Friday, March 25, 2011

Author Interview: MG Scarsbrook

Hello my lovelies! I got up a little early today and thought, "Why not post that interview with MG Scarsbrook?" This talented author has written historical novels The Marlowe Conspiracy and Poison in the Blood, in addition to multiple screenplays. He is currently in the midst of writing a detective series, though mum is apparently the word when it comes to details!

Publications:
The Marlowe Conspiracy
Poison In The Blood: The Memoirs of Lucrezia Borgia

Other Links:
Book Review: The Marlowe Conspiracy
MG Scarsbrook (author website)
Facebook: MG Scarsbrook
MySpace: MG Scarsbrook
Let's jump right in. Both The Marlowe Conspiracy and Poison In The Blood involve real historical figures. With so many to choose from, how do you decide whose stories to tell?

It helps to select the historical era first. I'm a great fan of the renaissance period — it was such an exciting time, so full of new ideas, new confidence, and individual creativity — so I chose to set my novels in that era. Then I generally search for a figure whose life contained at least one dramatic event or turning point, something to hinge a story around. I also prefer people who might have been overlooked a little by history, or marginalized — I like outsiders, people with darker reputations.

With my first novel,
The Marlowe Conspiracy, I actually stumbled across the subject of Christopher Marlowe while researching one of his plays. As I started reading biographies about his dramatic life and death, I realized it was an excellent material for a novel. Not only was Marlowe a famous playwright, but he was most probably a spy, and a criminal, too. The murder-mystery surrounding his untimely death is fascinating (he was stabbed in a tavern while in the company of several espionage operatives) and I knew immediately that I had to write a story about it.

Sounds like a perfect set-up. I hear that you recently wrote a screenplay version of
The Marlowe Conspiracy. What was the experience like? Any difficulties in translating a novel to a script?

I really enjoyed adapting my novel. In fact, I'm not a stranger to the screenplay format and have adapted novels before — I have an MA in screenwriting, and some of my scripts have won or placed highly in competitions. The biggest difference between novels and screenplays, and the greatest challenge I found as a writer, is that screenplays are a highly condensed form of story-telling. The constraints of the form mean you have to be extremely economical with word usage and eliminate everything from the story except the most important scenes, plot sequences, or lines of dialogue. At times, this has meant cutting out some of my favorite moments or sentences from
The Marlowe Conspiracy, which definitely requires some discipline! But as Faulkner once said, good writing sometimes means you must 'kill all your darlings'.

Morbid, but true. How do you get into the mindset of someone who lived hundreds of years ago? Any major pitfalls you try to avoid?

It's really no more or less difficult than getting into the mindset of a person in your own time period. As individuals, we ultimately can only know what it is like to be ourselves — I have no special, innate insight into what it is like to be another person, whether it's a man or a woman, a medieval Pope or a modern-day police officer. But as an artist, it's my job to bring to life diverse characters, in different situations, in different areas of the world, and even in different time periods. I need to use my imagination to sympathize and understand every character's point of view that I write. So, while I can't know what it's like to be a historical figure, I can imagine myself as an historical figure. The most important aid to the imagination is facts and concrete detail, so research is obviously crucial to this. I generally spend about 6 months researching and planning my stories. I need to thoroughly immerse myself in all elements of the historical time period, the language, the architecture, the art, the food and drink, the politics and social environment.

I'd say the only real pitfall to avoid, as with writing any character in any era, is not being empathetic enough with another person's values and beliefs. You might not agree with how other historical figures behaved, but you must try to understand their motivation. If you don't, the character will lack depth, the reader won't connect with them, and your writing will lack creditability.

A common mistake, unfortunately. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the writing process?

I really enjoy every aspect of writing — I love hunting about for new story ideas, researching new worlds and new people, the excitement of putting together a story structure for the first time, and the challenge of choosing the right word at the right moment. As far as the actual writing process itself goes, I'm fairly regimented in my routine and work from 9 to 6 every day. I find that I have to limit the hours I spend writing, or it could take over my whole life completely! The only thing I loathe about it all, is coping with outside distractions that disrupt me creatively, i.e., think the 'man from Porlock' who interrupted Coleridge. I really do need total silence when I'm writing a novel and I can't work with any distractions at all. In fact, when things get a little too loud, I even have a pair of industrial standard earmuffs to block out the noise (I'm not joking!).

Life is such a noisy thing, isn't it? Shifting gears, do tell me more about this detective series you are developing. What is the main character like?

Unlike my previous work, this novel will have a contemporary setting and will be very modern in style. However, it still has an historical angle too: the story is inspired by one of the most notorious and perplexing unsolved murders in English legal history. The detective character is himself also based on a very famous literary hero, but for now I can't tell you who - it's a mystery, after all! What I can say is that the detective will have a personal unsolved crime of his own to investigate in the novel, aside from the main murder plot, and I plan for him to gradually solve this mystery in each book in the series. I also have a very unique idea for the general setting, but again it's top secret for now. If I told you, I'd have to kill you... which is rather fitting for a crime novel!

Ah, but if you kill me, this review will never get posted. I'll take that as my cue to wrap this up with the usual question: If you could be any character from any book for a day, who would it be, and why?

Interesting... I'd actually chose to be Cesare Borgia, the brother of Lucrezia Borgia. He's one of the main characters in my novel
Poison In The Blood. Cesare was famously handsome, but notoriously a shrewd and merciless, too, and served not only as the Captain-General of the Papal army, but also became the inspiration for Machiavelli's 'The Prince'. I think it might be fun to be someone so evil, in such an exciting place as renaissance Rome, just as long as it's only for a day! After all, villains are always more interesting, aren't they (or am I the only one who thinks that)? Despite some of the undesirable traits of his character, though, I do also admire Cesare's confidence and absolute dedication to achieving all his goals. However, in all honesty, the character that I probably most resemble from Poison In The Blood is Lucrezia's advisor, Niccolò Machiavelli — a poor and struggling writer!

Without reading the book, I'm not sure how to feel about that! Thanks for interviewing with me today!

Thank you for giving a new writer like me this great opportunity!

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