Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Mark Cassell

Meghan: Hi, Mark! Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Thank you for stopping by. Let’s start with something easy: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mark Cassell: It’s an honour to be here, thank you.

I’m a UK author who leans towards cosmic horror and the supernatural. My sci-fi, fantasy and steampunk work contains a splash of horror somewhere, though I am not one for a gore-fest. My dreams are often apocalyptic, and at 5 o’clock most mornings you’ll find me cradling coffee at my writing desk. I live near the sea with my wife and many pets, keep fit doing gym stuff but love pizza and chocolate (not on the same plate).

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Mark Cassell:

No. 1 : I suffer from tinnitus possibly due to the dozens of metal gigs I attended in the 1990s.
No. 2 : I breed mealworms.
No. 3 : I have only one dental filling, and swear it’s because I drink a lot of milk.
No. 4 : I once came second place in a Fancy Dress competition dressed as a toffee.
No. 5 : In my early 20s I occasionally worked as a spotlight operator for an Elvis impersonator.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Mark Cassell: Unfortunately I can’t remember either title or author, let alone how old I was when I read it, but the visuals have stuck with me ever since. The story featured a little girl whose strange friend, a gangly and mischievous creature, lurked in the shadows at the bottom of her garden. This peculiar companion would call her name “Eniiiiid, Eniiiiid…” and encourage the girl to misbehave. I’d love to know what book that was.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Mark Cassell: Simon R. Green’s fantasy novel Down Among the Dead Men. It’s a swords and sorcery tale, a simple read, and a nice break from my usual genre.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Mark Cassell: Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. A truly stunning novel that some may recognise as the 2012 movie directed by Ang Lee. It features an Indian boy on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Mark Cassell: At school when I was ten years old, I wrote something which later I’ve wondered what my teacher thought after reading it. The story followed a boy who discovers a treehouse in the woodland beyond his garden. He climbs up to find boxes filled with dead animals, and shelves stacked with jars containing human brains. When he goes back the next day, all that remains of the treehouse is a charred trunk from where a fire had ravaged it.

As for when I decided to “properly” write, I guess that was when I hit my mid-thirties. The weirdness hasn’t changed much during that gap of a couple of decades.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Mark Cassell: There’s a room in our house that’s dedicated to books. My desk is wedged in the corner next to a vivarium, the home of my little buddy, Arnie the bearded dragon. I’m not a writer who can sit in a noisy coffee shop, nor on a park bench. For me, I need to plug in to my tunes to crack on with the project at hand.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Mark Cassell: There’s a process I go through which probably isn’t anything special. I print out a hard copy and attack it with the Red Pen of Doom. No matter the length, I cannot let a story out of my sight until it’s gone through at least one round with the Red Pen.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Mark Cassell: Fighting the Procrastination Demon. He’s a frequent problem.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Mark Cassell: My Lovecraftian steampunk horror book titled In the Company of False Gods. It follows wheelchair-bound Attacus who’s commissioned to build a clockwork construct, though he doubts his abilities. Once powered up, his creation escapes and runs amok, destroying more than just the town he calls home. Hunting his deadly automaton forces him to confront his past. He had no idea his creation would take him to the threshold between worlds.

