Mark Probert Interview Published on: 04, May 2021

Born in Hampshire in 1954, what do you miss the most about your childhood?

Overall, I look back on a happy childhood. I guess I miss being totally carefree, without the ‘baggage’ of responsibility you pick up as a grown up.

What’s your happiest memory from childhood?

My Dad build a motor sailing boat in our back garden and one year we sailed over the Channel to France and then up the River Seine to Paris - that makes a big impression on a ten-year-old and probably sowed the seeds for future travel adventures.

What is the earliest experience you had with books/writing that you remember?

I remember, with great affection, my parents reading to me as a small child. As far as writing goes, I did plenty with my work but it was mainly very technical in nature. Its only in recent years that I’ve had, or taken, the time to write in a more ‘creative’ way.

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

I’m sure that helps a lot, but for me the pleasure in writing is the use of words, the challenge of communicating in a thoughtful and imaginative way so the reader will think ‘yes, I know exactly what you mean… I know what you're saying’ I like to weave in some subtle humour and hope the reader enjoys the experience.

Is there a difference between cartography and mapmaking?

Good question! I suppose cartography would include making charts (sea charts) as well as maps, whereas map making ….well, its making maps!

How would you describe your experience of twenty-eight years working for Ordnance Survey?

I was exceptionally lucky. I got to travel the length and breadth of Britain, going to wonderful places and working with, and meeting, many great people. It was being posted to Ludlow, in Shropshire, that enabled me to meet the teenage girl who became my wife - so I have to thank OS for that as well. I also had the good fortune to work overseas, including two and half years in Paris. I took my family out there and our three children went to school in Fontainbleau - a great experience for them. I dragged them round the wonderful galleries and museums of Paris but their fondest memories are their trips to EuroDisney!

What challenges did you face while writing your memoir, Another Journey through Britain?

It was my first book so there was so much to learn, and I had the ever present worry of not really thinking of myself as a writer. I really enjoyed the writing itself and it was only when I worked with an editor that I realised how much I didn’t know about putting a book together! The process of taking the text from first draft to final manuscript and then through formatting into publication was a very steep learning curve - and then the fun of marketing began. It keeps the old grey matter engaged.

When writing novels, is it better to have daily time-spent-writing goals or words-written goals?

I’ve never written a novel, but in terms of the the general process of writing, I set a time and see how many words drop out at the end; its amazing how quickly the time disappears.

What is a helpful advice for people who are interested in writing their memoirs?

There are plenty of resources for that but, from my own experience, I would say be honest and don't try to invent too many things that didn’t really happen… you could get caught out. From the legal / privacy perspective you need to be careful you're not saying something unpleasant or defamatory about someone who can be identified - I changed some names 'just in case’, not that I was really intending to say anything bad about anyone, but some ’tongue in cheek’ remarks could be misinterptetted.

What is the toughest criticism you've ever received? What was the best?

I was told by one beta reader that my draft manuscript had too many ‘Dad jokes’, which was quite funny in itself, but it stung a bit - I went through everything and made a few adjustments! The best constructive feedback I had, not really a criticism, was in the form of the style guides my editor sent me to put me right. It gave me a structure for dealing with recurring issues such as use of quotes, use of capitals, dashes etc

Who is the most supportive person in your life when it comes to your writing?

My family members have all been great. My oldest son is a very talented graphic designer and he came up with the brilliant cover design for Another Journey through Britain. My youngest son was very thorough in his review of my draft and came up with numerous clever recommendations. My daughter and wife are both very supportive in terms of propping up a dad/husband who is still quite insecure about calling himself a writer.

What ethical / moral guidelines are helpful in writing memoirs that are both honest and candid and yet forgiving and understanding?

Ah, I think I answered this one, at least partially, above. I guess its good to think how you would feel if you were being written about, and try to show a bit of understanding.

When you're not reading or writing a book, what are some other things that you love to do?

During the lockdown I've walked hundreds of miles along the Shropshire lanes around our house. In more ’normal’ times I love to travel and I’m a keen cyclist - often combining the two. I retired last year after many years of working all around the world. Now I’m grounded I’ve got no excuse to avoid my wife’s job list!

Which is the next book you are working on? Give us an insight into it.

I’m currently fifty thousand words, just over half way, I think, into a book which has the working title ‘Journey through India’. I went there early in 2020 and back-packed from coast to coast with my oldest friend (in more ways than one), Dr Nick Lindsay. We are both in our sixties but we set off from Mumbai last January and worked our way across to Kolkata over five weeks. We travelled by train, car, bus, tuk-tuk, camel, on foot, motorcycle, plane - a bit of everything. We must have been two of the last tourists to travel across India before COVID arrived. I hope it can be an example to other pensioners to ‘get up and go’ in their retirement, just to let people know that two ‘ordinary’ old guys can still go on great adventures.

How has your experience with AllAuthor been?

I don't know if it has translated into more people reading my book but I have greatly appreciated the additional exposure and opportunity to tell others about my writing. The regular images of the book are a nice surprise when they drop into my inbox.

Share Mark Probert's interview