Paul and Isobelle Carmody teaching fantasy writing at Kirwan State High School.
Welcome Paul to Just So Stories!
Paul Collins has written over 150 books and 140 short stories. He is best known for The Quentaris Chronicles (The Spell of Undoing is Book #1 in the new series), which he co-edits with Michael Pryor, The Jelindel Chronicles, The Earthborn Wars and The World of Grrym trilogy in collaboration with Danny Willis. Paul’s latest book is The Only Game in the Galaxy, book three in The Maximus Black Files. The Beckoning is Paul’s first adult novel http://tinyurl.com/ny6urwy.
He is also the publisher at Ford Street Publishing.
Paul has been short-listed for many awards and won the Aurealis, William Atheling and the inaugural Peter McNamara awards. He recently received the A Bertram Chandler Award for lifetime achievement in Australian science fiction. He has had two Notable Books in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards.
He has black belts in both ju jitsu and taekwondo – this experience can be seen in The Jelindel Chronicles and The Maximus Black Files.
1. Did you write as a child or did you discover your talent for it later in life?
Alas, I didn’t even read books as a kid. I did read Marvel Group comics, though, such as The Hulk, The Avengers, Ironman, etc. For some inexplicable reason I figured it was easy to write. So at age 16 or thereabouts I sat down and wrote a western novel. I was naïve enough at 19 to figure it was pretty good and self-published it. Big mistake, of course, but it did set me off in the publishing industry. I went on to publish a science fiction magazine, despite knowing only vaguely the name Asimov. I then moved into publishing adult novels – in fact in the early 80s I published Australia’s first heroic/epic fantasy novels. It wasn’t till the early nineties that Macmillan published Martin Middleton’s Circle of Light trilogy that major publishers decided there was money in them thar hills. But my fantasy books predated them by a decade. Unfortunately, I didn’t have major distribution so sales were never good. But I think the product was, in fact the authors concerned, David Lake, Russell Blackford and Keith Taylor are still around today and led successful writing careers.
2. When did you first think you might make a career of writing?
This didn’t happen till the mid nineties when I sold my first junior novel to HarperCollins. I’d actually written The Wizard’s Torment and The Earthborn in the eighties but everyone knocked them back. If I’d had either book published earlier, I would have been writing books for younger readers way before the nineties. The Earthborn went on to sell to US giant, TOR. But gee, it took some twenty years to get published.
3. What was your first professional piece of writing?
That would have to be a short story called ‘The Test’, a fantasy story published in Weirdbook (1977), a US magazine. The editor wrote back a rejection letter almost as long as the story. I was very disheartened! However, I sat down and followed his advice and he subsequently took the story.
4. What has influenced you the most with your writing (e.g. childhood, love of a particular genre, life experiences, people)?
None of the aforementioned, really. Writing speculative fiction doesn’t lend itself to childhood memories (my humble opinion!). I write across all genres so there’s no particular genre. As I said, I’m not aware of any particular defining moment when I thought a career in writing/publishing would be possible. I do remember answering the ubiquitous question that fathers ask their children: “What do you want to be when you grow up” and I replied a writer. My father laughed, because it was his understanding that you had to be university-educated to be a writer. After I’d published some fifty books I asked him if he remembered telling me I’d never be a writer, and he said, “No, I don’t remember saying that. But if I did, it was because I knew you’d set out to prove me wrong”.
5. What other jobs have you done?
From the age of 15 – 18 I had a stack of jobs. I was a dispatch manager for MGM at the age of 17. In that small time-frame I worked in several factories: electroplating, metal polishing, spot-welding, luggage factory (short-lived apprenticeship as a clicker, making luggage), Ford Motor Company; I worked on a farm, and in a couple of theatres as an apprentice projectionist. In my early 20s I worked at several hotels as a waiter (Breakfast Creek and National Hotel in Brisbane). I then opened a secondhand bookshop in St Kilda and for thirty years owned half a dozen shops in Brisbane and Melbourne. My last shop was a retro clothing store called Tragically Hip on Smith Street, Collingwood. Most of these shops were really lifestyle careers, not making much. I supplemented this income by working as a bouncer in hotels for around 12 years. I must’ve been the smallest bouncer around, but two black belts in martial arts and kick-boxing gave me that edge I needed.
