Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Interview with Paul Breen, author of The Charlton Men

Steve:   Football fans are supposedly not interested in fiction – preferring autobiographies (the book stands are flooded with them after all). What made you want to go against received wisdom?

Paul:   I suppose there were a couple of reasons. First I hoped that this wasn’t just a book for football fans. Secondly I think there is a market out there for fiction that has a football theme because on many of the fans’ forums at Charlton, for example, supporters often post threads relating to the books they are currently reading. However I have found from experience that there is a perception out there that a book is either football or it is fiction, and something between the two camps can confuse people.
            That said, quite a few people have suggested that I have got the blend right in terms of how the two aspects are connected and spread out in the story. It has appealed to football fans and non-fans alike, but not in the same numbers as something such as Fever Pitch or the Football Factory which are more clearly autobiographical with underlying elements of fiction. I would hope though that the book does serve as an example of how it is possible to combined football and fiction, and would like to think we will see more of this combination from others in the future.  

Steve:   Did you originally go down the conventional route of trying to get published: sending submissions to agents etc? How was it?

Paul:     Yes, I sent the book off to several agents and publishers before finally getting it accepted and then published by Thames River Press, an independent imprint that was operating on a shoestring budget compared to the main publishing houses. I got replies from several agents and some publishers around the same time, with the latter saying that they were mostly interested in autobiographies, as the previous question suggests.  

Steve:   I don’t think most readers have any idea how much graft goes into writing a novel, and how little the return is per book sold. Any idea how long it took you to write The Charlton Men? How do you fit it in around life?

Paul:     It was about two years from start to finish in terms of the journey from first draft to publication. It was also a very busy period in my working life, and I was studying a course at the same time. Originally, I did this as a hobby just to see where the story went and then when I finally found a publisher who showed interest I took a couple of short periods off work to put together the finished draft. It’s certainly a tough slog and the hardest part is the editing and the proof reading, once the writing is complete. I never try to calculate time spent versus profits made because the hours would soon turn to nothing more than pennies! That can be de-motivating in some ways but I enjoy writing so I stick at it, even if I doubt that I will ever make a living out of it. 

Steve:   Despite enjoying your book, I’ve been more critical than your other reviews which show the book has been well received. It was perhaps more the technical, writing stuff that was a problem for me rather than the story and the characters who were strong and believable. Do you want to come back at me on that?

Paul:     In all honesty, constructive criticism is beneficial for a writer because it serves as a guideline for the future and also a spur to do better. In your feedback Steve, you talked about my tendency to overdo the ‘literary’ style of my writing, and I suppose this comes from an attempt to try and stand out by being poetic. I’m not even sure that this was a case of not editing enough. In places it was a case of editing so much that I was trying to create lines that might be more at home in a poem, which isn’t always what is expected in a book such as this. I should have known that from having studied Literature at university, but in the heat of editing and facing a deadline for getting the book out it’s often possible to forget the simplest of things. Some people have loved that, and interestingly many of those are female readers with not so much interest in football. Most of my male readers and football supporters have commented on the strength of the backstory and of the characters, especially Lance and Fergus, which is something that you also commented on, so I have got lots of feedback of different types, but all constructive.  

Steve:   Should a reviewer go easier on an indie-author than a commercially published one – given that indies don’t have the backing of a team of editors, proof-readers, marketing people etc. to help polish out the flaws?

Paul:     It’s very true that there were a lot less people helping me out, but I don’t think it would be helpful for me, or anyone else, as a writer if reviewers said good things just for the sake of it. In fact it is probably more important and valuable to get writing advice from outsiders when you work with a small publishing house. Also, regardless of the size of the publishers, I have heard from other writers that there is a tendency for much of the analysis of the book to be done in advance of publication and less once it is out there on the market. Therefore as writers we rely on our audience and our critics to give us their opinion. Besides, as they often say in marketing, there’s no such thing as bad publicity because in the long term it drives all of us on to do better. 

Steve:   I read somewhere that this was the first in a trilogy. Is that still the case? If so does it follow Lance, Fergus and Katy? Are you currently working on this?

Paul:     Originally I agreed to write three books, and have written a sequel that does also feature the same main characters, with some more added in. This one is less literary and more of a crime story than a football story, although there are still plenty of references to and descriptions of football. I have several agents and publishers looking at this at the moment because Thames River Press has not been producing anything in recent times, and may not be able to release the sequel. It can be very hard though to get a sequel published since most agents and publishing houses do see it as being like adopting somebody else’s baby! I would also prefer not to go down the self-publishing route because as you have said a good book should come about as a result of a team effort. I do though have quite a few readers of the original who are waiting on the second and hope to get that released at some point this year.

Steve:   Thanks, Paul. Best of luck with it.