insideKENT interviews Kent-based author MARK OLDFIELD
Kent writer, Mark Oldfield, has recently embarked on a new journey as his new novel, The Sentinel, hit bookstands in October. insideKENT caught up with Mark to find out more about his background, his inspiration and of course, what he loves about Kent.
What is The Sentinel about, and would you say your background as a criminologist or your love of Spain most influenced you to write your new novel?
The Sentinel is the first of three books set in Spain (Madrid mostly) and has two main characters whose activities take place in two different time periods – 1953 and the present day. The story begins with the discovery of 15 bodies in an old mine shaft near Madrid. A young Guardia Civil forensic scientist, Ana María Galindez, is dispatched to examine the bodies which she believes date back to the Spanish Civil War. She learns that the dead men were actually killed in the 1950s and that the suspected killer was a Secret Policeman, Comandante Leo Guzmán, the head of a death squad created to track down enemies of the Spanish Dictator, Franco.
As Galindez carries out her investigation, the reader is taken back to Madrid in the dark snowy winter of 1953 where we meet Guzmán and his squad. Madrid is an impoverished and beaten city, full of shadows and fear and Guzmán takes full advantage of his position to make life more comfortable for himself. But even someone like Guzmán has secrets, and against the background of important trade talks with the United States, Guzmán finds his comfortable life starting to unravel and must fight if he is to remain in post.
In the present day, Galindez begins to discover some of Guzmán’s secrets but in doing so, she has unleashed dark forces from the past, and disturbed the secrecy of many people who have good reason to keep Guzmán’s activities – as well as their own – secret.
How did you become a writer? Is there anything specific that ultimately pushed you to write The Sentinel?
I have always wanted to write fiction and when I was 20 I moved to Paris and then Spain in order to further that ambition. I wrote a novel while I was abroad but it wasn’t really any good and my writing tailed off as I started studying – I did a PhD in Criminology, which gave me a lot of skills that I later have applied to writing fiction.
When I decided I really wanted to write a novel, I looked around for ideas that would excite me as a reader. I wanted to incorporate Spain – where I’ve been a regular visitor for 30 odd years. The Spanish Civil War had always interested me and I’d talked to a lot of Spanish people about it, so I wanted to have that as a central theme in the book. The Civil War was very violent and very dark – hence the Guzmán character.
On the other hand, Spain has changed a lot since those times so the character of Ana María Galindez is somewhat lighter. (A bit) Like me, she uses her criminological skills to further her investigation but unlike me, she is also tough and feisty and won’t be intimidated by anyone. Which is just as well, considering what’s going to happen to her…
One reviewer of The Sentinel said, “I fully believe that[The Sentinel] deserves the same kind of success as Larsson’s bestseller!” How does it feel to have your novel compared to the worldwide literary phenomenon The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?
Well, if The Sentinel had only a fraction of the success of Dragon Tattoo I’d be a happy author!
It’s immensely flattering to be compared with Dragon Tattoo, although I wouldn’t like The Sentinel to seem like some clone of Stieg Larsson’s work because the ideas and the plot are somewhat different. On the other hand, there are similarities: Galindez is a strong female character and the Guzmán character has been very well received by reviewers and people in the publishing trade – although he is ruthless and violent, he is also strangely attractive as a character. One publisher who read the book said Guzmán sounded like he would be great fun on a night out! Unless you upset him, of course…
I think that people who enjoyed Dragon Tattoo will enjoy the Sentinel: there’s an ongoing, elaborate plot, lots of action and suspense and a few surprises as well.
The Sentinel is part of a trilogy – when can we expect to see the next book in the series, and can you give us a glimpse into books two and three?
The second book is finished and should come out round about this time next year, with the third book scheduled for October 2014.
The second book is set in the Madrid and in the Basque country and the characters face challenges in new settings and locations. There are also new characters who introduce new complexity into the story. I won’t say too much because not everyone survives the first book!
The third book brings the story together and brings it centre stage into events in Spain at the moment. I’m really excited about this book, it is going to be the end of a long and tiring journey for the characters who actually make it to book 3 and I’ve been working very hard to get the atmosphere and tension just right! The ending, I hope, will be very satisfying for readers.
Being lovers of Kent, we have to ask: where are some of your favourite places to visit/spend time in Kent?
I live in Tunbridge Wells which is always a nice place to be. But one of my favourite places in Kent is Winchelsea Beach. I love walking along the shingle and watching the tide come in and go out. And splashing around the petrified forest further along, at Pett Level is always fun. That, followed up by lunch at the George in Rye is a great day out and sets me up for writing.
What will you be reading this autumn?
One author will definitely be Mavis Gallant, a Canadian short story writer who has lived in Paris for the last 50 years. This woman can say more in a sentence than many writers can in a page. Her writing is exquisite and I’m only sorry I didn’t know about her years ago!
Another writer I can’t get enough of is Roberto Bolaño. We recently took the train from Paris down to the Spanish border and at times, it was difficult to keep a straight face while reading him. A fabulously inventive and intelligent writer, utterly hilarious and yet enormously compassionate and touching as well.
Buy The Sentinel on amazon.co.uk, read the first two chapters online at www.headofzeus.com/books/sentinel.html, or follow The Sentinel on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MarkOldfieldSentinel