For many the Covid-19 pandemic was a tough and turbulent time, for Author Mark Ashbury it became an opportunity. Mark had long thought about writing a book and the time he spent at home under the governments orders he did just that. We sat down this the man himself to talk about his new book 'The Fallen'.
Mark, for those who haven't yet read your book 'The Fallen' could you tell us what it's about without giving too much away of course?
The Fallen is a fantasy novel set in the imaginary realm of Zakastra. Lalitha’s father, King Lestri Santra has been murdered, and her nemesis, Findo Gask is pursuing her in order to recover the magical Book of Souls that she has escaped with. The Book of Souls is a powerful weapon, and in order to escape Gask, it transports her to London where she meets Thomas McAllister and his group of ex-bomb disposal soldiers.
Lalitha will need to enlist Tom’s help in order to find a way to return to Zakastra and reclaim the throne. The journey will be difficult and dangerous.
What was your inspiration behind writing this particular novel?
I have always been an avid book reader, and as a kid I used to lie under the blankets reading by torchlight (which is probably why I have to wear glasses now!). I read all kinds of books, from all different genres, but it was the fantasy books that really pulled me in. I always wondered how it would feel to be transported from our modern world into a fantasy realm and how we would cope without the modern luxuries that we have all come to depend on.
I read a book called “Magical Kingdom for Sale/Sold” by Terry Brooks, and the Thomas Covenant series by Stephen Donaldson which both used this premise as their central plot device, but neither book really gave me what I was looking for. I really wanted to read about modern soldiers using their skills and weaponry to take on the bad guys in a mystical realm.
More recently, Game of Thrones made me think of the story in my head again. What if Daenerys Targaryen had a unit of our modern-day soldiers on her side armed with machine guns? How would that have changed the course of the Game of Thrones story? That was what I wanted to find out, and it seemed that the only way to find out was to write it.
You state this book 'is the product of 30 years’ creativity' how did you first begin planning this book?
The book, in one form or another, has been in my head for a long, long time. I first started thinking about both characters and plot while I was still at university way back in the depths of the last century. If I ever found myself lying awake at night worrying about exams, or money troubles, or anything like that, I would think about the plot of The Fallen and imagine scenes from the story in my head before I nodded back off again.
A few years ago, my wife actually bought me a notebook to keep at the side of the bed in case I had any other ideas through the night, and I used the book to scribble down all sorts of half-asleep ramblings.
I’m not sure that “planning” is the right word for how this book came into being. I basically sat down in our summerhouse one summer’s afternoon with my laptop and a blank screen, and I just started typing. All the ideas that had been bouncing around in my head for all those years just started spilling out onto the page and three months later I had a pretty cohesive first draft completed.
At what stage did you realise you had something genuinely good that others would be interested in reading?
I guess this was when I gave the first few chapters to my wife, Lisa to read. She really enjoyed what I was trying to do, so I persevered and kept at it until I had a first draft that I was happy with. It was only at that point that I let anybody else, apart from Lisa, read it.
The positive feedback I received made me begin to think that the story was worth publishing, so that’s what I did. I’ve had some really incredible feedback since the book went on sale through the Amazon website which makes me so happy. I didn’t go into this whole venture thinking that I would make my fortune, but it is really heart-warming to hear from someone when they have read the book and have enjoyed it.
Now, you turned to your long-term dream of becoming a writer during the Covid-19 lockdown - what gave you the push?
Last year I ended up being put on furlough from work for five months due to the Covid-19 situation we all found ourselves faced with. I spent the first few weeks of that time doing every DIY job known to man, but after that was all done, I sat down and decided that I needed to keep my mind active while I was not working. It occurred to me that this was an ideal opportunity to do something about writing the story that I had been mulling over for three decades or more.
I decided to treat writing the book like an actual job, so I got out of bed at the same time as usual and wrote for as long as I could every day. Working like this helped keep me sane through the lockdowns we had and gave me a purpose every day. I would write for as long as I could and then, while I was winding down by making dinner, Lisa would read each days’ chapters and give me her feedback. It made a very difficult summer a lot more bearable for both of us.
I actually found the whole creative process very cathartic and it definitely helped me get through the stresses of last year.
How was taking that first step?
Taking the first step was all about getting my head in the right place. Once I had decided that the time was right to really start this thing, and I sat down in front of my laptop that first day, the flood gates just seemed to open and the words rushed out.
From the first day, until the day that I completed the first draft, I never looked back. Writing is just something that I thoroughly enjoy doing.
When it is something you did professionally full time, did the job become different for you? Did it add a sense of pressure?
Those five months last year were the first time I had ever been able to sit down and write something for myself. My real job requires me to write about products and solutions in very technical language, but this was totally different and was very liberating.
Because I was on furlough last summer, I had the safety net of a wage coming in, so there was no pressure at all. Initially at least, The Fallen was something that I was doing for myself rather than for anyone else.
The only pressure I felt was when it came time to think about if and how to publish the book. I initially went down the traditional publishing route and tried to find a literary agent that would take me on, but this proved to be a very depressing experience. I received a lot of rejection letters and many of the agents I contacted never even got back to me which was pretty disheartening.
