Thursday, November 16, 2017

Paul McDermott Talks Weather in Books

This week we’re going to find out a little about author Paul McDermott. November’s theme is ‘Weather as Setting’ so Paul will share his thoughts on this plus share a little about himself and his writing.

Born in the Year of the Tiger, Paul’s natural curiosity combined with the deep-seated feline need to roam has meant that over the years he’s never been able to call any one place home. His wanderlust has led him from one town to another, and even from one country to another.
“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write - my father claims to possess a story I wrote when I was six, which filled 4 standard school exercise books! What I do remember from that time was being told off for doing the Liverpool Echo crossword before he got home from work!”
While Paul was living in Denmark, he allowed himself to be persuaded to write for a purpose instead of purely for his own amusement. Perhaps it was the catalyst of breathing the same air as Hans Christian Andersen. Paul’s IT guru (aka his talented daughter) has recently constructed a website for him. Paul frequently lurks at:  (Sundays & Wednesdays)

Beverley: Do you think using weather can be part of a setting?
Paul: I’ve always preferred ‘The Great Outdoors’ – probably starting when I lied my way into the local Cub Scout pack @ 6 years of age. There was no such thing as ‘Beavers’ at the time, you were supposed to be 7 to join the Cubs. By the time they found out, I’d already earned several Merit Badges, so they couldn’t “throw me out”    I’m no longer ‘active’ but I’m a BP Guild member and try to make the annual summer Meet, which is usually in cabins rather than tents.           Long (typical!) preamble: now for the question itself! Yes, for me weather settings are an important background detail in many of my stories. The old guideline “write what you know about” holds good. You can create the atmosphere you want the reader to experience.
Beverley: Do you think adding weather to a scene can add emphasis to the scene?
Paul: One of my books (due to be published early 2018) starts with a description of the main character battling his way through a storm, seeking sanctuary. Another WiP  is based on Climate Change (and how we might have an outside chance of saving ourselves and our planet).
Beverley:  Can weather add to the emotional contact with a reader?
Paul: Looking back on the above I seem to have answered this question already but I’ll expand my thoughts. The brief answer, as you’ll have guessed, is most definitely Yes! If I write (for example) about a camping trip, I try to ensure that a City kid who’s likely to starve to death in a wood filled with apple trees and bramble bushes because he doesn’t recognise food if it doesn’t come shrunk-wrapped from Walmart will get a ‘feel’ for Nature. I don’t suppose for one moment that any of us would try to begin a work with the infamous phrase: “It was a dark and stormy night ….” but weather conditions such as storms instantly create a tension which will (hopefully) engage the reader, draw them in and get them ‘hooked’ into the drama as it unfolds. At the same time, you’re reaching out to the reader, working on their emotions.
Beverley: Do you know any authors who use weather in their books?
Paul: It might be easier to list successful writers who DON’T use weather conditions as part and parcel of their ‘stock in trade’. At this time of year, when Horror writing is highlighted, certain names are automatically on everyone’s lips. Steven King has to be top of MY list – think of the minimalist casting of “Misery” and how significant the Weather and the immediate location becomes. Shakespeare, Bram Stoker, Tolkien …the list goes on and on. In a lighter vein, the illogical ‘weather patterns’ in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books are hilarious. There are also fantastic cinema moments, such as the final shot in “Return to the Planet of the Apes” when the almost-completely buried Statue of Liberty shows (without need for dialogue) how much time has passed since the returning adventurers left home …
Beverley: Have you ever used weather as a setting in any of your books?  If yes, tell us how.
Paul: I’ve used weather and environmental descriptive passages in most of my work, both published and those still patiently waiting their turn. The one I would most like to see published has a central theme of Global Warming & Climate Change. It’s intended as a ‘wake-up call’ to do something about our mistreatment of the only planet we’ve got. Working title:  “Taking the Heat”  Watch this space!
Beverley:  Anything else you’d like to add about the use of weather in a book?
Paul: Other thoughts about use of weather.  “Fair is foul, and foul is fair …” quoth The Bard. We might think of heavy rain as ‘bad’ weather – try telling that to an African tribesman who hasn’t seen rain to grow his food crops in the last three or four years. One man’s meat, another man’s poison. Take nothing for granted, least of all the weather. “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it” – possibly a quote from Mark Twain, or one of his friends.
Beverley: Which genre or genres do you write or prefer to write?
