Monthly Archives: October 2015

Conversations with Eric – ‘A crime comedy that refreshes the parts other books cannot reach’.

Author Paul Casselle lives in Spain where he is hard at work on his second novel.  I was able to interview him about his first novel, his writing process, and what we can expect from him in the future

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So, first of all, give us the pitch.  What is Conversations with Eric about?

Eric is primarily a comedy thriller romp. Although it appears an easy read and unchallenging, within the jokey tone is much more. Eric is about self discovery. It is about how, when we really get down to it, we are much the same. Under the bonnet of our skulls we all are pretty f****d up. As much as we like to think of ourselves as in control of our destiny, most of us work from a flawed instruction manual that we have cobbled together from all we have been told and experienced. But the truth is that what we have constructed in our heads is not a response to reality, but a defensive delusion to protect us from reality. The disquiet we all feel is the disparity between the very personal story we tell ourselves and the way life really is!

Simon has a traumatic awakening late in his life, and as his delusional defence unravels, he is forced to face who he is and see the world in all its messiness for the first time. He either rewrites the personal story in his head and stands up or drowns in life’s outrageous fortunes.

What sort of book is Eric?  In the days of genre fiction where do you place it?

Eric was described by one reader as ‘Genre defying’. I found this very gratifying as although a book can be roughly categorised as a particular genre, life evades such taxonomy. I strive to write as I have experienced my life; sometimes I am depressed, sometimes ecstatically happy and sometimes moved to tears when I stumble upon deep human connection. Life does not respect genre and nor do I. A book needs to focus on a particular aspect of human experience, but it cannot express that perspective unless it fearlessly encompasses everything it needs to to tell its story. At the risk of being pompous, Eric is transpontine. It crashes the artificial barriers that restrain many books, and I’m glad it does. However, if my arm were twisted, I would place Eric as a crime comedy that refreshes the parts other books cannot reach.

What inspired Eric?

For the last fourteen years I have lived my life with a yellow labrador called Eric. We have been through multiple relationships, changes of residence and even attempted suicide together (that last one was me not Eric, but he was there nevertheless). Eric has been a mirror to me, and in his nearly human eyes, I have seen myself reflected many times.

I wanted to write a book that used Eric’s perceived, extraordinary, canine insight to hang my thoughts on life, the universe and everything. Conversations with Eric is my humble attempt.

Simon, the protagonist, is not exactly a happy bunny.  Do you agree with the idea that a happy or contented character cannot be at the centre of a story – that they have nothing to gain or to lose?

There is a common belief that drama cannot exist without conflict. To some extent I agree. I always look at a scene and ask myself, ‘what do the characters want?’ Their needs have to be in conflict; each character must want something that either is mutually exclusive with the other’s desires or they have a reason to scupper the other’s needs.

So, can a scene work if there is no conflict? Yes it can, but it will no longer be drama. Instead it will be a fantasy. The reader will experience an example of how life can be if conflict was absent, and that is really want we all secretly want. However, when we briefly achieve this in our lives, we find that it is rather boring and soporific. Motivation comes from wanting things to be different. If we are happy with the status quo, then what will motivate us? In a journey we are motivated to get to our destination. When we get there we stop or look for a new destination. We are only motivated to move when we want to be somewhere we are not. We may complain that in our busy lives we have no time to stand and stare, but I believe that if we did, we would hate it.

The book starts appearing to be one kind of thing and then sort of flies off and becomes another.  You mentioned the word ‘romp’ which is exactly how I would have described it.  Are you perhaps messing with people’s expectations?

I have been inspired by writers such as John Irving and Kurt Vonnegut. They have demonstrated the power of fearing nothing. They kill-off main characters, jump between genres and moods, and generally will do anything to tell the story and keep the reader with them. Although I often feel scared that I am overstepping the boundaries of novel writing, I find that I cannot help myself. Eric starts as a tale of middle-class, middle-aged decline, but quickly swings unashamedly into crime, philosophy and the evil monster of global banking. But however serious the story becomes, I find it impossible to lose my sense of humour. The late stand-up comedian George Carlin had a wonderful way or commenting on the insanity of human society by standing to one side as a spectator and laughing at us, but always with compassion. I want to do the same. The man that cries at adversity demonstrates defeat, the man that laughs at adversity telegraphs hope.

What’s your personal favourite part of the book?   Why?
On the few occasions that I have re-read Eric, I find myself enjoying both the high comedy and the deep, dark drama, but if I were forced to choose a favourite passage I think it would be chapters 27-28. By this time the story has acquired so many layers, and Simon is in so deep that a computer-style re-boot seems the only answer. But although the drama has reached frightening heights, the humour lifts it into Pythonesque territory. I laugh every time I read it. Is that intolerably immodest?

How long does it take you to write something like ‘Eric’?

The first chapters of Eric were laid down in 2009. Then I fell into a writers’ torpor and wrote nothing for several years. I moved to Spain in 2014 and found new inspiration. I picked up where I had left off, twenty-one thousand words, and within a few months finished Eric – my first full novel – at seventy-six thousand words. I’m now more than half way through my second novel – If The Bed Falls In – a very hard-hitting visceral spy thriller; a real departure from Eric!

Do you have a writing regime? 
The best aid to getting on with writing was creating a spreadsheet schedule. It projected the project with day-by-day objectives. Each day I would write and enter the word count, and the spreadsheet would instantly show me how ahead or behind I was.

