I’m thrilled to be interviewing John Marrs, author of The One as part of the launch celebrations. Previously titled A Thousand Small Explosions, The One is published by Del Rey, an imprint of Ebury, in e-book tomorrow 26th January 2017 and in paperback on 4th May 2017 and is available for pre-order here.
I was lucky enough to receive an early reader copy of The One and you can read my review here.
How far would you go to find THE ONE?
One simple mouth swab is all it takes.
One tiny DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for.
A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love.
Now, five more people take the test. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others…
An Interview with John Marrs
Hi John. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and The One in particular. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
Hi Linda, and thanks for having me! I’m 46, I live in Northamptonshire and work in London and my day job is working as a freelance journalist. Most of the time I am based at Express Newspapers and there, I write for publications including the Daily Express’ S Magazine and Saturday Magazine, OK! Magazine and the Star’s TV Extra. Elsewhere I write for publications like GT, Total Film and Guardian’s The Guide. Most of the people I interview are celebrities in the fields of television and music. I live with my partner, also called John (just to confuse matters) and our dog Oscar, in a small village with no shops, two pubs and a country park right on our doorstep.
(Sounds like the village I grew up in!)
And tell us a bit about The One (without giving away the plot of course).
It’s set in the present, when science has discovered a way of finding your perfect match by testing your DNA. But please don’t think it’s a sci-fi book as it’s much more about relationships. Every one of us has one Match out there and they are the person you are destined to be with. But they could be any age, religion, sexuality or live anywhere in the world. The One follows five people who discover who their Matches are, and they aren’t quite what they had in mind.
I love the cover to The One. It hints at DNA, blood and lipstick and a less than perfect heart! How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?
Thanks but alas, I can take no credit for this. The book was originally self-published last year under the title A Thousand Small Explosions and had a very different cover. Penguin Random House label Del Rey discovered the book, asked if I’d consider letting them taking it on, and six months later, it has a new title and a new cover, both of which I absolutely love. The cover with the smeared bloody heart and DNA code in the background sums the theme up quite wonderfully.
I know you’ve been a journalist for a long time. When did you first realise you were going to write for a living?
When I realised I wasn’t very good at anything else! I was okay at school but awful at exams – I failed my Maths O-level and then GCSE four times! English Language and Literature were my favourite subjects by far so I stuck with writing and ended up working on a local newspaper when I finished my A-Levels. I worked on several more over the years before gravitating towards London and starting work on the News Of The World’s Sunday Magazine, interviewing – and not phone hacking! – celebrities for a living.
(That makes me feel so much better – took me three goes to get a C at O’Level maths!)
You’ve interviewed several celebrities in your journalistic career. How far has that world seeped into The One and into Ellie’s character in particular?
As a journalist I know what I’d want from an interview with her, if she existed in the real world. And I understand that after being burned in the past, she wouldn’t want to give much away. She would see journalists as untrustworthy and out to get a good angle at her expense. So I used my knowledge in choosing which publications she’d talk to and the subjects she wouldn’t be willing to talk about with them. Towards the end of her story, I could predict the media reaction to her predicament and which publications would be on her side and which would tear her to shreds. I do feel a little bad in giving my fellow journalists a short shrift in this novel though…
How different do you find fiction writing to non-fiction writing, or are there more similarities than we might think?
I write for mainstream publications. It’s my job to get the best out of an interview subject and an angle the reader will find interesting. So I’ll always think of my audience. Likewise with fiction writing, I know who I am aiming my stories at so I’ll making them relatively easy to access with relatable characters and hopefully throw in a few twists and turns in there to wrong foot the readers. The latter, I can’t do with my non-fiction work or I’ll likely get sued…
All your novels seem to have identity as a theme. Why has this concept so attracted you?
Wow, what an interesting question as it’s something I have never actually thought about! But yes, you are right. Subconsciously that’s exactly what I have done. I guess we all question ourselves as we get older – from have we accomplished what we had hoped to by a certain age to are we happy right now? My characters have yet to find out who they are and I like to take them (and the reader) on a journey to discover if they are where they ought to be.
How keen would you be to use your DNA to find a partner?
If I was single I would probably take the test. But by the time you read this, I’ll have been married for four months and am very sure I have found my Match.
(Oh, congratulations to you both x)
Travel has impacted on your writing too. If you could go anywhere in the world to research a book, where would you choose and why?
I’d like to explore more of South of America and Eastern Europe. I’d also like to see more of some of the lesser known small towns and cities in the US as they could make interesting backdrops for future stories that are currently rattling around my head.