Paul:  I’ve always been of an imaginative turn of mind, so most definitely fantasy in one form or another I’ve flexed my wings in a number of different writing genre and I still get a kick from booting up my laptop and then deciding (usually with the careful application of the day’s Second mug of Hot Lava Java #6 strength coffee) which WiP I most fancy working on today. My ‘Defence against the Dark Arts’ aka “Writer’s Block” is to have a minimum of 6 – 7 pieces “on the bubble” at any given time. Ideally they should ALL be of different genre. If I hit the proverbial ‘brick wall’ with one of them I’ll turn to another until my Muse stops sulking and returns to the stables … I’ve never attempted to write a Western – I haven’t got the ‘hands on’ experience I think a good Western writer would need. And from a personal choice (not solely on grounds of faith or religion) I don’t “do” Smut/Porn/Erotica or whatever fancy title you want to dress it up in. It’s the Literary equivalent of the Emperor’s New Clothes / the Elephant in the Room. We all know it’s there, but nobody wants to talk about it
Beverley: What prompted you to write in the genre/s you do?
Paul: Right now I’m working on 4 different WiPs in 4 different genre. Stepping back a moment and looking at what I’ve had published to date is probably as good a summary as I’ll get.                [1] Books for children, Prompted by a long & varied teaching career, I wanted to provide something which would encourage children to leave their PS 4 (PS5, PS7, PS99 …) and pick up a BOOK instead. I was ‘having a rant’ in a school Staffroom re the indifferent quality of books available for children, when my Head of Dept said: “Well, if you think YOU can do better …” That was all the challenge I needed. Six months later a limited edition (300 copies) were printed and I sold them ALL in the space of about a month. More childrens’ books are now in print & in the pipeline!  [2] Adult work. First in this category was a book based on research into my family history. Fiction, but based on Real people & events, intended as a ‘Family Saga’ historical (planned as a Trilogy). The publisher decided to market it as a Romance, which surprised me, but it’s done well so far. I’ve almost completed Vol. 2. Also available:  a mediæval thriller (12th C. plague epidemic, England) and coming soon 11th C. Fantasy adventure about a troubadour with a magic lute (both these have ‘spawned’ sequels which are amongst current WiPs). And finally, another genre: WW2 ‘sub hunt’. A (very lightly) fictionalised account of the sinking of U-534 in the final days of WW2 and the mystery surrounding her secret mission. Title: “The Spear of Destiny”, it raises almost as many questions as it attempts to answer. This was my most recent publication (June 2017) and sales are starting to take off. I had a personal reason for writing this book. I had the extraordinary privilege of meeting a number of very brave elderly men, who were once active in the Danish Resistance Movement or Modstanderbevæggelsen. Their story is almost unknown, and they have earned due recognition and respect. Obviously the names had to be changed. Therefore, this is a tribute to you, gentlemen.  De ved, hvem De er (“They know who they are”)         [This loses something in translation, unfortunately]
Beverley: I’d love to hear what you think of the present genres, how they’ve been affected by self-publishing and where you think they might be headed.
Paul: I try to read something ‘outside my comfort zone’ for every book I choose purely for my own tastes. There’s an amazing range of talented writers here in Liverpool, which as we all know IS the Cultural Centre of the Known Universe. I usually look through the dedicated ‘local writers’ shelf at the bookstore and find something there.     *RANT WARNING*   Yes, we still have Bookshops!! Do NOT under any circumstances give in to the easy (cut-price) option of buying Books in a SUPERMARKET!!!    Rant over …  pass me my coffee …!
I’ve been told (though I can’t find any hard corroborating evidence) that Westerns are making something of a comeback. As they’re my 94-y-o Pop’s favourite form of TV entertainment I’m a bit sad I don’t feel able to write one – though I’m toying with the idea of a farmer battling rustlers on his SHEEP farm in the hills of Wales 😊. If I set it in West Wales, I suppose it would be a ‘sort of’ Western …                                                                                                            Other genre. Some seem to be trending towards extremes – every horror HAS to be more gruesome than the last, ditto sex and violence. I’d settle for Utopia rather than Dystopia any day but bliss, harmony and an idyllic existence isn’t likely to sell too many books. Humour can be difficult to get right, unless you’re as gifted as Terry Pratchett or similar masters of the subject. At the moment I’m enjoying the simplicity of writing stories for children, in which it doesn’t matter too much if your imagination suddenly takes a side-step into nonsensical fantasy. There’s something of Peter Pan in me: I never want to grow up!                                                                        
Self-publishing has its merits if you know you’ve got a good product, but I can’t see it having a major influence on genre in general. I believe an experienced Literary Agent who can channel your work to a Publisher with a good track record for a specific type of book will always have an advantage.
Beverley: How long have you been writing?
Paul: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. It used to drive my father to distraction to come home from work and discover his 6-y-o son had (once again!) solved the crossword puzzle in our local newspaper before he got his hands on it! As far as published work goes – not counting the 4 bulging scrapbooks of (generally angry) Letters to the Editor clipped from a range of newspapers – that had to wait until I completed my teaching career and got myself a ‘proper job’ writing Full Time. The “Staffroom Challenge” I mentioned earlier on was the catalyst, I guess. I haven’t stopped since. I can honestly say, I’ve never in my life been so busy as I’ve been since retiring!
