“If you thought of the guy least likely to be a spy, he would be the best man for the job.”
Generations of MP Miles’ family are from the same small town in north Dorset. They were farm workers not farmers, an important distinction in the Blackmore Vale, and the keepers of small shops. Mark was sent thirty miles away to a boarding school, Thomas Hardye’s in Dorchester, but regularly escaped at dead of night, walking home until captured by the police. To give him a fighting chance the school persuaded his parents to send him somewhere closer to home and mysteriously MP Miles sneaked into the local Grammar, but via an IQ test rather than the usual entrance exam. He failed to live up to expectations and left with disappointing exam grades and a desire not to work behind a desk.
Aged eighteen Mark went to South Africa to stay with a cousin and ended up walking home alone through Africa. The journey through Africa as taken by the boy Ralph in Shelter Rock is exactly the route taken by Mark back in 1982. On his return, Mark joined the British Army but failed to live up to expectations there as well, although he enjoyed all the walking. It was his own fault. He recoiled like his self-loading rifle from the chummy group camaraderie essential in army life – too much of a loner, more squash than rugby.
Returning to his family’s roots MP Miles studied Agriculture in Shropshire for four years, not knowing any farmers who owned a desk. Once described as Harper Adams’ answer to Bob Geldof he became a politically active student; President of the Union and he likes to think notable for representing the students to the college rather than the college to the students.
His first job was shepherd. Back in Dorset Mark happily walked alone up and down the countryside near Dorchester with self-trained sheepdogs, thinking he was Gabriel Oak – but sadly without a Bathsheba. A ‘Farmers Weekly’ job advert then took him abroad to the rural Alentejo, a world away from the tourist hotels of the Algarve, to show the Portuguese how to farm sheep and grow vegetables. They were impressed only with his dogs.
MP Miles returned to the UK, initially to the Isle of Wight to grow sweetcorn and garlic but ending up in Cambridgeshire buying the same vegetables from other farmers all around the world and selling them to UK supermarkets. Mark would not claim to have worked for any Intelligence service at that time. There may be a training school for spies, but he didn’t go to it. There is probably a career structure for spy handlers, but he wasn’t part of it. For those doing the actual spying there was no job description, no pension scheme, nothing to put on a CV or anyone to ask for an employment reference. Mark’s handler was the man who sat next to him on the Friday night Easyjet and asked him to describe the Mafia-like garlic sellers he had done business with in Malaga; the man who worked for a London based vegetable importer not in any directory who persistently asked him to go and visit a Turkish leek grower with land inside the perimeter fence of a new military airport, a business trip difficult to explain to his boss as his company didn’t sell leeks; or the man in his local pub who smilingly befriended him and was curious about his recent trip through the Israeli desert looking at sweetcorn. On every occasion the man’s name was Zac. All these things and more happened to Mark as he ‘lived the cover’ and travelled around the world buying fresh produce, but by 2003 MP Miles was struggling. To Mark’s boss at work he had become distracted and started to lack commercial awareness, to colleagues he was aloof and a lousy team player, to his family remote and uncommunicative. Only Zac thought highly of him.
With perfect timing, an inheritance enabled Mark to quit work before he was sacked, and he ran away to sea. MP Miles is now captain of a charter yacht called Pacific Wave, sailing people around the beautiful British Virgin Islands. He isn’t that busy chartering, which gives him plenty of time to write. In the past, Mark wrote book reviews and yacht test reports for sailing magazines. He started writing fiction four years ago and Shelter Rock is MP Miles’ debut novel.
Mark speaks Portuguese, loves to fly small aeroplanes, teaches scuba-diving, and has a Ships Master’s license for global ocean passage making on commercial vessels up to 200 tons. And he writes, but not at a desk.