Mark’s imagination strikes a chord with real life events...

FH Mark Smith 13/04/2017
FH Mark Smith 13/04/2017

Mark Smith is making a habit of writing fiction that chimes with topical fact.

The Cumbernauld-based author’s first novel was hastily published to coincide with the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.

His most recent book, Fallen Warriors, is a thriller about terrorist attacks on a city.

Three weeks after its publication, terrorist atrocities struck Manchester and London.

The timing was, of course, a coincidence.

In fact, the real inspiration came from the almost daily attacks that take place in the Middle East.

In places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan bombs are a daily threat and whole cities have been held hostage by terrorists.

The seeds of the idea, however, had been sown years earlier, in the 1990s, when Mark, an IT consultant, was living in the beautiful and peacful city of York.

“It’s a very small city and and the streets are quite narrow. They can’t change it because they want to maintain the beauty of the city, so there are a lot of traffic jams.

“I was sitting at a junction one day and thought, if someone was to attack this junction, it would be paralysed.”

It would take Mark another ten years before the idea took shape and became the book.

“I was just not comfortable with the whole terrorist idea,” he said.

But over those years, he watched as many of the things he had envisaged appeared on the news as the situation in the Middle East continued to be explosive.

“Capturing a city and holding it hostage is life in the Middle East,” he said.

“It no longer seems like a fiction – it could happen anywhere in the world.”

The terrorist attacks in the UK have been very different in style – ‘lone wolf’ attacks, but still scary, says Mark.

But as the idea germinated, another one had popped into his head.

A girl has an accident and falls to her death. Then someone comes along and prays for her ... and she recovers.

Mark, who attends Cornerstone Church in the town centre, says he was initially reluctant to make the book essentially Christian.

“I tried to avoid it,” he said, admitting that most Christian novels are “not great”.

“I wanted to write a novel like the ones I enjoy reading,” he said, citing authors such as John Grisham and Stephen King.

“But in the end, I couldn’t see a way for miracles to happen without talking about God. I just had to write what needed to be written.”

In writing the second novel, Mark was putting into practice lessons learned from his first – and the timing of its release was far from accidental.

Again, the plot of The Great Scottish Land Grab had been bubbling under for many years before the political fervour of the referendum brought it to the surface.

Mark said: “I had this idea for a story in 2008, about somebody reversing the Highland clearances.

“It was a modern day story, asking ‘what if someone was to try to do that today – take back the land and try to re-distribute it. How would you achieve that?

“With the independence referendum kicking off, I thought ‘I could use this. I could see somebody using the referendum as a springboard.”

Due to the short timescale, Mark split the book into three parts and self-published before the vital vote.

“I spoke to a few publishers who were interested but would have needed at least six months to turn it around and we didn’t have that time.

Changing the book to make it in three parts changed Mark’s style of writing – for the better, he believes.

“I knew that if I released it in three or four parts I would need a cliffhanger to give people the incentive to get the next one.

“That changed the way I was writing. Not only did I have to write the cliffhanger, I also had to resolve it in the next book.”

Mark also learned that people are unwilling to pay for the work of an unknown writer.

Once he made the first book free, he was pleasantly surprised at how many people paid for the second and third instalments.

“I’ve had really good feedback on Good Reads and Amazon,” he said. “I’ve had several four and five star reviews and positive comments.”

“I’ve grown as a writer,” he said. “I’ve learned to really drive the story a lot more.”