Pixie: So, me and you met, gosh, quite a few years back now on Wattpad, and I’m delighted to say, we have been annoying each other ever since. You have some serious street cred attached to your name including an Emmy nomination, as well as winning a Page International Screenwriting Award AND you’ve got some amazing TV credits under your belt too. Recently you released a character book for authors, and an amazing fantasy series called Heroes of Hastovia. So, I think it’s safe to say, you’re doing all the things right now, but given the choice – what would you say is your passion project? Aside from, you know, taking weird pictures of pigeons on Instagram…
Mark: Pigeons are my only passion. Not really. My current passion project is a dark comedy thriller about a couple driving to a party who have a massive fight and agree to divorce, but then accidentally run someone over and have to work together to dispose of the body. It’s about how shared experiences can bring us closer together, just with my messed up view on an extreme shared experience. I also have a new fantasy comedy in the pipeline that’s more absurd than Heroes of Hastovia as that got a bit dark at times!
I love screenwriting, but I find writing books so much more freeing. That’s where the joy really is for me at the moment.
Pixie: I want to talk a little bit about Heroes of Hastovia, and how bloody great it is. For those of you reading this, if you haven’t had the chance to buy a copy yet, just go do it – it’s so, so good. I’d say I’m not a huge fan of fantasy in general, but your series blew my mind. It kind of reminds me of the Terry Pratchett Discworld series, mixed in with a hint of Roald Dahl. So, I guess my question is, what inspired you to write this series? How did the main character, Karl and his motley crew of friends come about?
You’re way too kind about it. I’m going to admit something that may get me online abuse. I haven’t read Pratchett. I started one book, but then I stopped. I’ve seen one of the films, though. It’s not that I didn’t like it, I just loved loads of other books and as I got older and started writing fantasy I worried I’d end up copying him. I will read one soon, though, now that I’ve finished the series.
I grew up on Roald Dahl, choose your own adventure books, and loads of role playing computer games like Zelda, Final Fantasy and such. Final Fantasy just blew my mind with its wonderful worlds and characters. That has to be my biggest inspiration. And The Princess Bride is my favourite book of all time.
For Karl, I wanted to write a fantasy about an idiot. It was as simple as that, because I was working in comedy at the time. Unfortunately a lot of his uselessness is close to my own. I wanted to write about someone who completely lacked the skills to be in the situation he is in. No special power, just useless. It started life as a radio script and was ridiculous. It got some interest but then the surrounding characters grew and it felt like it needed longer form to really explore. Questions was based on a friend of mine who asks questions to the point you want to put him in a bin, but she grew into one of my favourite characters, and Oaf was a bit of a love letter to The Princess Bride’s Inigo Montoya. Even the villains became more so I had to follow where they were all taking me.
Pixie: You are the King of creating weird and wonderful characters. Throughout the Heroes of Hastovia series, we have creatures made from rocks, weird floating eye-ball things, that sneeze… I mean, how do eyeballs even sneeze? I’m not sure I know, but apparently, they do. And not forgetting a pesky Man-hawk with serious Daddy issues. How do you create these characters? Do you have a process that you go through, or do they just appear in that strange mind of yours?
Mark: I think I’m just inherently weird. They come from what I’d like to see and what I’d find funny or terrifying, and I assume if I find a cross between a snake and a bee scary so would someone else. I also think about what would be terrifying to Karl. He’s a pretty average guy and he hasn’t done much in way of engage with the world, so imagine the hell out there for him. He’s probably scared that if he touches a plant his hand’ll fall off, so I wanted to create creatures that both felt realistic to the world and would bring a sense of terror to his journey and had characteristics he totally lacked to emphasise the fear in him. I also like to create creatures that have some grounding in reality so people can picture them more easily. I once had a competition for people to draw Arazod and I got some bizarre entries. It’s great seeing how people interpret the weirdness.
Pixie: So, you’re about to release the third book in the Heroes of Hastovia trilogy. What’s next on the list? Do you think you’ll stick with fantasy, or are you going to try something new?
Mark: I’ll always have a soft spot for fantasy, it’s just what I love. From playing DnD to the RPGs. Once I finish the dark comedy thriller I’ll be jumping into the fantasy comedy series. While I’ve stopped Heroes of Hastovia at book 3 I have a few origin stories to release, and I created that world with a scope to explore different characters within it, so I may do that. Everything ties to events elsewhere so it will be connected and there’ll be easter eggs for anyone who has read other books. I just feel for now the characters need some time to relax before I torment them again. It’s been a huge part of the last few years and book 3 took a lot out of me. It’ll always be a big part of my writing, but I just think it’ll have to be from the perspective of some other characters where some of the ones we love can make appearances that are truthful to the story.
Pixie: For better or worse, you’ve been a big part of my author career so far and you have helped me with a ton of editing, and more recently, storyboarding my new dystopian YA series. My question is, do you have any advice for new writers? Especially screenwriters that would like to get their work seen by the right people.
Mark: Haha! I’m assuming worse. I can’t wait to read that new series and from chatting to you about it you’ve got something brilliant bubbling. Get on with it.
My advice is to keep writing. It sounds cliché, but you’ve got to get better at your craft. I look back on things I wrote a year ago and I see what I would change, because I’ve improved. Everyone practices from sports stars to musicians. The stories of instant success are few. Particularly for screenwriters, there is so much competition, that you should write the thing that you care about most. It’s a long process, and if you don’t care about the thing you’re writing you’ll be miserable and it won’t show off your voice and worldview. There is a huge emphasis on authenticity in today’s screenwriting world, so tell a story close to you, or one you feel you have to tell. Put the work in and let the love for your work pour out into it. So keep writing, write what you love, and keep going. It’s a marathon.
Pixie: And lastly, where can we find your amazing books?
Free short story based on the book: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/rf5g68voay
You can find my book on writing characters – The Craft of Character on all stores
Heroes of Hastovia is currently only on Amazon but will go wide in 2022
You can see more info on my website which links to all the stores and formats:
Heroes of Hastovia One: https://www.mark-boutros.com/heroes
Heroes of Hastovia Two: https://www.mark-boutros.com/riseofthedeathbringer
The Craft of Character: https://www.mark-boutros.com/the-craft-of-character