Mark Leggatt was born in Lochee, Dundee. A former specialist in Disaster Recovery for oil companies and global banks, his career has taken him around Europe, especially Paris, where he lived for a number of years. History and modern global conspiracy lie at the heart of his work, and are the backdrop for the adventures of CIA technician Connor Montrose. Leggatt is a member of the Crime Writers Association in the UK, and the International Thriller Writers in the USA.
1. How did you get started writing?
I’ve always written, in some form or another, since my teens. Mostly in journals, notebooks or scraps of paper. My earliest memory of writing was in Primary Six, St. Ninians in Dundee. The teacher, Mr Cain, wanted a skive, so handed us each a random photo and told us to write a story. My photo was of a red phone box. Thirty minutes later, I’d worked out an entire saga and hadn’t even started the story. I was fuming when he told me to stop. I still am.
2. What drew you to write a thriller novel?
Quite simply, I followed the advice of ‘Write what you like to read’. I’ve always been a big fan of the international thriller, so it was a no-brainer. I had scribbled down plots for years, and when I sat down to write, I trawled through my notebooks for ideas. Around eight years ago, on a sunny Tuesday morning, in a wee village outside Toulouse in southern France, I was lying in the bath, thinking what I was going to do for the day. I had a few months off between contracts with BP and Shell, so I was enjoying the time off, mooching around the house, chopping firewood, and taking long walks in the forest with our Cairn terrier. But I was getting bored, and rather than a Eureka moment, I had a JFDI moment, and decided to finally stop talking about writing a book, and actually do it.
I have always carried a notebook on my travels. I had years of scribbled notes, half written chapters, sketchy sketches of characters, and plots with more holes than a colander. I counted my notebooks. There were around 150 of them, in various sizes. I scanned through them for hidden gems, but I got the feeling that I wasn’t going to find anything of much use (in the long term, I was wrong, they were stacked with nuggets, but I just couldn’t see it.) So, I decided to start from scratch. I drove up to the next village and found a newsagent, where I stocked up on pens, pencils and an artists A3 sketchpad. I arrived home, cleared the dining room table, and started scribbling. I had no where I was going, but that was fine. All I wanted to do was write, keep writing, and trust that I’d find my way. Well, I did, but it took me a lot longer than I expected. It was four years of work before I was ready to submit to agents, and another three years before I found an agent. In total, it took eight years before I was accepted for publication. But in all that time, after that first day, there was no way in hell that I was giving up. I had a objective, and I was determined to see it through.
The first few months before I went back to work were spent scribbling any story that came into my head and walking around the garden, followed by our dog, who was wondering what the hell I was doing. Plots came, plots went. Travel allowed me to read widely, and I’ve spent about ten years dotting from job to job in various airport lounges three times a week. I’ve lived in every sort of hotel from a five star palace in Den Haag to a seedy dive in Montmartre, where the lights of the Moulin Rouge flickered outside my window, the carpets were as sticky as treacle, and you could hear the whorehouse banging away next door. I noted everything down as I moved from city to city. Amsterdam, Berlin, the history of Paris and it’s inhabitants, and any news that I found interesting, plus the people involved. The research gave me tools for my toolbox, and a platform to research the softer skills of dialogue and emotion, to draw the reader into the mind of the characters. These softer skills I had to develop, and through imagination and observation, I wrote down why people acted in the manner that they did. What were their fears and motivations, what drove them on, and what fear (or strength) stopped them? I used my notebooks to record these thoughts, and educate myself in what exactly was driving my characters. I wanted my characters to do what they wanted to do, not what I wanted them to do. It took time, and a lot of notebooks, but my characters emerged, along with their passions, strengths and fears.
Four years later, I was at a point where I could justify and explain why my story would work. That was the beginning of Names of The Dead. I took the decision to lay aside all the previous work, and call that my “Prentice Piece”. Then I picked up the pencils once more, read my notebooks, and began the plot for Names of the Dead.
3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?
None that I can think of, but I made a conscious effort not to copy the style of others, but to find my own way. if it worked, I would know.
4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?
I spent around four years trying to get an agent, and doing various re-writes to improve my work. Eventually, I signed with an agent in New York, Eric Nelson, who as an ex-editor, was extremely helpful in advising on my work. We tried the big publishers in New York, but with no joy. It’s very difficult for a debut author to crack the market, and even more difficult if you live in a different country. What I didn’t have was a track record. C’est la vie, but it’s a business decision, they have to be careful where they invest their money, so I’ve no complaints.
Then we contacted Clare Cain at Fledgling Press in Edinburgh, and the ball started rolling. I’d submitted to Clare before I had an agent, but she wasn’t publishing crime at that time, but she remembered my submission.
5. There are many interesting characters in your Novel, do you have a particular favourite one?
I particularly like my main female lead, Charlotte Marceau. She’s more level headed than my other characters. My publisher, Clare Cain, liked her so much, she asked me to write a book with Charlotte as the main character. I’m already scribbling down ideas for that one, and I’m really looking forward to her story.
6. What kind of research have you have to undertake for your Novel?
Mostly old and modern European history, some of which i already knew. I enjoy reading history, and it’s a fabulous place to find plots
7. Are the characters in your books based on any real life?
No, not at all!
8. What do you think makes your novels stand out from all the other Thriller Fiction Novels out there.
My main character is not a super-hero. He gets the shit kicked out of him, and makes a whole lot of mistakes, even if it is for the right reason.
9. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa?
Tenacity and bloody-mindedness!
10. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned.
Next up is THE LONDON CAGE, which I’m editing at the moment. It’s based around a true story, of a house in Kensington called the London Cage. it was used by MI9 during the war as an illegal prison for torturing high ranking Nazis. the building is now the Russian Embassy. Let the conspiracies begin….
11. In your novel which scene was your favourite to write and why?
Without giving the plot away, the Paris Metro chase with Montrose, ending on the Pont Neuf with Charlotte. When I sat down with my pencils and a fresh sheet of paper, it all came in a rush and I loved writing it.
12. As a up and coming thriller writer, do you have words of advice you can share?
If there is a reason why your work is not attracting an agent or publisher, then find that reason and fix it. It’s down to you to write the best book you possibly can. Leave your ego at home. For research, take your favourite five books, and deconstruct them. Pick them apart and write down why they work. Sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter. There is a reason why these books are successful, and why readers love them. Find it and use it.
Connor Montrose is running for his life. All that he held dear has been ripped away. Every Western intelligence agency and all the police forces of Europe are looking for him, with orders to shoot on sight. The only man who can prove his innocence, is the man that most wants him dead. Only one woman, a Mossad sleeper in Paris, will stand by his side.With her help, he must now turn and fight. His journey of evasion and revenge take him from hidden Holocaust bank vaults in Zurich, to the stinking sewers of Paris and dust-choked souks of Morocco. Finally, in the back streets of Tehran, under the gaze of the Ayatollahs, he has the chance to end it, as it began. In blood.
Twitter : @mark_leggatt
Facebook : mark.leggatt.79
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