I was offered the chance to interview Paul G. Day if I would post the questions and answers on my writing blog. Here are his thoughtful answers and I hope you will all learn from him. I know I have. I especially liked the answer to my question How Much of the Book is Realistic? It gave me the key to something I have been working on in my own writing. You don’t have to reproduce real events, but real insights or principles may come through.
Thanks, Paul, for this great interview.
What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was The Misadventures of Red Bear and I was inspired to write it after the tremendous feedback I received on writers-network when I posted it as a five part poem. The poem itself was inspired by my own journey and the struggles I went through as a young man growing up in a large family. Red Bear is very much a part of who I am and he is what symbolizes my personality best. I chose him as my logo and renamed my blog Brave Bear Books to differentiate from similar sites.
Do you have a specific writing style?
No. I try to adapt my style to suit the particular genre and narrative I am writing. Because I write across a broad spectrum, the writing style and voice of the narrative must reflect the specific book or series. I try to get into the head of the main characters and let them dictate the style through their actions, dialogue and their view of their world.
How did you come up with the title?
In Red Bear’s case the title came first. I own a little red teddy bear (yes I really do, lol) so that was easy. But my later titles, especially my novels, were more considered and deliberate. I always start with a working title. For Children of Mars it was just “Kids on Mars”. I later changed this to reflect the more mature content, if that makes sense. When I choose a title, I then conduct some research online to make sure it is original and only change it again if there is another similar book with the same title to avoid confusion and to differentiate my work from others.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I don’t generally set out to “preach” a message to my readers. If there are messages in my work, they are just a natural part of telling the story. Of course there are things I am passionate about, such as bullying, so often elements of bullying, its impact and the responses of the victims appear in my books. I work mainly on themes, such as family, friendships and a coming of age. I never labor the point when writing issues into the narrative, letting the characters tell their story through their own eyes as seen by the narrative voice. I do tend to write about journeys that individuals must undertake which challenge them to rise above their circumstances and come out the other end wiser and stronger for the experience.
How much of the book is realistic?
In so much as my stories reflect a very personal journey and elements of my own personality, as well as those close to me, then these books are realistic. But the fantasy worlds (even in science fiction) must of course be dissimilar from our Earthly experience. With The Black Fairy, even though she is part of a wider fantasy world, her traits and her circumstances would be familiar to a lot of people in that she suffers loss, is misunderstood, maligned and marginalized and then must confront her own demons in order to come of age.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Not deliberately or even consciously, but I find I am inspired by the actions (good and bad) of those I grew up with. In Children of Mars there are nine children. I am myself one of nine. I didn’t consciously decide to replicate my family, but, it is apparent there are very much elements of some of my family in the book. The relationship between Pierre and his older sister Freddie is particularly poignant as I based their love-hate interactions on those of my older brother and sister. I also put a bit of myself into the character of Commander Paul Santerre, but made them of French origin so that I was forced to think very carefully about how to structure their stories and personalities.
What books have influenced your life most?
I am a huge fan of Science Fiction and have read the works of Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Kim Stanley Robinson and Russell Kirkpatrick among others. But I have equally read classics such as Jane Eyre, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, anything by Charles Dickens and H G Wells. I love classic writing and I try to make my own work reflect the feel and narrative nuances of the classics. MY junior novel, Kipp The Kid, for example, is inspired by the traditional tales from the early part of the twentieth century.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I would have to say Dickens, because he, more than any other writer I have read, seemed to understand the predicament of children and young people and his work was a genuine voice of concern in his generation for the welfare of poor children the world over.
What book are you reading now?
At the moment I am making my way through George R Martin’s Game of Thrones series.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
He’s not so new anymore, but a few years back I picked up the first book written by Russell Kirkpatrick, “Across the Face of the World”. Back then he was a first time author. I was immediately struck by the tremendous detail in his work.
What are your current projects?
Currently I am writing two sequels. The first is the sequel to Star Child: The Cosmic Birth. In this second book, “Daughter of Destiny”, I focus on the events on a distant planet as Tamsin and her non human companions try to navigate a hostile and mysterious new world. The second book is the sequel to Children of Mars and is titled “Shadow of Olympus”. It picks up immediately following the events of the first book but quickly takes a whole new and unexpected direction as the children are once again faced with difficult decisions and new dangers. I am also writing another junior novel, Rocket to the Moon, where a young boy of superior intellect and a gifted inventor, teams up with the new girl in school and tries to convince everyone he is right. This will be a difficult book, because it has very emotion-charged elements to it and themes difficult to express to younger readers.
