Mark Billingham

Literary Birthday – 2 July – Mark Billingham

Happy Birthday, Mark Billingham, born 2 July 1961.


  1. Unless someone has broken all your fingers there’s nothing stopping you writing. It won’t always be any good of course, but writers have good days and bad days, same as anyone else. It’s one of those things I hate – another weapon in the armoury of those who try and make the craft of writing into something mystical.
  2. I try and create characters as far as possible through their dialogue. That’s far more important to me than what they look like or what they wear.
  3. As crime writers we put these characters, year after year, book after book, through the most horrendous trauma, dealing with grief and death and loss and violence. We can’t pretend that these things don’t affect these characters, they have to. If they don’t then you’re essentially writing cartoons.
  4. Life isn’t fair. Fair is somewhere you go to ride the dodgems and win a goldfish.
  5. Like most of those who write modern detective fiction, I endeavour to make my central character stand out from the pack. I have tried to give Tom Thorne his own insecurities and passions… Above all, I want my hero to be unpredictable.
  6. If you were writing a western and you decided that your cowboy wasn’t going to have a gun or a horse or a hat, then fine, but he’s probably not a cowboy. There are certain boxes that you do have to tick.
  7. It’s like driving through fog at night. I know where I’m going to but I can only see as far as my headlights. It will be a pretty circuitous route, I’ll take a few wrong turns and get lost a couple of times, but I’ll get there in the end.
  8. I take what I do hugely seriously. But I don’t take myself very seriously. I am trying to give the best performance possible in 400 pages. I want readers to be scared, I want them to be moved.
  9. READ! You’d be amazed how many would-be writers tell me they don’t read. How can you be a chef if you’ve never eaten anything?
  10. The most striking similarity between [crime writing and stand-up comedy], outwardly very different art/entertainment forms is the use of the reveal. In joke terms, this is the moment when it becomes clear that you have been led down one path only for the punchline to come rushing up the other and smack you in the face. …Much the same technique is used by crime writers. The reader is manipulated artfully, and preferably without them knowing it, until the writer chooses the most effective moment to reveal key information.

Read more here and here

Mark Billingham is an English novelist. His best-selling crime novels feature London detective, Tom Thorne. The series started with the publication of Sleepyhead in 2001. He is also a television screenwriter, actor and a stand-up comedian.

Source for photograph: Mark Billingham Credit: Steve Best

by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 2nd July 2015