My fellow author, Nancy Jardine (http://nancyjardinefeatures.blogspot.co.uk) has invited me, together with a number of British authors, to take part in "A Very British Blog Tour," linking the websites of authors who are dedicated to turning out some of the finest books available in Britain today. Each author named at the end of this page has been asked the same questions.
Here, then, are my responses to the questions posed by Nancy.
Where were you born, and where do you live at the moment?
I was born on the island of Jersey, but have lived and worked in London for most of my adult life. I currently live in the Borough of Lewisham.
Have you always lived and worked in Britain, or are you based elsewhere at the moment?
I studied at Cambridge and London, lived and worked in Leiden and Paris, then went back to Jersey for a few years, after which I came permanently to Britain to take up an academic career. I was based in Carmarthen for a few years, which is a beautiful part of the country, but somehow London has always felt like home - from the moment (aged 12, I think) my parents first left me alone here for a few hours (in the Egyptian galleries of the British Museum).
Which is your favourite part of Britain?
Family holidays were generally spent in Dorset, Hampshire and Sussex, so I have very happy memories of the chalk downs and the New Forest. West Wales and Dartmoor have wilder landscapes, which I enjoyed exploring with my Carmarthen students. I spent several weeks in Orkney as a student - an irresistable landscape for an archaeologist.
Have you "highlighted" or "showcased" any particular part of Britain in your books? For example, a town, or city, a county or a monument, or some well-known place or event.
A sense of place is very important in my writing. The only book I have ever abandoned was based in a place that I was never likely to be able to visit (the mid-Atlantic island of Trindade - now a Brazilian naval outpost with no civilian population), and I just couldn't write about a place I didn't know.
My first novel, Undreamed Shores, is largely set in Dorset and Wiltshire, although there is also a visit to the Channel Islands. I wanted to take the reader inside the minds of the people who built Stonehenge. I spent a lot of time in the landscape, walking (as my characters do) from Abbotsbury to Stonehenge, and recording the things I saw, heard, smelled, felt and tasted quite precisely.
My second novel, An Accidental King (which will be published by Crooked Cat later this year) is mainly set in Sussex (around Chichester Harbour) and in Norfolk (around Thetford), and I spent time in both places when I was carrying out the research for the books.
There is an illusion - or myth, if you wish - about British people that I would like you to discuss. Many see the British as "stiff upper-lip." Is that correct? Do any of the characters in your books display the "stiff upper lip" or are they all "British Bulldog" and unique in their own way?
As a historical writer I associate that idea very much with a specific moment in time - the late 19th and early 20th Century - and especially with the work of writers such as Thomas Carlyle and Rudyard Kipling. My characters belong in a much earlier period (2400 BC in Undreamed Shores, the 1st Century AD in An Accidental King), so I have had to be very careful not to give them the mindsets of later times. Gillian Slovo deals with the myth beautifully in her novel, An Honourable Man, focussing on the events surrounding the death of General Gordon in Khartoum. The irony about those events is that Gordon himself took the "stiff upper lip" to ridiculous (and ultimately suicidal) lengths, but we only still remember him because of the hysterical reaction of people back in Britain. An Accidental King is fundamentally a book about what it means to be both British and European, but I have tried to explore these themes through the mindset of the time, to the extent that we can know it from the history and the archaeology.
Tell us about your recent books.
Undreamed Shores is a coming of age story and an epic journey narrative set at the dawn of the Bronze Age. A boy, just at the cusp of manhood, is swept off course by the tide at the end of his first trading journey, and washed up in a land which he didn't even know existed. He has to make sense of this new land and learn its rules just at the same time as he is making sense of the adult world.
An Accidental King, on the other hand, is narrated from the point of view of an elderly man looking back on his life. A British prince, seduced as a young man by the literature, art and architecture of Rome, discovers the true nature of power later in life, and struggles to keep the peace in a land where people are no longer the masters of their own destiny.
What are you currently working on?
Omphalos (a provisional title, which may well change), is much more a novel about Jersey, even if much of the action takes place elsewhere. There are five intertwined stories (set in the 1940s, the 1790s, the 1520s, the 1160s and the 5th Millennium BC) linked together by a physical place, by artefacts from one period which turn up in another, and by broad themes of transgression and reconciliation, a book fundamentally about the relationships between the present and the past. Although it's a book about Jersey, I doubt I could have written it anywhere except London. I've finished the research this week, so have had some truly fascinating Medieval manuscripts on my desk at the British Library, from the Codex Calixtinus (a 12th Century manuscript documenting the traditions surrounding the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela) to Wace's Roman de Brut (a 13th Century copy of a 12th Century history of Britain, written by a Jerseyman who will feature as a character in the book).
How do you spend your leisure time?
That's another reason I love living in London. There is no city on Earth that has so many exhibitions, and of such quality, as we have in our great museums and galleries. I tried to go to the Ice Age Art exhibition at the British Museum yesterday, but it was fully booked. Hopefully I will get to see it before it closes, and the Pompeii & Herculaneum exhibition will be opening soon. I also have a great love of film and the theatre (highlights last year included Mark Rylance's stunning performances in Richard III and Twelfth Night), and am a very active member of the Royal Literary Society.
Do you write for a local audience or a global audience?
Both, hopefully, but I suspect that readers will understand the book in different ways. A Channel Islander will, I suspect, read Undreamed Shores or Omphalos and spot things that others won't - places, for example, that are not referred to by their modern name but should, nonetheless, be recognisable to the local readership - and even birds which are in the story because they are very much present in those places. It's the same with Hayling Island in An Accidental King - the "sacred pool" is there if you know where to look for it (whether it was ever sacred is another matter, but there was a temple very close to it), and I challenge anyone to sit beside it for an hour during the day without hearing a woodpecker!
Can you provide links to your work?
See below, and also www.mark-patton.co.uk.
The following authors are also participating in this blog tour:
Nancy Jardine (http://nancyjardinefeatures.blogspot.co.uk)
Jeff Gardiner (www.jeffgardiner.wordpress.com)
Ailsa Abraham (www.ailsaabraham.com/blog)
Zanna MacKenzie (www.zannamackenzie.blogspot.com)
Jane Bwye (http://jbwye.com)
David Robinson (www.dwrob.com)
Mark Patton's novel, Undreamed Shores, is available from www.amazon.co.uk, www.amazon.com and www.crookedcatbooks.com. An Accidental King will be published by Crooked Cat publications later this year.