Paul Southern is an author of a number of books. The first one I read by him was “The Craze” and it was more than just my cup of tea. It was my cold local microbrewery-beer after a day incubating in a greenhouse-like office. I like when authors don’t beat around the bush and try to stay politically correct, try not to offend anyone, because fuck it, right? Great authors sometimes take real life and shove the truth in your face- it’s brave. Sometimes that truth is in between the lines, disguised as something made up, sometimes it’s just the way things are. And Paul, after a few swapped emails and interaction in the www, seems to me a bit of an enigma in the modern day “norm” of a boring society. A proper individual with life-hardened personality and wisdom.
I have recently just finished reading Paul’s new book “Daddy Dearest” which is available to pre-order from today! A psychologically challenging reading experience, with “he did, he didn’t, or was it her?” questions. A dark, emotional slow burn of a book. “A terrifying story of love, obsession and psychological meltdown.” (I will publish my review of the book soon! It was great!)
Links to pre-order “Daddy Dearest”
Paul Southern on:
And without further ado, read this incredibly interesting interview with Paul.
Reading your summarized biography on either Goodreads or your website it seems like you’ve fit more into your life than some people would manage to in 2-3 lifetimes. How much of your real life experiences do you transfer into your writings?
With my first two books (The Craze and Brown Boys in Chocolate), I was certainly able to use my first-hand knowledge of Manchester and the Muslim community, which was an advantage as I didn’t really have to do much research. That said, there was a very real danger, both personally and professionally, in revealing it. I had to think about people very close to me who would have been very badly affected by it all. Looking back, I probably made a mistake. I wrote a screenplay for ITV because they were interested in my life story and the things I was saying. They spoke of it having as much potential, both socially and critically, as their docudrama, Hillsborough, but in the end the content was too controversial for them. They didn’t want to hear about gap-toothed white scallies fighting gap-toothed Pakistani scallies in hard northern towns or the very real prejudices that exist between communities. They wanted an Asian and English Romeo and Juliet kind of thing, where everybody comes together at the end and even the gap-toothed scallies get on. Nobody was interested in the truth, especially one that challenged the media’s liberal consensus on race relations. After Brown Boys in Chocolate was pulled (it was due to be released the week of the London bombings), I decided it really wasn’t worth trying to get people to listen. In my last two books (Killing Sound and now Daddy Dearest), there has been less scope to transfer real life experiences into the writing, although the idea for Daddy Dearest did come about through something my daughter did in the block of flats where I live.
Tell us about your writing process! Do you lock yourself into a study, sit behind a big desk and just write, or can you be found writing anywhere, any time, in any state? Any specific rituals you definitely need to follow to get the creative juices flowing?
I have to write in the morning, the earlier the better, and I write three sides (about one thousand words) a day. I stop in the middle of the sentence if needs be, just so I don’t go on to the fourth side. It’s a very regimented way of going about it and probably not very good for my health. I can’t write anywhere other than at my desk, although I do make rough notes wherever I am. Music has always been the best catalyst for getting the creative juices flowing. After that, it has been poetry. I haven’t tried less salubrious forms of stimulation – I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke or take drugs, and I’m a vegan – but, sometimes, I look at pictures of writers with a glass in their hand and think it might not be a bad idea.
Do you have a favorite type of character you like to write about? A type of character you enjoy developing the most, or a character you usually have the most fun with.
I think the characters in my books have all been very different types (at least, I hope so!). I fall in love with my female leads very quickly (it’s a terrible failing and probably has some deep-rooted psychological cause). I don’t think you have to love all of your characters but you have to know them, otherwise how can you expect the reader to?
What, for you, is the most difficult part of writing?
It’s everything, really: the sitting down, wishing you were somewhere else; the agony of trying to think of something that just won’t come; the massive mental investment; the angst about how it will be received and if you are any good. More than all that is the rewriting (the countless drafts that no one really cares about) and, on top of that, watching it die a slow death in the publication process, which is enormously protracted and mined with problems.
Do you enjoy reading? Do you feel you can only be a great writer if you’re a great reader? Who are your favorite authors, your inspirations?