6. You are now both a writer and a publisher. How did that come about?
It’s really a matter of cross-subsidisation, and I’ve used this throughout my life. No single thing I’ve done really paid much, but if you link several things together you can make do reasonably well. For example, the bookshops weren’t labour-intensive, neither was the bouncing work. I could do both quite well, and they fed one another. Publishing and writing do the same thing. I wouldn’t make a minimal wage from either, but combined, they’re good. I also supplement them by running Creative Net, a speakers’ agency for children’s authors and illustrators. www.fordstreetpublishing.com/cnet
7. In your role of publisher, how have you learned from other authors?
Not to be pushy, I think. I can so easily see where people go wrong, and can wince thinking back to when I made those same mistakes. And of course you can’t even advise authors who do make these mistakes, because that could cause animosity. I do try to give authors assessments of their work when they send it in. And in the main I think most have appreciated the time and effort that go into those free appraisals. I’ve also learnt that no matter how hard you proofread your manuscript and self-edit, you need others to look at your work before submitting it to publishers.
8. Which of your books has given you the most satisfaction as a professional writer?
The Maximus Black Files. http://tinyurl.com/lfubra6 They’ve had the best reviews and were possibly the hardest to write because of the complexity of the plot over the trilogy.
My ‘literary’ diet as a kid was filled with superheroes defeating the bad guys. I often longed to see the bad guy come out in front. This is possibly why I loved Dexter, although even Dexter was, deep down, a nice guy. I used to love reading Modesty Blaise and Artemis Fowl, and whereas these characters are actually criminals, they’re both ‘good’ deep down. So I created Artemis’s evil twin. There is no good in Max. Major publishers declined to publish the trilogy because, I feel, there’s a perception that readers need to identify with characters. However, this is patently not true. Although Max has no saving grace, readers have loved reading his exploits. In fact, he has more fans than his ‘good’ nemesis, Anneke Longshadow.
10. Who is your own personal favourite author? (Adult and children’s)
I loved the Tom Sharpe books and of course Peter O’Donnell. With children’s it’d be Philip Reeve and Eoin Colfer.
11. What values and/or beliefs do you bring to your writing?
12. In a practical sense, how do you set about your writing? Describe your perfect writing environment
I prefer peace and quiet. It’s no coincidence that I live in a dead-end street off a dead-end street in a quiet suburb. I have to be in my study. I know a lot of authors can take their laptops with them wherever they go, or sit in cafes and write. But that’s not for me at all.
13. Your new book The Beckoning is one that has been a long time coming to publication. Can you describe the journey of the book? http://tinyurl.com/ny6urwy
I used to write stories on manual typewriters on the counter in my various bookshops. Probably accounts for why I never made much money in my shops! So I started out writing for adults. I must have written about six novels, and didn’t sell any of them. The Beckoning was one of them. Luckily for me I never throw anything out. So over a period of thirty plus years I transposed the manuscript on to a computer, copied it on to various storage devices such as floppies, zip drives, CDs, USB sticks, etc. Earlier this year I saw that Damnation Books in the US was open to horror submissions. What the heck, I sent the first few chapters. Within two days they’d asked to see the rest. Within two weeks I had a contract. It’s now available as both a print and ebook. It recently reached #7 on Amazon’s psychics thriller page, just six spots behind Stephen King’s latest novel.
14. What advice would you give to someone wanting to be a published author?
Persistence has always paid off for me. And not to rely on any one stream of income. If you think you’re going to make a living solely out of writing, chances are you’re going to be disappointed. Find something to bring the money in, and keep at your writing. One doesn’t have to be a great writer – there are many hugely successful books that prove this point – but you’ll find the authors all have something in common. They didn’t give up.
15. What would you like your epitaph to be?
Tough question. Even persistence didn’t help in the end? Something silly, I suspect. I love Spike Milligan’s “I told you I was ill.” And Oscar Wilde’s “Either those curtains go or I do”.