“I work in a log cabin (really just a glorified shed) in the garden. That’s great because the commute is approximately ten seconds.” Bestselling author and dad-of-two Mark Sennen on his writing life in Devon and being an involved father…
Author Mark Sennen self-published the first DI Charlotte Savage book, Touch, for Kindle in July 2011. It became a number one thriller on Amazon and sold over 80,000 copies before HarperCollins signed him to their imprint Avon. There are now six books in the series, the latest being The Boneyard.
I live in Devon with my wife, two daughters (age eleven and thirteen) and a very large dog. Our home is a two hundred-year-old cottage set on the banks of a muddy estuary and the nearest neighbours are half a mile away. It’s an idyllic place to bring up kids, but not without its problems. Babysitters dislike the isolation (and in the winter, the dark!), nobody pops round because we aren’t on the way to anywhere, and the children don’t have any friends nearby. On the other hand they can crab fish from the garden and spend half the summer on or in the water.
I’ve been writing since forever, but I seriously sat down with the intention of getting published in 2010. My work as a programmer had dried up to a trickle and I had plenty of time on my hands. Rather than sit in front of my computer trying to create the next Facebook or Twitter, I decided to finish a novel I’d started years ago. That novel became the first DI Charlotte Savage book, Touch and I self-published it for Kindle in July 2011. It became a number one thriller on Amazon and sold over 80,000 copies before HarperCollins signed me to their imprint Avon. There are now six books in the series, the latest being The Boneyard.
I’ve worked from home since we moved to Devon fourteen years ago. Homeworking is sometimes lonely, but when our first daughter was born, the flexibility it gave was great. When our second daughter was born two years later, the ability to drop everything to help my wife was beyond priceless. Now, I can’t imagine working away from home. Aside from the obvious practical advantages, there’s the joy of seeing those moments many out-at-work parents miss. I can go to all those school/life events that nine to fivers are unable to attend. I look at some fathers I know (and, even in 2017, it still is mostly fathers who do the five days a week, nine to five) and feel they are detached from their kids. Strangely, it’s often the same fathers who go off at the weekends and do their own thing (sports, hobbies, out with mates). I feel sad for them, their partners and children.
I think my writing is definitely influenced by the fact I have children
Working from home is not all plain sailing though. When I was a programmer I found I could do it in bursts. Early morning, late at night and an hour here and there in the day. One day on, the next off, working as and when needed. I could wrap the job around parenting, no problem. In fact, the work part of the day was far easier than the parenting part. Writing, at least for me, doesn’t work like that. I have to be sitting at the keyboard, sometimes for hours, before anything meaningful happens.
Stephen King said your duty as a writer is to turn up for work each morning and wait for your muse to come. Unfortunately my muse doesn’t like interruptions nor absences. She is not definitely not kid friendly. She wants me chained to the computer all day. If I’m not there, she doesn’t help me. The ideas don’t come and the words don’t flow. Creativity isn’t something which can be turned on and off like a tap so if there’s an hour spare between picking one daughter up from school and collecting the other from her taekwondo class, that hour is wasted time because I find very little can be accomplished.
I work in a log cabin (really just a glorified shed) in the garden. That’s great because the commute is approximately ten seconds. Not so great since I’m easily accessible to make lunches, get drinks, solve computer problems, or find or mend a toy which has been broken or lost. When I get back to my desk, I have to deal with a very angry muse (see above) and she takes a long while to pacify.
Becoming a writer is not a move you want to make if you want to get rich quick. Programming was (and is, when I do the occasional bit of freelancing work here and there) much more lucrative. It’s easy to read a few news stories about some of the big name authors and believe all writers earn huge amounts of money. I’ve got news for you: the average author earns twelve and a half thousand pounds a year. There also the lack of security. You are only as good as your latest book so it’s impossible to plan for the future.
I think my writing is definitely influenced by the fact I have children. It’s reflected in the way my protagonist, DI Charlotte Savage, behaves and even effects the plotlines. I’m afraid when it comes to punishing those who inflict deliberate cruelty, especially involving children, I don’t have a very liberal approach to justice. There’s a line in one of the earlier books where Charlotte says ‘If somebody hurt my kids, I’d want to hurt them. A lot.’ Not very noble or forgiving, but I think many parents would identify with that sentiment.