An Author's Scrapbook

Just the odds and ends of a writer's life

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Author, know thyself

ONE of the things I’m struggling with at the moment is possibly a bit of an indulgence, even outside the norm of writers’ angst, but I find myself in the grip of a peculiar existential conundrum.

Sure, I wrestle with all the usual concerns that bark and bare fangs at an author just trying to get along; there’s time, ticking impatience; there’s the demands of modern life, the angst of obscurity, the all-too-common concerns that I’m not actually any good at this writing game.

But I find myself adding a further quandary to the mindstorms of raucous doubt: “Yes, but,” my mindsight asks, “what are you actually about as a writer, what are you actually for?”

To be honest, I’m buggered if I know.

Okay, I’m trying  – hoping  – to make a name for myself as a writer and win recognition for my work. But this doesn’t actually answer the question. What am I trying to be recognised for?

This is perhaps where the indulgence comes in, it might even be a distraction; if my work ever does gain recognition it will be bestowed on me by people who bring their own answers to my question, with little or no regard to my own conceits of self-perception. On the other hand, perhaps my questions go to the very heart and soul of my work.

Introspection is very much my bag. I’ve always been something of an introvert, and this is reflected in my writing. I need time to myself to reflect on things, to think things through, to retreat into the privacy of my headspace and mentally doodle. You can call it daydreaming, if you want, but it’s in that creative cosmos at the core of my neural processing space where my work comes into being. So, naturally, I need to dive in and drift through the primordial soup brewed in the crevices of the mindscape.

This is the place where authors find themself, as much as they find their raw imaginings, but I find it’s a precarious universe; easily subject to perturbations of crass reality, the bellicose demands of mundane living, this introspective inner space is all too susceptible to becoming ‘frothed’ by the confusion these times.

Well, haven’t authors forever battled against the disturbances and distractions of existence? It’s as perennial as the species, one generation to the next, all the way back to long lost stories and songs wrought to mind and shared around Neolithic hearths to pass the tides of time.

So, to this confusing stew I add still more and stir the pot, wondering not at the recipe or its taste and whether it’s good enough, but what it’s actually for. As yet, I have no answers; there’s just a spinning head, a sense of existential bewilderment sloshing around in the pan between my ears.

It doesn’t help being a journalist, writing about a host of social issues around housing. Nor does it ease my conscience, raising these issues, adding exposure to such protracted concerns, as I read about the horrendous agonies in the Middle East, the brutalities of ISIS, or the bloodshed in Ukraine and the geopolitical gamesmanship being played out there between rivals East and West that may yet engulf us all.

It’s not as if I can do anything about such monstrous events; when all is said and done, I’m barely just another bit player in the crowd scene as the teetering UK crumbles under the weight of its history.

After saying that, I guess it’s somewhat laughable for me to add that I’ve always looked to authors such as George Orwell, or journalists such as Paul Foot or John Pilger as my guiding lights. No, I’m not putting myself in their league  – far from it, I’m Rincewind to their Arch Chancellor  – but they form a part of my frame of reference, and, well, one can always aspire from afar.

But even if I bask in the shadows cast by giants, I remain a writer with something to say, and it’s this that often leaves me wondering what it is I should be trying to say.

There’s so much going in the world, near and far, it’s bewildering. Little wonder, I guess, that I am so often left to wonder what I’m about as a writer. I don’t know, perhaps it is pathetic, to think that it matters, but there’s something about me that finds it difficult to disconnect and disengage; entertainment, the spinning of a good yarn has never been enough  – I’ve always needed something to say.

For better or worse, damned if I don’t, ignored if I am (or maybe vice versa), I’m a writer driven with a social conscience, a seething sense of anger, an urge to speak my piece; determined to make sense of the world, even if it only makes sense for fleeting moments, and then only for me.

So I can’t change the world, but maybe, just occasionally, I can provoke a little thought amongst those who can. It’s a little something that passes for my bit.

They say you shouldn’t raise the problems if you can’t provide the solution; sometimes it’s the questions asked, the critical chorus of dissent that provokes the answer; sometimes, there just are no answers. That’s life.

An epitaph for my existential soul-searching; maybe there is no answer to the question of what my purpose is as a writer. After all, as a journalist, I have no other purpose than to inform, educate and even entertain. We are not involved, we cannot be involved; we are but messengers. There is no purpose but the story. So suffer in the margins, dear scribe.

The voice of discontent, that’s never enough: the story has its own agenda, and can that ever be fully disentangled from the storyteller?

Yes, I want to tell the stories, I want to provoke thought and reflection, even entertain, but the one without the other is a soulless simulacrum of the human narrative  – and empty writing.

In the midnight hours, hunched over our screens, it’s the emptiness that drives us, the void that invokes the purpose – to find humanity’s voice and fill the space with meaning. There is conscience in the silence  – and it demands to be heard. That’s as good a purpose as any.

Mark Cantrell,


16 September 2014

Copyright © September 2014. All Rights Reserved.

