Paul Heatley is a recent discovery for my reading palette. His Fatboy was on the blog yesterday - here and a month or two ago The Motel Whore (here) and The Vampire (here) featured.
Paul was kind enough to humour me with some answers to a few questions.
Q. I don’t think the writing is full-time, what’s the day job?
You’d be right! I work at a second-hand bookshop in Alnwick called Barter Books.
Q. What constitutes a typical Paul Heatley writing day?
If it’s a workday, I tend to do my writing at night. I try to get started as soon as I can, but it tends to most often be between the hours of nine and midnight. Sometimes I’ll take a notebook in with me and get some ideas or planning down on my lunch break. On Fridays when I’m off I get a couple of hours done in the middle of the day while my son’s at school.
Q. Are you a plotter? Do you have a beginning, middle and end all mapped out before you start, or does the story unfold of its own accord as you write it?
Mostly I’m a plotter. I tend to have a handwritten plan in place to work from before I get started bashing the keys on the laptop. I just find the work flows a lot easier that way, I don’t have to be concerned with writing my way out of a corner I find myself in as I’ll have already worked those kinks out in the planning stage. However, this is a fairly recent process, and everything before An Eye For An Eye was written without a plan (Fatboy, despite being the latest, was written before An Eye For An Eye). I can’t imagine writing something without a plan already in place in the future.
Q. Do you have a target word count for each day or do you write for a set number of hours, or do you have a specific point in your story you want to get to?
It depends! If I’m just starting out on something, or if I have a couple of projects on the go at once, I don’t mind doing 500 words, but if I’m in the middle of something I prefer to stick to 1000. If it’s a short story I like to get through it as fast as I can, so I’d rather get it done in one sitting. That’s not to say I rush it - I don’t mind taking a couple of days on a longer piece.
Q. How long did Fatboy take from start to finish?
Well, the first draft of Fatboy was written over the course of nineteen days in October of 2015, late at night while listening to Ministry’s In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up live album over and over. I kind of just sat on it after that. I didn’t entirely forget about it (obviously), but time went by, months passed. An Eye For An Eye had been published and I was kind of between projects and I was wondering if I had anything I’d already written that might be worth taking a look at, polishing up, and I went back to Fatboy, read it through. Hated it.
I mean, that’s not entirely true. If I’d hated it I wouldn’t have stuck with it. I thought there were some diamonds in the rough within, particularly in the dialogue. I made a note on a piece of paper (when editing I write a lot of notes by hand, within easy eyeshot) that read something like ‘Dialogue = good; Exposition = shit’. So I went back to it with a kind of George V Higgins mentality, upping the dialogue, cutting out all the stuff I didn’t like, trimming it down - though in the course of trimming it it actually ended up being longer with all the fixes I found myself making. I continued to read and edit it a few more times, sent it off to All Due Respect, and they seemed to like it! So to answer your question, from first draft to acceptance, it took about a year.
Q. Did Fatboy end up as the book you anticipated writing at the start?
Yes and no - I made so many changes, but I reckon if the finished product were to be compared to the first draft, the similarities would be very apparent. The main difference being that the girlfriend had a much bigger role, and in the first draft she actually played the co-conspirator role, as opposed to Lynne. Lynne had a much, much smaller role, I think she was only in two scenes.
Q. You have a fair few shorter novellas out there – The Motel Whore, The Vampire, The Pitbull, The Boy, The Mess, Three – before graduating to something a bit longer with An Eye For An Eye. Fatboy is of a similar length, was it a natural progression to start telling longer tales?
I think so, yeah. I’ve noticed a lot of things I’m writing at the minute tend to be longer yet. When it comes time to edit they may end up a lot shorter, but I’ll see.
The thing with the novellas you mentioned up to An Eye For An Eye, I was putting them out myself and so I wasn’t as concerned with word count. I conceived them as short, sharp, punchy ideas, and I didn’t ever imagine them being, content and length-wise, the kind of thing a publisher would be interested in. Obviously I could be wrong (I think I am wrong), but that was my thought process at the time. I’d have to check but I don’t think any of them reach 25,000 words. Three probably comes the closest.
Q. I’ve read the first couple in your Motel trilogy and I enjoyed them but found them quite bleak with a complete absence of hope. (A friend who tried The Motel Whore had to quit halfway through.) Fatboy while still dark, it seemed a little bit lighter in tone. Our main protagonist at least possessed some modicum of ambition or hope for the future. Were you having a “bad day” when you wrote it, or are you consciously allowing a bit more light into your work?
Ha! My work’s always gravitated more toward the darker aspects of things. I’ve tried to write lighter things in the past, but the darkness always ebbs in. I liken it to The Simpsons, when Homer tries to make a snow angel then stands up and looks back to see it’s got a horn, hooves, tail and pitchfork.
