Paul has a wide body of children’s writing across a range of genres. He is the author of the novels The International Yeti Collective (2019), and Shadowspring (2020) novellas, short stories, and articles. Paul’s work is enjoyed by readers in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia, China, the U.S, and the U.K.
When you were young, were you already thinking about being an author? Did you have another job in mind?
I saw myself in the England cricket team hitting sixes, or with my guitar in a famous band. I had no talent for either, but you dream, right?
What were some favourite books growing up?
Did you write stories when you were in school?
I certainly remember writing for fun in my spare time, making up newspapers, writing letters to family, stories. It was towards the end of secondary school that I began to think of taking my writing further.
Why did you choose to write books for children? Do you also write for adults?
I started out trying to write for adults, but to be honest it just didn’t come naturally, and I let writing drift away. Years later when I became a father (and was also a primary teacher,) I wanted to create stories that I could tell my children and my students. I found my writing voice and my audience, and it clicked. Finding what works for you as a writer—and a voice is so important.
Are there any books that you wish you could have written yourself?
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.
Do you have any writing routines?
I’ve learned that if you want to write you need to find a routine, but it should be something that works for you. All writers are different.
I start by reading my work from the previous few days and tinker. Then I aim for a rough word count—usually between 1000-1500 words if I’m working on something new, or I might try to work for a certain length of time–particularly if I’m in rewrites. If I have more than one project on the go, I’ll split the day up to devote time to each.
For me, there are often days when writing is a struggle—on those days I lean on my routine.
How do you construct your stories? Are you a planner or a plodder?
I’m a bit of both. Planning too much can stunt spontaneity, the ideas that show themselves to you as you write—and at times I’m certainly guilty of that. I’m getting better at letting my characters breathe, to lead me to unexpected places. Having said that, when working on a book I do like to have a broad plot in mind with some rough checkpoints along the way. With my short stories, as soon as I have a kernel of an idea that excites me, I just start writing without much idea of where I’m going.
A lot of your current and previous writing appear to deal with loosing things (loosing words, ideas, creativity) do you worry about this a lot?
As in ‘let loose’? I’ve certainly been influenced by Ken Robinson and his call to embrace creativity. Everyone should have the freedom and opportunity to explore their own ideas, and discover their path, a theme I do return to. I really want children to see the joy in writing, and share their voice.
You’ve been a teacher, what would you say was your favourite book to read out loud to a class?
I remember having great fun reading Eva Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13, and one of Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum books. I gave Mr Gum this throaty kind of voice, and keeping it up for the whole book almost wrecked me.
What do you miss about teaching?
I miss those times when things really gel, I’ve done my job well and we’re all meaningfully engaged and enjoying what we’re doing…those lightbulb moments…reading an original and surprising piece of writing…seeing how far someone has grown…I could go on.
What do you hope for in your future as an author?
I hope to be able to continue to write full time and find homes for my work, neither easy. I want my stories to strike a chord, and inspire readers in some way, and continue to have meaning.
If you weren’t an author, what would you be?
In the starting line-up for Arsenal. (A bit of a stretch considering I’m fairly hopeless with a football at my feet.)