10 Questions With… Paul Burston

Hi everyone, today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Paul Burston. Although I have only recently discovered Paul’s writing through his psychological thriller, The Closer I Get, I was delighted when he agreed to an interview about his writing journey.

Over to you, Paul…

1) Did you always want to be a writer? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

I’ve always written stories. At junior school, I used to write adventure stories and my friend Caroline would provide the illustrations. If there’s one book that made me go ‘wow’ it’s Carrie by Stephen King. I first read it aged 11 and it blew my mind. It still does. I had no idea that I might one day end up writing for a living. It just wasn’t something that people from my background did.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

It was always my best subject. I was lucky enough to have English teachers who really encouraged me – Mrs Price at junior school and Mr Archard at comprehensive. He also ran reading and writing groups after school, which I really enjoyed.

3) Are you a full time writer? If so, what was your ‘life’ before turning to writing full time?

I balance writing books with running literary events and bits of journalism, so it’s very much a writer’s life. Before becoming an author I worked full time as a journalist, and before that I was an activist. I studied until my mid 20s – a BA in English and Drama and then an MA in Drama and Film. Then I became an AIDS activist. A lot of friends were personally affected by HIV/AIDS. Seeing men struck down in their 20s and 30s terrified me, but it also galvanised me and spurred me on. I started pitching ideas to magazines and newspapers. I had my first piece published in a magazine when I was 25 and my first non-fiction book published when I was 29.

4) What advice would you give to the unpublished author?

Try to write as often as you can, even if it’s just for an hour. The more often you write, the better you’ll become. And try to find a support network of like-minded people. Join a writing group – or form one with a friend. It helps to give you discipline and also provides encouragement. Writing can be a very lonely, self-isolating occupation. It’s important to have a support network.

5) Did you dream about being an author as a child? Did you often wander round bookshops thinking ‘That will be me one day’?

I did, but only in a very romantic way. Writers were my heroes even as a small kid – Enid Blyton, Gerald Durrell, then later Stephen King and Oscar Wilde. But I never thought that one day I might publish a book of my own, let alone have a dozen books to my name. I still get a buzz whenever I see one of my books in a library or a bookshop. That feeling never gets old.

6) Outside crime fiction, what other genre do you enjoy reading?

I read a lot of music and film star biographies – I’ve probably read every book about David Bowie ever published. I also read a fair amount of literary fiction. I loved Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, Susie Boyt’s Love & Fame and Philip Hensher’s A Small Revolution in Germany. I think the distinctions between literary and commercial or genre fiction are often arbitrary. I’m pretty omnivorous in my reading.

7) Through lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

I’ve watched all six season of Schitts Creek – twice over. It’s so witty and heartwarming, which is what I needed to help wind down in the evenings. And I’ve returned to Frasier, which is my favourite sitcom of all time. I’ve also caught up on a few TV dramas I missed the first time round. I’m currently watching This Is Us.

8) Through lockdown, have you found that your reading habits have changed at all?

Very much so. I’ve tended to read less crime and more cosy favourites like Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.

9) Can you name one fiction author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? Why do their stories intriguing?

I love Lisa Jewell’s books. I’ve followed her since her debut novel, Ralph’s Party. She’s a very insightful writer, who creates characters you instantly connect with. And she knows how to keep the reader guessing, which is especially important in crime fiction but can also apply to other genres. Tension and surprise are important elements of story telling. For me, plot alone isn’t enough – a book has to have compelling characters. She’s brilliant at both.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

Rod Stewart. I was never a massive fan, but he’s been around for as long as I can remember and so many of his songs take me back to key moments in my life. We also share a fondness for leopard print.

Thank you for visiting the blog today, Paul. It was a pleasure to interview you!

Bio: Paul Burston is the author of five novels and the editor of two short story collections.

His latest novel The Black Path, was longlisted for The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize 2016 and was a bestseller at WHSmith.

His first novel, Shameless (2001), was shortlisted for the State of Britain Award.

His third, Lovers & Losers (2007), was shortlisted for a Stonewall Award.

His fourth, The Gay Divorcee (2009), was opted for television.

He was a founding editor of Attitude magazine and has written for many publications including The Guardian, The Independent, Time Out, The Times and The Sunday Times.

In 2007 he founded London’s award-winning LGBT literary salon Polari and in 2011 he created The Polari First Book Prize.

In March 2016, he was featured in the British Council’s Five Films 4 Freedom Global List 2016, celebrating “33 visionary people who are promoting freedom, equality and LGBT rights around the world” – www.britishcouncil.org

His early life as an AIDS activist with ACT-UP forms part of a verbatim play, Riot Act, by Alexis Gregory at The King’s Head, August 2018.

Paul’s next novel, The Closer I Get, will be published by Orenda Books in 2019. His website is http://www.paulburston.com

Follow Paul on twitter: @PaulBurston

Follow Paul on Instagram: @paulburston1

Follow Paul on Facebook: @paulburstonauthor

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