Do you see writing as a career?
I do and then I don’t. I do hope I can make it a career, but am under no illusions. I love to write. I have to write, irrespective of whether anyone reads or appreciates my work. I am like a painter who has a vision for what he wants to put on canvas and regardless of whether it turns out to be genius or not, he has to paint. I think it’s unwise to expect to make writing a career, when so many authors are struggling. Even some established authors are having trouble making a living out of writing. I think it is a rare and lucky author who strikes the right chord with his or her audience and manages a level of success.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I am always revisiting my work and reworking it until I can do so no longer. Some books are in their twentieth revision. Most changes are small. Some changes are necessary. I never completely re-write a book I have finished because I believe if you get to the end of a novel, it was meant to be. So the only changes I make will help it flow better, make the narrative richer or correct mistakes or inconsistencies. I think you have to love your own work as much as you expect your readers to, but be realistic and objective when critiquing it. If I were a toy maker and made only wooden toys, they may be perfect and beautiful, but at the end of the day they are still just wooden toys and may not fit in a world of technology and robots. But if I love making wooden toys, why let that stop me?
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
My interest in writing began when I read “I Can Jump Puddles” I think in year seven. I don’t remember much about the story, but the ideas in that book are still fresh in my mind and the visual narrative is what inspires me.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Sure, this is from Children of Mars. “Despite the overpowering sense of hopelessness that now confronted her, Freddie chose to hold onto the belief that her parents were still alive and put all thoughts of death aside. “Assume nothing, but prepare for anything.” Those simple words, repeated over and over in her head, were all that she needed to give her the courage to face the situation, even in the presence of such overwhelming evidence.”
Who designed the covers?
I design all my own covers. I have taught myself how to do this with practice and a number of failures. This is by necessity as to have them professionally designed is prohibitive. Most designers charge anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars to design a cover and with eighteen books to my name, this would be impossible. However, I am confident my covers are at least as good as any indie titles and I feel I am improving in my skills every time I do a new cover.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part about writing any book is to start. Once I do start I generally don’t stop until I have exhausted all my ideas. Then I put it down, wait until I am inspired again and then write some more. I have been known to write a whole book in one sitting (with sleep in between of course). Some books take longer and much greater commitment, especially the more complicated books aimed at adults. I think a writer needs to write something creative every day. When I’m not writing my books I write poetry, blog, and update my various social media sites. Aside from the act of writing, the most difficult thing is to make your characters believable and write your narrative in the right voice and frame your scenes with imagination, being careful to trust the reader to fill in the details with their own intellect and imagination.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
My advice to writers is to not think too much about what you will write next. Just write and let the characters speak for themselves through their actions and words. I am often just as surprised about where my books are heading as the reader will be. Always strive to improve. Re-work the narrative until you reach the limit of your skills (Notice I did not say until it is perfect). Always set out to write a better book than the last one. Learn how to describe scenes with imagination and flair. Use simple dialogue based on what real people would actually say and then stretch it a little to make it more meaningful. Make sure your narrative suits the intended reader and also that it fits the genre.
Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?
I write mainly for children and young people. But anyone who picks up one of my books will get something out of them. My books are genuinely unique both in style and substance. Readers will be transported into another time, another place and another world. I pride myself on my ability to write dream sequences that will leave readers in awe and descriptions that will inspire the imagination. Yet, I focus on simple narrative and economy of words and don’t waste time and effort on superfluous nonsense or over-blown descriptions. My stories seem real. My characters are drawn from my own personal experiences. My stories are imbued with my own life journey. If I have a style it is classic. Anyone should be able to pick up one of my books and not only be able to read it, but immediately understand it. They are exciting and imaginative stories full of adventure and wonder, sometimes against a backdrop of fear and loss, but always with the purpose of inspiring the reader. In my latest book, Children of Mars, nine children face the reality of the loss of their parents as they try to deal with grief, each other and an overwhelming sense that their world is collapsing around them. In all this, individuals will discover talents they never thought they had and a strength that can only come from enduring hardship. This is a dramatic story with surprises along the way and a finale that I hope will leave the reader feeling breathless.
What can we expect from you in the future?
