A gla­di­a­tor ready to be­come a fully-fledged thriller writer

For five years Mark Grif­fin was Tro­jan, one of the stars of the un­like­li­est of TV hits, but af­ter a stint in LA as an ac­tor, he’s pub­lish­ing his de­but Ed­in­burgh-in­spired novel

The Scotsman - - Features -

When I read first my first book my life changed. I don’t re­mem­ber the name of the mag­i­cal tome, but I do re­mem­ber there was a moun­tain of but­ter­scotch tof­fee at the end of it. Which begged the ques­tion – do but­ter­scotch moun­tains re­ally ex­ist and if so where would I find them?

I cried when I thought Moom­introll and his fam­ily might be wiped out by the mas­sive comet that threat­ened Moomin­land, and I was con­stantly look­ing for a Wish­ing Chair when my par­ents went shop­ping in an­tique stores. The Magic Far­away Tree was the twisted old oak op­po­site our house, wasn’t it? By the time I was ten, I was con­vinced any­one with a tat­too was one of the ruf­fi­ans from my first Hardy Boys de­tec­tive book, bor­rowed from the school li­brary – The Mys­tery of The Whale Tat­too. Would Frank and Joe round up the thieves and be back in time for some of Aunt Gertrude’s world-fa­mous cook­ies? Of course they would, but by golly it was close at times.

En­am­oured by the stories I was read­ing, I soon be­gan to write my own and it her­alded the ar­rival of he­roes and hero­ines, gor­gons and ro­bots and fi­nally mor­phed into cold­blooded mur­der when I was 12, hav­ing sipped Agatha Christie’s Sparkling Cyanide. In my early teens, with en­cour­age­ment from my mother, I won three suc­ces­sive gold medals in the Hamp­shire Writ­ing Fes­ti­val. Then life hap­pened: school, squash com­pe­ti­tions, first love, col­lege, job, en­gage­ment par­ties, the op­po­site of en­gage­ment par­ties, body­build­ing con­tests, and a tele­vi­sion show on ITV called Gla­di­a­tors. My name was Tro­jan and along­side Wolf, Jet and Shadow, I chased mem­bers of the pub­lic for five years (and yes – the Ly­cra still fits).

Then in 1995 I was cast as

Ac­tion Man in an Amer­i­can TV se­ries that filmed in Los An­ge­les. I had the pre­req­ui­site “ea­gle eyes” and “grip­ping” hands which en­abled me to ac­quire my green card and even­tu­ally my cit­i­zen­ship. I stayed in LA for 14 years as a full-time ac­tor and at the same time turned my lit­er­ary at­ten­tion to script writ­ing and de­vel­op­ment. I wrote mu­sic video treat­ments for direc­tor Steve Carr and artists such as Lil Zane, Ice Cube and Korn, and cut my teeth as a reader at CAA lit­er­ary agency where I read hun­dreds of scripts and nov­els for Warner Broth­ers, 20th Fox and Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios, some of which I helped de­velop and even­tu­ally set up at the var­i­ous ma­jor stu­dios around town.

With an of­fer of work, I re­turned to Lon­don un­til my heart was cap­tured by a Scot­tish lass, and how ap­pro­pri­ate it seems writ­ing this, that my first novel, When Dark­ness Calls, be­gan its life on the streets of Ed­in­burgh.

I was liv­ing in Belle­vue Cres­cent, in the New Town, find­ing it hard to get any act­ing work so de­cided to write some­thing for my­self. I had toyed with the idea of cre­at­ing a street theatre mur­der/mys­tery play for years and now seemed like the per­fect op­por­tu­nity. What bet­ter back­drop to scat­ter rav­en­ous ac­tors than the dark al­leys of Mary King’s Close and the bus­tle of the Royal Mile? The premise was sim­ple: a se­rial killer is on the loose and needs to be caught. Cue hero­ine to catch said killer and a so­ciopath who loves to mur­der in the dark, and fi­nally cue en­thu­si­as­tic mem­bers of the pub­lic who have a de­sire to be­come Sher­lock Holmes.