How did you manage the different narrative strands in The One? I wondered whether you wrote each chapter consecutively, or each person’s story first and then ordered them later or planned the whole thing or…?
I can’t do anything methodically, from washing a car to panting a wall to writing a book. So it depended on what mood I was in that day as to whose story I concentrated on. I can’t even remember which character I finished writing first; I think they all came together at about the same time, give or take a day or two. The last part of the job was working out in what order to place the characters and their stories.
The Dark Web plays a pivotal role in The One. What are your views of the way in which modern society uses social media and technology?
We – and I include myself in this – spend way too much time on social media looking for approval. Whether it be Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, I’m often checking to see how many ‘likes’ or shares my posts have received. Some of it is necessary in the promotion of myself as a new writer, after all, I want people to read my books. But on other occasions I’m as guilty as anyone for seeking approval in a personal opinion I give or a photograph I post . My New Year’s resolution is (book publicity aside) to spend less time online.
(I think we could all benefit from less time living virtually.)
Christopher has an ‘interesting’ bookshelf. What might we find on yours?
Ha! Yes, much of his collection is somewhat limited to infamous serial killers. I flit around when it comes to books; one day I’ll be reading The Miniaturist and the next, Grace Jones’ autobiography. I love a good thriller like A Kind Worth Killing and Orphan X but I also enjoy stories as varied as Wool, Santa Monica Suicide Club and The Humans.
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?
The Internet is a very useful tool and can answer most of my questions. As is Facebook’s THE Book Club. As a member yourself, Linda, you’ll know people there come from all walks of life. I’ve had a police officer telling me how to clean up a murder scene, a Cambridge DNA expert informing me of how to make the science part of The One more realistic and members based in Australia helping me pick out suitable locations.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
Draft one is the hardest. When you’ve completed 5,000 words and you know you have around another 95,000 words to go, it seems an impossible and depressing task. I find the re-writes more fun than the first version. The hardest bit is having to read it after it’s been edited or proofed because by then, I am sick to death of the story.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
My commute to London is around an hour on the train, so that’s two hours a day of solid writing I can complete without the distractions of friends, family, the dog or the internet. If I’m on a roll, I’ll spend some time at night writing and also at the weekends at home in my office. But I won’t spend all my time doing it – it’s important to keep a balance.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
I find I have less and less time to read as the years go on. I got through maybe half a dozen books last year and that was it. A full time job as a journalist plus this second job writing books, a new husband and a new house that requires redecoration which means I have precious little time to read.
Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?
Not really, my ideas to date all come from different sources. Book one, The Wronged Sons, was inspired by an article I read in The Guardian’s Family section, book two, Welcome To Wherever You Are, was inspired by my youth backpacking around America, and The One was inspired by a London Underground escalator!
If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?
My partner and I moved into our house a couple of years ago and we’ve gradually redecorated it from top to bottom and remodelled the garden. So I get to be creative planning bathrooms, kitchens, sanding down floorboards and digging up dead tree roots!
(I love a bit of gardening myself…)
If you could choose to be a character from The One, who would you be and why?
I think I’d pick Nick, the heterosexual husband-to-be who is talked into taking the test by his fiancée, only to discover he’s matched with a man. His match, Alex, is a good looking chap!
If The One became a film, who would you like to play your central characters and why would you choose them?
Urban Myth Films, the production company behind Merlin, Atlantis and Crazy Head have optioned the rights to turn the book into a potential TV series. There are ten central characters, so it’s quite the ensemble cast. My favourite actors include Keeley Hawes, Katherine Parkinson, Natalie Dormer, Emmett Scanlan, Tom Hardy, Tom Hiddleston, Kit Harrington and Ben Whishaw. Wishful thinking, eh?
(Let’s hope it’s more than wishful thinking. The One would make a cracking series.)
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that The One should be their next read, what would you say?
It’s different, it’s unpredictable and I guarantee you’ll ask yourself if you’d take the test.
(Ha! You’re absolutely right – I did ask myself that question and readers will need to read my review here to see what I decided!)
Thank you so much, John, for your time in answering my questions.
It’s been a pleasure. My journalism job involves spending all day asking celebrities questions. It makes a nice change to be on the receiving end of them!
About John Marrs
John Marrs is a freelance journalist based in London, England, who has spent the last 20 years interviewing celebrities from the world of television, film and music for national newspapers and magazines. He has written for publications including The Guardian’s Guide and Guardian Online; OK!Magazine; Total Film; Empire; Q; GT; The Independent; Star; Reveal; Company; Daily Star and News of the World’s Sunday Magazine.
His debut novel The Wronged Sons, was released in 2013 and in May 2015, he released his second book, Welcome To Wherever You Are.