The target I set was very low, so very achievable; 500 words a day. This meant that I steamed ahead and finished many weeks before my computer predicted. I would highly recommend this method. It is still serving me well on my second novel.

What’s next?  Will there be any more Eric inspired stories?
As I have already said, I am working on a second novel – If The Bed Falls In. Although there have been a few personal life hiccups, I still hope to finish by the end of the year.http://www.amazon.co.uk/Conversations-Eric-adventure-laughing-matter-ebook/dp/B00XRMZPCG

I have some other projects pencilled-in for after that, but I have no current plans to continue the Eric saga. However, if I get inundated with impassioned requests, that may change!

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Facebook: Paul Casselle – Writer
Website: paulcasselle.com

The following works by Paul Casselle are available on Amazon:
Blue Skies Over Dark Days – Six painfully funny stories from my youth.
Everyone Else’s Everyone Else – A short story to make you see others from a new perspective.
Conversations with Eric – The novel that we’ve been discussing – a romp of a read.

With grateful thanks to Paul for his time.

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Nah, Didn’t bother. But I could have.

News flash – There are things that irritate me even more than short people with umbrellas, leaf-blowers, and people who go to the gym.

Top of my list of grievances – and it’s a long, long list – are people who, largely in their own opinion, are more than capable of doing something but instead do absolutely nothing other than criticise those that do.

It’s become our national sport.  We embrace celebrity for its own sake, people who are famous but no-one can remember why.  But we absolutely crucify our artists and politicians and sportspeople.

And, yes, I did put politicians in there.  Because whilst most people seem happy to criticise our elected and non-elected representatives, most people do not seem to be willing to put themselves forward as an alternative.  I know some people will talk about the ‘privileged’ classes and those with contacts.  I hear you, but if those are the barriers in front of us and we choose not to be smashing away at them with whatever tools we have at our disposal then surely we cannot criticise.  Conversely, those that don’t simply rage but act and think and do – well, I have so much admiration for them that it hurts.

Leaving politics behind (phew), it’s the writing thing that bothers me most though.  I can pretty much guarantee you’ve heard my least favourite statement before:

I have a great idea for a novel.

It is absolutely marvellous that the idea exists.  BUT – and this BUT is a very large one indeed – it does not exist until you have written it.  I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but here is the comment that often follows:

I would do it if only I had the time.

If this person owns a leaf-blower and is carrying a gym-bag I have to be dragged away in tears.

Ok.  I confess.  The reason I hate this conversation is because it took me so long to realise all this in myself.  For most of my pretty pathetic existence I didn’t really do anything at all.  I didn’t produce anything.  I had great ideas, dreams of paintings I would paint, music I would write, and most of all novels I would pen.  And it took me half a life to realise I actually had to spend the time doing so.  Or else it was all hot air.  I still talk too much about the thing I am going to do, the piece I am going to write.  BUT – another sizeable BUT – I am a writer that writes.  And I have been for long enough to write hundreds of thousands of carefully crafted words.

Part of me wants you to read those words and think they are the wisest and most fabulous words you have ever read.  I want you to cry or laugh or sing or dance down the street chanting my name.  But another part of me is more than happy to know this:

I needn’t have bothered, but I did.

And of that I am very proud.

What you’re doing makes no difference to anyone at all.

What is a life well lived?  There is of course no answer to that.  But I think the world of the Arts is at least one thing that makes us human.  But what exactly is the point of a poem?  Is there any ‘need’ for a painting? Particularly when it’s not very accurate!  And as for music.  Imagine your perfect son or daughter growing up to be a musician – heaven forbid.

The question for me is ‘what is it that we consider to be important?’  And I have an answer to that, an answer which justifies the arts above all else. It’s important to live with your heart and your mind and your soul.  Which you can’t do in an office filling out accounts on a spreadsheet.  It’s important to have experiences, to try new things, to use every one of your senses to gather data, and live.

With this in mind I have enrolled on a Masters course at Birkbeck in London.  After two years of immersion in this institution I should be the proud owner of a certificate branding me ever more a Master of the Arts specialising in Creative Writing.

Pointless, you say?

I don’t think so.  Because writing is the greatest of all activities.  It allows us to experience, to react, and to analyse.  It allows us to re-experience.  It allows us to see through another’s eyes.  It allows us to keep coming back and wondering whether there is anything important to be found.  Here’s a quote I rather like:

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect. – Anaïs Nin

So, for a couple of years at least, I’m going to taste all that life has to offer, at least twice.  And I’m going to write it all down.

Another quote I like goes something like this; it’s from one of Jeremy Hardy’s rants on Radio 4’s News Quiz:

Unless you’re a bin-man or a neurosurgeon, what you do in your job on a day-to-day basis is utterly unimportant.  You must realise this, and stop taking yourself so seriously.

It’s not an exact quote, and probably not original, but you get the idea.

And I’m totally with him, particularly when the majority of us sit in offices and go to meetings and fill out spreadsheets on computers.  Not to mention spending time calling IT to come and fix that computer.  Then there’s the time spent on appraisals, recruitment, and the incredible number of hours spent coming up with new passwords (at least one capital letter, one number, a hieroglyph and a number which is a factor of pi).

It’s all rather meaningless.

And I’m looking for some meaning.

I’ll let you know if I find any.