Ten Questions with Adam Marek

Adam Marek


1. How and when did you get started as a writer?

I’ve been writing since I was a kid. When I was 11 I was highly commended in the WHSmith’s young writers’ competition for a story I wrote about a witch that lived in a cave. I illustrated it myself with gold ink. I wrote a novella for a school project when I was 13 about a boy who could turn into a dragon. When I was 19, I started writing almost every day, working on a children’s novel and short stories and scripts – I have a stack a metre high in the attic that no one will ever see.


2. Where do your ideas tend to come from?

From the meeting of new experiences with old preoccupations. I think that the more you write, the more your unconscious mind gets the idea that you want it to come up with original ideas, and so it works away at them in the background until it finds a pleasing combination of known things, which it melds to form something new and unknown. My unconscious most often delivers these very welcome parcels when I’m lost in mundane tasks – especially showering, washing up and driving. I have a crayon in the shower which I sometimes use to write ideas on the tiles.


3. Are there particular ideas or themes that interest you or that keep resurfacing in your work?

I’m very interested in perception and the mind, mutations, nature, monsters, sci-fi b-movies. There’s almost always something of my own life in my work, so I write a lot about parenthood and relationships, in combination with the themes I just mentioned.


4. Do you plan your writing?

Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. With short stories, I often just sit down and enjoy discovering the story as I’m writing it. Then I’ll plan and plot as I’m rewriting it, to make it work better. So with shorts, I’ll often come up with the raw material, and then apply structure to it in subsequent drafts. With novels, I work differently. A couple of years ago I made the mistake of starting work on a novel idea before I knew where it was going. I only had a beginning. I wrote 70k words before realising it wasn’t going anywhere and was fundamentally flawed. I had to abandon it. With the novel I’m working on at the moment, I planned it thoroughly. I know exactly where it ends up, but I’m allowing myself to explore new ideas as I’m writing it, and then replotting. It seems to be working okay so far. In one way though, every bit of work feels like the first time, and I approach it slightly differently every time.


5. Do you have a writing routine or any ‘rituals’ that you follow?

I get up at six in the morning and write for an hour every day – I have a day job and two kids, so this is the only way to get writing done. I always start writing with a fresh cup of tea (tea is the writing vitamin). I like Moleskine notebooks, and I carry a Spacepen in my pocket everywhere I go – I hope one day to actually get to use it in zero gravity.


6. Who are your favourite writers?

Haruki Murakami is the only writer whose books I’ll rush out for on the first day of release. I like Margaret Atwood, JG Ballard, George Orwell, Will Self, Ian McEwan. I have a lot of favourite books where I’ve only read one book by that author: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Perfume by Patrick Suskind, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Watership Down by Richard Adams, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, The Road by Cormac McCarthy.


7. Do you have an ideal reader?

Someone who eagerly awaits my next book.


8. What are you working on now?

I’m working on a novel, half of which is set on the International Space Station, so I’m doing a lot of research as I write it. Right now I’m about 50k words into the latest draft. I’m not sure how many drafts I’ll write before I’m happy with it.


9. What are you reading at the moment?

I just finished Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, which was awesome. I read and listened to it both as a paperback and an audiobook, alternately. Midnight’s Children goes straight into my top ten favourite books. I listen to a lot of audiobooks on my iPhone so I can still read when I’m driving, walking, stretching. Right now I’m reading The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham and listening to The Next Fifty Years: Science in the First Half of the Twenty-First Century, edited by John Brockman – it’s a collection of 25 essays from leading scientists about their predictions for the next 50 years in different fields of scientific study.


10. What piece of advice would you give to new writers?

Write regularly and relentlessly. Never think you’re good enough. Never give up. Don’t invest all your happiness in getting published – it can take a long time, and then right away you automatically invest your happiness in the next time you get published. Enjoy the process – its pains and its delights. Decide right now that you are a writer – it’s much easier to write knowing that you’re a writer, than trying to write as someone who wants to be a writer – confidence shows on the page, but be humble too. Enter competitions – deadlines are great motivation. Go to book festivals and see other writers read their work and talk about it. Read interviews with writers. Study their methods, then find your own. There’s a great quote in How Fiction Works by James Wood from Flaubert talking to Maupassant (and I’m not trying to sound wanky quoting Flaubert – I’ve never read Flaubert, it’s just a great thought): ‘There is a part of everything which is unexplored, because we are accustomed to using our eyes only in association with the memory of what people before us have thought of the thing we are looking at. Even the smallest thing has in it something which is unknown’. Find something unfamiliar in the familiar and show it to the world because we all want to see it.


Adam Marek’s debut short story collection, Instruction Manual for Swallowing, was published by Comma Press in 2007. It was nominated for the Frank O’Connor Prize – the biggest prize in the world for a collection of short stories. His stories have also appeared in Prospect magazine and in anthologies including When it Changed and The New Uncanny from Comma Press, two Bridport Prize collections and the British Council’s New Writing 15. He is working on his first novel. A new short story by Adam can be found in Matter 9. Visit Adam’s website at www.adammarek.co.uk