Paul McDonald

Paul McDonald

Born in Walsall, Paul McDonald left school at 16 to train as a saddlemaker. In 1986 he began full-time study, completed his PhD in 1993 and now lectures at Wolverhampton University. Paul remains in Walsall where, to his horror, he’s developing a taste for chunky jewellery and combat dogs.

How would you describe your books?
My books are comic mysteries in a confessional mode (either that or they’re confessional mysteries in a comic mode).

What challenges and pleasures did you face when writing your book?
It’s a challenge pushing the story along when you’re not really sure what it’s about; it’s a pleasure when you finally realize what it is about.

‘Never a day without a line’ said Olivia Manning. Are you a disciplined writer?
This sounds like the sort of thing a cocaine addict might say. Mostly, cocaine addicts are bores who have far too much to say. There is a parallel. However – While forcing yourself to write every day will mean you’ll end up throwing a lot of stuff away, it is important to be disciplined. It’s worth pushing yourself even when you’re not in the mood, or when you have no clear idea of what you want to write about. Too many people waste time waiting for inspiration. It doesn’t come. Personally I get nowhere by sitting around passively contemplating potential ideas. I have to try and concretize them in narrative. Invariably they’re transformed in the act of writing and I realize that I’m not concretizing, but creating. In other words, only when I begin to develop a narrative do I become usefully ‘imaginative’ or ‘creative’. The rest of the time I spend staring into space and dribbling into my goatee (Shakespeare had one you know).

What combination of reading, paid work, family life and leisure would you recommend for a well-balanced writer?
I’d recommend getting paid for writing and using the money to fund a holiday. While you’re on holiday read as much as you can. It’s probably a good idea to leave your family at home (this is particularly the case if you’re a sex-tourist).

Do you start with characters, a plot or an image?
With my first two novels I began with something that actually happened in my life, and then I developed a fictional plot around it. In my most recent novel I used something that happened in someone else’s life.

How many drafts do your novels or stories usually go through?
Before an editor has seen it, two. After an editor has seen it, thirty.

*Do you rewrite as you go along or push through a draft to the end and then revise?
It’s essential for me to get it written very quickly because I fear running out of steam midway through a book. When I have a complete story (a beginning middle and end) I put it aside. After a couple of months I come back to it and think: maybe if I work hard this might be salvageable.

What is your favourite read? And why?
The menu at the East End Balti restaurant in Walsall. There are many reasons, mostly concerning my love of food, but also I’m particularly fond of laminated documents because they’re easy to clean.

If you had to choose a five a side team of authors, who would you choose?
Jorge Luis Borges (he might be blind, but he’s from Argentina).
Paulo Coelho (he might be full of crap, but he’s from Brazil).
Knut Hamsun (a wonderful header of the ball).
James T. Farrell (author of Studs Lonnigan).
Paul Merson (the Walsall FC player-manager whose autobiography, Hero and Villain, is a harrowing story of relapse and rehabilitation that will make you laugh and cry, simultaneously).

Have you got a role model or hero?
Judy Finnigan. I admire her enormously for her tolerance and heroic self-restraint.