BackStory: Five Questions with Mark Left
Author of It’s Raining Today
What inspired you to write ‘It’s Raining Today’?
I’ve long had a fascination with the Second World War and the long shadow it casts. You can’t grow up through the ‘70s and ‘80s and not be aware of its legacy, and of course we still see it today. Any student of the war at some point has to face the details of the concentration camps and the desperate fate of so many, brought home when you begin to read and hear individual stories.
I wanted to convey the humanity of those who were made to endure such conditions. The plight of the children was something I felt most strongly about – so young to be caught up in an adults’ war beyond their comprehension. My thoughts were crystallised by seeing a BBC documentary called ‘The Last Survivors’, about survivors of the Holocaust who live in Britain today, all of whom were children who survived the camps. While ‘It’s Raining Today’ is not based on any one particular story, I hope it captures something of what they experienced.
What is your favourite piece of historical flash, prose poetry or hybrid work? What do you like about it?
Paul Phillips’ story ‘Kom-bat’ is a recent one that sticks in the memory. It is the kind of cinematic writing I love – widescreen panorama intercut with small details – and all inspired by a real photograph and what may have been the story around it. Brilliantly written.
Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?
There are plenty of sobering background facts that aren’t touched on but are so pertinent. This story takes place in the final months of the war. Captured SS documents suggest around 700,000 prisoners were still held in the camps in January 1945. Between the establishment of Dachau in 1933 and the end of the war in 1945, of the total number of deaths in the camps almost half are estimated to have occurred in the final year of the war. In general, children were sent to the gas chambers as soon as they arrived at the camps. Children aged 12-18 were often used as labourers or as medical test subjects.
How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?
I think the closer historical events are to the present the more a writer should aim for accuracy. I wanted to be faithful to and respectful of the truth, so I checked a lot of what I already knew and made an effort to discover authentic details to bring the story to life – e.g. the names for the characters.
If you could live for one year in any historical period, when and where would it be, and why?
The ability to time travel to the year 1815 would be very handy. Not only would I be able to help celebrate victory against Napoleon, I could also resolve a personal mystery. On 26th March of that year a woman in Halesowen was handed a newborn by another woman and asked to take care of it for a few minutes until she returned. She never came back. The woman stuck with the baby took it to the parish church where it was baptised John Left, because he had been left! This was my great-great grandfather. I would love to be able to hang around to witness this, find out who the mystery woman was (I assume it was his mother) and offer to help!
Mark Left has been published in a number of online zines and is a Senior Editor for @VirtualZine. He won first place in the Cambridge Short Story Prize 2018 and recently completed the first draft of a novel. He lives with his family on a hill in Warwickshire, UK, and can be found on Twitter as @ottobottle.
Photograph by Emily Devane.