Meet Paul Ewen in person at the 10×10 Tour event, Waterstones, Castle Street, Norwich 6.30 p.m. Thursday 11 OCT. His latest novel Forbidden Line, Francis Plug: Writer in Residence is published today, 4 October. Theme: All Hail the New Modernists! Experimentalism & Contemporary Literature. With Sam Jordison from Galley Beggar Press, chair, and authors Alex Pheby, Paul Stanbridge. Book Tickets
Forbidden Line, Francis Plug: Writer in Residence is published today, 4 October.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Blenheim, New Zealand. I grew up in various places around the South Island, like Christchurch and Lyttelton, but I spent my formative years in a town called Ashburton (nicknamed Ashvegas).
What sorts of books were in your family home?
All sorts. Art books, NZ fiction, and lots of library books because my Mum was a librarian.
Who were early formative influences as a writer?
Spike Milligan’s story Badjelly the Witch was a big early influence. It was very funny, and also a bit naughty because Badjelly would say “Knickers, knickers, stinky-poo, stinky-poo!” And she’d try to poke God’s eyes out.
Do you write every day, and do you write many drafts?
I write every day, except Saturday, which is my big sleep-in day. I get a lot written on buses and trains and down the pub, and yes I do write many drafts. When writing comedy, I find it best to try and push it as far as it will go.
As an author, what are you most proud (or embarrassed) of writing?
My childhood friend, Steve MacDonald, died when he was thirty-five and I wrote a tribute piece for him, which featured in the online magazine, Five Dials. Steve’s parents told me someone had left a copy of the piece on Steve’s grave. I think that’s what I’m most proud of writing.
Books that changed your life?
One of my favourite books is The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. I think it offers a pretty good guide to live your life by.
Your views on book publishing?
This is something I cover to some degree in my book, Francis Plug Writer in Residence. I find it rather shameful that big corporate publishers are using tiny independent publishers to do their groundwork for them. There’s a pervading trend of big publishers rejecting new, untried authors, only to suddenly welcome them once they’ve been “proven” through the efforts of small presses. Unlike the publishing conglomerates, the small presses don’t have deep pockets, and often have to borrow money and take huge risks.
How important were, and are, editors? Have you had much encouragement from your editor(s)?
I’m fortunate to have two great editors at Galley Beggar Press, Elly and Sam, so I get two pairs of eyes to look over and critique my work. Craig Taylor at Five Dials is another very fine editor who has been an important part of my development. I worry that many contemporary publishing houses are prioritizing marketing over editorial, which is why “untried” writers are being overlooked until they prove themselves marketable (e.g. after winning awards with small presses).
Which is more important, style or voice?
Voice is more important to me. I think the style of my books comes very much from the voice/characters.
Your views on the explosion of creative writing courses? How helpful are they in reality?
I have taught a few creative writing classes, but I never attended any myself. I know they’re very helpful in providing income for their writer teachers. I’d like to think the students benefit too.
What are your favorite literary journals?
3:AM Magazine was an invaluable platform for me when I first arrived in London. They also initiated some great live events, which gave me a chance to connect with other writers, some of whom remain good friends. Five Dials has also been a really good soundboard for my new writing projects. In New Zealand, Sport, edited by Fergus Barrowman, is a terrific literary journal.
How well are your books received in Europe?
I have recently conducted a literary tour around Serbia to promote the translated version of Francis Plug – How To Be A Public Author. It was a great experience – I was on national TV and everything. So I suppose you could say I’m big in Serbia. I did a talk at Shakespeare & Company in Paris, and I think most people clapped at the end.
Your views on how new technology has (or has not) changed your writing life? What about social media?
I still write everything by hand. When I get to a certain point on a piece, I’ll type it up, print it out and write over the top of that. And so on. I don’t get involved with social media. My publishers are very good at doing that on my behalf, and they don’t even have a marketing department.
If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
I really enjoy going back to New Zealand, in this day and age, to catch up with family and friends. But one day wouldn’t be much good to me, because it takes that long just to get there.
Your favourite prose authors?
Janet Frame, Robert Walser, Hans Fallada, Knut Hamsun, B.S. Johnson, Stewart Home, Billy Childish.
Your favourite noir series?
Does Twin Peaks count?
Favourite feature films?
I like films by Jane Campion, Taika Waititi, the Zucker brothers, and David Lynch. I went to see The Lost Highway when I was in Singapore, and as soon as it finished, I bought another ticket and watched it again.
Five favourite bands?
I spent four years working for student radio in New Zealand, which opened me up to a broad repertoire of music. I did a dub show, and today I still love Linton Kwesi Johnson, Keith Hudson, and various On-U Sound System artists. I’ve been catching up with Pikachunes of late, and recently, driving through the Welsh and Shropshire countryside, I was listening to the Twin Peaks theme tune, because it’s good to observe scenic beauty with a keen overarching sense of dread.
Your chief characteristic?
Your bedside reading?
Currently For You, Only You by Sonia Boyce.
I was asked this recently by the national TV folk in Serbia. I said something along the lines of: Be challenging. Be kind to people. But it sounded quite different in Serbian.
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