To be honest, I nearly abandoned the whole project, but I believed in what I was doing and then someone suggested self-publishing. After doing quite a lot of research, I decided that self-publishing was the right thing for me, so that’s exactly what I did. Self-publishing makes life more difficult because you don’t have an agent working on your behalf, and you have to do all your book promoting by yourself, but it gave me a means of getting the book out into the world.
When starting to piece the book together did you find you used different creative writing techniques or did you find one or two things that worked well for you?
I’ve been to a lot of author events in the past and have heard people talk about their creative processes and planning strategies, but once I had started writing, the book almost took on a life of its own and the story and characters went to places that I had never envisaged before. I would often find the story evolving on the page in front of me and it even took me by surprise on a couple of occasions. It was a very strange experience. I would know where I wanted the characters to get to, but how they got there sometimes happened all by itself.
The only conscious decision I did make before I started was that, after the first chapter, I would always stay with the main character as the story evolved. If any of the other characters travelled anywhere else, we would only find out what had happened to them once they had re-joined the main narrative.
The reason for this was really down to the way I read books myself. I tend to read late at night in bed, and some nights I only manage to read a few pages before I fall asleep with the book (Or my iPad) on my face. In the past when I have read weighty books by authors such as George R R Martin, each chapter is focussed on a specific character in a different location, and by the time I came back to them several chapters later, I had often forgotten where they were and what was happening to them. I decided that I didn’t want to break up the narrative like this and wanted the story to flow from the main character’s perspective, so I made the decision to stick with him all the way through the book.
In terms of the actual writing, having a planned, structured time to do the writing worked for me. It isn’t something I could do without being able to immerse myself in it, so I had to plan in specific writing time into our schedule.
Whilst on furlough, this was relatively easy to do, but since then it has meant sacrificing other activities in the evening or at the weekend in order to give me the time that the books deserve.
Was Sci-fi fantasy a genre you were always interested in? Will it be the genre you will look to stay in?
Sci-Fi Fantasy is a genre that I love. Ever since I was a kid and I picked up my first copy of The Lord of the Rings, I was hooked. I loved Terry Brooks’ Shannara books and the Belgariad series by David Eddings is one that I go back to every few years. David had a great knack for writing characters that were genuinely funny in a story that was anything but comedic. Terry Pratchett was also an author that I returned to over and over again. His humourous spin on the fantasy genre was a revelation. The first time I picked up The Colour of Magic I was hooked. Rincewind is still one of my all-time favourite characters.
Fantasy is a genre that I love writing in, but never say never. I’m sure there is a crime novel or two in me somewhere, but fantasy is what I see myself writing for the foreseeable future.
Why do you think people enjoy reading fantasy novels?
Fantasy is pure escapism. Princesses, magic, dragons, castles and the universal battle between good and evil. What is there not to like? It is an opportunity to get away from the often harsh realities of our world and believe that there are places where magic exists and where life is much more simple.
Places where good can triumph over evil, and money isn’t always the prime motivator for people’s actions.
I sometimes worry that fantasy novels get a bad press, and that people sometimes avoid the genre because they think it is all wizards, elves and goblins, but I think the TV adaptation of Game of Thrones, for all its faults, has helped to make the genre more mainstream, which is really refreshing.
Hopefully it has opened people’s willingness to dip their toe into the genre.
With a new adaptation of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time about to hit our TV screens, and a second series of The Witcher about to land on Netflix, I think fantasy stories have never been in a stronger place.
After publishing The Fallen, it has been really interesting to hear the number of people that have said “I would never have picked up a book like this before, but I really enjoyed it.” I always try to tell people that the setting of a book doesn’t really matter if you can invest in the characters and their struggles.
They shouldn’t let the cover, or the books location in the book store put them off. When I tell people that my book is a fantasy novel, Lisa often corrects me and tells them that it is a book about people and relationships as much as it is about battles in a mythical land; and she’s right. It is.
What has been the feedback you've received from your nearest and dearest?
The feedback has been great. Several of my friends have told me that they had to keep pinching themselves and reminding themselves that “Mark really wrote this!” which always makes me smile.
It has also been really encouraging to hear the number of people who are eager for me to complete volume two because they are desperate to find out what happens next. I must have done something right then!
What advice would you give to any budding writers out there?
My advice would be; don’t find excuses to put off starting your book... just do it.
I was lucky in that furlough gave me the time to be able to immerse myself in the process, but I’ve found since then that you can still do it when you’ve returned to your normal life. It’s a bit more difficult, but it is definitely doable.
If you’ve got an idea, just start. You never know where the writing will take you. You might end up with a book you’re proud of, you just don’t know until you’ve tried.
Are there any new books you are working on you could give us an exclusive for?
I started volume two of the Book of Souls Saga, “The Exiled” last March and the first draft is out with my proof readers as we speak. This one is significantly longer, and if the initial feedback is anything to go by, it’s even better than the first one.
I’m hoping to get it available for purchase early in 2022. Exciting stuff! After that, there is potential for a third volume and possibly a prequel.
Thank you for your time Mark.
No problem. It has been a pleasure. Thanks to everyone at Hinton for making this possible.
The Fallen is available to purchase in paperback or Kindle formats on