Interview with Paul Dawson, author of ROSEBUD
Paul Dawson is this year’s short story competition winner with his eclectic short story Rosebud. Paul has been writing poetry and stories since he was young. Recently his reading and writing habits have been leaning towards a more literary style. He likes the idea of a story being more than just entertainment, and his interest in philosophy and classical works has broadened his outlook on what a story can be.
He has had his work published in Under the Bed, Beyond Imagination and several other smaller independent magazines, including being on the shortlist for the Broken Worlds anthology released by Almond Press last year.
He is currently working hard on a dystopian novel about a walled city shut off from the rest of the world, and of course nothing can keep him from writing short stories. At any one time he finds himself juggling many stories in his head, and is excited by the challenge of getting them out into the world.
Emma Petfield: When did you first begin writing, and why?
Paul Dawson: I was in English class in my first year of high school and we had to write a poem. I can’t remember now what the poem was about, but I felt a sense that the words and rhyme came quite easily to me, and I realised that even though I was young, I had a lot to say about the world around me, and poetry was the first medium through which I could express that. Thinking back now, I guess that was when I first found a way to channel something that was always inside of me, but I never knew how to release it before. It was at first a place to explore my own feelings, and then more recently it’s become a part of my own identity and an important part of how I interact and observe the world around me. I think the challenging part for any writer is finding the best way to channel that inner voice so that it meets the page, after many edits and rewrites no doubt, as best it can possibly be. That’s part of what makes writing so fun, the challenge of how hard it can be, and the satisfaction when you know you’ve got it right.
The Rosebud combines elements of dystopia and dream worlds, what was your inspiration for this?
Well I suppose dystopian futures are already good fuel for nightmares, as by their nature they are places where humans find themselves out of control, almost to the point of being paralysed and robbed of their own desires and hopes. For me that is a very dreamlike scenario, and so therefore the borders between the two things are already quite closely related. I think for me the inspiration stems from that, the idea of being lost in a scenario where you have no control and you realise the familiar world around you is never far from being a prison itself. The dreams I remember are never the ones where everything is as it should be, they’re usually the ones where the world appears warped and wilted beyond all recognition, and so I guess the natural human instinct is to explore those themes and to try and understand them through writing. A lot of the time I think my own subconscious fears and desires find their way into my writing, whether I am aware of them or not.
The Rosebud lays a foundation for a much larger narrative, would you consider exploring this world further?
Yes, I think the world I created in The Rosebud is a very interesting one, as it deals with the idea that there can be new worlds beneath our fingertips, and that the implosion of one world doesn’t have to be the end of everything. I also think there is much left unresolved in the story, for example we know what happens to the two main protagonists, but there is no resolution to the people considered lost in this world of darkness, only the hint that they must find their own way out. And so I wouldn’t completely rule out visiting that world again, but I also think that sometimes it’s best to leave the reader to make up their mind on what happens when the story has finished. For me it’s very important to find new angles to a story, and if I can’t find one that interests me enough, I will leave it alone.
In The Last Canvas, also published by Almond Press in Broken Worlds, you feature a dystopian reality with roboticism. What draws you to dystopian literature, both as a writer and a reader?
I think dystopian literature very often paints a world that is troubled, intolerant and indifferent to humanity’s hopes and dreams, and therefore it provides a wonderful opportunity to hold up a microscope to the human condition. As we know, most people reveal their true selves in times of hardship and oppression. In an oppressive society there will be people who become immoral in order to live a better life, but there will also be people who will stand up and fight for their freedom against all odds, even in the face of death. What is fascinating about that is that it doesn’t leave anybody on the fence. It makes people choose sides; it makes people choose their fate. I love Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, for there are characters in it who risk everything in order to still have fiction in their lives, and they do it because fiction is for them a way out, a freedom from the oppressors of their world, and in such a world, even rebellion itself is a way to deal with the world they find themselves in. There are many genres of fiction in which the traits of the characters inhabiting a fictional world are slowly revealed over the course of a story, but what I like about dystopian literature, is that it enables us to explore humanity at the point of being crushed. It enables the writer to create characters with a heightened sense of purpose, by pushing their morality and souls to the point of breaking early on in the story. I find that a very interesting concept to explore as a writer, and one that very much intrigues and entertains me as a reader too.
You’re inviting people to a dinner party and you can only invite 5 authors, deceased or alive, who do you choose?
