Russell Mardell speaks about his new novel The Knock-Knock Man and his experiences as an author.
Mardell's family moved to Salisbury when he was six years old and he's lived here, on and off, ever since. He now works at The Rocketship Bookshop in the city, a specialist children's bookshop, and also helped to set up The Salisbury Literary Festival which has been running since 2017.
When did you first writing? What inspired you to take the leap?
It was something I enjoyed from a really young age. English lessons were pretty much the only thing I enjoyed about school. I always wanted to write scripts (still do!) and studied film production in London for a while. I ended up being asked to write for the stage, however, and did that for a few years. It was great fun, and there is nothing quite like being in the audience for a play you have written – particularly if it’s a comedy – and hearing the audience responding to it.
I loved it but it didn’t really feel like a world I really understood. I had a few short story ideas that I had been working on, possibly to adapt to film, but they instead became the basis for a short
story collection that I published in 2010.
What genre do you write and why?
My stuff tends to be pretty dark. I have always enjoyed horror films and novels, so it felt obvious that anything I wrote would lean that way. That said, I haven’t written a full on horror yet.
Horror in my stories tends to be in the background, just at the edges of the story, not necessarily anything extreme. My previous novel was actually a rom-com, so I don’t really have a brand! Actually, a couple of people told me they thought that was the darkest thing I’d written!
Could you tell me about your latest release, The Knock-Knock Man? What’s it about and
what inspired you to write it?
The Knock-Knock Man is a crime thriller with a supernatural edge to it. It follows disgraced police officer, Ali Davenport, as she investigates the death of her former colleague whilst trying to disprove the existence of the creepy urban legend of The Knock-Knock Man.
I had set out, originally, to write a more classic haunted house story, but as is often the case with me, another story idea intruded and forced its way into it. In this case a story of obsession, with a detective searching for something seemingly impossible. The two stories, and genres, seemed to blend quite well together, so it felt like a natural thing for me. Mixing genres can be a tricky thing to do, not least on the marketing side of things, and I hadn’t really planned it that way (I’m a pantser, not a plotter!) but once the story grew, and I realised where it had to go, it gave me a lot more depth to work with.
Do you base your settings and characters on real places and people?
There will certainly be elements of people I’ve met in my books, I think it would be impossible for there not to be, but I make a point not to be too direct in comparisons with real people, certainly not anyone that I like! Though I think my parents think they are in every book, no matter how much I tell them they aren’t! Places I’ve lived in do feature a lot, but again, not usually in any direct way, more in a sort of heightened reality. Places I lived in London feature in
The Knock-Knock Man, but only briefly. The main setting, New Salstone, is in part inspired by Salisbury, but it’s not really a place you’d easily recognise. Most of the books I write have a slightly skewed reality to them, so grounding them in real places wouldn’t work.
Have you written any other books?
I’ve self-published four previous novels, all with Matador – Stone Bleeding, Bleeker Hill,
Cold Calling and a short story collection, Silent Bombs Falling on Green Grass.
What do you enjoy most about writing and why?
The final editing is always the most enjoyable aspect for me. I self-edit a lot whilst I’m writing, which I wish I didn’t, as that first draft is always the hardest part of writing, and I think the quicker you can get that done the better, or at least more enjoyable, the writing is. But once there is a finished draft, working through it and knocking it into shape is the best part for me.
What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced, either during the writing process or
The submission process has always been the hardest part for me. The dreaded
synopsis and covering letter, the elevator pitch, all of that is something I always
struggle with. Finding the balance between marketing and writing is also a tough
thing to do. It’s hard to keep the book momentum going once it’s out, so there is a
tendency to spend more time marketing than writing the next one, I think.
What are you currently writing, if anything?
I have tentative plans for another book in The Knock-Knock Man world, something
that could work in a series, but also as a standalone novel.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned as a writer?
That some people think you earn a lot of money.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I think it’s really important to write the book you want to write and not to chase trends
or what you think the market might want. It’s impossible to know, and you need to be
able to fight your book's corner. It is well-worn advice, but I think it’s very true. Try
and find some objective readers who will be honest with you too, and find a good
editor and be willing to trust them.
With many thanks to Russell for this interview
Interview conducted by Francesca Tyer
You can find out more about Russell and his books via these links:
Rocketship Bookshop: rocketshipbookshop.co.uk/product/the-knock-knock-man-signed-by-the-author/