soylent Green was based on. But he wrote lots and lots of other stuff, too. I’ve got everything he wrote, except for about 30 of the short stories he had in 1950s sc-ifi magazines that never got reprinted. I’m still hoping those will turn up on Ebay one day.
Then there was the Richard Allen books, and all the hells angels books that came out around the same time. I still like them, but when I read them now they seem a lot funnier than I remember them, and most of them don’t make much sense internally. Pulp Press from Brighton put out some good titles a few years back, Die Hard Mod, Jailbait Justice, The Windowlicker Maker and a few others. Those were all good, but they seem to have ceased trading now. Shame really, but I guess there isn’t much of a market for stories like that any more.

Modern day writers, there’s quite a few but they’re mostly in the crime/horror genres. David Moody, who was one of the first self publishers I came across who wasn’t writing complete crap, he just seems to get better with each book. JF Gonzalez, who writes over the top horror and gang crime. Blake Crouch, there’s only one of his that I didn’t like. Then there’s Brian Keene, Wrath James White, Tim Curran, lots of others.

12. Geoff Capes vs Freddo the Frog in a Todge Stretching Fest judged by the corpse of Thomas Hardy - the details, the outcome, the political threat it holds for Garden Pea liberation.

Freddo the Frog’s todger inches ahead, but just as it looks like it’s all over, Big Daddy enters the ring and bites his head off. Thomas Hardy looks on in horror as Big Daddy leaps into the air, then splashes down on Geoff Capes and squashes him into mushy peas. The Garden Pea Liberation Army storms the ring in anger, Big Daddy clotheslines the lot of them, then tags Giant Haystacks. Giant Haystacks smacks Thomas Hardy with a forearm smash, the crowd goes wild.

13. Have you ever thought of doing a DIY compendium of written offerings, getting contributions from different scribblers and all chucking in and throwing it out there - just a thought.

I thought about it once, but I doubt I would have the organisational skills it took to pull it off. Most of the other writers in punk/subculture type fiction just seem to put out one book and that’s it. Maybe they don’t sell as well as they hoped, or maybe they just don’t have the spare time to write any more, I don’t know. Shame really, because some of them are really good. There’s a few anthologies like that already out, I don’t know how well they do. Punk Fiction (no relation to my book, but it did force a last minute change of title), Tales from the Punkside, a few others. There’s an anarcho-punk one coming out some time next year.

14. And also, who the hell proof reads ya work - a fine task but a real testing one.

Ha. Meadowside got slated in one review for being full of mistakes, but the only one the reviewer mentioned was when I used the word “affect” when it should have been “effect”. That’s been fixed now, and I didn’t see anything else wrong with it when I had another read through to check. Her other reviews were for things like The Little Mermaid, so what she was doing reading a book about skinheads and football hooligans killing zombies I have no idea. Proof reading is something I’ve always been good at, and I’ve only read one book published this century that didn’t have any mistakes in it. It seems to be a dying art. Either that or the publishers are just cutting corners.

15. And finally the fanny of indifference is open, you are wearing a pair of marigolds, push inwards the publications and let them be later blown out in the face of the unaware - go baby, go.