I think it helps enormously to read in different areas and different genres. Good musicians have a wide sphere of influences; so should authors. I’m not sure I will ever make the status of a great writer (whatever that is!) but reading a lot can certainly help you become a better one. One of Beckett’s phrases always struck a chord with me – I have it written above my desk. ‘Fail better’ it says. That’s not a bad objective.
My list of favourite writers / poets is quite extensive. Suffice to say, I’ve enjoyed Dickens, Hardy, Tolkien, Robert E. Howard and James Ellroy at various points in my life, and Golding, Orwell, Tennyson, Eliot (TS) and Larkin at others, not to forget Dawkins and Hitchens and…Peanuts. It’s everything, really. There’s so much good stuff to read, and a lot of it leaves you a bit depressed because you realise they’ve made a better fist of it than you have but you can only do your best.
When not writing, what could you be found spending your time at?
I have three children, the youngest is five months old, so there’s really not much time for anything else. I realise that’s not a very glamorous answer!
“Daddy Dearest” is being published this year! What inspired this psychological thriller?
It was my little girl, actually. She used to the call the lift in the block of flats where I live as a matter of course. And one day, she got in without me. I managed to get my hand between the doors before they shut. It was that image of her in the lift that I most remember, looking out at me. A second later, she would have been gone. The idea of your child suddenly being cut off from you, trapped like that, filled me with every kind of dread. Every parent who has been in a busy shopping centre with their kids knows the feeling when they suddenly look round and can’t see them. For those first few seconds, your world just stops. The thought of them without you, defenceless, wandering around, looking for you, is really the worst feeling you can have. You spend your life protecting them, taking care of them, and suddenly they are gone. What happens to them next is down to the kindness or malevolence of strangers. Or blind chance.
Tell us a bit about your other books. Are you working on something new to be published after “Daddy Dearest”?
I am working on an adult supernatural thriller called Pendle Fire, set in Pendle in Lancashire (a northern town synonymous with witchcraft), about a police officer and a social worker getting caught up in a chilling and harrowing child prostitution ring that seems to have links to an apocalyptic, end of the world cult. [Note from Liz: Blimey I cant wait to read that one!]
Any writing/editing/publishing tips or lessons learned you could share with fellow authors?
The only lesson worth remembering, really, is ‘be very persistent’, although I would add the following postscript. When you’re on the outside of the publishing industry, looking in, you may think that everybody on the inside, all those glamorous agents and editors, have an idea what they’re doing. With very rare exceptions, this is not the case. They have no idea if your book is good or not, whether it will sell or won’t. If they had this knowledge, every book they signed would be successful. They aren’t. A lot of crap gets signed up; a lot of good stuff remains unpublished. Editors and agents are all running around looking at what others have signed up, wondering if they are missing out on something. So, don’t despair if they miss out on yours. Rejection shouldn’t devalue your work any more than if you let your cat have a look at it.
Last question! Make your case! 🙂 Why do we all need and want to read “Daddy Dearest”? Give us something teasery…
Daddy Dearest is a dark and edgy psychological thriller about an estranged father, whose weekend with his beloved five-year-old daughter turns into a nightmare when she gets into the lift of a city centre tower block and goes down without him. She vanishes without a trace. It sets off a race against time, and a nationwide manhunt, to find her. As the police investigation closes in, suspicion falls on those closest to her – with devastating consequences. It is a terrifying story of love, obsession and psychological meltdown and is a disturbing and brutal read. Some have said it crosses over a lot of boundaries of taste and political correctness. I see it as an examination of what loneliness and separation from the world can do to people, and how it can shape the way they think.
‘My daughter has always had a thing about lifts. There’s something about the thrill of pressing a button and seeing the lift doors close which excites her imagination. It terrifies me. Every time she walks in, I imagine it’s the last time I’ll see her. What if she hits the button before I get there? What if the lift doors close and I can’t get her out? It drives me nuts. There are eight floors in the Sears building, nine if you count the basement, and the lift is fast: more like a fairground ride, really. It does top to bottom in twelve seconds. I’ve timed it. Taking the stairs, I’ve done it in forty-two. That leaves a gap of thirty seconds. You’d be surprised what can happen in that time. I was.’