For more writing, visit Mark Cantrell, Author

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Media: Inspired Quill signs up to a 2015 paperback debut deal

Citizen Zero will rise again

STOKE-ON-TRENT, 27 September 2014: AN exciting new edition of CITIZEN ZERO is on the way – including its paperback debut – following Inspired Quill’s (IQ) decision to sign up the title. This will be the second of author Mark Cantrell’s novels to join the IQ stable.

Towards the end of last year, the publisher released SILAS MORLOCK in both paperback and digital editions. It plans to release the new editions of CITIZEN ZERO late in 2015.

CITIZEN ZERO was actually the second novel Mark wrote, but the first to be published. In 2010 he self-published the title for the Kindle and other digital devices, spurred on by the credit crunch, and the election that year of the Conservative-led Coalition Government.

"It seemed to me that the novel had finally come into its era, what with the economic crisis, and the austerity programme launched from 2010 onwards," Mark said. "Since then we’ve had the revelations from Edward Snowden and others about NSA and GCHQ mass surveillance, and invasion of privacy on a grand scale, not to mention the likes of Facebook harvesting our personal data.

"Alongside that, we’ve had the growing calamities of Iain Duncan Smith’s[1] welfare reform programmes, which have proved painfully controversial. There’s also been a general hardening of social inequality, along with rising levels of poverty. All told, the last few years have more or less fitted the themes of the novel like a glove.

"From the beginning, through the form of dystopian science fiction thriller, CITIZEN ZERO set out to decry the erosion of civil liberties by the means of draconian welfare reforms. One of the core themes of the book is the role that welfare can play in reinforcing and completing a system of mass surveillance and social control – it’s not all about CCTV and phone tapping.

"In many respects, the novel is a little dated in places, but those themes of social welfare and social surveillance are being played out in Britain here and now. It’s not for nothing that I’ve joked the last five years or so have been more or less writing CITIZEN ZERO’s prequel for me."

The novel’s origins date back to 1994, when the then recent graduate of Liverpool University was himself on the dole: he started writing what was to become CITIZEN ZERO. Over the next few years, through journalism school in London, and the beginnings of his media career, he plugged away at the book until it was finally completed in early 2001.

The rest, as they say, is history. Now a new chapter in the novel’s life is set to open courtesy of Inspired Quill.

For a little more about the novel, visit Mark’s website, or log onto the title’s Facebook page.


For more information contact:

Mark Cantrell



Mark Cantrell is a UK-based writer and journalist. He works at Excel Publishing in Manchester, one of the North of England’s largest independent publishers of multimedia business information journals. A Yorkshireman by birth, he hails from Bradford but currently lives in Stoke-on-Trent. He is the author of two published novels – SILAS MORLOCK (2013) and CITIZEN ZERO (2010) – as well as a host of short stories. Over the years, his work has appeared in a number of small press ‘zines, websites and multi-author collections.

Find out more about the author and his work at his website

Twitter: @Man0Words | Facebook | Goodreads | Linkedin

Inspired Quill is a non-profit Publishing House which focuses on setting new standards in ecologically friendly, people-oriented (skills development) publishing by providing a quality-driven platform for both authors and readers. As a Social Enterprise, we are also striving to create subsidised writing workshops for disadvantaged and marginalised individuals. For these reasons, quality, transparency, and a people-orientated approach are at the heart of Inspired Quill’s philosophy.

Visit to find out more.

[1] The UK Government’s secretary of state for work and pensions.

Filed under Citizen Zero fiction Dystopian Novels politics publishing media books novels literature

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Can’t see the words for the trees

These books will not be published until the 22nd Century

Some authors have been known to grouch about the length of time its takes conventional publishers to release their books. Well, the writers taking part in the Future Library project will be dead and gone before their works find an audience – that’s the point

 By Mark Cantrell

 MANY writers worry about posthumous success, their works picked up for publication after they themselves have been packed away in their boxes (coffins), far too late to enjoy the recognition (or the royalties), but the authors taking part in the Future Library project relish the prospect of a 22nd Century book launch, even if it means they’ll only be there in spirit.

 Okay, so a lot can happen in the space of a hundred years; given some of the increasingly near-apocalyptic projections around climate change, peak oil and resource depletion, not to mention old-fashioned human recalcitrance, there’s a hell of a lot that might go wrong in the meantime to leave this literary time capsule forever unopened.

 But for now there’s plenty of optimism, not to mention the 1,000 trees planted specially for the project at the forest of Nordmarka, near Oslo in Norway. In time, these will be pulped to make the paper on which to print the collected authors’ works.

 Future Library is a century-long public art project that aims, ultimately, to transform those trees into an anthology of books. Every year from 2014 until 2114, an author will be selected to contribute an unpublished manuscript to be held in a special repository, sealed away and never seen, until its publication in the 22nd Century.

 Make no bones about it, most of the authors who contribute to this project will be dust long before those trees surrender their cellulose flesh to provide life for the manuscripts held in their century-long stasis. So too its creator.

 At 75, Canadian author Margaret Atwood certainly will: as will the Scottish artist Katie Paterson, 33, who devised this century-long endeavour. But don’t we all hope to leave behind a little something of ourselves for the generations to come, some legacy of our existence, even if signing up to an arboreal literary mausoleum is a little, well, out there in the uncertain currents of time. Still, it’s one hell of a tribute to literature, and the way it has tangled its roots deep into the human experience.

