Do your research; don’t confine your writing to what you know. It’s never been easier to research people and places that may not be part of your locale. Don’t obsess about daily and weekly word counts; why write a piece of garbage because you feel you must.
As a part of my series about the 5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Dalzell. Paul Dalzell is an experienced writer with 4 published novels. He has lived and worked in the Asia-Pacific region for nearly 50 years as a fishery biologist and manager. He has published 150 scientific and technical articles on fisheries in the Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia. Originally from West Yorkshire, England, he currently lives in Hawaii. To learn more, please visit https://www.pauldalzell.com/
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Thank you for this opportunity. I think it is important to mention that I came to writing novels rather late in life. I have worked in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands as a fisheries scientist and fishery manager. This involved a great deal of writing. As such, I learned a great deal about from drafting reports and papers, including transmitting complex ideas and hypotheses without being entangled and tied up in knots. I also learned how to structure a document. Granted this is different from novel writing but it provided training and self-discipline in developing story arcs.
The desire to write a novel was always in the back of my head. My coauthor on The Friends of Eddy Relish emailed me to begin a novel where one of us wrote a paragraph, to be followed by the other. This became too unwieldy as the text began to take shape. After that, we sent the Eddy Relish text back and forth as a Word document and now were each writing chapters or completing chapters.
I took a novel-writing class with William Bernhardt in 2009 which was excellent. Anybody contemplating writing a novel should take a course with Bill who brings with him a wealth of writing experience and the machinations of the book trade. Besides working on our writing, Bill took us through a pitch session and made us all pitch to him our books.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
I’ve had a few nasty experiences with sharks, one of which made its way into Pax Britannica. I jumped into a hole on a remote part of an atoll and found what I thought was sand was actually quicksand, which was a bit heart-stopping!
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
The biggest challenge was total ignorance regarding writing and book trade. Our naïve view was that we wrote a brilliant novel that would be snapped up immediately for publication. Then we learned about literary agents and representation, so we sent off our Eddy Relish manuscript to an English agent who rather snottily declined our wonderful work. We realized what we were up against which was very off-putting. In the end, we shelved Eddy Relish, and I began writing on my own, starting with the two vampire novels. It was a two for one publishing deal with AuthorHouse in 2017 when I had begun Pax Britannica that made me dust off Eddy Relish and update it as part of that deal
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I can’t think of anything howlingly funny other than my total naiveté about the writing and publishing trade. Further, it doesn’t help to lard your book with in-jokes, which is great for friends but not the reading public. I remember going to see a band at university formed by the boyfriends of some girls I knew. The music was uninspiring as were the songs, one of which had a chorus, “hairy mole, oink oink oink.” I was talking to the girls the day following the gig, and tried to be polite when asked about the band. I said they played well but I couldn’t understand the songs, citing, “hairy mole, oink oink oink.”
“Ah well,” said the girls, “you don’t understand their sense of humor.” Which explained why their audience consisted almost entirely of the band’s girlfriends.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I have a novel, “He Might Still Be on Mars” going through the last stages of review before publication. The following text is the story summary from the cover:
He Might Still Be On Mars is a thriller set in the latter years of the 26th Century. Mankind has spread out into the rocky planets of the Solar System and the rocky moons of the Gas Giants, Jupiter and Saturn. Despite light speed and near light speed travel, the number of people emigrating to these new worlds is in the doldrums. This lack of enthusiasm is driven primarily by the savagery of raids by pirate chief, Wilson Black. Powerful politician and scientist, Stella Ling, sends Owen Bone and his Synthetic partner Sandi Shaw on a manhunt for an absconded husband, Freddie Ling. This is camouflage for a plan to eliminate Wilson Black. Owen and Sandi are subject to terrifying injuries and stresses that test what it means to be human and Synth. In overcoming these challenges, they find help in the most unlikely places, leading to a showdown with Black in the frozen remote taiga forest of Siberia.
I have a new work in progress, Wedding Presents from PyongYang, which is about a quarter of the way through, about 25,000 words. It’s a love story and thriller set in England, Thailand and the Golden Triangle.
I also have a new idea for a book called Lickspittle, about the survivor of a near-fatal beating by gangsters, but its early days yet as I am still researching the story.
On the science side I’m also writing a monograph on tuna fisheries in the Pacific Ocean, and a funding program that greatly helped scientific research into the fish and different aspects of the fisheries targeting tuna. In its own way, it’s as fascinating as writing fiction.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
There are so many parts of The Friends of Eddy Relish, which were based on fiction, but which came true or partially true. We anticipated our story of the fall and survival of our main villain from a hotel balcony and onto a hotel awning and then a car roof more or less happened to a guy in South Africa. The “Me Too” movement has verified our stories about Hollywood sleaze and the fall of Harvey Weinstein, although I think the ‘casting couch’ Hollywood culture was an open secret for years. The rise and rise of China, the growing importance and profiles of the Central Asian republics, the way pornography has become almost mainstream. Our portrayal of Islamic Terrorism was meant to be absurd but then again, fiction has an almost sinister way of becoming fact.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
I don’t have any great lesson for readers, Eddy Relish is a story that emerged from our collective imaginations. I’m mainly a solo author but writing with Gerard Radley brought a whole wealth of experience, especially on the financial world and metal trading. If there is any empowering aspect of the book, it is that start writing and see what turns up. My first impression was that we were going to write a much grimmer tale than we eventually set down on paper. Radley injected a much lighter tone and, between us, we worked on the characters until we were happy with them.
