Five Questions picked for Paula

  • Why are your favourite male authors accused of chauvinism?

– I don’t know why. But then again, I don’t see or analyse stories with an eye like that. Over fifteen years ago, when I first discovered these authors, I was a very angry person – with no ways of channelling negative emotions, except for listening to heavy music and reading books that described characters being chopped up, hearts being violently broken, etc. I was basically reading about arseholes just to try understanding them. Yes, the victims were women for the most part, but I viewed them as people. We are all victims in one way or another, even if you choose not to be. I’m not a feminist that analyses fiction with a gender approach, not like that. It gets too one-dimensional. Why are my top favourite authors men? I named a few on my website because I love their technique of storytelling. One aided my anger management by imagining my former ex being tortured for the pain he inflicted on people. The other writer had a semi-autobiographical style, which had a huge impact on the way I write today. You create a fictional character, dump your thoughts and feelings on them and see how they handle them. And voila, they handle it better than you – learn from them – they happen to be your alter ego. Your alter ego is often the better half of your mind or your dark side that nobody knows of. Anyway, that way you’re not hurting people for real, but you’re tackling your problems – on your own. You’re bringing across a new form of honesty that a lot of people cannot handle sometimes. This is how storytelling should be, especially for those who are unable to express their feelings in a way that people get it. Sometimes you have to feed a little bit off the dark to be able to understand yourself and the world around you. It doesn’t mean I agree with everything they say or write. It’s not like you’re going over the top like Cioran. It’s just that if you don’t go to your own personal dark place, you won’t ever understand happiness, and you won’t ever find peace. And yes, you can use this as a motivation to write. Why the hell not? Know your limit is all I can say. Oscar Wilde is the only one that knows the beauty of words and the power and passion that comes from them. Every choice of word that he uses has a purpose and the ability to melt your heart. I can’t do that. Of course, you like writers that are one-of-a-kind geniuses expressing a level of emotions that are similar to yours. This is how you relate and build hope because there are people out there feeling similar things. You gain some form of understanding from other people through a simple story. This is how a story tells you, “I feel your pain, bruh.” There are more underlying meanings in their stories that people don’t always see, due to different perceptions. They are merely writers writing about their experience with life. If you read some Jordan B. Peterson, you will learn about the biological development of men and see where they are coming from. It’s the same for women. After you’ve applied biology, add psychology and sociology as well and analyse again, if you wish. Do what you have to do, but it’s just a story. Why can’t you just enjoy the damn story? I have favourite female writers in my top ten as well if that makes anyone feel better. Mary Shelley and Charlotte Bronte – just to name a couple. Unlike Austen, they don’t constantly brag about their female protagonists and make them appear like a fairy tale miracle. To me, it’s unbearable and sounds more boastful than compelling and honest. I suppose it was very relevant during their time, and it’s still relevant in other cultures, but from a Western literary point of view – both men and women can create strong female protagonists. Women can create strong male characters as well (look at Pat Barker); and men can create strong female leads, too (look at Stieg Larsson, Khaled Hosseini, etc.). So, what the hell is everyone’s problem?

  • Do most authors use writing to channel their thoughts and emotions?

– They do for the most part, or they are on route to self-discovery. You know this feeling where you are unhappy, life is not going your way and you wonder why. Then you realise that it’s all down to your attitude, the way you treat others, your lack of empathy and so on. If you do not want to talk about these things with others, but you want these problems looked at and dealt with, you write. I felt lonely the day I wrote on the first page of my first journal in 1994. That moment I realised that I was feeling horribly alone inside my head. Up to this day, I’ve only been blogging cheaply about it. Why was I lonely and depressed inside my head? People would tell me to snap out of it, say that I was feeling sorry for myself and that others had it way worse. That’s all you’ll ever hear. One has to know that he or she won’t ever be understood fully. And if you’re a loser like me who can’t express herself accurately, then it’s best to just express that troubled part of you through fiction. It will feel a lot better and even accurate. Even if people tell you that fiction isn’t real. Do not listen. Whatever works for you is important. They cannot make you view their reality, because it’s not the same through your eyes. But people won’t ever understand this. Just keep it to yourself or on paper, because that’s what we can do best. Carl Jung once said that loneliness comes from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to us. If writing didn’t exist, or if art didn’t exist, the world would’ve ended a long time ago. This is what you have to keep in mind.

  • How did Heart Like A Hole come into fruition?

