Author Interview: Mark Ellis

Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?

I read Pickwick Papers when I was 9 and was overwhelmed by it, so Dickens has to be one source of inspiration. Other favourites of my youth were John Buchan, Conan Doyle, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Kenneth Grahame, A.A Milne, and Mark Twain.

Do you play music when you write — and, if so, what’s your favourite?

Yes I do listen to music when I write, mostly classical. I listen to Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Schubert, Rossini among others. My favourite changes frequently. Currently I’m very partial to Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings.

How do books get published?

Like most published authors I’ve met, my path to publication was a long and tortuous one. My first book was rejected many times, but I was encouraged to persevere by my agent and others. I eventually self-published that first book and after it and it’s sequel achieved some success, I was picked up by a small publisher called Accent Press which was eventually acquired by Hachette (Headline imprint) who publish me now.

Have you ever travelled as research for your book?

I write a series about a detective, DCI Frank Merlin, in World War 2 London so the capital is the predominant geographical location. However other parts of the world do sometimes feature and I have travelled to some of those places for research. For example, in my second book there are some scenes in Moscow and Warsaw, and I travelled to both cities in 2013.

If you could be mentored by a famous author, who would it be?

A very difficult question to answer. Of dead authors there are so many I’d like to discuss writing with. I’ll try and stick to the last century and this. Of dead authors, I love the books of Gore Vidal, and he would no doubt be sparkling company as well as instructive. Le Carré and Graham Greene likewise. Of living authors, I think I’d go with Michael Connelly, one of the great modern masters of the detective thriller.

How do you develop your plot and characters?

The great thing about being well under way writing a series is that you already have a number of leading characters to start with. Also, as I’m writing a series which is progressing through a specific historical period at regular intervals, the starting point for the next book is relatively predetermined. In the case of my current work in progress, Merlin 6, that is the early summer of 1943. Before I start writing a book, I spend 3 or so months immersing myself in the period. Usually my plot and character ideas come to me then. I do not however then proceed to make a detailed story plan. I kick off and see where I go. I am a ‘pantser’ not a planner.

What do the words ‘writer’s block’ mean to you?

I think every writer suffers from ‘writer’s block’ from time to time and I am no exception. My general response to it is to continue to sit at my desk and if possible carry on putting words on the page, even if I think they’re rubbish, with the hope that my brain will at some point kick into another gear. Sometimes this happens, sometimes it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, then usually I take a step back and look at the structure, which is often the source of the block.

What books have you read more than once in your life?

Quite a number but among them: Burr by Gore Vidal, A Place Of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel, The Hound Of The Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, The 39 Steps by John Buchan, all of the Jeeves books by PG Wodehouse, Porterhouse Blue by Tom Sharpe, The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, Pickwick Papers by Dickens.

How many hours a day do you write?

For full on writing if I have no distractions, 3 hours in the morning, 2 in the afternoon. Unfortunately there are often distractions so I probably average 3 and a half to 4 hours most days. This doesn’t include time spent dealing with other aspects of the book writing process.

How many books have you written?

As mentioned above I write a series about a World War Two Scotland Yard detective called Frank Merlin. There are 5 books in the series so far which take Merlin from January 1940 to August 1942. Merlin 6, as mentioned above, will be set in summer 1943 and will be coming out late 2024/early 2025. My publishers recently decided to issue a new edition of the series with new covers and some new titles. The books in their current form are:

The Embassy Murders (formerly Princes Gate)

In the Shadows Of The Blitz (formerly Stalin’s Gold)

The French Spy (formerly Merlin At War)

A Death In Mayfair

Dead In The Water

I have also written a couple of Merlin short stories:

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (included in a number of anthologies including Action This Day)

Vengeance Is Mine (included in the An Unnecessary Assassin anthology in aid of End Polio Now)

As to a favourite among my books, I am fond of all but particularly my latest, Dead In The Water. Of the previous four, The French Spy was nominated for a CWA Dagger when it came out.

All my books are available on audio as well as in print and all can be read on a stand alone basis. My website is and I’m on most social media including Twitter/X where my handle is @MarkEllis15. I am represented by Langtons International of New York.