And I had no idea this book would remain one of my favourites. I really need to revisit that genre again. Yeah, there’s certainly a splash of horror in that one.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Mark Cassell: Back when I was a teenager, James Herbert kicked my love for horror into overdrive with his novel Magic Cottage. Also, Clive Barker‘s early work like Weaveworld and The Damnation Game, and later Imajica truly inspired me. Alongside Brian Lumley‘s incredible Necroscope series, I’d say these three British authors led me down the dark path I now tread.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Mark Cassell: For a novel there must be a spark within the first three pages, along with characters who carry that spark to the last page. As for a short story, the first paragraph needs to slap you in the face either with a genius hook or a character the reader will undoubtedly care about. I’m a tough nut to crack, and life is short, so when I read something it must grip me pretty damn quickly.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Mark Cassell: Characters need to be human and I love it when I can immediately relate. There must be a connection between character and reader. When I create my own characters, I try to emulate that. I want to make my readers immediately tune in. It helps using all the senses, so as to make the reader land on the page and see through the character’s eyes.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Mark Cassell: Undoubtedly it’s Leo from my novel The Shadow Fabric. As a debut, it was inevitable the main character would somehow reflect me. Not the tormented mysteries that unravel throughout the story. That’s all fiction, honest! I’m talking about his travels round the world, his knee injury, and his penchant for wearing combat trousers. Also, I know damn well he acts like me.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Mark Cassell: I’ve been lucky enough to work with three book cover guys, and they deserve a mention: Christopher Shoebridge, Redski Redd, and Paul Ashby. When it comes to reading I can be incredibly picky, as already mentioned, so there are many factors that could put me off. But I may let off a dodgy book cover – as long as it’s not too bad – however if a blurb begins with Inspector/Detective blah-blah-blah, I’ll drop it and look for something else. Call me unfair, I know, but that honestly puts me off. And I have no idea why.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Mark Cassell: It’s not an easy process. This writing thing is a hard game to play and I admit in getting bogged down in striving for perfection. To top that off, I find myself swinging between an existence as an introvert and an extrovert. There are days I simply wish to hide in a cave and write, while on others I’m happy to attend book signings at conventions. Marketing needs to be full on for much of the time, so yeah, it’s hard work. But equally rewarding.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Mark Cassell: In my book Hell Cat of the Holt, there’s a sad scene where the main character is utterly stricken with grief. At the time of writing, I was not in a good place and my life had turned upside down, so that particular scene was a tough one.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Mark Cassell: When I first came into the writing game, I was bored to death of detectives with drinking problems, each hunting vampires and werewolves and Hollywood-type evils, and I was incredibly tired of zombies and the like, all causing predictable havoc. With that in mind, I listed every cliché that made me yawn.

That list was long.

So when plotting my debut novel I stripped naked the old tropes of witchcraft and demonology. I recognised that I needed to be different and so had to lay my own foundations, to devise a new kind of evil, a fresh menace. Essentially a novel of demons and deceit, The Shadow Fabric became a tale of a sentient darkness and a 17th-century device. Based in modern day, it’s the story of one man’s struggle to unravel his past. As he learns more, he begins to mistrust all those around him. Including himself.

My short stories and subsequent books have followed that marker, and I’m proud to say that the reviews have often mentioned the fresh angle the story delivers.

Though there is one problem with this: it makes me far from prolific.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Mark Cassell: Sometimes a title comes first and other times last. For instance, I was once invited to write for a Christmas anthology and immediately came up with “Away in a Mangler.” After that, the story flowed. However, the title of my debut novel The Shadow Fabric came along in 1993 during my college years, though I didn’t begin writing it until 20 years later.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Mark Cassell: Novels are a long slog. Short stories are precisely that: short, quick and to the point. My brain is all over the place at the best of times, and so I’ve found I attack short stories considerably easier.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Mark Cassell: I’ve been lucky enough to meet readers at book signings and conventions, and so I’ve learnt what it is they enjoy about my books. It seems to boil down to two things: firstly, the subtly in which I explore the evil within us as a species, and also the evils beyond the walls of our reality (whichever genre I step into). Secondly, the extensive research I go into hasn’t gone unnoticed. I believe in order to create a solid story, no matter the length, it’s important to establish something that which is already grounded. It’s that what connects the reader.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Mark Cassell: Many deleted scenes have become short stories I’ve later sold to anthologies, and now feature in my collections, Sinister Stitches and my most recent release, Terror Threads. There’s always something left over, lurking in a folder somewhere. Or if not, they remain as scribbles in my notebook, awaiting just the right story.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Mark Cassell: A prequel to The Shadow Fabric, revealing the troubled history of a couple of key characters from the novel.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Mark Cassell: I’m neck deep in a novel titled PARASITE CROP, so I’m cracking on with that. Although at the moment I’ve set aside writing short stories, I do have a couple soon released by both KJK Publishing and Crystal Lake Publishing.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Mark Cassell: Website (and a free book) ** Twitter ** Facebook

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Mark Cassell: Often readers ask where I find inspiration, so I’ll answer that here.