Well, I have some very big projects after I complete all the sequels I have planned or am working on. By far my biggest project will be The Four Edged Sword, a massive epic novel of as much as six hundred pages, focusing on four kingdoms and their fight to retrieve the mystical sword in order to dominate the world. But this will be as much a story about a King and father and his love for his children and the lengths he will go to in order to protect them and his right to rule.
What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?
Like any author, I enjoy reading reviews by readers. Reviews not only help sell books, but also help to justify a writer’s choices. Good quality, thoughtful reviews are the best and are often used to help promote a book. If you loved the book, write a review. If you hated the book, write a review. Either way it is valuable feedback. Also, tell your friends, share an author’s page, become a fan. You will be making the author’s day.
Do you have any tips for readers or advice for other writers trying to get published?
Don’t give up. Learn your craft well. Experiment with self promotion. Learn how to make book trailers. Purchase a domain name. Hold local book signings and launches. Eat, write, sleep, eat write sleep, repeat.
Is writing easy for you? Do you feel lonely being a writer?
I wouldn’t say writing is easy, but it does come naturally. I think no matter how natural a writer is though, it is still a craft which needs to be learnt and the only way this can happen is by writing and listening to feedback and read the great works of others. If writing becomes hard or a chore or you no longer enjoy doing it, stop, take a few months off and if the desire does not return, then writing is not for you. True writers will always write, if only for themselves.
How do you feel when someone disagrees with something you have written?
Initially my reaction is never good. But after I have thought about it, two things stand out in my mind, the attitude of the person giving the negative feedback and the value of what they are saying. If they are aggressive or have simply failed to read the book correctly (in some cases not even reading the book), or they appear to have a vendetta or ulterior motive, I ignore them, thanking them politely for their feedback. I never engage in an argument with them. If they offer their feedback politely and genuinely, with a view of helping me see it from a different perspective, then I welcome their feedback, take note of what they are saying and then decide whether to do anything about it. It’s important for an author to realize that all writers receive negative reviews. Even some of the greatest writers of the past and present receive negative reviews and feedback. Indie authors are no different. You have to look at the overwhelming consensus. If the vast majority of readers dislike your work, you have to question whether you are as good as you want to believe. However, if you are consistently receiving good reviews (especially from strangers), then you can conclude you are at least as good as any other writer.
How do you make sure the information for your nonfiction books is accurate and up-to-date?
Well I don’t write nonfiction. But for fantasy it does not matter. For science fiction it does, but only if the facts are crucial. For example, in Children of Mars, Mount Olympus is as far as anyone knows an extinct volcano, but in my book it comes to life. It’s not so much about accurate facts as it is about believability. Remember, this is fiction and fiction by definition is not real.
When you begin writing a picture book, do you know what the ending will be?
Yes, usually. The ending is important in children’s books and must be uplifting and rewarding. Sometimes it helps if there is a comical element to the ending, such as in The Misadventures of Red Bear when Red Bear tricks the Polar Bear King and ends up scolding him with the soup.
You’re a grown-up, so how can you write about things that happened to you a long time ago?
Well, what an interesting question. In my view, a child is just an adult who has not yet grown up and an adult is just a big person with a little child still trapped inside, who refuses in some ways to grow up. The difference is that an adult has the experience to understand the things that happened to him or her when he or she was a child. I remember my first day at school. I remember the times I was bullied. I remember my first kiss. I remember the moment I became a young man. I remember what it felt like to be alone in a big family. I remember getting lost, feeling confused, wondering about the world, exploring, learning to love, learning to hate and it is these things that make their way into the narrative of my work. I am also a teacher and have taught children as young as five and as old as seventeen, so I have a pretty good handle on how the mind of children and young people works.
How long does it take to complete one of your books?
It varies. I have written an entire book in just a few days. But some books take many months. It really depends on who I am writing for and the style I am adopting. If it’s a simple narrative aimed at young readers it becomes easier, but the older the reader, the more complex the story is and therefore the longer it takes to write.
Thank you so much for interviewing me. I really enjoyed writing responses to your thoughtful questions.
Paul G. Day
The Black Fairy and The Dragonfly
Star Child: The Cosmic Birth
Kipp The Copper Coast Kid
Children of Mars
The Misadventures of Red Bear
The Little Green Hen
Lucky and Scratch
Banjo and Angel
For all my other titles, please visit http://www.bravebearbooks.com