Today on Love Books Group Blog we have a terrific interview with author Paul Finch. Having met Paul at Blackwell’s bookstore earlier this year, I was delighted to be able to ask him some probing questions.
As a female cop walking the mean streets of Manchester, life can be tough for PC Lucy Clayburn. But when one of the North West’s toughest gangsters is your father, things can be particularly difficult.
When Lucy’s patch is gripped by a spate of murder-robberies, the police are quick to action. Yet when it transpires that the targets are Manchester’s criminal underworld, attitudes change.
Lucy is soon faced with one of the toughest cases of her life – and one which will prove once and for all whether blood really is thicker than water….
An Interview with Paul Finch
- What book first ignited your love of reading?
Probably Lord of the Rings. I’d read many books before, but primarily children’s books. I read LOTR when I was about 12, and it was the first large-scale adult novel I’d ever tackled. The sheer size of it was initially off-putting, but once I got into it I was surprised at how easy it was, how enjoyable and how compelling. From that point on, I began to read serious fiction.
- If your current book had a theme song, what would it be and why?
Whole Lot of Love by Duffy. Not to be confused with the Led Zeppelin classic, this is a more recent song with a dark edge and a distinct criminal undertone – it particularly emphasizes the emotional difficulties stemming from love/hate relationships.
- Which book have you read more than once?
The Lyonesse trilogy by Jack Vance – one of the most charming and inventive high fantasy series ever written. I’ve read all three books at least three times each. Once you start on these you can’t stop.
- Do you plan your writing or go with the flow?
I’m a zealous planner. Once my publisher signs off on a premise, I then produce a chapter-by-chapter outline. But I’m not hidebound by this. I always try to remain flexible, so if a better idea comes along during the actual writing, I’m quite prepared to change direction. I think this rigorous planning derives from my tight deadlines. I’m currently writing one book every nine months, so I can’t afford to take too long developing a workable narrative.
- Do you enjoy the editing process?
Like all writers, I find that going painstakingly through material I’ve already written, looking to fix errors, can be wearisome and frustrating. However, I still think that the hardest part of writing a novel is getting the first draft down on paper. Once that’s been done – and I personally find that the most time-consuming part of the process – I consider that I’ve broken the back of the job. After that, it’s usually the second draft which I consider the ‘real writing’ … I get great satisfaction from this, so it’s more relaxing and I can often enhance the experience by playing mood music. So, in that respect, I certainly enjoy the ‘first edit’ draft a lot more than the actual first draft. But when you get past that, to the copy-editing, proof-reading stages etc, and it becomes a real forensic operation, then you’re into eye-strain country and there is very little enjoyment to be found.
- If you could what advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Write as much as you can. Hone your ability at every opportunity. It’s very easy when you’re young and you’ve got lots of things going on in your life, to dream about writing rather than actually getting the practice in. Don’t expect to become a published writer quickly – like any craft, you’ve got to work hard, over many years, to develop the necessary skills. So start ASAP.
- Do you read your book reviews?
I think it’s unavoidable when a book has just been published. You’re always eager to see how it’s going down. But in the long run, it’s a pointless exercise. The joy you either do or don’t get from a book tends to be based on personal taste, and that’s something the writer can’t plan for or learn from. All you can really do is write the best books you can, and accept that some folk will like them and some folk won’t.
- What is your opinion on social media and it’s unique gift of connecting writer and reader instantly?
Like so much where online activity is concerned, it can be a two-edged sword. First of all, writing is a solitary job, which can be a drag – the age of social media has taken that away to an extent. I now write during the day with my social media windows wide open, so, though it can sometimes be a distraction, it’s nice to be able to interact with people, whether that be editors, other writers, readers, whatever. I love that aspect of it. On the other hand, because some opinionated punters can now talk directly to writers, it can lead to pestering and annoyance. I rarely block people, but there are extreme circumstances – such as two years ago, when an unpublished author made continual requests that I co-write his next novel with him, at the end of which – when I’d refused for the umpteenth time – he became very abusive. This chap had taken my willingness to talk as some kind of weakness, and literally thought he could railroad me into helping him get published. Idiots like that can be found anywhere, though when they have the added advantage of anonymity, they are encouraged even more. That’s a definite downside of the internet.
- If you could give one literary villain a happier ending, who would you pick and why?
I always feel that, in Oliver Twist, Fagin gets a raw deal being sent to the gallows, though that stems a lot from my preference for later versions of the character – the one that was adapted by many film and TV companies – rather than the one Dickens initially wrote about. The original character was a miser, a thief, a fence and in many ways an abuser of children in that, though he protected a small circle of young pickpockets, he turned them to lives of crime, beat them when he was angry, and, even though he hoarded stolen wealth, did little to make their lives (or his own, for that matter) much better. It’s fairly well-known now that Dickens revised the text several times, making Fagin a more likeable figure, and reducing his ‘Jewishness’, the author having become sensitive to accusations of racism, but I don’t think Fagin in the book ever became the lovable rogue that we know nowadays. So maybe, strictly speaking, it’s wrong of me to think that he should have been allowed to escape … but I don’t care. I much prefer the ending to the musical, in which he and the Dodger get clean away.
- If your book could come with a preemptive message for the reader, what would yours say?
Not for the faint-hearted.
- What are you currently reading?
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. I’ve recently decided it’s high time that I started reading some classic era science fiction.
- Where did you get the inspiration for your current novel?
I’m currently writing Kiss of Death, the 7th Heck novel … and I honestly don’t think there is any one particular source of inspiration, though I knew, as we approached this novel that, because it was so far into the series, it had to be very different from anything that had gone before. As such, I’ve already run the basic narrative past my wife, my editors etc, and have made subtle changes depending on their responses. It’s funny, but sometimes ideas are so shocking that you simply have to check them with other people to ensure that you’re not going mad.
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