Bright sunlight floods the living room where Mark McCann is sitting, listening to Pearl Jam. Summer has come early, bathing Belfast in warmth, but the festival cheer that has overtaken the city is in stark contrast with the bleak picture he paints in his novels. On the page, Mark deals with the dark side.
Forging a lonely furrow as a crime, horror and sci-fi author, 30 year old Mark has just published his first novel, Deadfast, which he describes as “a hard boiled supernatural thriller”, set in Belfast, and which has attracted a lot of interest.
He has also completed his second novel, The Generous Dead.
As a child, Mark wanted to be an artist or a comic book artist.
“But it doesn’t take you much to knock you off your path, so I put my creativity on the shelf and did not pursue it until three years ago, when I started writing bits and pieces again.
“I started writing scripts and then chapter after chapter, and the people I showed it to liked it and I got good feedback.
“So I grew more confident about what I was writing.
“That is more or less how my first novel came about,” Mark explained.
“I always wanted to make something, to create something. I Love guys like Joss Whedon, who did Buffy The Vampire Slayer television series, and film-makers like Sam Raimi. They are people who have written fantastic character genre stuff which inspire me,” Mark said.
“So whenever you take that chance, like you criticise them, you get criticised, and some people might say you are terrible. That’s when you learn, and you take it on board, but if people say you are good, you should try to get along,” he added.
“I watch lots of horror, I read about horror, sci-fantasy, comics, you name it, I have been a fan of these for a very long time.
“I love characters who have alcohol problems, they are compelling to me, it is very interesting, you can sympathise with them. That's what it inspired me to write a horror story.”
In Mark’s first novel, the main character is called Terry Fennell, and he has a partner called The Saint.
“It is in reference to Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes,” Mark said.
“In the second novel, the Saint becomes the main character, so you get the character tied with the first book,” he explains.
Referring to Terry, the character on Deadfeast, Mark says: “You may feel sorry for him but you might not like him sometimes. Terry is kind of master of his own devices in many ways. Even when he’s offered a way out, sometimes he screws up.
“He is happy when he is miserable. Misery can become a life style,” Mark adds.
“I think if you read the book you come to understand Terry and understand how he is.
“There isn’t such a thing as happy endings in my books,” he added. Mark said that the character of Terry is not based on anybody in particular, but he had drawn from his and other people’s experiences, setting the stories right here.
“There aren't many writers who have their characters from books who are based in Belfast.
“I like it here because Belfast is such a character generating city,” he said. “I want to make people love the city as much as I love the city.
“The title for Deadfast is a played up play on the word Belfast — Dead-fast,” he explains.
“It is a dual meaning as the character is killed in so many ways in the book and yet he always manages to get away.
“If you read the book you can
totally understand him.”
Mark is self-promoting his first novel, a true labour of love.
“For me as a self-publishing author, it is very difficult as you have to do it all yourself.
“You have to advertise it, try and make people interested in it and make sure that everything is perfect.
“Any mistakes or mess-ups, you have to get over them.
“But there isn’t anything more rewarding than creating something and following it through.
“The worst part about it is that as a writer you just want to do the book, but as a self-publisher you have to do all the promotional stuff.”
To relax Mark goes to the gym “to torture myself”.
He also likes travelling and wants to do more. “I have been to Holland but I have not travelled much recently. Travel is definitely on my agenda,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, he also has a lifelong interest in the way things work, the hows and whys.
He studied Philosophy and Scholastic Philosophy at Queen’s, graduating back in 2003. “Scholastic philosophy is like the history of philosophy”, he said.
“When I was at school, I always struggled with authority figures, so if someone told me something like ‘this is how it is’ I had to ask ‘why’.
“This is what Scholastic philosophy is all about, asking why.
“Perhaps maybe this is why I don’t trust governments. What do politicians do?
“Look at bankers and international companies. It is the same. It is about making money and becoming even richer”, he continued sceptically.
Mark is originally from the Cregagh Road and lived in Saintfield for 10 years before moving to south Belfast where he shuns the party lifestyle in favour of sitting in with a good book. “But I am not getting old,” he exclaimed.
“My favourite book is American Gods by Neil Gaiman. It’s unbelievable”, he said.
“I like it because Gaiman interweaves normal life with the supernatural.
“He can make Gods seem very pedestrian, somebody you might know, somebody you might meet in the street, somebody who works in a café.
“He makes the characters seem so real, and where he tells a story, he deceives you so well with the direction that you think he’s taking you, and then he surprises you.”
When it comes to on screen entertainment — “I love The Wire and Into the Wild. It is an amazing film”, he said.
Mark said that if he was a castaway on a desert island the three items he would take would be: The Wire box set, a copy of American Gods and the Pearl Jam discography.