Usually it’s desolation and ruins. Barren ground, an expanse of nothingness, empty places, void of anyone else, that kind of thing. I think what intrigues me is that there can be beauty and serenity in the way nature takes over, the way the elements tear down anything manmade. Think of the pattern of rust, the pockmarked sandstone from an assault by the wind, and the tangle of determined weeds. Relentless, often silent deterioration or even growth, and it will always be there long after we die.

I see through it and use it, injecting new life into that which is otherwise derelict. My stories have featured castle ruins and ancient rock, rusty machines and collapsed outhouses. Even a part of my novel was set in … um … if I told you, I’d spoil the twist … Incidentally, most of my dreams are apocalyptic and I think that’s why I’ve turned my hand to dystopian cyberpunk; a scorched landscape where my characters roam free.

Mark Cassell can label himself as author, artist, and actor, but his passion is clearly stamped in the written word. As the author of the best-selling Shadow Fabric Mythos, as series of books about demons, devices and deceit, he has a penchant for ignoring typical horror tropes, casting them into the void. Although best known for cosmic horror, he also writes steampunk, sci-fi, and dark fantasy, with work published in numerous reputable anthologies. More about Mark can be found at his website.

The Shadow Fabric

Leo remembers little of his past. Desperate for a new life, he snatches up the first job to come along. On his second day he witnesses a murder, and the Shadow Fabric – a malevolent force that controls the darkness – takes the body and vanishes with it. Uncovering secrets long hidden from humankind, Leo’s memory unravels. Not only haunted by the past, a sinister presence within the darkness threatens his existence and he soon doubts everything and everyone… including himself. 

Now Leo must confront the truth about his past before he can embrace his future. But the future may not exist. 

THE SHADOW FABRIC is a story revealing the unknown history of witchcraft and the true cause of the Great Fire of London. A supernatural novel of sins, shadows, and the reanimated dead.

In the Company of False Gods

When commissioned to build a clockwork construct, wheelchair-bound Attacus doubts his abilities. Once powered up, his creation escapes and runs amok, destroying more than just the town he calls home. Hunting his deadly automaton forces him to confront his past. 

He had no idea his creation would take him to the threshold between worlds. 

And soon he finds himself… 

In the Company of False Gods.

Terror Threads

Pull a thread… and you’ll be dead. 

Ten standalone tales in the best-selling Shadow Fabric Mythos. Each story of ghosts, of demons, of the occult, weaves the mythos tighter and proves we all have the power to see in the dark. Both an introduction to the Shadow Fabric and a companion book, this collection of horror stories contains the following: 

  • Dust Devils: When a driving instructor’s pupil fails to turn up for a lesson, he doesn’t just drive off. He investigates… things.
  • A Story of Amber: Two brothers and a grandfather’s secret. This is a story that begins in childhood and ends in adulthood.
  • Claimed: In Yellowstone Country Park things are black.
  • The Rebirth: A primary school teacher’s lesson fails to go to plan when a peculiar Easter egg lands in her possession.
  • Dead Lines: An artist learns she is not the only one holding the brush.
  • Pile of Dirt: After a serious accident, all you want to do is relax in your garden. But the mysterious pile of dirt that has appeared on your lawn bugs the hell out of you.
  • The Commission: A photographer’s commission proves to be a pain in the neck.
  • Diagonal Dead: It’s a shame that dead can’t stay dead, especially those who are discovered in a wall cavity.
  • Demon Alcohol: Staying at a bed and breakfast in a quaint harbour town, Tammy is not in the mood for uninvited guests. Especially when she’s hungover and the guests are demons.
  • A Sunset Companion: The low October sun can cause road accidents by blinding drivers… but perhaps there are other causes in the surrounding woodland.

Most of the stories featured in this collection have been previously published in anthologies.

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