Professional Writing graduate Mark Iles has achieved considerable success with his debut novel series, Darkening Stars. He joins us to discuss his course at Falmouth, his past in the armed forces and his career as an author.
How did your interest in the Sci-Fi genre and the idea for A Pride of Lions originate?
I've always had an interest in science fiction, particularly in the military side of it. My idea for A Pride of Lions, then the Darkening Stars series, came from contemplating the judicial punishment of the far future. I was aware that many armed forces in the past have had penal battalions, and I can visualise this idea happening in a future society to make criminals fight for their country or world.
I spent many years in the UK armed forces, serving in several conflicts. All that experience and knowledge adds flavour to the tale, as does the humour around it. Incidentally, many of the stories in my works are based on real events, some of them funny and others not so.
How does it feel to have your debut novel hit number one in the free sci-fi listings, and to have had seven works in the UK top 100?
It has to be one of the best feelings in the world. Having always wanted to be a writer it was like I'd come home. I was so excited I felt like stopping people in the street and telling them, banging on my neighbours' doors and ringing, everyone I knew. I don't think I stopped smiling all week!
In what ways did the Professional Writing MA help you to sharpen your skills and increase your knowledge of the industry?
Until my MA, I'd always written short fiction. While all of the features I've written for magazines got published, my hit rate for short fiction was about one in three or four, so I thought I'd give writing a novel a go. Falmouth truly allowed me to challenge myself, it forced me look at the wider picture, at developments in the industry and those to come.
What advice would you give to a graduate seeking to work in the publishing industry or become a published author themselves?
The answer, of course, has to be to write and keep on writing. Get as much as you can out there. When one piece of work is finished start another, and write every single day. Some people write specifically for in-vogue genres, hoping to get noticed. I can truly understand that, but I feel that a writer has to be true to themselves.
The second bit of important advice is to join an online writing group. Being in such a group means when you submit a section of your work, it comes back you have several different writers' thoughts on development, plot, style, grammar, and so forth. In turn, you critique the other members work, which allows you to develop your editing skills.