It's time to give a wee shout out to what I am convinced will be the McRenegade Book of the Year for 2017. I certainly haven't written anything that comes close to it, and while I've read some good stuff this year, this one just caps them all! So read on... and then READ THIS BOOK!
Mark is one of the very few living writers who, when he announces a new book, gets me clearing all my decks immediately to give me the space to read. He’s now on his 25th book and it’s no surprise that this one shows a maturity and control of purpose both stylistically and thematically. Since ‘The Great Food Bank Siege’ Mark has allowed himself to play with narrative voices in a new, and compelling way, and this book is the absolute pinnacle of his achievement to date.
But From his first novels ‘The Cull,’ and ‘One Man’s Mean’, Mark has always been an honest writer, where necessary brutally honest, dealing with the darker side of society and that is the only reason I can give as to why he’s not long ago been snapped up by a publisher and become a mainstream success. Mark writes fiction, popular fiction, but the fiction is a deal too close to fact to be comfortable. Lots of people recognise this as reality, lots of people like this kind of writing, but the ‘market’ doesn’t want to sell us it, preferring to give us the kind of writing that both convinces us that writers are not ‘like us’ but ‘special’ in some way; and spoon-feeding our ‘interests’ through what I suggest is often quite cynical genre-casting.
Mark breaks through all this. He tells a story because it needs to be told, about the lives of people who, given the chance, might be as ordinary as you and me; and especially those who fall below the aspirational bell curve. But that’s not what makes Mark entirely special. Mark has a good working knowledge of history and his ability to utilise the lessons of the past and connect them with the events of the present is, I find, quite ‘special’ in terms of contemporary writing. If you’ve read his blog you’ll know what I mean. He is incredibly skilled at connecting events, places and people in a manner which gives the reader pause for thought.
And that perhaps is the overall strength of this new novel. At first premise we might look at ‘Independent Scotland by 2030’ as a quite impossible thing. But Mark takes us through recent world history and shows us some connections that are as credible as they are incredible! And from this base he works his magic. By the time we get to ‘the rub’ of the story in 2030 we are well groomed and ready to accept what happens next. It’s not a jingoistic story – Mark shows the consequences of actions and while Indy Scots may want to cheer at the events, he pulls us back in line to show us the reality of what are some very dark days ahead – evidenced from some very dark days of the recent past. And so, he makes his fiction almost unbearably plausible. As we look into our near future he shows us not only the truth of eternal return, but the cataclysmic impact of not paying proper attention to the world and society around us.
All this would be more than enough reason to read the novel. However, there is an even more compelling reason to buy it – even if you’re never going to read it. Mark wears two hats. He is a writer and he is also a front line charity worker for FirstBase. Relying entirely on funding to continue, each year is a struggle, because Mark’s charity helps those who fall below the radar of what is attractive to fund. Mark’s foodbank helps people who do not ‘fit’ comfortably into the criteria for the government funded foodbanks, his outreach work helps those on the wrong side of the Home Office bureaucracy and his veterans and addiction work helps those who we might all consider beyond the point of help. And some of them are. But Mark helps them anyway. In this instance ‘front line’ means getting in there and helping out in the darkest corners. Like his writing, Mark’s charity work is never going to win mainstream awards – and for the same reason – he’s not out to make a profit for anyone, he’s simply rolled up his sleeves and done what he knows to be right. Helping out in a real crisis. But the crisis is ongoing. Mark has to think out of the box and use every tool in his armoury – and in this instance this, his 25th book, is published in order to raise funds for First Base. If you baulk at paying £4 for a Kindle, know that as much of that money as he can claw back from Amazon (which I’m estimating at about £3) will go to front line charity. It’s a bargain at that price.
So I’d encourage anyone to read this book and, if you can, on top of that, go to Mark’s just giving page and donate more. It will literally keep lights on and food in people’s bellies. People who are beyond desparate. Read the book and your eyes will be opened and your mind entertained for several hours, give the money and you will give a little bit of help, if not a little bit more hope, to people in some hopeless situations. That, to my mind, is real charity at work.
And once you’ve read this, if you’re unfamiliar with his writing, why not work your way through his back catalogue. It’s a shame Mark isn’t more recognised as a writer – though I suspect that those he helps would disagree. He might, in other circumstances, have more money and celebrity ‘clout’ to help folks, but, in his own quiet, determined and often angry way, he’s reaching the part other writers and other charities, don’t reach. For that he deserves utter respect. And whatever your views on the Union, ‘The Last Colonial War’ offers some serious food for thought.
And the all important links are below: