Edinburgh Book Festival: Mark Watson

Mark Watson is no stranger to Edinburgh in August. Indeed he thinks he may have spent a year of his life performing at the Fringe comedy festival and it is in the role of stand-up comedian that Mark will be familiar to many.  What some people may not realise is that he is also a successful author.  Previous novels have included ‘Eleven’ (Literature for Lads review here ) and ‘The Knot’, which became a No.1 bestseller on Amazon. However Mark was quick to point out to the audience that this was as a result of a special 99p offer on the book!  (I however can confirm the book is a good read and is worth more than a derisory 99p!)

Mark was at the book festival to launch his new book, ‘Hotel Alpha’ published just a couple of weeks ago.  Set in a 5 star London Hotel the book delves into the history of the hotel and the people who have stayed and worked there from the 1960’s to the early 2000’s whilst also charting the impact of modern technology on the hotel as it moves through the decades.

In addition to the novel Mark has also written 100 short stories which accompany the novel and which are available online (a handful are published in the novel). One of the reasons Mark wanted to do this was because the novel itself is about the impact of the Internet on modern society. He also believes stories are no longer linear and the extra stories allow readers the opportunity to explore characters and stories further.  Mark explained that he had always planned to write the stories and novel together and made notes for the short stories as he went along.  By the end of the novel he had 50 stories – which still left 50 stories to write!

Chair Andrew Franklin (himself a Publisher) asked Mark “should the stories be available for free?”  It was an interesting and topical point to raise and Mark gave an interesting response. “The idea is that people will read the book first before delving into the online stories…so far 1,000 books have been sold but 3,000 people have visited the website. I want my work to reach the biggest audience it can so if the website helps in this regard that’s great.”  There is no doubt though that Mark felt that those who were visiting the website, but not buying the book were possibly taking advantage.  Equally however he may have gained new readers by offering ‘tasters’ of his novel for free.  It’s a difficult balancing act for both publishers and authors.

Hotel Alpha was inspired by the Landmark Hotel, a gigantic Victorian railway hotel in London.  According to Mark “it’s a hotel that courts Drama” and he spent a long time in the hotel people watching as “London has a sense of the sweep of human life”.  He has always been fascinated by hotels and “anywhere that has huge amounts of invisible life is useful for an author.”  Although Mark thinks that the anonymity we expect in a hotel doesn’t really exist. “The hotel room is a private space which is part of a very big public space.”

As we moved to questions from the floor Mark was asked whether he had always wanted to be a comedian and an author?  His response was interesting. “I never wanted to be a comedian!…however some things can be done easier on stage than in books…It’s been a hard slog to be taken seriously as an author because of my comedy background. It’s been a long road but I’ve always wanted to do it all.”Next he was asked what’s the difference between your writing now and 10 years ago? (which Mark had earlier admitted “wasn’t very good.”)  “The fact that I have lived more, suffered, endured grief, boundless joy…The more of life you have lived, the more you have to talk about.”

Mark Watson disagreed when it was suggested he could be considered a Polymath.  He argued Polymath’s had considerable talents across many fields.  Watson may be doing himself a injustice here. He is a funny comedian, an excellent author and an eloquent public speaker. Maybe not a Polymath but certainly a man of considerable talents.

For more information on Mark visit his website here.