For the last ten years Mark Pearson has worked as a full-time television scriptwriter on a variety of shows for the BBC and ITV, including Doctors, Holby City and The Bill. He lives in Norfolk. Hard Evidence is his first novel and he is currently writing Blood Work, the second book in the Jack Delaney series, which will be published by Arrow in August 2009.
In an exclusive interview for Writing for Performance, Mark talks about the transition from long-time screenwriter to first-time author.
You're known as a screenwriter, was being a novelist always an ambition?
Not really. It was probably always lurking in the back of my mind to write a novel sometime perhaps. I had written a couple of novellas in the past but hadn't really thought about doing one in earnest, until I did.
Was it written speculatively?
Did you do any research on the market and the likelihood of it being sold before starting work?
I wrote the opening few chapters to three novels, showed them to my agent and she picked the one to continue with. :) I had written about half, about 40k, then showed it to a book agent to see if I should continue. He told me he thought he could sell it and so to finish it - so I did. As to research on the market I read a lot of crime novels and they always seem to be popular in the bookshops.
How did you choose the book agent?
At the time, Robert Caskie, my book agent at PFD, was a colleague of Louise Tam my agent at MacFarlane Chard Associates, so she asked him to read the first half of the book. Sometimes it's worth talking to a few agents but Robert and I seemed to be singing from the same hymn sheet on the book and the central characters so it was a fairly easy choice to make.
Why write Hard Evidence as a book and not a feature or TV spec?
Funnily enough Hard Evidence started as a sixty minute script I wrote while doing an MA in film at Bournemouth University. So some of the story came from that and the central character DI Jack Delaney certainly did. So the old adage of never throw anything away is a good one. Although I have lost the first ever piece of drama I was commissioned to write for the BBC called Exposure about an investigative journalist, that was developed and had the lovely Louise Lombard attached but sadly never got made and really wish I could find a copy!! Since writing Hard Evidence I then wrote a two hour film version of it - again on spec - but for a specific initiative rather than as a commercial piece as such, and also to have a new calling card script.
Will there be an adaptation and if so would you want to do it yourself?
It would be nice to see an adaptation, but pretty early days, have to see how this one does first and the sequel, Blood Work, which is out this August (and also available from all good bookstores or on pre-order from Amazon etc. :) ) I am conflicted about whether I would like to adapt it myself should such a thing be mooted, probably more chance to get finance in place etc if someone higher up the food chain than me was attached.
How did you approach writing the book? Did you use the same process as you do for screenwriting,in terms of outlining and structure?
I kind of learned it as I went along. I did have a good sense of the story in my head before writing it, but I am horrified to admit to you that I didn't have a written down outline that I worked to, like I would with a script, and the second book even less so. But I had the time to do it and I quite liked the narrative freedom of sailing on uncharted waters, as it were. I think with thrillers a certain amount of mystery is useful and I figured if I wasn't entirely sure where the story was going the reader might not be either. In TV the norm is to do a detailed scene by scene breakdown before being allowed to go to first draft.
How long did it take you to write and were you able to easily switch from scripts to prose and back again?
Say six months or so. Not continuous mind. I don't find it too tricky switching between the two, they are different disciplines but there are a lot of similarities.
What similarities are there?
Well, the elements of storytelling are the same, and I tried to write it in as visual a style as I could. Plus the elements of creating believable characters, misdirection, reversals, surprises all the things that work well in a script can work the same in a novel. The dialogue in novels can usually be a lot more chunky than in scripts. People in novels sometimes have paragraphs of dialogue. I tried to keep mine more punchy - as I would in a screenplay - so the real difference lies in the prose, which in a lot of novels, again, can be substantial. I tried to keep an even balance and favoured pace over heavily loaded prose, if that makes sense?
What have you learnt from writing the novel that will impact on your screenwriting?
It's probably the other way round if anything. In a script you have no room, or shouldn't have, for padding. Everything has to really earn its place, whereas in a novel there is room for more background or textural stuff. But I approached each scene in the book much like I would in script, trying to keep it punchy, apart from the odd bit of purple prose here and there - which I imagine one Amazon reviewer meant when she referred to some peculiar passages in it. And when I say Amazon she was six foot two with shoulders like an Philadelphia Eagles quarterback so I wasn't going to argue with her.
Was it a chore to have to write internal dialogue, lengthier descriptions and basically a lot more words or was it fun?
