Mark Smith - author of Wilder Country
Tell us about your book – what inspired you to write it?
Wilder Country is the sequel to The Road To Winter, which was published by Text in 2016. It follows the three central characters - Finn, Kas and Willow - as they travel into the country controlled by the Wilders to find the baby Hope, the daughter of Kas’s sister, Rose.
I knew I had a longer story to tell than I was able to relate in a single book. It is a dystopian series so once the world building had been done I felt impelled to continue the narrative beyond the first book’s resolution. Wilder Country enabled me to further develop my characters and to explore wider issues around loyalty, friendship and whether the use of violence is ever justified.
If you could live as one of your characters for a day – which one would you choose and why?
My main protagonist and narrator, Finn, is very close to my heart. He is an awkward sixteen-year-old who has terrible circumstances thrust upon him. As a writer, I feel as though I have lived in his skin while writing the three books in the series – but he is still able to surprise me, no more so than in Wilder Country.
Living as Finn for a day would be enormously challenging, as he comes to terms with a changed world. I would like to test my resilience in the situations I have created for him, to see whether I would have the same courage of my convictions – and whether I could maintain my decency and humanity in the way he does, even when confronted by evil.
Which book would you want to read again for the first time?
I remember being very affected by reading Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath for the first time. So much of our reaction to books is influenced by where we are and what we’re doing when we read them. When I read The Grapes of Wrath I was travelling from Nepal, down through India to Sri Lanka, using local trains and buses. The life of the Okies, so beautifully portrayed by Steinbeck, resonated with me – the imperative to keep moving, the difficulties they encountered along the way and the hope of California being a promised land. And the final scene is also one of the most devastating and strangely beautiful in modern literature.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I grew up very much as an outdoors boy. Through primary and secondary school I did everything in my power to avoid reading. My parents always gave us books for Christmas, but I can’t remember reading any of them. But when I was fifteen I broke my neck in a horse riding accident, forcing me to spend six months largely lying on my back with a big neck brace on. It was then I discovered reading could transport me into other worlds and into other people’s lives. I was hooked. Because I was fifteen, I remember The Catcher In The Rye being hugely influential – even though I had no idea what a sonuvabitch was!
We know you are a talented writer, do you have any hidden talents?
Living on the coast, my writing time is constantly vying with the call of the surf. I am far from a talented surfer but I have been doing it for a long time and I find it almost impossible to discipline myself to write when I know the surf is going off! If I have a deadline approaching I will often go somewhere to write that is away from the coast so I’m not tempted. Apart from surfing I’m an avid mountain biker and many plot points have been sorted out while I’m out on the trails (when there’s been no surf!)
Can you tell us what you are working on now?
I have been working on the third book in the Winter trilogy, pulling together all the threads that have woven their way through the extended narrative. Its working title is Land Of Fences and it will be on the shelves in early 2019.