Mark Eklid - former cricket correspondent writes his first novel

PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 April 2020

Mark Eklid at work in his study

Mark Eklid at work in his study

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With the publication of his first book, former sports journalist Mark Eklid is the latest writer to join the ranks of our county’s novelists. Mike Smith reports

Mark trying to sneak a quick run while playing for a Derbyshire XI against Bunburys in a charity match at the County Ground in 2005Mark trying to sneak a quick run while playing for a Derbyshire XI against Bunburys in a charity match at the County Ground in 2005

Mark Eklid enjoyed a long innings as the cricket correspondent for the Derby Telegraph. From 2002 to 2017, he covered every match played by the Derbyshire County Cricket Club, both home and away. For a ‘sports fanatic’ who had always wanted to be a writer, his job on the sports desk of the newspaper was the fulfilment of a dream. He says, ‘Reporting on the matches and having the opportunity to write a weekly two-page spread of news about cricket was everything I went into journalism for.’

Mark was born in Sheffield and educated at Frecheville School. As a youngster, he watched football and cricket at Bramhall Lane, where he attended the last County Cricket match to be played at the ground: a memorable occasion when he was able to collect lots of autographs of his heroes and come home with a chunk of the hallowed turf. His early ambition to be a writer was sparked in part by visits he made to his mother at the offices of the Sheffield Star, where she worked as the editor’s secretary and where he could watch journalists at work in the newsroom. Subsequently, he had summer jobs at the Star, working as a ‘copy boy’, collecting and distributing reports from the Press Association.

After studying for a degree in Humanities, Mark completed the National Council for the Training of Journalists’ course, which he describes as ‘the perfect preparation for the career I had always wanted to pursue’. He then worked for three years as a junior reporter for the South Yorkshire Times, prior to joining the Derby Telegraph on their sports desk. Recalling his very first day with the paper, Mark said, ‘I went on the Derby County team bus and sat behind Roy McFarland – I couldn’t believe my luck.’

Mark and his partner Sue, a trainer of midwives, have lived in Derby since 1988, where they have brought up their two boys, Tom, who now works in finance in London, and Jack, currently studying for a degree in Medicine. After being appointed as the chief cricket correspondent for the Derby Telegraph, Mark was able to spend idyllic summer months covering Derbyshire’s matches throughout the country. The quality of his reports was given due recognition when the Derby Telegraph was named Regional Newspaper of the Year by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) in 2013.

Receiving the Christopher Martin-Jenkins Award for the ECB�s Regional Newspaper of the Year 2013 on behalf of the Derby Telegraph. Left to Right: James Major (then of the Times); David Collier (then Chief Executive of the ECB); and Judy Martin-Jenkins (widow of C M-J)Receiving the Christopher Martin-Jenkins Award for the ECB�s Regional Newspaper of the Year 2013 on behalf of the Derby Telegraph. Left to Right: James Major (then of the Times); David Collier (then Chief Executive of the ECB); and Judy Martin-Jenkins (widow of C M-J)

In 2016, when the newspaper group to which the Telegraph belongs decided that cricket should not be given the level of coverage it had received, Mark was moved to a desk job involving sub-editing and page-layout. It was at this point that he decided to take seriously the ‘winter projects’ he had often started but had never quite finished before being required each year to return to describing those halcyon summer days spent at the cricket grounds of England and Wales.

Mark said: ‘I believe that you should always try to follow your dreams if you have the chance to do so. I had been lucky enough to fulfil one of my ambitions by becoming a sports journalist, but there was another long-held dream that I wanted to make real. Although reporting on sporting events had been very satisfying because it had combined my love of writing with my passion for sport, it had never given me the opportunity to write something that had come entirely from my imagination.’

With a radical change having taken place in his work circumstances, Mark resolved to find the time to start his second innings as a writer by producing a work of creative fiction. Turning to those half-completed winter projects that had been aborted by the pressing demands of his summer assignments, he returned to one of the ideas for a work of fiction he had begun to sketch out on his computer. Fired with enthusiasm, he began writing in earnest and reached more than 20,000 words before a disaster occurred. A crash of his hard drive meant everything he had written was lost.

Copies of Sunbeam Photo: Dean MartinCopies of Sunbeam Photo: Dean Martin

Determined that he would not be deterred by this setback, Mark began the novel all over again – but with a back-up system firmly in place on this occasion! Looking back on this early blow to his cherished project, he said, ‘Although the crash of the hard drive seemed devastating at the time, I now believe that it did me a favour. The second draft of the book turned out to be much better.’

After completing his novel, entitled Sunbeam, Mark began the task of trying to get the work published. When letters of rejection from publishers began to pile up, he realised, as thousands of other would-be novelists had done before him, that he would have to resort to other means of bringing his work to print if he wanted to fulfil his dream. To this end, he joined a group called the Society of Authors and received their advice about the advantages and pitfalls of self-publishing.

Unlike many self-published novels, Sunbeam does not suffer from any of the typographical and grammatical errors that mar so many books published in this way. Although, as a meticulous sub-editor, Mark is quick to spot mistakes of this nature, he took the precaution of employing a professional editor before finalising his work for publication. With many years of experience as a journalist behind him, Mark is also conscious of the need to write in a way that holds the reader’s attention. His novel is both very well-written and fast-paced, with a plot that is so full of unexpected twists and turns that the reader is left guessing until the final page.

The story begins with John Baldwin’s memory of witnessing the murder of his best friend, Stef, and describes his shame at having been unable to prevent his death. John’s feelings of guilt send his life on a downward spiral, which costs him his marriage, his business and his dignity, until one year on from Stef’s terrible death, he sees his friend again.

Whether John sees his former friend physically or in his imagination is left to the reader to decide, but it is clear that this unexpected encounter is the trigger that halts his sad decline. From this moment, the plot reads for a time like a feel-good story, with lots of uplifting events happening in quick succession. However, no sooner have readers been heartened by this turn of events than they are confronted by much darker episodes involving a series of problems that send John into further turmoil and indecision.

Asked to name the genre in which he would place his novel, Mark classifies it as a ‘thriller’. The book is certainly thrilling, but it is also a story about friendship, revenge, justice and fate. Having followed his dream by opening his second innings as a writer in this way, Mark naturally hopes that he will be able to accumulate scores of readers to make his effort worthwhile.

Sunbeam, by Mark Eklid, can be ordered from Amazon, either as a paperback at £7.99 or as an e-book at £1.99.

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