Looking back I suppose, right from the start, I was always a writer of some sort or other. The fact that I was at school, and they made me do it - reams and reams of the stuff – was the reason I didn’t take it seriously, added to which I was completely obsessed with all things artistic: painting, drawing, sculpture and cartooning. I wish I’d had my wits about me back then and realised that I could have combined the writing and the drawing and gone into comics a lot earlier.
So, it was at school that I started to write, mostly teen angst poetry, and then I left and went to Harrow School of Art to study Information Graphics. During the three years I was there I also carried on writing poetry and it was in my final year I met Paul Peter Piech, a fantastic American graphic artist and illustrator who turned up one day as one of our visiting tutors. He discovered my writing and he liked it; I recognise now that what I was doing then was very simple and very graphic. I think maybe that’s what attracted him to it.
Paul ran the Taurus Press, his own small imprint, from out of the garage of his house in Bushey, Hertfordshire, and, while I was still at college, he published two limited edition collections of my poems, illustrated with his own abstract linocuts. It was a long time before I figured out exactly how lucky and privileged I’d been.
Even though I was now a published writer I didn’t take the hint and went straight to work as a designer, spending nearly ten years in partnership with Keith Faulkner (his son is singer/songwriter Newton Faulkner) producing children’s illustrated non-fiction, first as the Faulkner/Marks Partnership and latterly as Theorem Publishing. It was fun, for a while, but there are only so many kid’s encyclopedias and dinosaur books you can do before you start having to look outside the box for some inspiration.
Outside my particular box I discovered there was a whole new world of children’s fiction and I spent the next few years working as a Creative Director on those sort of books. That might have been that, except that I had an idea, a story which just wouldn’t go away.
The end result was my first novel, called The Finding of Stoby Binder, which was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1982; it had colour cover illustrations and black and white interior drawings by John Bolton (a friend and exceptional comics artist whom I’d met a few years earlier and had commissioned to do a series of amazing fantasy illustrations for Let’s Play Chess, published by Octopus Children’s Books).
Stoby Binder failed to create much interest and it was another 12 years before I eventually wrote another book, although I didn’t stop writing – it’s a very hard bug to shake off, once caught. I began working as a journalist, mainly for a trade paper called Publishing News (for whom I wrote book reviews, news pieces and feature interviews of authors, illustrators, booksellers and publishers right up until it shut down in mid 2008) and I also got the opportunity to finally get into comics.
Marvel, the giant US comics publisher, opened up a UK office and were looking for new writers to join the Marvel UK Universe team. Thanks to Editor-in-Chief Paul Neary, I became one of them and during my time there learnt about story arcs, dialogue, storytelling, editing…and the fact that ‘writer’s block’ is a myth. There’s always a way to write something when you have a deadline and there are bills to pay.
It was during an interview I was conducting for Publishing News with David Fickling (then Editorial Director at Scholastic Children’s Books, and just about to start working with Phillip Pullman on what was to become the Dark Materials trilogy) that I got the chance to write books again. David discovered that I was working for Marvel and said he wanted ‘stories like that for my boys!’. Hmmm, I thought, why not?
I came back to books, writing the Strange Hiding Place trilogy and a book called Skitzo for Scholastic, as well as Faultline and Haden’s Quest for Bantam, which all, much like Stoby Binder, failed to do very much except get me an agent. And so, when I was offered some freelance copywriting work by an advertising agency, I jumped at the chance; I ended up staying with the company for some eight years or so, once again learning some new skills (brevity, for one).
The thing was, I kept on having ideas for stories. They just wouldn’t go away. As I still had my Publishing News association, I still kept meeting people in the business and it was through this connection that I got another shot at writing books. An idea that I’d mentioned in passing to Sarah Odedina, the publisher at Bloomsbury Children’s Books, about some North London kids starting their own pirate radio station stuck with her. A year later, when our paths chanced to cross again, she asked what I’d done with it. And that is how I got to write Radio Radio, and started the ball rolling again…