It was fun. I got to write lots of similes, which my dad objected to when he read it, but I liked doing as it was a nudge to my Noir influences in the character and narrative.
Did you have a reader before you sent it to the publisher?
No, just the agent who read it.
Any differences between a book editor and a script editor?
A script editor is there to communicate the desires of the producer, the executive producer, their own desires of course in terms of changes to the script that they want to see and work with the writer towards a common goal. A book editor is there to help you tell your story the best you can. I was lucky to have a great editor on the book who reined in some of the madness and kept the story focused. I did a second draft, no major structural changes and then a proof/polish. And the same with the second book. The main difference I guess, is that the process is far more collaborative, as it should be, on a script than on a book.
Detective Inspector Jack Delaney is the latest in a long line of fictional DIs, how aware were you of the others when creating yours? Did you ever worry about being too similar to Wexford, Morse, Barnaby, Lynley, et al?
Not really. These are all traditional English police detectives in the procedural tradition. DI Jack Delaney is more like a Dirty Harry or a Jack Regan. Certainly he owes more to the hard boiled neo noir detective fiction from the states than the kind of books/shows you mention. 'Punk Noir' if you like. When we meet him first Delaney is a venal, shambling, hard drinking, drug taking, train wreck of a man just about mobile on shoe leather - but hopefully with a lot of charm about him. :)
What advice would you give to other scriptwriters thinking of writing fiction?
I'd advise them to do it. It's great to write for television and know that millions of people are watching your work. But it's also great to have an object that can sit on the shelf and even if it is only read by hundreds or thousands - at least you know it's a hundred percent your own work. By its very nature television in the main is a disposable medium, and I guess paperback books are the same really, but there is something satisfying, in a different way, of hefting a physical object in your hand and thinking to yourself - for good or bad - 'I created this.'
What kind of promotional work did you have to do, if any?
None as yet, but the book has only been out a week. I would think you would have to have some time for that to be useful as nobody knows me from a bar of soap.
You're really Marc Peirson, what's with the name change?
Humanity has evolved and we now have film and television, why should we still read books? Isn't it the equivalent to still using horse-drawn carriages?
It is and if you ask me the world would be a far better place if we still only had horses and horse drawn carriages, not to mention the benefits to inner city gardeners.
What's so good about your book that I should get it now and not wait for the adaptation?
The cover mainly. It's moody. It's atmospheric. It's got a chair on it.
In the future if there is a war between novelists and screenwriters (it could happen) which side would you join?
Probably the novelists as they only have to look after themselves. Whereas a battle plan for the scriptwriters would have to go through five drafts and a focus committee before waiting for notes from a whole series of people, before being rejected at 'offers' level in favour of a proposal Tony Jordan submitted five years earlier. :)
Hard Evidence - Synopsis
Jackie Malone has been murdered. Her body lies in a pool of blood in the north London flat where she worked as a prostitute. Deep knife wounds have been gouged into her corpse and her hands and feet are tied with coat hanger wire.
For Detective Inspector Jack Delaney this is no ordinary case. He was a friend of Jackie’s and she left desperate messages on his answer phone just hours before she was killed. Despite no immediate leads and no obvious suspects, the fear in her voice tells him that this was not a random act of violence.
Just as Delaney begins his investigation, a young girl is reported missing, feared abducted, and he is immediately tasked with finding her. Delaney knows he must act quickly if there is any chance of finding her alive, but he is also determined to track down Jackie’s killer before the trail goes cold. However, his tough and uncompromising attitude has made him some powerful enemies on the force, and Delaney soon finds that this case may provide the perfect opportunity for them to dispose of him, once and for all…
What the critics say
A cracking début, matching gore with suspense. His TV scripting experience shows
Pearson scores a hit first time out with Jack Delaney, a hard drinking, Country and Western-loving, maverick that fans of John Rebus and Jack Regan will love
- Daily Record
A brand new series from a seasoned scriptwriter, featuring a no-nonsense London DI Jack Delaney **** (4 stars out of 5)
- Daily Mirror
Hard Evidence - Chapter Two
This is where we first meet the mild mannered Jack Delaney.
