Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Open House Day 16 - Paul Lewis

WRITERS, as has been observed elsewhere, frequently get asked: "Where do you get your ideas from?"

But the question that fascinates me is: "What makes you want to write?"

It's not easy, being a writer, especially when you're first starting out. It's an anti-social occupation, sitting in a room, alone, for hours on end, getting all those fiddly words transferred from your head to the page, then editing and rewriting until your story or novel or script or whatever is as polished as you can possibly make it.

That's after your mind has coughed up an idea that deserves to have all this time and energy lavished on it.

The process from initial notion to final draft can take days, weeks, months. It can play havoc with your social life. Your friends fade into a Facebook-only existence. You shun sunlight.

And, after all that, there's nothing to say it will have been worth it. Rejection letters. We've all had them. I could paper the living room walls with mine. Unless you can get your work out there and read or performed, your efforts will have been pretty much wasted. For every King, Rowling or Larsson there are thousands of writers and wannabe writers who can only dream of reaching the same giddy heights. Many will struggle to get into print at all.

The odds are stacked against success. Yet we persevere, for reasons best known to ourselves. We have an abiding love of books, of course we do, but not everyone who reads feels a compulsion to write. So why do we?

We just can't help it, that's why. We have stories to tell, and we want others to hear them. And, assuming there's at least some natural talent to begin with, the more we do it, the better we get.

I've been writing for about as long as I can remember. At the age of ten, I turned in a school essay that was a shameless rip-off of Doctor Who and the Daleks. Thirty-odd years later, I've had Doctor Who stories, co-written with Steve Lockley, appear in BBC Books and Big Finish anthologies. Funny how things turn out.

My teenage years were spent scribbling away at stories and scripts. None survived. That's probably a blessing. My adult years were also spent scribbling away at stories and scripts... the difference being that some of them weren't actually that bad and made their way into print and onto TV and radio.

Alongside this compulsion to write has been a compulsion to read. In secondary school my English teacher, Mr O'Sullivan, asked us to keep a list of all the books we read that year. My list was longer than anyone else's, and I can remember Mr O'Sullivan, who adored the classics, telling my parents he was pleased I was such an avid reader.

He just wished I didn't read so much ... well, rubbish.

My choice of reading was exclusively SF, fantasy and horror (with occasional forays into the Bonds and Quillers and other spy thrillers). No surprise, then, that virtually all my short stories, novellas and novels, and certainly all those written in collaboration with Mr Lockley, have fallen within those genres.

I still read a lot of it, but, as I've grown older, my interests have broadened. I'm just as likely to be reading a crime novel or a travel book or a book about natural history. This has filtered into my writing. My first solo novel is full of incidental details gleaned from non-fiction sources. They don't add to the plot but they help bring the story to life. There's a lesson in that: the wider your reading experience, the richer and more informed your writing is likely to be.

I'm typing this blog just after making the final few corrections to The Savage Knight, which Abaddon will publish later this year. It's a milestone for me after nearly two decades of writing. Ever since I set off along this path I've dreamed of seeing my name on the cover of a novel.

Now it's about to happen. It's given me the same thrill I had on seeing my name on TV for the first time (Spitting Image, "Charles and Di on a blind date" sketch). But the comedy writing is another story.

So, if you want to write, then write. Don't worry about falling flat on your face. It isn't physically painful (at least not unless you do it for real, not metaphorically) and you get plenty more chances to prove yourself.

As much as I love writing, I won't pretend I write all the time. I love reading too, but I don't read all the time. I'm a journalist and sometimes the day job is so draining I can't bring myself to sit at a keyboard when I get home. Other times life gets in the way with its myriad demands and dramas. Occasionally I'm just too bloody lazy.

But I'll always go back to it. Like other writers, I just can't help it.

Paul Lewis has penned hundreds of comedy sketches for TV and radio, including Spitting Image and Hale and Pace, along with several radio sitcoms. He has also written numerous short stories, many of them in collaboration with Steve Lockley, including a Doctor Who contribution for BBC Books' The Story of Martha. The pair also produced the novels The Ragchild and The Quarry, along with several novellas. Paul's first solo novel, The Savage Knight, will be published by Abaddon in September. He is currently writing a fantasy thriller for teenage readers.


  1. Great article, Paul and well done on the Abaddon novel!

  2. Nice one Paul and congrats on The Savage Knight :)