– Back in 2006, I wrote a short story based on a blood-stained Band-Aid. The writing exercise involved how an object related to a character. I wrote about an obsessive-compulsive doctor, who goes for lunch with one of her patients and ends up almost killing him at the restaurant. Never in my life did I get an A in high school, and I never expected to get one at university, but I did for that story. My tutor found it so hilarious that he said I should develop it. Eventually, the doctor became a professional surgeon and that story became a chapter in the book. I started on the novel around 2007, shortly after graduation and finished the first draft by 2010 before returning to the UK to start my MA degree. I was honestly lost with no mentor or guidance during the phase of writing it, so I was happy to go back to university to at least share the draft with fellow writers and published authors for tutors. I’d learnt a lot in that year at Goldsmiths, however, I left feeling more anxious and hopeless, self-conscious…as I was on my own again with a job called redrafting. I was very insecure about my writing, but I did my best to make the story work. I would share it with close friends and ask for feedback, but overall, I had zero confidence. In 2014-2015, I started asking for real editing support and I felt lucky that my former tutor, Elizabeth, from my undergraduate degree reached out and offered me a friendship rate to edit my book, including detailed feedback. The editing process lasted a good year. Since I appreciated her help so much, I didn’t want her to primarily prioritise my work, so I never gave her a deadline. With her edits and comments, I needed time myself to firstly digest it all before I was able to apply them. I trusted her judgement and applied about ninety percent of her suggestions. I even changed the title. As a Nine Inch Nails addict, I changed it from Somewhat Damaged to Heart Like A Hole. She really disliked the first choice and said that I might as well call it Mildly Concussed. I found it hilarious. So, towards the end of 2016, I thought I was ready and had been sending queries to publishing firms despite hating their guts. In the meantime, I had close friends and a local press guy to look at my so-called ‘finished draft’. They seemed to have found the opening slow and uneventful and suggested me to rewrite it. I took their feedback very seriously, so I did. I also rewrote a couple of the later chapters too. Without trusting my grammar and my general sense for syntax, and I felt too shy to bother Elizabeth again for her help, I sought my friend Sam, also an editor, to look over the changes for me. I am very thankful for my editors’ support, as I really needed pros to actually deconstruct my writing and point out my errors. They didn’t do that at Goldsmiths. They only talked about content, which was more important at the time.

  • Why does Ellen Parker’s story have to be told? What is the main drive?

– These were the question my tutor at Goldsmiths, Francis would often throw at me. He was certain that it was a personal thing, some sort of dilemma, a quandary that I had to tackle. He thought Ellen was a serious alter ego of mine and that she and I have the same goal. He asked if I knew what it was. I didn’t actually tell him that she was everything I wanted to be. To me, she symbolises success, talent, financial stability and hard work that leads to something great and meaningful. And this was not how I saw my life. Neither did I ever think that I was beautiful. As a kid growing up in a white dominant society had made me want to be white myself. The majority of my friends were of Scandinavian descent, and I’d always admired the confidence that simply came with their looks. It’s the same with Japanese anime creators being fascinated by Western eyes, so they create cartoon characters that are more beautiful than you. If you ask me why Ellen’s story has to be told, my answer is that I wanted to see how big I could dream. I wanted to escape who I was and be someone else. The conclusion is, no matter who you are, you won’t ever be perfect, not to mention your life. If I think of Ellen Parker, I see someone like Charlize Theron wearing a lab coat. I also made Ellen up to see, if we have anything in common, but we do not. I let her lead me through her journey, and then she blamed me for what I’d created. I’m very guilt-prone, so I didn’t take it so well, but there was nothing more than I could give her or do for her. Close friends that know me well would see elements of me inside Ellen’s character or think that her dark desires were mine, but it’s not true. If you ask me what the main drive of this story is, I can tell you that I needed to create something greater than me. Remember Dorian Gray is whom Wilde desired to be, but at the end of the day, he was merely Basil, the artist.

  • How did you feel after completing and publishing your book? Has your way of writing fiction changed over the years?

– I felt accomplished at first, but that didn’t last long. My way and perception of writing have changed tremendously in terms of what I studied and learned at university. I used to be rather confident in my stories and never really paid much attention to the elements of style (despite having read E.B. White and W. Strunk). But if you’re eager to put the story down onto paper, you’re not always aware of how you’re telling the story. In fact, the technical side of writing never struck me so hard until Elizabeth pointed it out to me. I became very self-conscious in my choice of words and how I described things, as I’m often not concise enough. That was a crucial lesson, if not, realisation. If you have a good story, but you’re unable to make the writing compelling, your story is only 60% good. On the other hand, you have a crappy story with excellent writing. But what is excellent writing? Scenes and actions that are described perfectly? Words are put in the right spot? Writing well is mastering the ability to show continuously through imagery or metaphor, action… If you’ve ever read Hemingway you will know what I mean. There are women out there that say he is cold and lacks emotion. Seriously, how blind can you possibly be? What do you think the rain means on the last page of A Farewell to Arms? It’s a fucking genius if you ask me. You may think it’s easy to imitate Hemingway, but it is not. He has probably expressed more emotion than I ever have in any writing. In order to write like your heroes, you have to imitate them and make their style your own. What do you think Warhol did in the bloom of postmodernism? Everything has been done before. If you are going to imitate something that already exists, how are you going to make it extra special? You have to think about that. Who you are, already makes it different and special. You just have to make yourself stand out.

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