The football. The cricket. The state of English sport in general. The bird off Emmerdale getting her tits out for some lads’ magazine. They’d banned smoking, they’ll be banning alcohol in pubs next, something else to thank the Californians for, no doubt, like the Atkins diet and low carb beer, and the bloody Mormons who bang on your door with the sincerity and charm of house-to-house insurance salesmen or cockroaches.
Jack Delaney let the conversation wash over him as he downed a shot of whiskey with a quick, practised flick of his wrist.
He was sat on a cracked leather stool at the battered wooden counter of The Roebuck, a scruffy, north London pub. A big mirror behind the bar, with thirty odd bottles of spirit in front, bouncing different coloured lights off it like a Christmas tree for alcoholics.
Delaney picked up his pint glass and let a sip of creamy Guinness soothe his throat if not his soul; even the door to door Mormons couldn’t sell him that, even if he had been in the market. No new soul for Jack Delaney today, just the old, sin spotted, black thing at the heart of him. Forgive him Father for he has sinned. If women looked at him, which they did often, they’d try to guess his age and reckon it to be around the late thirties. He had dark hair, dark eyes and if they got to know him would get to see that dark soul. Mostly he didn’t let them get to know him.
Delaney held his whiskey glass out and nodded with a wink at the barmaid. ‘Evaporation.’
The barmaid took his glass, smiling but with no real hope behind it. She poured a generous shot of Bushmills and placed it in front of him.
‘Any chance of getting a drink here!’ A large man, a few inches over Delaney’s six one, but carrying weight, and drunk. Delaney gave him a glance, dismissed him and returned to the solace of his Guinness.
‘The fuck you looking at?’
‘Minding my own business here.’
‘You seem to be minding my fucking business. And you -’ to the barmaid. ‘ - get me a fucking lager.’
Delaney sighed and flashed her a sympathetic smile.
‘Sorry about this.’
The big man’s eyes widened, he shook his head, disbelieving.
‘You got a problem or something, you fucking Irish fucker?’
Delaney debated discussing the delicate beauty of the English language but instead stood up from his stool, picked up an empty bottle and smashed it against the bar. Then kicked hard, very hard, with the side of his foot into the larger man’s knee. The man grunted with surprise and blinked. He swayed back and Delaney flashed his left hand onto his throat, grabbing his windpipe and holding him rigid. Delaney moved the jagged edge of the broken bottle to the drunken man’s now terrified eye.
‘If you wanted to dance you should have asked nicer.’
‘Too late for please.’
Delaney’s hand tightened on the bottle, his hard eyes telling the fat man the really horrible nature of his mistake.
A hand tapped on Delaney’s shoulder and he turned round to see a smiling man in his thirties. Dirty blond hair, brown eyes, five ten. He clearly worked out, the muscles tensing in his arm, as he balanced on the balls of his feet like a boxer, ready to move.
‘Let him go.’
The man dipped a hand into his smart leather jacket and fished out his warrant card which he showed round the room like a warning. Nobody paid him much attention, a fight in The Roebuck was as unusual a sight as a G string in a pole dancing club.
‘Police. Detective Sergeant Bonner. Why don’t we all calm it down?’
Those who had been watching turned back to their beers, disinterested.
Delaney stepped back and put the broken bottle on the bar. Bonner leaned in to the shell shocked drunk, who had fallen to his knees and wet himself.
‘I’d fuck off if I were you.’ The man needed no second telling and limped as quickly as he could to the door. Bonner nodded at Delaney.
Bonner span the broken bottle on the counter.
‘Irish party games?’
‘Something like that.’
‘You’re going to have to come with me I’m afraid.’
‘Ah, Jesus. Come off it, Eddie.’
‘Out of my hands.’
‘Don’t tell me it’s that prick Hadden again. What are you doing Sergeant Bonner, kissing arse and running errands for that slag now?’
‘It’s not about the missing cocaine.’
What the fuck is it about then?’
Delaney was genuinely puzzled. ‘What are you on about?’
‘She’s been making a nuisance of herself asking for you.’
‘So? Since when does the wants of a brass like her send the Met’s finest out on errands?’
Bonner gave him a flat look. ‘Since the brass got rubbed.’
Delaney sighed and picked up his jacket and walked with Bonner to the door. Tricia giving him a grateful but nervous smile as he passed. Bonner opened the door.
‘Would you have used the bottle?’
‘Who knows? I try to live in the present.’
Bonner shook his head. ‘You know your trouble Delaney?’
And he did.