The interview with Paul Finch in the previous blog post revealed the support he receives from his wife in his work. I was curious to see her version of Paul’s writing life and Catherine was kind enough to talk to me about her involvement in Paul’s life of crime.
Has Paul always been a writer since you’ve known him?
He was a student when we first got to know each other. He was a police officer then and had just moved into journalism when we got married. So he’s always been writing in some form. It was always something that was in the air, so to speak, because he was from a family of writers.
I do support Paul a lot, in that he does bounce ideas off me on a regular basis, and it’s usually an excuse to go out and have lunch. It’s a case of ‘We need to do some brainstorming, so let’s book in at the local restaurant.’ That’s how we work together.
What is your background? Is it something that helps you appreciate Paul’s writing?
The only thing that might be relevant is that when we first met we were interested in local theatre. So we both have a thespian writing background in common. My career’s taken me into finance. I think the fact that we are both doing two very different things helps because we’re not following the same path and can then bounce ideas off each other, and bring different aspects of life into it.
What angles do you think Paul might not be able to appreciate?
At the moment, because he’s writing action thrillers, I have to keep him on the straight and narrow and away from out and out horror. He’s written in the horror, supernatural and short story field for so long he has to make a change to less gruesome writing. So I do occasionally have to say to him ‘I really think you ought to tone that down, I think it’s over the top for this field’. So it’s helping to balance his horror side with a more realistic side, while moving into a new field and new genre.
How are you able to get a feel for what’s needed?
I do quite a bit of reading in different fields. I read crime, horror, fantasy, scifi and even girlie romance. So there’s quite a breadth to my reading.
I work with Paul from day one with an idea, by brainstorming the initial ideas and getting them to work. Then, when he’s padded it out a bit and done the treatments, he always runs everything by me to see what I think about it before he moves onto the next stage. At each stage along the way I can bring a more down to earth reader enlightenment into the scenario, because I do read widely and am not limited to one or two genres. This means I can give a good overview of what he’s trying to get at, and will mention if it doesn’t work from a reader’s perspective.
I was talking with Paul about cross-genre work, because he does bring certain aspects of the other genres to play in his writing to ramp up the suspense. It seems to me that if you’re reading widely this make it easier to see what Paul is doing with his writing.
I think so. I am able to make judgements as to whether his style of writing is appropriate, because I can tell whether it’s leaning too much towards a particular area in a particular book. Having said that, he’ll always have the last say.
Do you find yourself reading critically when you’re reading other books?
I think I do tend to do that and it’s the same with films and TV, because I do a lot of work in the local theatre. Any time you do something like that you tend to automatically think critically. So, yes with a book I’ll be thinking about whether a particular writer has got a particular pace right, or although it was a beautifully written book could there have been a bit more action in it?
How do you critically read? Are you aware of the process of thinking while you read a book?
Not in that much depth. I leave all the in depth stuff to Paul. It’s really much more about whether I’ve enjoyed the overall experience and how long has it taken me to read it. If I get incredibly engrossed in a book, I read it in three days. So I know, if it’s taking two weeks to read that it’s not grabbed my attention quickly enough. That’s more the critical side I’ll go with. I know the writers who are going to be exciting and page turners and keep my interest and those who aren’t going to do that. That may be influenced by the fact that Paul’s writing is very pacey and does keep you going, but I am aware that different genres go at different paces.
What sort of things do you discuss when he’s bouncing ideas off you?
When we’re chatting through ideas, it’s about putting in suggestions or trying to get the character to do something, or developing something Paul has already started writing. I also tend to find that bouncing ideas off each other is a way of helping Paul with his idea. For example, Paul once had a series of children’s ten-minute cartoons to write. The producer said she had written the synopses for each of the 50 episodes, but when the ideas came through, her idea of a synopsis was one line stating what the character would do in that episode.
Paul only had two months in which to write these scripts, which came out at roughly one per day … so in each case we had to develop that one-line synopsis into a fully functioning short story idea in a matter of hours. We found ourselves brainstorming these synopses each day. My role in the process was to be a sounding board, because we would discuss the basic idea each evening, assessing would could and couldn’t be done with the following day’s idea, and then suddenly something would click and Paul’s brain would go off at a completely different tangent to where we’d started, eventually leading to a fully-formed script. Although I thought he hadn’t taken on any of my ideas, it appears that while we were chatting he’d got the right sort of nudges to help him fully develop the story. This is how it works; something will always click.
There are all sorts of different ways that writers can be supported. Partners of writers I’ve spoken to tell me that writers often disappear off into their own head. So what sort of qualities do you think the partner of a writer needs to work with some of these moments of intense creativity?
The main thing is knowing that they’re not trying to be difficult and they’re thinking about things. Often I’ll be talking away and realise that Paul’s not responding. I know from the look on his face that he’s somewhere else, because he’s thinking. I do recognise the signs that he’s working and I know when to interrupt and when not to interrupt.
Over the last fifteen years we’ve worked our way through that, because previously he would not only disappear into his head, he’d also disappear into his room upstairs and the family wouldn’t see him for days on end. With the advent of modern technology at least now he’ll come downstairs and can work on his laptop in the evening in the lounge while we’re watching TV. If he doesn’t want to be disturbed he’ll have his headphones on and I’ll wave my hand in front of him if I want his attention. At least now we’re in the same room, whereas before, when Paul had deadlines, he would be up in another room and the family wouldn’t see him.
The other thing with the way Paul works, is that he gets a lot of the initial development of a story done when he’s out and about, because he’ll take his Dictaphone and go for a walk for a couple of hours, while he’s thrashing a storyline out. So a lot of the time when he’s in another dimension, he’s out of the house anyway. When it gets to the rewrites and the hard work later on, he’ll do that down in the main lounge with the rest of us.
So do you listen to or read Paul’s work?
Primarily listen, because Paul is very audible in the way he works. He likes to know that it reads well by reading it out. So this is how he does all of his initial editing and read-throughs. Once he’s done the treatment he’ll read that to me to see how it works. That gives him the option of being able to check while he’s reading it if it’s pacey enough for him. It also allows him to make alterations as he’s going along. From my point of view I’m also hearing it. Then, once he’s adjusted it again he’ll read each chapter to see how it’s going, see if he’s missed anything, or something’s glaringly wrong or problems with continuity and what might need changing.
Writing takes time and you can’t just sit down for five minutes to write. Things like doing the shopping and housework can cut into that valuable time, as well as all the admin associated with being a writer.
Yes, I do the aspects of admin, like updating his Amazon page and chasing through any invoices for him, making sure his accounts are done on time and reminding Paul who needs what story by what date. He’s very good about the actual business of writing and keeping to deadlines.
Paul has a number of jobs he has to do to keep the house running and we tend to get things done at the weekend. We both work full-time so there has to be a division of labour.