Alas, be­fore this en­deav­our could draw blood, my girl­friend and I split, so I wended my way back to Lon­don, a sad Sas­sanach, with a suit­case and the husk of an idea. A year later I was back in Los An­ge­les film­ing and on my last night in town had din­ner with a very good friend of mine – screen­writer Micky Levy. She asked what I was writ­ing at the mo­ment and over dessert and cof­fee, I hap­pened to pitch my street theatre idea on which she mused – “I like that”. “The street theatre?” I asked. “No. The fe­male hero­ine called Holly and a se­rial killer. You should write that.”

So I did.

The screen­play was en­ti­tled The Nev­erfind, and took a year to write. I sent it off to all the Los An­ge­les agen­cies who loved it, chewed on it with a rather bovine com­pla­cency but re­fused to en­gage their ca­nines, and so in Fe­bru­ary 2016, four years later, whilst scream­ing my way through another script, my mother called me and men­tioned a novel writ­ing com­pe­ti­tion spon­sored by the Daily Mail and Ran­dom House pub­lish­ing: they were look­ing for “the new Agatha Christie”. Cyanide any­one? All my years had been spent work­ing on fea­ture scripts and short films, and apart from The Nev­erfind, I had noth­ing in that genre. With the dead­line fast ap­proach­ing I at­tempted some cross-pol­li­na­tion and took eight pages of the screen­play and turned it into the re­quired first 5,000 words of a novel. If I re­mem­ber cor­rectly I sent the dou­ble spaced man­u­script on the last day of sub­mis­sion and thought noth­ing more of it.

Mid-april I got a call from Luigi Bonomi, one of the judges and now my agent. He told me I had been short-listed in the top five out of 3,500 en­trants and would I like him to rep me. Yes, I said. Could I send the rest of the man­u­script by the end of the week? Yes, I said. Need­less to say that didn’t hap­pen. I consider my­self a whip­pet on QWERTY, but

I defy any­one to knock out 95,000 words in three days – in­fi­nite mon­key the­o­rem ex­cluded. A few phone calls and sev­eral months later and Luigi said he was de­lighted with what I had done and sent it out to prospec­tive pub­lish­ers. We re­ceived a pre-emp­tive of­fer from Harper Collins in Ger­many the next day and Lit­tle Brown Book Group picked up all English speak­ing rights a few weeks later. I am still some­what sur­prised when some­one ac­tu­ally reads some­thing I have written, and here I am two years later on the eve of my first pub­lished novel, still not quite com­ing to terms with what has hap­pened.

So what be­gan as a street theatre event near the Burke & Hare pub on the Royal Mile en­ti­tled Holly Bell Is Miss­ing, be­came The Nev­erfind screen­play and then fi­nally be­came the novel, When Dark­ness Calls – about Holly Wake­field, a foren­sic psy­chol­o­gist, asked by the Met po­lice to help track down a se­rial killer. Will she cap­ture the psy­chopath and be back in time for Aunt Gertrude’s cook­ies? Hope­fully.

As of to­day I’m fin­ish­ing two nov­els, three screen­plays and a play, and am re­al­is­ing that what has al­ways been a pas­sion has now per­haps be­come an ob­ses­sion. A day doesn’t go by when I don’t write, mix­ing barb­wire let­ters to re­lease the voices from within. A few lines here, a para­graph there, a thousand words to be mulled over and edited to­mor­row with fresh eyes and another cof­fee. No­body has ever ac­tu­ally asked me why I write, how­ever, and per­haps deep down I’m still search­ing for that moun­tain of but­ter­scotch tof­fee.

But the re­al­ity is, I’m prob­a­bly look­ing for some­thing else.

Mark Grif­fin, main, came up with his idea for a novel while liv­ing in Ed­in­burgh; as Tro­jan in ITV show Gla­di­a­tors, be­low, and above right with James Cross­ley as Hunter and pre­sen­ter Ul­rika Jon­s­son

● When Dark­ness Calls by Mark Grif­fin is pub­lished in pa­per­back to­day by Pi­atkus, £8.99.

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