Welcome to another Friday Reads post. My featured book this week is the debut crime novel. The Trust by M.H. Eccleston. The Trust is the first in a three-book crime series. The next is Death on the Isle, set on the Isle of Wight. Then it’s off to Spain for the final instalment, Death Comes to the Costa del Sol. So pour yourself a cuppa, get comfy and we’ll find out a bit about the book then get chatting to Mark. 😊
Ever so wholesome.
Ever so deadly…
When art restorer Astrid Swift moved from London to the Dorset village of Hanbury, she thought she was heading for a quiet life. Far from it. A local man has just been murdered in the English Trust stately home where Astrid works, and the sleepy community is shaken to its core.
Soon Astrid has discovered the shocking truth about her employer: rather than being the genteel organisation it seems on the surface, the Trust is a hotbed of politics and intrigue. As Astrid’s new friend Kath from the village says: ‘It’s like the mafia, but with scones.’
As the suspicious deaths mount up, Astrid must use every gadget in her restorer’s toolkit to solve the mystery, salvage her reputation – and maybe even save her life.
It sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? If you fancy reading it, you can get a copy of the book here:- amzn.to/3KxANsl
Now let’s get chatting to Mark. Welcome Mark. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I had the idea of making a living from comedy writing just after graduating from Uni. My psychology degree didn’t look like it was going to be a passport to success. Neither, as it happened, did my writing. At the time, the satirical comedy show Spitting Image took freelance material. First try, I landed a sketch – ‘whoo – good times!’ But then the cheque arrived – £11 if I remember correctly, and I realised I needed to do something else for a living. Fast forward three decades, three kids and a dozen media jobs and I finally get the chance to sit down and give full-time writing a go – first screenwriting, which has been a bit bumpy, to be fair. Then novels, with The Trust being my debut.
Has any author inspired you?Sure, far too many to mention. I really love writers who’ve committed to their art – you know, really lived the life they write about. Jack Kerouac hitchhiked across America in 1947 then poured his experiences in one long train of thought that became On the Road. Laurie Lee tramped across Spain in 1934 with a rucksack on his back and violin. You feel every dusty footstep in As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. Hemingway, Raymond Carver, Hunter S Thompson… these were hard-living writers you might not want to emulate, but their stories are certainly raw and authentic.
Sure, far too many to mention. I really love writers who’ve committed to their art – you know, really lived the life they write about. Jack Kerouac hitchhiked across America in 1947 then poured his experiences in one long train of thought that became On the Road. Laurie Lee tramped across Spain in 1934 with a rucksack on his back and violin. You feel every dusty footstep in As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. Hemingway, Raymond Carver, Hunter S Thompson… these were hard-living writers you might not want to emulate, but their stories are certainly raw and authentic.
What do you like writing most?
Warm-hearted British whodunnits. The Astrid Swift series is a bit more gritty than most cozy crime but has, I hope, the same reassuring sense of community and values. Essentially – the good people triumph because they stick to their principles and are kind and decent. We live in such uncertain times, that maybe we need these stories right now? There’s a lot of comedy in there too, I think, anyway. It’s hard to gauge though – reaction on the comedy element has been everything from gently humorous to laugh-out-loud funny, and I’m happy with either.
Do you have a special place for writing?
I have an office in the house, although it’s not that special. There’s a rickety velvet chair in the corner where I write the first draft. Then there’s a desk with a smart swivel chair where I retreat to for the edits because it feels more formal. Luckily the phone signal in there is a bit dodgy so I can be left alone. The only problem is my neighbour has some kind of pipe that comes out from his top floor and it’s been trickling water down his walls for the past couple of years. It’s very distracting. But I’m not very confrontational, so I haven’t had a word with him about it. It’s a long story, and now describing it, I realise, not that thrilling. Anyway, that’s where I write for around five hours a day.
Are you a pantster or a plotter?
I’m more of a plotter. I like to have a strong idea of where the story is going – beginning, middle and end – before I start writing. Plus, what are the themes, politics and character arcs, especially for Astrid. Then I’ll start writing scenes and chapters out of order. I get up and I’ll be in the mood for say a comedy sequence, or action set piece, or something more grisly… and I’ll get that down on paper without knowing exactly where it’s going to fall in the book. When I’ve got about 60% of the target word count written with these ‘stepping stone’ sections I’ll set Astrid off on her journey and she’ll find them when she’s supposed to. So, there’s a bit of room for her and the other characters to surprise me. Everyone has a different method, and I like this one as the books are essentially puzzles and need the clues and red herrings to be in the right place from early on.
Is your writing ever inspired by your family or real life incidents?No – I wouldn’t dare include anything that friends and family might recognise. There’s only one real-life incident in the second book – Death on the Isle, where a guest at a party mistakes the waitress’s thumb for a cocktail sausage. That’s it though.
No – I wouldn’t dare include anything that friends and family might recognise. There’s only one real-life incident in the second book – Death on the Isle, where a guest at a party mistakes the waitress’s thumb for a cocktail sausage. That’s it though.
What are you writing at the moment?
I’m just about to start on the second draft of Death Comes to the Costa del Sol. The first draft is with the editors at Head of Zeus and they’ll be giving me their feedback soon, and then I’ll have a month to make the changes, if I agree with them. I probably will – they’ve been really spot on so far. So, I’ve got the next couple of weeks with nothing to do after an intense two years writing three books. Which is blissful. I can go cycling, and catch up with friends and spend more quality time with the kids instead of dashing off to write down some joke or plot twist that’s just come to mind. Maybe I could have a word with the neighbour about his dripping pipe?
What inspired you to write this book?
The Trust was written over the Covid lockdowns when I, and most people maybe, were thinking about what community meant. In London at least, it felt you might be more likely to find that community in a small town in the country. That’s where the idea for a character who trades in her materialistic London life for the backwaters of Dorset came to mind. I’d also been studying art crime for a TV script that didn’t work out. So, I made her an art conservator, gave her a job in a stately home and planned a couple of murders for her to solve.
What time of the day do you write best?
I kid myself it’s late at night because that feels edgy and romantic, but it’s probably first thing in the morning – if I can get up then. Which depends if I’ve stayed up late the night before.
What are your hobbies?
I’ve started cycling, which in London is a little daunting. The Thames path isn’t too far away though and you can safely cycle all the way to the Houses of Parliament in less than an hour and a half. It’s a great route with the city rising up and coming to life ahead of you. I also like to cook – it’s not exactly Master Chef standards but there haven’t been too many complaints. And we also bought an inflatable kayak which was a bit of a hoot this summer.
What advice would you give to other writers?
Oooh, tricky one. It’s the usual cliches I’m afraid. Read as much as you can. Write every day. Don’t give up – and having sold my first book in my 50s I can definitely vouch for this one. Then there’s a slight tweak on the rule ‘write what you know,’ which is ‘write what you’d like to know about.’ Is there a subject you’ve always wanted to spend time researching? Then do it – read everything about it. Then if the book on the subject doesn’t work out, at least you’ll be an expert in something new. It might even win you the pub quiz.
Great advice, Mark. Thanks for dropping by to talk to us. Wishing you many sales of your new book.😊
Mark has had a fairly meandering career – starting out as a radio presenter for the BBC, then staying at the Beeb as a journalist and producer for six years. After that, it’s a bit of a blur – he spent a couple of decades freelancing as a foreign correspondent, TV presenter, voice-over artist, comedy and film critic. For the last few years he’s been a full-time screenwriter and now novelist. He lives in Ealing with his family, which is ruled by a mischievous Frenchie called George.