It wasn’t a conscious decision to let more ‘light’ in. I think it comes from Fatboy being very dialogue-driven. I would say An Eye For An Eye probably also has a lighter tone in comparison to the Motel Whore trilogy, and I think that comes down to the protagonists having someone to talk to, to bounce off - Graeme has Tony, Joey has Lynne - whereas the Motel stories tend to be about loners (The Mess, The Pitbull, and Three also) who don’t really interact with others, they lead very solitary lives, they’re alone with their thoughts a lot, even when they’re with others. I think people in general have dark thoughts when they’re on their own as opposed to around friends or whomever; they’ll joke and jibe, there’s sarcasm and irony. Alone, if you start to bounce off yourself like that you’re going to have concern for your mental wellbeing.
Q. I think your earlier works were self-published and the last couple have been published works by Near to the Knuckle and All Due Respect Books, how did you make the transition?
Never say never, but I don’t intend to self-publish any further. The six I self-published were a case of setting myself a goal and seeing it through - I did so and I’m proud of them, but now I think the challenge lies in convincing other people my works are good enough to put out, and together we’ll try to persuade the general reading public that this stuff is worth taking a chance on. Plus, I’ve had great experiences with both Near To The Knuckle and All Due Respect. They both have great, and growing, reputations and a fan base that trusts in them if they say ‘Hey, this is pretty good’.
Q. What are your hopes for the future publishing-wise?
My hope is to keep getting published!
Q. Any un-published gems in the bottom of your desk drawer?
Unfortunately I don’t think I have another Fatboy waiting to be checked over! I spent a lot of the past couple of years writing and editing short stories, so I’m a little behind on the longer stuff.
Q. What’s been the highlight of your writing career so far?
It occurred quite recently, and it was when An Eye For An Eye was released in paperback, which means all of my works are available physically. I’d compiled the self-published novellas into two collections earlier in the year (The Motel Whore & Other Stories, and Guns, Drugs, And Dogs), and Fatboy was released in print and e-book in May, and An Eye For An Eye made its way into paperback the week or so after.
Q. Is there one of your books you are more proud of than any of the others? Which would you press into the hands of a new reader?
I’m proud of all of them equally. I think if I was going to hand one to a new reader it would actually be The Motel Whore (apologies to your friend). It’s short, and it sets the tone for most of what’s to follow.
Q. Who are you reading and enjoying?
At the minute I’m revisiting Chester Himes, who’s always good for a fun time. Lined up after that is Don Winslow’s newest, The Force, and at some point either before, during, or after, I’m going to squeeze in Tom Leins’ newest, Skull Meat. Following on from those, I’ve got The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (people keep saying I need to check out the TV show, but I won’t before I’ve read the book), and Henry Rollins’ Get In The Van. There’s more after that, though. My to-read pile is ridiculously big.
Q. Last 5 books you’ve read?
I’m an embarrassingly slow reader, especially if I’m editing my own stuff, everything else just gets kind of forgotten. The last five were:
High Fidelity, Nick Hornby;
Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff;
The Art Of Asking, Amanda Palmer;
Saga, Book Seven, Brian K Vaughan;
and You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat], by Andrew Hankinson.
Q. Is there one all-time favourite book you wished you had written?
The Clown, by Heinrich Boll. Or A Feast Of Snakes by Harry Crews - two very, very different books, but I have very disparate tastes.
Q. Favourite activity when not writing?
You know, I don’t actually do much else. I know, I know, I’m incredibly boring. I listen to music, but I can do that while writing. I catch up on television shows. I go to the cinema.
Q. What’s the current project in progress? How’s it going?
At the minute, I’m working on the follow-up to An Eye For An Eye. I’m hoping it’s going well - I’m making steady progress through my outline, anyway! I’ll find out when it comes time to edit.
Q. What’s the best thing about being a writer?
Having complete strangers enjoy and support your work.
Q. What’s the worst?
The editing. Like I said, I’m a slow reader. I’m a fast writer, but man, the editing takes forever.
Q. What’s the last film that rocked you?
Most recently, I’d say Wonder Woman. Really enjoyed that. A movie I watched a couple of years back that really stuck with me, and still pops up occasionally in my head, is Nightcrawler, with Jake Gyllenhaal.
Q. Is there any must watch TV in the Heatley household?
At the minute it’s Twin Peaks and Fargo, I’m also quite enjoying Baskets. And of course, we’re only a couple of weeks away until Game Of Thrones returns.
Q. If I pop back in a couple of years’ time – where do you hope to be with the writing career?
The plan is, and always has been, to make a living from writing. I think it’s probably the same for every writer. Check back and we’ll see how I’m getting on!
Thanks to Paul for his time.
You can visit him at his website - here. Or catch him on Facebook - here and on Twitter - @PaulHeatley3