Mark Robertson was born in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear in 1962 taking up the drums at fourteen. He has toured the UK and Europe working with some of the country’s finest jazz and rock musicians (also with a few of the worst). His music career has included work for television, the theatre and a larger than average portion of 'strange', including a residency in a hostess bar/brothel in Mayfair, playing the 'ostrich mating dance' for Bernie Clifton in South Shields and performing at the World Unicycle Convention (on drums not unicycle).
After graduating he co-wrote a television play "In Bed With Jimmy Monty" directed by Bharat Nalluri (Spooks, Life On Mars, Alien vs. Predator). It won the New Voices prize that year and was shown on ITV.
In 2002 he co-wrote a musical which had two professional runs at The Customs House, South Shields and The Gala Theatre, Durham. Off-Key is his first novel. He still lives in the North-East where he writes furious letters to 'The Independent' and dances a lot.
They say the journey to being published is one of the hardest an author can take, please can you describe the journey that you went on?
Having worked as a musician for all of my adult life I became increasingly frustrated by books/plays films etc. that did not realistically portray musician’s lives. They went like this:
Monday: Form band.
Tuesday: Life is tough/ just paying our dues.
Wednesday: Got a manager.
Thursday: Released our first album.
Friday: Oh no our singer has a bit of a cough before our big gig.
Saturday: The singers found some cough mixture . . . Our CD‘s gone straight in at number one.
That frustration provided me with the kick up the backside that I needed to write my first novel.
The original draft for the story was a screenplay but I realised that if I wanted a bit more depth then I had little option but to turn it into a book. I had always felt I had the “art” of writing but I really had to work at the craft. Luckily there were people in my immediate vicinity that knew what I needed to learn. I also read every book on the subject I could find. And I also wanted to write about the break-up of a love affair from both sides of the story. This has allowed me to explore those shades of grey that inhabit the spaces between us.
Writers put so much time and energy into their characters and I have been told in the past that a writer carries their characters around with them.
So my question is if you could go out for a day with any one of your characters: who would it be, what would you do and why did you pick this particular character?
If I can cheat a little I’d like to go out with both Charlie and Dainty (two girls in their thirties working in a PR agency) to find out what it is that women discuss when there are no men around. The music part of the novel is a world I know all too well but I’ve never been privy to two girls talking in the absence of men. My early drafts, in this regard, were way off the mark. One of my female friends read one of the later versions of Off-Key and accused me of hiding in Ladies toilets to eavesdrop on the dialogue . . . I took this as a compliment!
If you were told that you could live any day without repercussions for your actions, what would you do and why?
I would kidnap Michael Gove the Secretary of State for Education and drive him to a decent sized desert, where he couldn’t do any harm, where I would abandon him.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I would like to return to Estonia in the Balkans where I went as part of a ‘living will’ with a friend (we met at a jazz club) who hadn’t long to live. He was a lot older than me and had worked in “British Intelligence”. He was accused by the Estonian press of being a Russian spy as oppose to an English one. There are several people in Tallinn who are close to the inside story (he died four years ago). I’m pretty sure he was on our side but I’d still like to know the truth.
If you could choose one book that you think everyone should read, what would it be and why?
The Brain that changes itself by Norman Doidge. It’s a book about neuroplasticity . . . the ability of the brain to re-wire itself to do the things we need it to in life. In the first chapter a woman who has been unable to stand upright for five years is taught how to balance using her tongue. Over time she was “coached “into replicating the function of her inner ear with her tongue. It is an unbelievably life affirming book. Whatever your religious beliefs we should at least all agree that the human brain is an incredible thing.
If there was one saying that could sum up your life to date, what would it be?
What you’re looking for is just up and over the next hill . . . honest.
Please share with us, one random fact about yourself or your book?
While working on the book cover I needed a photograph. I googled “city skyline North-east” and found the perfect shot. It was only when I came to check out who had taken it that I realised that I was in the picture (about one pixel big).
What can we expect next, any future books in the pipeline?
Off –Key has been something of an obsession for me for over five years so I’m going back to more musical endeavours although I intend to release a book of poems and nonsense sometime in the near future.
What or who in life inspires you?
Gay Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. I don’t always agree with him but he is fearless and forgiving, two things I am not.
What is your all time favourite book?
Probably Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy.
About Off Key:
Charlotte has supported Kyle's precarious musical career for three years. Now it's her turn. When Kyle doesn't want to play the breadwinner, she looks to a future on the other side of the Atlantic. Saxophonist Kyle has no money, no career and has now lost the love of his live. Can an autistic twelve-year-old boy and an alcoholic 'has been' be his salvation?
Thank you to Mark for talking to The Love of a Good Book!