 ”Future Library is a living, breathing, organic artwork, unfolding over 100 years,” said Paterson. “It will live and breathe through the material growth of trees – I imagine the tree rings as chapters in a book. The unwritten words, year by year, activated, materialised. The visitor’s experience of being in the forest, changing over decades, being aware of the slow growth of the trees containing the writers’ ideas like an unseen energy – that’s something that has to come into being.”

 Atwood is one of the (too few) grand dames of the science fiction genre, though she herself has famously stepped back from claiming her writing as such, preferring to refer to it as more speculative in nature. She’s written poetry and fiction, both for adults and children, been translated into more than 40 languages, and has won numerous awards, including the Booker Prize, the Arthur C Clarke Award for best science fiction, and the Canadian Booksellers’ Lifetime Achievement Award.

 One might say from her CV that she certainly doesn’t need the posterity of the Future Library project, but as a committed environmentalist and political activist, no doubt the Future Library is a little hard to resist. As the inaugural contributor, she certainly adds some gravitas to the affair.

 ”The longevity of this artwork will make it resonate with the people of Oslo for the next 100 years and it holds a treasure for future generations to enjoy,” said Anne Beate Hovind, project manager with Bjorvika Utvikling, the organisation that commissioned Paterson’s art project. “The warning voice of Margaret Atwood has resonated through our lives for decades. Her personal commitment to global and environmental issues makes her an ideal author for Future Library. I am moved by the thought that my descendents will receive this gift from her.”

 Atwood, the author of The Handsmaid Tale, Oryx and Crake among others, is currently working on her manuscript and this will be handed over at a special event to be held in May 2015. From then, each and every year, one more author will be invited to add to the collection.

 ”I am very honoured, and also happy to be part of this endeavour,” said Atwood. “This project, at least, believes the human race will still be around in a hundred years. Future Library is bound to attract a lot of attention over the decades, as people follow the progress of the trees, note what takes up residence in and around them, and try to guess what the writers have put into their sealed boxes.”

 The manuscripts will be held in trust at a specially designed room in the new Deichmanske Public Library, which is set to open in 2018 in Bjorvika, Oslo. According to Paterson, the room is intended to be a place of contemplation. It will be lined with wood from the forest, and the authors’ names and titles of their works will be on display, but the manuscripts will remain sealed away, ever a mystery; none shall read what they contain until their publication.

 The artist will have a hand in selecting and inviting authors to contribute to the project in coming years, but obviously she’s not going to live forever. To that end, the project will be managed by the Future Library Trust, which will consist of leading publishers, editors and other curatorial types.

 ”Katie’s project offers depth, reflection and perspective,” said Kristin Danielsen, director of Deichmanske Bibliotek [Public Library], which will house the manuscripts. “Knut Hamsun famously said that ‘a hundred years from now, all is forgotten’. In this case, he could not be more wrong. Well, we might be forgotten. In 2114 none of us will be around, but the Future Library will. This artwork is like a century long pregnancy growing ever so slowly and ever so secretly, like a locked diary. This is a beautiful orchestra of time.”

 Paterson added: “Future Library has nature, the environment at its core – and involves ecology, the interconnectedness of things, those living now and still to come. It questions the present tendency to think in short bursts of time, making decisions only for us living now.

 ”The timescale is 100 years, not vast in cosmic terms. However, in many ways the human timescale of 100 years is more confronting. It is beyond many of our current lifespans, but close enough to come face to face with it, to comprehend and relativise.”

 An interesting perspective for sure. For those who might contemplate the vastness of cosmic time, the sheer indifference of those incomprehensible aeons, it is nevertheless the mayfly moments of human temporal spans that truly reveal the dispassionate cruelty of time.

 We live in an era of rapid change, where technology is transforming everything in its path towards the future, vowing to wash away everything we might once have taken as solid and eternal; print is expected to be dead, the future undeniably digital. The tech gurus have decreed it so; what, then, for the trees in this anticipated post-analogue future?

 A hundred years from now, the world might still turn, civilisation may well be as rowdy as it ever was, but can we be so certain that it will remember how to make a printing press, let alone bind a book? Or maybe we’ll have fallen so in love with those trees, we’d rather hug them close, rather than see them sacrificed for the revival of dormant works of century-old literature.

 Time will tell. Until then, the trees will keep their authors’ secrets.

Mark Cantrell,


6 September 2014

 Copyright © September 2014. All Rights Reserved.

For this and other blogs, articles, poetry and more, visit my primary website at

Filed under literature art Margaret Atwood novels writing culture books authors

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New Statesman | Life after privacy: the next generation of public surveillance technology is already here

The real life ‘prequel’ to the novel, Citizen Zero. Find out more at

Filed under Citizen Zero fiction books Dystopian Novels thrillers politics UK surveillance

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New Statesman | Laurie Penny on terror and surveillance: Oh look! There's a new bogeyman on the scene to justify online spying

More media stories that invoke the backstory to my novel, Citizen Zero. Find out more at

Filed under Citizen Zero fiction thriller surveillance society spying politics books