Q&A with Mark Brownless

Today is my third ShOctober post and I have a Q&A with the author of The Witch. My post is shared with thanks to Zoe O’Farrell for inviting me on the tour and to Mark Brownless for answering my questions!

Have you always wanted to write?

Yes, but I never  have. When I was at school, my English assignments were always five times longer than anyone else did, and yet it never occurred to me to pursue writing until more recently.

What were your previous jobs? Have they helped you with your writing process?

Well, I still have a day job – I’m a physiotherapist – and some medical knowledge, as well as having friends in the field, so that helps a lot with medical stuff, injury detail, that kind of thing. It’s always fun to sit down with a surgeon friend and say. ‘You know if this happened..?’ And they look at you for a minute, like you’ve been drinking all day or something, and then go. ‘You’re writing again, aren’t you?’

What was your inspiration for Witch?

All my books usually start off with one scene – usually a conversation between two characters. In the case of witch I started thinking about gothic stories of ghosts and witches and all those classic scenes of noisy pipes, things going bump in the night and ghosts passing through people, and it all really started from there. I also wanted to set a story in my adopted home of Wales – I set me last book in a fictional version of my home village, and this was a nice opportunity to set a story nearer home for me now.

How do you construct your characters? Do they have traits of people you know?

I’m sure I’m paraphrasing Stephen King, but he said that he couldn’t not be influenced by the people around and people he saw when he was creating characters, and I think everyone will be the same to some extent. There’ll be elements of things people do or say, or their mannerisms in my characters, but they won’t just be one person – it’s like character-Countdown – a bit of this from them, a bit of this from them!

What does your writing process look like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m like you emptied a Scrabble bag of 80 thousand words all over the floor type writer! I don’t write in chronological order, the ideas come to me and I write them. So then, piecing things together in the edit is quite complicated, and in my last two books I’ve used a spreadsheet so I can organise my timeline. That is about as organised as it gets, however!

How did you research Witch? Did you enjoy it?

There were several elements to Witch that I needed to look into. The Welsh witch trials of some 400 years ago that are mentioned in the book were really interesting. Only half a dozen women were tried during about a 70 year period, but I would be surprised if there weren’t more, unofficially, tried or pursued by local religious leaders or people of influence that didn’t like the pagan influence the ‘cunning folk’ had over the masses.

As is oftern the case with me, places or buildings become characters, and Ty Llun – Lake House – was just the same. I had the idea for this long, largely wooden American-style boat house, and wondered if they existed in this country, and we effectively exported them. I didn’t find any as old as I needed, but I did find ones dating back a couple of hundred years, and so I’ve taken some artistic license and assumed they were around for twice as long as that – well, at least one was, by a lake in Wales.

Who are your favourite writers? Are you influenced by them?

It’s a bit unoriginal I spose, but Stephen King would have to be at the top, along with CJ Tudor, and I love that style of horror writing, and that’s kind of how I see my storytelling voice – or how I think my stories start out anyway. My books may be nothing like it, but that’s what goes on in my head!

I love Max Brooks – World War Z and now Devolution. That writing style of piecing together reports, testimony, audio transcriptions etc etc to make a narrative is fantastic, and whilst I haven’t approached a story like that yet, it’s definitely on the radar to look at that.

If you could invite three people, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be and why?

Dave Grohl. Lovely guy, massively talented musician and always good for a story or two. Would be great to get the guitars out after dinner and play some things.

Ridley Scott. Just love his unbelievable vision and the canvas on which he paints his movies – what he does doesn’t always work, but the look of his films is incredible and The Martian is probably my favourite movie.

CJ Tudor. We’ve never met, but met up on Twitter before our first novels were released. Would be good to have the chance to chat.

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with and why?

Boris Johnson and Priti Patel.

Who would play the main character/s in a film version of Witch?

Crikey! I’d like Amy Adams to play Tor I think, Shirley Henderson to play the Witch – but then again I kind of wrote the part of Janey in The Shadow Man with her in mind, and for Gabe, maybe someone like David Tennant – an everyman kind of guy who slowly sees everything he thought he knew getting turned on its head.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I coach junior football and cricket, and junior sport seems to keep us busy on weekends year-round. Our bonkers dog needs a lot of exercise and we’ve got a pond and two fish tanks that always need something doing to them. If I keep myself busy enough, I can by-pass the sheet of paper in the kitchen that has ‘Jobs jobs jobs’ written at the top in my wife’s handwriting.

What is next for you?

Not entirely sure. Have got a very busy October doing video and other things for my publisher for all their ShOctober releases. There are three projects that are standing out of the ideas pile, each with varying amounts of work done on them, but I haven’t decided which one to fully commit to just yet.


Book? Hmmm – It, Lord of the Rings, The Martian

Film?The Abyss, The Martian, Jaws, Alien(s), Gladiator

Band/Singer? Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Metallica, Crowded House

TV show ?Watching as a family we will argue and talk over the whole series of Bake Off, Masterchef, or SAS: Who Dares Wins.

Love Vikings, Line of Duty and Luther

Place? Love being at home, we have become real home bods and so it’s good we have so much junior sport to go to so we don’t stagnate. But it’s the mountains for me – don’t get up into them so much these days, but love a steady scramble or climb and the peace and serenity of being on what seems like the top of the world when you get there


The Witch is available from Amazon.

You can follow this week on ShOctober here:

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