Interview with Paul Collis

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
Twickenham, near the Thames, West London. As a small child I spent much of my time with my grandparents, Eric and Edie. On work days, Eric cycled off to Teddington Library, where he was the maintenance man. One of his responsibilities was to stoke the furnace of the boiler. Quite often he would bring back books that his employers had culled from the shelves and consigned to the flames. He put a greater value on them, and gave them to me. Even though I couldn't read some of them - an outdated encyclopedia, say - I treasured the pictures. Edie worked at the Twickenham Library, a proud Edwardian building with columns and pediments that, to me, declared the importance of books by housing them in a palace. Three times a week, at 7 a.m., she would unlock the huge double doors and let us in. We had the place to ourselves. While she cleaned the vast expanse of parquet floors and polished the solid oak shelves and desks, I would be assigned a chair and my choice of book. Any book! For an hour and a half the shelves were all mine, and I could climb the rolling ladder and make my own discoveries.
How does this early experience influence my writing today? I find that one of the pleasures of writing anything – books, emails – is conducting the research. I'm always fascinated by it, and always distracted. And that's my excuse for not being as productive as I'd like to be.
When did you first start writing?
My initial attempt at writing for adults was at art school, writing copy for a series of ads for Alcoholics Anonymous. That led to a job in an ad agency, which led to a career of creating TV ads in Europe and the US. Cameras, cars, soup, chocolate, beer, airlines, radios, wine, TVs; people in my business are knowledgeable about many things, but experts in none.
What's the story behind your latest book?
A writer, Harry, asks himself "Why is Macbeth known as the 'unlucky play'?" He surmises that it's because Shakespeare stole the plot from another playwright, and the aggrieved playwright sabotaged the first production, thus spawning its reputation. So Harry writes a manuscript and posts it on a website that promises discovery by an agent. But the manuscript gets ripped off and made into a movie. The irony!
The novel starts with the first two chapters of Harry's manuscript, then cuts to the contemporary but unconventional 'whodunnit', wherein Harry seeks revenge and the villains receive their just desserts.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Impatience. Rejection by agents and publishers doesn't have to have the same effect as it did a decade ago. With the internet, and outlets like Smashwords, one can publish to the ether. And I can see my book in print for the cost of my time designing it plus a few dollars for paper and postage.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Success? I'm afraid I'm a long way from being 'successful', at least in terms of sales. But from a personal satisfaction point of view, I'd say that Smashwords enables me to put my work out in the world and see how readers react to it. And it does so in a way that's virtually pain free.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I find doing the research enjoyable. If I manage to get the background facts right, I hope readers will be able to immerse themselves in the world I've created without being distracted by anachronisms and inaccuracies.
The other source of fun is in solving the puzzles that I put in my own way. For instance: How should I start this sentence, considering the one that's gone before it? Would X really respond to Y in that way, at that moment? Is that word the right word to use in that setting? Does it scan? Does it make me smile? It takes me a lot of effort to get to the end of each chapter, and I get a kick out of giving myself permission to move on to the next.
What do your fans mean to you?
I'm not a facebooker or tweeter, and I don't blog, so I have no fans that I'm aware of. But if that ever changes, I'll get back to you.
What are you working on next?
My next project is a novella, a story of an incident that takes place in a hill station in India, in 1934, as recalled by a 10-year-old boy. The incident is neither felonious nor scandalous, only public and embarrassing. But it's a part of my father's story, and one I feel interested in enough to explore.
Who are your favorite authors?
No real, top of the heap favorite. Mood plays a role in what I enjoy from one week to the next.
But, in no particular order, and excluding any of the classic and ancient...
Richard Ford. William Boyd. Cormac McCarthy. Peter Ackroyd. P.D. James. Graham Greene. Evelyn Waugh. Bernhard Schlink. Meg Rosoff. James Salter. P.G.Wodehouse. H.E.Bates. Madeleine Miller. Hillary Mantel. Edward Hoagland. Carl Hiassen. And plenty more whose names aren't in front of me right now.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Seeing if my Smashwords sales have increased overnight.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Mainly blogs and newsletters. But I confess I still get most of my books from the local library. Such a great resource.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I was five or six at the time, and it might have been based on one of Enid Blyton's tales about Noddy and Big Ears. I had only three of the books, and Dad had read them to me countless times. After I pestered him into telling me a NEW story, he made one up. I remember I scrawled a few words on a page and added a couple of bizarre stick figures as a reminder to him of where he'd left off.
What is your writing process?
Arbitrary, undisciplined, and spontaneous.
How do you approach cover design?
I do it myself. Probably not the best idea, but I enjoy the process.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
This bloody internet thing. It's addictive, I tell you. Must get the camera / fishing rod / hiking boots out again.
Published 2014-01-17.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Army of the Night
Price: Free! Words: 17,600. Language: English. Published: August 15, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Horror » Undead, Fiction » Historical » Paranormal
(4.83 from 6 reviews)
It’s 1813. Napoleon’s army has to retreat from Spain to France, but the main pass across the Pyrenees is within reach of the British forces. In his search for an alternative route, Alaine Bellanger discovers more than just an ancient mountain trail. High in a cleft between two peaks, he finds something very strange — and someone even stranger. But who can he tell? And who would believe him?
The Scottish Movie
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 96,950. Language: English. Published: August 15, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Alternative history, Fiction » Humor & comedy » General
(5.00 from 1 review)
Harry Greenville, a part-time writer living in modern Los Angeles, writes a novel about Shakespeare's 'Macbeth', and the cause of its unlucky reputation. He posts the first draft on a website where it's discovered by Hollywood — but not in a good way. The result: life mirrors art in an entertaining tale of revenge. (Positive reviews at, etc. BRAG Medallion.)
The Wrinkly
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 45,160. Language: English. Published: May 29, 2010. Categories: Fiction » Humor & comedy » General
(4.29 from 7 reviews)
Mike Lewis wants 'out'. Out of his meaningless career, his shallow relationships, the big city rat race. On a whim, he signs a contract for a house in an idyllic retirement community in Florida that promises a peaceful life of golf and hobbies. Only later does he read the small print: he has to be over 60 to join the enclave. Trouble is, he's only 39. Welcome to the start of a whole new life...