Backstage Hero: MARK STAY

Mark Stay is an author and has had his first script make the big screen, ‘Robot Overlords’, which he co-wrote with Jon Wright, who also directed the film. It is also a novelisation which you can find out more about at the Gollancz website. He’s a big music fan and has penned a few reviews for GRTR! in the past…

What are you currently up to (e.g. projects)?

Jon Wright (co-writer and director of Robot Overlords) and I have been putting the polish on a horror script that we hope to get off the ground very soon. I can’t say much about it other than it’s very, very different to Robots! Blood, death, sex and so much tension you’ll need surgery to unclench your buttocks.

I’m also about eighty-six thousands words into a new novel. It’s fantasy, and I’m loving it. Won’t be ready for quite some time though. You can’t rush a novel.

How did you first start to come up with ideas for ‘Robot Overlords’? When writing it was it a case of thinking how it would look on film or did you write the storyline as a novel first?

It came to Jon in a dream. He dreamt he was playing with a child in the street when a robot marched up to them and ordered them inside. He emailed me with a two-page pitch based on the dream and asked if I was interested in writing it with him (we were already working on a couple of other projects at the time). It was always a film first. It was only during pre-production that the idea of a novelisation came about. Part of our producer’s plan for world domination!

How did the film come about and has it come out on the big screen as you envisaged when writing it?

We had a certain amount of luck. Jon was in post-production on his previous film (the excellent GRABBERS), when his producer Piers asked if had any family sci-fi ideas, and it just so happened that he did! Piers is an outstanding producer and soon managed to get us support from the BFI, and before we knew it we were writing a draft, and we had VFX and concept artists hard at work making the robots a reality.

I’m over the moon with the end result. Jon shot on incedible anamorphic lenses and it looks amazing on the big screen. The score, sound effect, VFX, all incredible. And the performances are superb. Not just Sir Ben Kingsley and Gillian Anderson, but our gang of kids, too. They took complete ownership of those roles. I’m very proud of it.

What has the reaction been like to the film and the book?

The film didn’t get a massive release (I could go on at some length about the vagaries of UK film distribution!), but we topped the charts when the DVD and Blu-Ray came out, we were the only British independent film in the chart at the time. Kids absolutely love it, as well as science fiction geeks of a certain age. We’ve also sold in over forty territories worldwide. We topped the charts in the Far East. We’re huge in Singapore!

The book has reprinted three times, and sold all over the world. We have Polish- and French-language editions, too. I’m delighted with the reviews that the book has received. Tie-in novels live in a strange niche between children’s and adult books, but it’s clearly being enjoyed by both.

You’ve been along to a few SF conventions now. What is it like attending them on the other side so to speak as an author/screenwriter, rather than a fan?

There’s a lot less queueing when you’re a guest speaker. I love it. Conventions are a haven of like-minded fans, all celebrating the weird and wonderful stuff they love. It’s a great atmosphere. Gillian Anderson’s fans have been particularly brilliant. Great ambassadors for the film. And going to cons as a writer is fab. Things will inevitably go wrong, but you get little taste of what it might be like to be a rock star… Mostly getting lost in labyrinthine corridors in backstage areas.

Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?

My family, without a doubt. All of my family can spin a good yarn, even if it’s just an anecdote about someone they saw while out shopping, they’ve always been able to keep people on the hook. I recall a great uncle of mine telling me a ghost story in a pub in Ireland as a child, and I was totally gripped. He would end each beat of the story with the words, “As true as I’m sitting here!” and I totally believed him. That’s great storytelling.

If you could co-write a book with any fellow author (living or dead) who would it be and why?

Maybe JRR Tolkein. “Put some women in it, mate… Plural, yes, more than one…”

I think I’d be too intimidated to write with those I admire. I’d love to sit back and watch Stephen King at work. His book “On writing” was a big influence on me. There are so few books on the craft of writing by actual writers, and his is the best I’ve read.

What has been your most embarrassing moment?

I was acting in a school play at secondary school and I completely dried. Could not remember the next line if my life depended on it, and this was a performance before the entire school. It was the full terrifying experience: heart stopped, mouth went dry, the world stopped on its axis, and I wanted to be anywhere but on that stage. I had been cocky and thought I could wing it. I’ve since been pretty strict about prepping for any kind of performance or event ever since.

Any good rock ‘n’ roll tales to tell?

None. I’m such a straight, I’d-rather-stay-at-home-and-read-a-book-or-watch-a-movie type that there are no tales of debauchery. I’m saving it for when I’m a pensioner. Then I can really let my hair down. If I have any left.

I was was once fired by the Duchess of Northumberland. That’s about as rock n roll as I get these days.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

Career-wise, it has to be Jon. He’s the nearest thing I have to a mentor, and his attention to detail and rigour has definitely made me a better writer. We have a good laugh working together, we have a fun and productive method of bouncing ideas back and forth. It’s only a matter of time before he gets snapped up to direct a blockbuster, however, so I can only hope that I can keep up with him.

Heard any good music lately?

I’m a big Floyd fan, so The Endless River and David Gilmour’s Rattle That Lock have been playing on a loop. I’m a big fan of Polly Samson’s lyrics. In Louder Than Words she sums up the band so succinctly, and it’s a beautiful end to the band’s story. And I love Gilmour’s guitar work. It’s always had a story quality to it. Listen to Comfortably Numb, it definitely has a beginning, middle and an end.

I’m enjoying John Grant’s Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, though his Queen of Denmark remains the high point for me.

I always create a playlist for whatever I’m writing, and my current project is soundtracked by Jeremy Soule’s score for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It’s magnificent, epic stuff, and because I’ve never played the game, I have no previous association with the music, so it feels like a specially created score for my book.

Three albums you’d recommend any music fan has a listen to and why?

I’m going through that trope of middle-aged-man-gets-into-classical-music, but my God Mozart’s Requiem is just jaw dropping. It can be huge, intimate and sad all at once.

Abbey Road is another great end-of-the-line album for a band, yeah even Maxwell’s Silver Bloody Hammer. But that final run, from You Never Give Me Your Money through to The End is unbeatable, and never fails to bring a lump to the throat.

And Floyd’s Wish You Were Here… No, Dark Side… No, Wish… No! Aargh! Don’t make me choose! Oh, sod it. Meddle.

Anything else to add… (feel free to plug away!!!)

Oooh, thanks. Well, my wife Claire has an amazing gardening blog called Claire’s Allotment and she also writes wonderful books for very young children about two sisters called Lottie and Dottie who grow things. They’re beautifully illustrated by Marijke van Veldhoven and the books are a great way for young children to learn about growing things. There y’go; from robots to rock to gardening. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Mark Stay
Twitter: @markstay

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