Beverley: Who influenced you the most in deciding to become a writer?
Paul: Influences. Not an easy one to answer. I think, if I didn’t write the only alternative would be to go mad. When you read something powerful, something with pzazz, something memorable, you think: “I wish I could write like that!” Then, if you’re like me, you sit down and have a go. It won’t always work, but when it does …!!!! Wow! One of my greatest influences was an elderly, very modest Jesuit priest who taught me at Liverpool Uni. A real polyglot, he wasn’t entirely sure how many languages he had at his fingertips, but he was native-fluent in ALL of them. It was his example which encouraged me to build on my schoolboy French, and I’m native-fluent in all the main European languages. One of my books is set in Ireland. I recently decided I’d be able to do this far better if tá mé ag foghlaim Gaeilge (I’m learning Gælic) became my new aim.
Beverley: What obstacles did you have to overcome to begin creating your work?
Paul:  Obstacles: when will someone invent the 25-hour day? I could use a few of them …
Beverley: What gets your creative juices flowing?
Paul: Creative juices (flowing/ebbing) are like the tide. This is why I’m not happy unless I have at least 5-6 (preferably more) WiPs ‘on the back burner’ so I can always switch horses if one refuses the next hurdle. As a result, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a full Stop. A day when I write less than 1000 words I generally chalk off as a wasted (or “skiving”) day. How I hate “that” song by Bruno Mars!!
Beverley: What will stop your creative muse the quickest?
Paul: Discovering I’ve painted myself into a corner and I have to backtrack about four chapters…
Beverley: What do you have for breakfast?
Paul: Breakfast is easy. Since as far back as I can recall, TWO Weetabix (milk + sugar): and Don’t speak to me until I’ve had my second cup of coffee (Garfield poster over my writing desk)
Beverley: What do you wear when you are writing?
Paul: “ … and a T-shirt that seemed clean …”     (can’t remember the singer!)                             No need for the ‘new shoes’ which seem to be the main drive of that song. There’s always a lyric hiding somewhere. Another Liverpool writer (and a good friend) has written a series of Police stories using Beatles songs as his book titles. I often ‘hear’ music while I’m writing. If I’m fast enough to transpose it, I occasionally get a song out of it even if I didn’t sit down intending to write music. One of my children’s’ books is now roughed out as the Libretto for a Rock Opera which I hope will be performed by (and for) a teenage/YA audience. I own a formal Dinner Suit (School/Uni Reunion Dinners is about the only time it comes out of the wardrobe) but trousers (not denims) and an appropriate T-shirt is my usual dress (or ‘kip’ as it’s known in Scouseland).
Beverley: Where do you do most of your writing?
Paul: Where I write. This is my ‘gift’ to anyone, free and gratis! I’m a miserly curmudgeon by nature, so I opted NOT to pay the (relatively minimal) excess for a landline when I moved into my apartment. This would have given me access to ’Internet and all the research data on the WobblyWeb. It would also have led me astray, rambling away all over the world when I could be writing. For e-mail and research, there’s a perfectly good Internet server in our Common Lounge two minutes’ walk from my flat, so I take a trip once or twice a day over there if I need to check something. I can also log on at night when the rest of the house sleeps, so I’m often to be found lurking on (Sundays & Wednesdays). There are a number of well-kept open green spaces close at hand, and I’m just as likely to sit out somewhere with a notepad, several pens (different colour inks) and a cold beer if the weather tempts me. Not a fan of running a laptop on its battery – the old ways are sometimes the best! 
Beverley: Do you have a favorite cartoon character? Why?
Paul: Hergé’s Tintin, in the original French version “S’il vous plaît!” (I’ve seen a few cringingly atrocious English translations!). He’s the eternal young sprog newspaper reporter I always wanted to be – the Head Teacher of my Alma Mater thought teaching was a better option 
Beverley: Who would you love most to meet 'in person' and why?
Paul: Turlough O’Carolan [1670-1738] Blind Irish harpist composer. Employed by one of my ancestors, the last King of Tara (Ireland). He left an amazing repertoire of some of the most beautiful (and difficult to play!) music you’ll ever hear.
Beverley: If you had an unexpected free day what would you do with it?
Paul: There’s a pub called “The Thatched House” in the middle of McDermott country (Co. Roscommon, Ireland) where the Guinness tastes like liquid velvet and Mine Host behind the bar will smile and say “Welcome Home, Paul
Beverley: What are you working on now?
Paul: Gearing up for the annual lemming-run aka NaNoWriMo (for which I can boast of a perfect ‘strike record’, 10/10 so far!). I have 3 WiP’s almost finished. One of these is the Global Warming/Climate Change work I mentioned in an earlier comment, working title “Taking the Heat”. I’m fine-tuning this while I wait for a response to the Synopsis & Sample I’ve subbed to a Publisher. I’m also working on a series of childrens’ books, stand-alone stories each set in one of Liverpool’s eight beautiful public gardens.
STOP PRESS! As I write, an e-mail has just landed in my Inbox. Rehearsals will start tomorrow (it’s after midnight: make that TODAY!), for a play about one of Liverpool’s historic streets, Bold Street, Script written by Yours Truly   

