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Life's all write now for Mark

Entertainment | Published:

You'll have to excuse the noise, there's men in the cellar. I've locked them in there and am waiting to see how long it takes for them to turn savage. It's for the next book."

Pause. A smile.

"Or we're just having it converted."

You can't blame us for being a bit spooked: this is the home of Mark Edwards, the best-selling writer who deals in all things dark and dreadful.

He's the reason hundreds of thousands of people no longer look at their neighbours in quite the same way after finishing The Magpies. Or why couples suddenly become suspicious of each other while reading What You Wish For.

Murder, abuse, obsession: this is an author for which nothing is off limits, nothing is too taboo.

And where will you find him writing these tales of depravity? Umm, the coffee shops of Wolverhampton or the gym on the Stafford Road.

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"That's pretty glamorous for me," says the 43-year-old from his Chapel Ash home. "I used to write on a packed commuter train surrounded by loud, smelly people for half an hour in the morning and half an hour at night and I managed that just fine so I've really got no excuse now."

The father-of-four has just released his second solo psychological thriller, What You Wish For. It tells the tale of newspaper photographer Richard Thompson, who's drawn into the world of a sinister cult after his girlfriend goes missing.

It comes after his all-conquering, chart-topping debut, The Magpies – the ultimate "neighbours from hell" story.

And the really scary bit? It's inspired by real-life events.

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"The Magpies came from when I lived in a ground-floor flat in Hastings and the couple in the basement flat hated me and my then-girlfriend and tried to make our lives a misery," says former Staffs uni student Mark. "They would push cigarette butts under the door, hit the ceiling with brooms, send us hoax parcels and write us letters complaining about the noise of the toilet brush 'thrashing about the pan' or my 'boring guffaw'.

"I basically took that idea to the extreme and asked myself how bad could it get? What if these people wanted to drive you out of your home for good? We were lucky because we rented, we could make a quick escape, but what if we'd bought the house?

"I just took the 'neighbours from hell' theme and built the thriller around it. I don't think my ex-neighbours know this book exists – if they did, they'd probably track me down. They just shouldn't have been living in a flat, they needed to be in an isolated cottage in the countryside, away from all other humans."

The Magpies topped the Kindle chart following its release just over a year ago and has sold more than 200,000 copies since then.

"I've got a film agent and she is trying to get it picked up so hopefully that's something that will happen in the future too," Mark explains. "I get messages on Facebook, email and Twitter every day from people saying they love it or have experienced a similar experience. It's really struck a chord with people. And it's completely changed my life."

That's not an empty statement.

While Mark is now thriving as a full-time writer – he will be speaking at the prestigious Harrogate Crime Writing Festival this year – it wasn't always the case. Despite having two solo novels published and four with co-writer Louise Voss, Mark's has been a career of highs and lows.

"I wrote all through my 20s while working in two of the worst jobs in the world: answering complaints for the Child Support Agency and then Connex Rail. So I had these horrible jobs but was always hoping to get somewhere with my writing. Finally, after sending loads of stuff off, I got an agent and was like 'That's it, I've made it!' but a book never materialised from the deal.

"Then, in 1998, I was on a BBC documentary about aspiring writers and I got an email from Louise. She was in the same situation as me – a deal but no book – and we ended up writing Killing Cupid together. It was actually picked up by the BBC for a two-part drama but never got made – again, one step forward, two steps back."

After that, the pair wrote Catch Your Death together but nothing really came of their efforts.

"Louise lost her deal, I tried half-heartedly to get another one but we were essentially back at square one. After that, I gave up for seven years straight and didn't write a single word for all of that time.

"But, in 2010, I heard about Amazon's Kindle direct publishing and said to Louise 'Why don't we put the two books up?'.

"She didn't want to do it, she was worried no one would buy them and it would be embarrassing and not worth the effort, but I somehow convinced her and we re-wrote and updated the books. We put Killing Cupid up in February 2011 and I became totally obsessed with promoting it and it somehow ended up as number one. We released Catch Your Death in the May and that went to number one too – with Killing Cupid at number two. It was the most exciting moment of my life. It was quite emotional after all that time and all those years of effort but not getting anywhere."

What followed was a media blitz, with Mark and Louise appearing on BBC Breakfast and in all the national newspapers.

"We were the first unknown UK writers to get to number one," says Mark, originally from Hastings but who moved to Wolverhampton two years ago with wife Sara. "It was the time when everyone was interested in self-publishing and eBooks. It led to a four-book deal with Harper Collins. We were delighted and were like 'This is it, we're going to be selling loads of books and they're going to be in every single shop'. I quit my full-time job at a publishing firm in London and we moved up here as it's where Sara's from.

"But then it all went horribly wrong. Harper Collins made a small effort to publicise the first book but by the time the third one, All Fall Down came out in January 2013, they had completely given up with us, they did nothing to sell it. And the fourth? Well, it literally wasn't in any shops other than Waterstones Wolverhampton. They said they thought everyone who had bought the eBooks would go out and buy the paperbacks but obviously that was never the case.

"But I don't regret it, it was a good experience, it taught me a lot. You know, when I was just self-publishing and I'd tell people I was a writer, they'd just roll their eyes and be like 'Yeah, right' but the book deal made people take us more seriously."

Following the breakdown of the Harper Collins deal, Mark was struggling.

"I was in serious financial difficulty. I had given up my job and was thinking 'What am I going to do?'. I thought I'd finally achieved my dream but now I was about to go back to square one yet again. But I had The Magpies, which I had started years ago and hadn't done anything with. I went back to it and just thought 'Sod it, I'll put it out. I've done it once, I can do it again'. That was last March and it's been phenomenal ever since.

"It went to number one and Amazon, who have their own publishing division, approached me and made me an offer about publishing my next book, Because She Love Me, as a deal in September."

Until then, fans can enjoy What You Wish For, which Mark has self-published so thriller-lovers don't have to wait too long for their next fix.

"Me and Louise also have another one out soon called From The Cradle, so that's three books in six months – thank goodness I'm a fast writer!," he laughs.

"I just can't believe all of this has happened. Sometimes I think 'What would life be like if I hadn't published The Magpies?'. Jeez, things would be so different now – that's the really scary thing."

What inspires a best-seller?

"Inspiration for me mostly comes from real life.

For instance, Because She Loves Me has a theme of jealously because I had this very jealous girlfriend when I was in my 20s and I remember those experiences all too well. What will she think about it? Luckily, we're not in touch anymore!

I also want to do something with an experience I had years ago when I went interrailing around Europe and was robbed: they took my money, my passport, everything. I've got that idea in my head and want to do something with that – how bad could that get?

People like and respond to authenticity. I've written a book with Louise about child abduction and that was purely imagination and inspired by stories such as Madeleine McCann in the media.

I think there has never been a better time to be a writer – we have so many opportunities now and there is no 'right way' to do it any more.

There's no easy path to being a full-time writer – something like only one per cent make a living from it full time – so try as many different opportunities as possible."

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