Troubador Off the Mark

Released: 01/06/2012

ISBN: 9781780881522

Format: Paperback

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Off the Mark


A humorous rite of passage novel set in 1960s Norfolk in the days before computers, but in an era of glorious soul music

Off the Mark charts the progress of Mark Barker, who at sixteen years old leaves an all boys’ Grammar School with absolutely no experience of girls or, indeed, the world as a whole. Mark’s first foray into the world of work is at an office in a time before computers or modern photocopiers or calculators. His first job also launches him into the presence of girls. As a very shy youth who lacks confidence in his ability to attract the opposite sex, he ends up forming attractions to all the wrong girls – for all the wrong reasons. He wavers between the waspish Karen, who breaks his heart with her lack of compassion, the beautiful Pauline and painfully shy Debbie. Unsuccessful blind dates and foursomes only serve to exacerbate the loneliness of this sensitive teenager, as he scrapes through to manhood – luckily his sense of humour pulls him through.

Off the Mark brings life in the sixties for a working class family in a small Norfolk town vividly to life and will be a stroll down memory lane for many readers.

Mark’s Out of Eleven is my fourth novel. After dabbling with a contemporary comedy / thriller in the shape of Tess Of The Dormobiles, I have gone back to my favourite character in Mark Barker; this one being a prequel to Off the Mark and Further Off The Mark. Like those first two novels, the latest is also set in the 1960s.
Writing a prequel sets a different challenge to an author. In any other work of fiction, the writer can take his work wherever he or she chooses, but a prequel is constrained to a certain extent by what has been previously written, so it would not have been likely that Mark would have been kidnapped by aliens or zombies. In any case, I have yet to encounter a zombie in Norfolk.
We also know that he had little experience of girls, so there was never going to be any sex in Mark’s Out of Eleven, but I was able to include a few instances of his awakening interest in girls.
In Off the Mark, Mark is shown as severely lacking in self-confidence. I decided that I would use the prequel to demonstrate how this might have come about. After all, no one is born lacking in confidence. A child’s experiences invariably generate this aspect of a youth’s character. Mark was forced to wear spectacles at an early age and soon earned the nickname ‘Four Eyes,’ but perhaps the biggest contributory factor to his unfortunate demeanour was his having to attend school with patches in his trousers. This may not have been too bad at a small primary school, but at a comparatively elite Grammar School, this was bound to be traumatic.
Mark’s family were by no means poverty stricken, but they never had enough money for luxuries such as holidays and cars. Not only did most of his fellow pupils enjoy these things, but many had parents who could afford to pay for them to board at the school. That was always likely to invoke an inferiority complex in one less fortunate.
This would not have been an unusual situation at that time when most towns and cities would have at least one Grammar School and every eleven year-old had an equal chance of passing a scholarship, regardless of their background.


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'I have found this first novel to be a thoroughly enjoyable nostalgic read. Let us hope this author goes on to more books with this crisp and winning writing style.'

by Will Stebbings

Off The Mark is a funny, saucy portrait of life in sixties Norfolk, as seen through the eyes of Mark Barker, a wet-behind-the-ears school leaver in search of his first love. You get a real sense of time and place, with plenty of jokes to keep you chuckling along the way.


A charming novel; a glimpse in the bygone age, I really enjoyed the journey. It sets the mood like one of the 1960/70 coming of age black and white films. While not perfect this book gives you a trip into the difficulties of a young lad experiencing the big world of work and relationships for the first time. Its an easy read and you will want to know how it turns out.

by review

Will Stebbings

I was born at an early age in the market town of King's Lynn in Norfolk; the third of four children. In the 1950's, I attended the Roseberry Avenue Primary School in Gaywood before passing the 11-plus to take me to King Edward VII Grammar School for boys, where I never progressed beyond GCE 'O' levels. I wouldn't say I had a tough upbringing, but money was always tight for my parents and winters always seemed hard.

My early working career saw me performing a variety of office-based roles which were basically what was available at the time, whilst I pursued an ambition to be successful as a songwriter. After receiving countless rejection letters, I did eventually manage to get some songs published, but none of them were commercially successful.

After marrying my wife Yvonne in 1977, we moved first to Swaffham, then later to the village of Little Melton, just outside Norwich. During this period, I finally established a career of sorts, revolving around a computerised payroll system called Unipay. The same career path saw me later relocate to the village of Ketton in Rutland, where we have lived since 1983.

I have 2 grown-up sons. The eldest, David, is married and now lives in Sheffield. The youngest, John, lives with his wife in Bingham, near Nottingham. He is a talented Jazz musician and composer, who, I'm sure, is destined to fulfil the ambitions I once had for myself.

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