Blurb for The Spear of Destiny:
In 1945, U-boat Kapitän Herbert Nollau must deliver a weapon which will turn the war in Germany’s favour. His orders are delivered verbally. There will be no written records... and no witnesses.
Alone, far from home, hunted by the Danish Resistance and the might of the Allied Forces, he must obey either his final Orders…or the inner voice of his conscience.

Excerpt for The Spear of Destiny:
      Überlojtnant Herbert Nollau stood with his Zeiss nightglasses glued to his eyes, impervious to the rain whipped across his cheeks by half a gale. This howled almost exactly at ninety degrees to the tide, which had just reached the full but had not yet begun its retreat. His command craft, U-534, sat uneasily at anchor, dipping at bow and stern in the current, yawing appreciably as frequent Force Ten gusts buffeted her broad flanks. Low, heavy rainclouds hunkered closer, seeming to settle on the upper branches of the natural pine forest which spread untamed, unculled, across the low hills of Schleswig-Holstein.
      An identical pair of black Opel staff cars bracketed a canvas bodied Mercedes half-track transport wagon, all three vehicles picking their way carefully along an unmarked country road. The headlights were taped down to the size and shape of a feral cat's vertical slits, acknowledging the strict rules governing all traffic during the hours of darkness. The road to the harbour just outside Lübeck was neither tarmac’ed nor enhanced with any form of lighting. The drivers were obliged to steer cautiously around every twist, using the gears and brakes more frequently than the accelerator.
     "Amateurs!" he thought to himself, as the three sets of headlights crawled slowly closer.
     He blanked the thought as soon as it intruded on his consciousness, forcing himself back into State-approved Wehrmacht thinking, based on purely practical matters directly related to carrying out current instructions, with maximum efficiency, without question. He pulled the collar of his oilskins closer around his throat in a futile attempt to prevent the rain from seeping through, soaking his uniform. Raising his night glasses once more, he cursed the weather, the Wehrmacht and the world in general, feeling more exposed and vulnerable with every minute that passed as he waited for the convoy of lights to crawl closer, carrying the equipment which he had been ordered to collect. It bothered him that he was expected to set sail immediately, and await orders concerning his destination by radio once he had cleared the bay and entered Store Bælt: technically, that section of the North Sea was neutral Danish waters, and if he were to remain on the surface for any length of time in order to receive orders …
      As the lights snaked around another pair of curves and began their final descent to the shoreline and the jetty where U534 was waiting, Herbert Nollau realized that he had on board a much more powerful sender/receiver than any other U-boat: in fact, not just one but two radios equipped with the Enigma cryptographic programme had been installed, ostensibly for testing. With a sudden jolt, the deceptively young-looking Überlojtnant realized that this technology was far more sophisticated than that which had previously been regarded as the best in the world: apart from being guaranteed unbreakable as a code, it could also send and receive radio signals without his craft needing to surface.

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Don’t forget to check back next week for another author interview and discussion of weather in books. 


  1. Paul's "rant" on bookstores being squeezed out by the big supermarket chains makes me think of how little has changed in the production of writing versus how much has changed in the technology of marketing & control of that writing in the past ten years or so.

  2. A sad thought, Robert and equally widespread THIS side of The Pond too! to [MIS]-quote a famous song lyric:
    "Where have the small traders gone?
    Bought by Walmart, every one. When will they ever learn?"