First on my list would be J G Ballard. He has very much influenced my own writing and opened my mind to just how far our imaginations can take us. William Shakespeare, because who wouldn’t want to talk to the bard himself, and I don’t think there’s any writer who wouldn’t benefit from such a meeting, though I’m sure such a meeting would render me speechless. Mary Shelley, because Frankenstein is my favourite book of all time, and I’m sure she’d bring along Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, without me having to even invite them. James Joyce, for the sole reason the man is a genius, and sure to liven the dinner party by being crude, controversial and irreverent, in the only way he knows how. And finally Edgar Allan Poe, just because I’m in love with his writing and I’d be fascinated to see the man himself, and wonder about the dark, ghostly demons lurking beneath his skin, that forced him to write such dark and depraving stories. Well it looks like everyone on my list are deceased, but hey if they could be brought back to life, that would be one hell of an interesting dinner party.
You’ve written a bit of everything from starting with poetry, then moving into short stories and eventually novels. Do you have a preference and what are the challenges faced with each form?
I think at the moment my preference would have to be short stories, only because they enable the immediate realisation of an idea, and because by their very nature they are shorter and easier to tame. I guess it’s the equivalent of building a little outhouse in the woods, as opposed to building a skyscraper. If you get the plans for the outhouse wrong, you just bulldoze it and start again, do that with a skyscraper and you’ve lost a considerable amount of time, but at the same time the novel has a much greater chance of being seen on the skyline, whereas the outhouse can sometimes remain lost in the woods where no one else can see it. However there are definitely signs that the short story genre is becoming more popular again, and in this age when people have less time to devote to long novels, it is actually becoming a more convenient option for some people. Having said that, I do think the genre exists solely because of its strengths, and shouldn’t just be seen as fast food literature.
Poetry on the other hand is perhaps the ultimate way of expressing an idea, and I like the fact there is nowhere to hide in poetry. Every word has to count; every phrase and line has to flow with an effortless ease, but the reader had to be oblivious to the hard work that went into it, as much as that thought kills us as writers. But we’d rather be seen as effortless wordsmiths, rather than sweating, short-nailed freaks, obsessed with perfecting our words to the point of madness. For me poetry is without doubt the quick fix for my creative mind, and I love both reading and writing it in equal measure, even if it’s not my main goal to bring out a book of poetry.
The novel is namely a different beast, and I think perhaps the word beast is a rather tame term for it. It can give the greatest pleasure, no doubt, but it can also give the greatest heartache. It’s like an unrequited love that gives you just enough hope to keep pursuing it, but it will make sure it feels your heart and soul with doubt along every step of the way. On the upside, I don’t think anything really compares to the satisfaction of completing a novel, even if that novel is later deemed irretrievably awful and a pointless waste of time. To finish it you need dedication, discipline, and I think I’ve got what it takes. I’ve completed four novels so far, and each one has taught me something different, though I’m still yet to determine if any of them can be turned into saleable works. At the moment I see them more as practice novels, and I think that every writer should have a few of those under their beds. I don’t think you can run the perfect marathon on your first shot at one, and if you do fluke it, you’ll never learn how you did it.
What are you working on at the moment that we can anticipate in the future?
My main goal and focus at the moment is to write a novel that represents who I am as a writer, and to incorporate all the things that interests me as a reader myself. I’m currently researching and planning a novel that takes place in a walled city that was created as humanity’s last hope against a race of dark vampiric creatures that stalk the night beyond the safety of its walls. The people in the city believe they are the last of the human race, and as food supplies and amenities run low, there is pressure building on those who are in charge, and as the creatures of darkness grow in numbers, there is an increasing threat that they will breach the walls. The narrative will follow several characters in different standings within that society, from the very rich, to the very poor, and I hope to weave the story in an interesting way that will create intrigue and push the characters to their very limits. I hope to write the first draft of the novel in the first part of 2016. It currently has the working title, City of Earth, and my long-term goal is to send it out to agents once I’ve reworked and shaped it the best novel it can be.
At the same time I will continue to write short stories, and I already have a few that I’m yet to edit and redraft with the aim to send them out for publication. I like to have a few stories sent away at any one time, that way when one gets rejected, I can still rest my hope on those still out there.
Ash, fear, moments of reconciliation; darkness, hope, moments of regret. What will the Apocalypse bring for you?
Apocalypse Chronicles brings together stories, memories, and endings. Woven together by their collective experience, each tale offers a unique and harrowing understanding of what the Apocalypse will mean for their world. Families, worlds, futures and pasts are explored in this unique anthology that brings together fiction from authors from across the globe.
Bear witness to the end of the world as you know it; but will you know how it will end?
We invite you to read and hope you enjoy this collection.