Working on a jointly authored book gave me the confidence to strike out on my own. I still send drafts of my books to Radley who usually has something pithy to say about my stories. Plus, we have some short stories, some novella length, that we grouped under the title Soupçon, French for suspicion. One of these stories was expanded to my first novel, The Last Dream Before You Die.
When I was working as a fishery scientist, I had an internship with Professor Daniel Pauly of the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, when he worked in the Philippines. Dan was insistent that scientists must write and document their work, not let it gather mold and dust in a filing cabinet. I gained a huge boost from this to write a large body of work on fisheries in Papua New Guinea and other Pacific Islands. Those technical skills became a huge advantage when writing fiction.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.
I do not really have any pat answers to this question. If you feel like writing a story, then write one. Don’t accept the views of friends and family on your work, get it edited by a professional. Don’t react to trenchant criticism and editing of your work like a dying swan. I engage the services of a great freelance editor (Editor Cassandra at editorcassandra.com) who I can highly recommend.
Some writers work to a regular schedule; I write when I feel like it, when the voices in a story become too clamorous and I have to get them down on paper. Do your research; don’t confine your writing to what you know. It’s never been easier to research people and places that may not be part of your locale. Don’t obsess about daily and weekly word counts; why write a piece of garbage because you feel you must. Some folks like plotting things out on cards or in a tabular format on their computer. I don’t do that, but if it makes the writing easier than do it. Remember you are writing for more than just blokes. I read somewhere that 80% of fiction books are read by women, who will look at your book in different ways than men.
Always keep your eyes and ears open for inspiration. The Yakuza in Eddy Relish were inspired from seeing Tarantino’s Kill Bill vol 1. Radley shared an article with me that showed how two brothers came to own almost all of the then Soviet Union’s aluminum industry in the wake of the break-up of the country and re-emergence as Russia. Just take a look at the sessions of the London Metal Exchange and you get a sense of the freebooting macho industry that is metal trading. From this arose the character of metal trader Sol Silberstein and the enigmatic Chinese metal trader nicknamed Magnesio in the book.
Further, the production of many vital metals and rare earth elements may be mined in the most appalling conditions, as indeed are gold and gems. This is portrayed in my forthcoming book, He Might Still Be on Mars.
The English writer Martin Amis talks about sentences having euphony or the quality of being pleasing to the ear, especially through a harmonious combination of words. I think this is extremely important. I generally don’t read out text to see how it sounds; rather just recite the sentence in my head and note any jarring words or phrases. If you trip up in reading or saying the sentence out aloud then it probably can do with some editing.
Finally, get a copy of The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker. It is a great brick of a book that took 34 years to complete and is a Jung-influenced analysis of stories and their psychological meaning. The books don’t have to be read in the typical linear fashion and it’s a great reference source.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
Perseverance and discipline are key requisites; it is understood. Curiosity is, I think, my main motivating drive for writing, especially where I have do a lot of research. I like it when in a draft novel the voices and actions are happening more or less independently of my motivation and I am just reporting what is happening. For me, it usually happens about a quarter of a way into writing a novel. I also find walking a great way to plot and mull over stories. On walks, knotty and thorny problems have a way of being resolved.
I have to be careful that when I’ve been writing that I don’t carry all these thoughts careening around my head (actually happened last night). Otherwise, I get insomnia just thinking too much about the story arcs and various characters. I also make up book titles to see if they might resonate to form ideas for a story. One I liked and have not used yet is “The House of Nothing.”© It sounds very dark but, as of yet, hasn’t yielded any great ideas.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I really don’t read many works of fiction. I check out the 1-star reviews of novels on Amazon as I think these are a far better and realistic insight than the gushing 4 and 5-star reviews, especially if a book is termed a “best seller”. Part of my motivation to write was that I found most modern fiction dreary, plodding and predictable. Any book described as being humorous, satirical or wryly comic usually isn’t. The publishing industry is just that, an industry. Therefore, they are going to recoup their investments by pushing their products, regardless of their true value.
I draw great inspiration from Ian Fleming, not only the Bond books but also his factual reportage. I enjoy Bruce Chatwin’s travel writing. Someone gave me a copy of ‘In Patagonia,’ to pass on to a mutual friend. I opened the book to page 1 and was drawn in immediately. I can still read and reread Redmond O’Hanlon’s travel books about journey’s in tropical rain forests and his stint on a North Sea trawler. I liked the Flashman series by George McDonald Frazer, but the latter novels became more labored and a struggle to get through. I am also a fan of Dick Francis novels, especially the Sid Halley stories.
Bill Bryson is another firm favorite as are the Mark Kurlansky’s books on cod, salt etc. If I was to write an equivalent book, I’d look at the history of a group of anchovies, the stolephorids, which are found from Africa to the Hawaiian Islands. In South and South East Asia, these fish are fermented to make fish sauces. In the Pacific Islands, the same fish are used for baitfish for tuna fishing. In fact, fisheries for stolephorids has been the only industrial scale fishery in coral reef habitats in the Pacific Islands
Lastly, I can’t recommend too highly The Spectator Magazine from the UK. It’s one of few magazines with an increasing print circulation in the cyber age. Further, there is an online edition, for the US accessed through the UK website. The writing in the Spectator is second to none.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I saw an interview with the great travel writer, Jan Morris, who when asked a similar question said that she wished that kindness was more widespread in the world. I like this simple idea but one which is the foundation of a just and civil society. Others have also recognized this such as Tara Cousineau, author of The Kindness Cure. Plus, there are 124,000,000 results on Google when searching for kindness.