Interview with Mark Wells, author of College of Shadows
22 Apr 2019
What can you tell us about your new release, College of Shadows?
College of Shadows is a Young Adult fantasy mystery set in Cambridge University in the near future.
Two freshers, Annabel and Nick, turn up for the first day at college wondering how they are going to fit in but that turns out to be the least of their worries as they discover something dark and dangerous stalking the ancient courts of their new home.
College of Shadows is the first book in my new fantasy series, Cambridge Gothic, which follows the lives of two students at this world-famous university battling the dark forces that have infiltrated their college. It’s a fast-paced thriller with lots of twists and turns, seen through the eyes of its young heroes and an aged professor whose secret is the cause of all the problems.
What or who inspired you to become an author?
I’ve always enjoyed writing and telling stories both at school and later on when I had my own children. I studied law at Cambridge University, but I probably spent more time in Heffers, the local children’s book shop, than in the Law Library.
In those days I never thought I could have a career as a writer, but once my children had grown up and left home, I decided to give it a go. I entered a short story competition for Games Workshop under the pen name Nicholas Alexander and was thrilled when they selected The Emperor’s Grace to be published. I then did a follow- up, The Trophy, before starting College of Shadows, set in an urban fantasy world of my own making.
What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?
The book that changed my life was The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe by CS Lewis. I remember stepping through the cupboard with the character Lucy and discovering a fantasy world for the first time.
I had a very similar experience with To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, where I saw an equally unfathomable world through young Scout’s eyes.
Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings introduced me to the scale of epic fantasy before JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone brought magic to the muggle world in which I lived.
More recently, I’ve discovered the wonders of urban fantasy through Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, The Rivers of London.
Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?
I would love to have met the brilliant Terry Pratchett when he was alive and ask where he got his inspiration for the Unseen University. Believe it or not, it’s remarkably similar to Cambridge University – apart from the pointed hats.
What’s your favorite thing about writing?
Every now and again you put something down on paper that stirs your emotions. Often, it’s a pivotal moment for your character, and you find yourself in their head experiencing that moment. When you feel moved by a moment like that, you know you have written something special.
What is a typical day like for you?
I am an early riser and usually get up at 5.00am, make myself a cup of tea and sit down to the laptop to do some writing. At 8am, I head down to the kitchen for breakfast and watch a TED talk with my wife, Karina. Then I set off to a coffee shop or the college library and spend the rest of the morning getting some words down. At midday, I break for lunch, either at the college or home and in the afternoon I focus on my children’s fantasy series, The Hidden Tales which launches in July 2019. I try to go to the gym before supper, and in the evening I sit down with my son Michael, who helps run my self-publishing business. I usually head to bed at around 10pm.
What scene in College of Shadows was your favorite to write?
My favourite scene involved the secretive practice of night climbing, which has been going on in Cambridge for more than a century. This is where daredevil students sneak out of their colleges at night and climb some of the university’s tallest buildings. One of my characters, Giles, runs a secret night climbing club and on one of his climbs he is attacked by an angel of death, and that’s when the action really kicks off.
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
Do the right thing, not the easy thing.
It’s Cambridge… but not as you know it.
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