Mark arrived at Leeds Trinity in 1998 to study
Primary Education with Subject Studies in English (Junior Years). He was
also the President of the Students' Union during the 2001-2002 academic year,
before graduating in 2003.
Mark's passion for writing children's books was
ignited at Leeds Trinity after studying two creative writing modules and a Children's Literature module. His dissertation was also about children's
fiction. After graduating from Leeds Trinity, Mark taught at Lower
Wortley Primary School in Leeds for a few years and during his time there wrote poems, stories and plays for the children in his class.
Mark then went on to study an MA in Writing for
Children at the University of Winchester. This was followed by spells
of teaching at schools at Ipswich and Italy, whilst writing in his spare
time. His enthusiasm and persistence for writing eventually paid off in 2011,
when his debut book, Socks Are Not Enough,
The rest is history. Mark is now an
award-winning author, after winning the Calderdale Children's Book of the Year
in 2012 and the Leeds Book of the Year in 2013 for Socks Are Not Enough. This book was also shortlisted
for a Roald Dahl Funny Prize in 2012. His second book, Pants Are Everything, was released in 2013, and his
third book,The Jam Doughnut That Ruined My Life, was released on 3
caught up with Mark to find out more his writing career, as well as his
experiences at Leeds Trinity.
What are your fondest memories from your time at
Well, I met my very wonderful wife there which
was definitely a highlight. Other than that, I just had a terrific time -
meeting loads of brilliant people, exploring Leeds' sophisticated nightlife
(!), working behind the bar for three years. I was also lucky enough to do a
sabbatical year in the Students' Union which was a lot of fun. And, actually, I
LOVED the food in the canteen as well; perhaps a bit too much in fact... I
turned up with a svelte swimmer's physique in September 1998, and went home at
Christmas looking like I'd been mainlining gravy for the past four months.
What made Leeds Trinity special to you?
It had a real community feel to it
and everyone was so friendly - staff and students. You could go anywhere on
campus or in Leeds and you'd find people you knew. There was a proper sense of
belonging to something; I'm not sure that people who go to massive universities
get that quite so much.
What was the highlight of your time as Students'
Like most Students' Union Presidents, I don't
remember a great deal of it! Luckily, I had my very good pal Darren Bowen as my
Vice-President. He did all the hard work, so I spent a lot of the time
sitting about drinking tea and eating biscuits. We loved the event organising
side of things and we had some great nights over in the Base (which I was
gutted to see had been demolished recently), although it didn't even have a
proper bar in those days.
Also, one of our main priorities was to develop
the relationship between the Students' Union and University management. Through
doing this, we were able to negotiate an increase in the annual subvention and get
some extra money for the sports teams. I'd like to think that we helped to lay
a bit of the ground work for some closer co-operation between the two parties
over the following years.
How did your course prepare you for our career?
The Primary Education course at Leeds
Trinity was first-class and prepared me superbly for life in schools. I wasn't
quite so keen on getting up at six to catch the bus to Bradford for my
placement, but it was worth it in the end. As far as the English course was
concerned, the lecturers were lovely and there was enough flexibility to allow
me to pursue the areas I was really interested in. During my course, I did two
creative writing modules and a children's literature module, and I wrote my
dissertation about children's fiction. Looking back, these experiences were
absolutely vital in helping me to become an author.
When did you become an author and how did you
make your break through?
After I left Leeds Trinity, I taught for a few
years at Lower Wortley Primary in Leeds. I found myself writing poems, stories
and plays for the kids in my class (mainly because I was too lazy to search for
what I wanted in the library!) Anyhow, I came to a bit of a crossroads in my
life and decided to jack it all in and go down to Winchester to study an MA in
Writing for Children (this was before Leeds Trinity started offering creative
writing courses). It was a bit of a gamble I guess, but turned out to be one of
the best things I'd ever done. In actual fact, I'd first found out about the MA
course from the wonderful Joyce Simpson, who was one of my English lecturers at
Leeds Trinity. She was really supportive of my writing and planted a seed
in my brain about the course back in the first year. When I told her I was
applying for the MA, she really encouraged me to go for it.
From there, I wrote for a few years in my spare
time (whilst teaching in various places in the UK and Italy) to produce my
first book, Socks Are Not Enough, which is
about a boy who comes home to find out that his parents are nudists. With a lot
of hard work, some very kind interventions from other people, and a fair number
of rejections, I eventually found a magnificent agent and it was published in
2011. The follow-up, Pants Are Everything,
came out in 2013. My third book The Jam Doughnut That
Ruined My Life, has just been published. It's all about, well,
a jam doughnut that ruins this kid's life - it's not really a clever title...
Your books have won awards. How does that feel?
Socks Are Not Enough won a couple of local awards, including the
Leeds Book of the Year, which was fantastic. It's very nice to have your hard
work recognised. It's still very weird for me to meet people who've read my
books, and even weirder when they tell me they thought they were half-decent. Malorie
Blackman and Michael Rosen both told me they'd enjoyed my books, which was
pretty awesome. I was nominated for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize a couple of
times, although I didn't win. Not that I'm bitter about it now, of
You also do school visits – what does a typical
I do an interactive talk involving wigs, games,
a safe and a whole bunch of other stuff. The idea I guess, is to entertain the
students and get them to think, whilst also putting across my ideas about
reading and writing. I don't think anyone would enjoy listening to me drone on
about my craft or my tortured soul for an hour, so I try to make it as light
and enjoyable as possible. Lugging the safe around on the tube isn't exactly
fun though. It weighs an absolute ton!