Author Paul Ewen is one of our amazing panel of judges kindly volunteering their time to support our charity writing competition. New Zealand-born Paul lives in London. His first novel, Francis Plug: How To Be A Public Author, was a Book of the Year in the Guardian, New Statesman, Irish Times, and the Big Issue. The Sunday Times described it as: ‘Inspired. A brilliant, deranged new comic creation’ and the New Statesman called it ‘a modern comic masterpiece.’ Paul was runner-up in the Society of Authors McKitterick Prize in 2015 and longlisted for the Gordon Burn Prize in the same year. His latest novel will be published by Galley Beggar Press in September 2018.
What writing projects are you working on at the moment?
I have just completed a second novel with the character Francis Plug, entitled Francis Plug – Writer In Residence. This is to be published by Galley Beggar Press in September this year. Much of the book is set in Greenwich where Francis recently held the auspicious position of Writer in Residence. In this role, Francis was fortunate enough to meet many esteemed authors and VIPs, although, perhaps as a result of his artistic nature and deep, creative passions, he was unable to connect with many of them. Personally, I don’t think his shabby attire helped, or his rancid, pongy breath.
Who would you invite to a literary dinner party, alive or dead?
Dinner parties aren’t really my thing, and I find most literary events either boring or very scary. But I do have a few author mates who I enjoy drinking with. When I first arrived in London, I used to submit short stories to 3ammagazine.com, and through their live readings I got to meet some terrific folk. It’s nice to talk to people in the same boat as you. Dead authors I’d like to drink with? Robert Walser, Hans Fallada, Dorothy Parker and Andrea Dunbar.
What inspired you to join the judging panel?
My parents both now fit into the ‘aged’ category. Unfortunately, I live in London and they live in New Zealand. There is a website that pinpoints the exact opposite side of the earth to your present location, and my parents are close to that point for me (although they don’t, to be fair, live in the sea). It’s difficult for me to return regularly to New Zealand to see my aged parents, due to the great distance and exorbitant cost. This was all too evident during the long spell of Christchurch earthquakes, which my parents were forced to endure. Fortunately, I have good, caring brothers in New Zealand who are around to offer their support. And because my father is English, it’s probably nice that he has a son living in his homeland. Anyway, to cut a long story short, it’s good to be able to do my bit for the aged.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Write what you’re naturally drawn to write, in your own voice. A book I can highly recommend in this regard is Black Teeth and A Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe. The following section from my upcoming book is hopefully relevant and helpful also: ‘….the major publishers are corporations, and from what I understand, some of these have been afforded audiences with the Creative Writing students here. One publishing rep is said to have told the students to avoid writing comedy, because it doesn’t sell. Other British universities have banned commercial publishers entirely after claims they were attempting to steer the students towards certain genres which suited their own business interests. There is an argument that students need to be aware of market conditions, if they intend to forge a living from their work. But the market changes very fast, and the writing process is very slow. JK Rowling didn’t wait until wizard books were ‘in.’ Surely it’s better to write whatever comes naturally and forget the market entirely.’
Which poets or writers inspire you most?
I tend to read a lot of contemporary indie press books as I find that’s where the most interesting and inspiring voices are coming from. New Zealand writer Janet Frame has inspired me a lot over the years (she actually lived in Camberwell for a time). I also find artist biographies very inspiring (I’ve recently been reading up on Rachel Whiteread and her work), and one of my favourites is Hugh McLeave’s book on Cézanne called A Man and His Mountain. I can also thoroughly recommend the essays of contemporary British artist Neal Jones, including his recent collection, Kate Middleton’s Face. The one book I’ve probably got the most out of is The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh.