Hello and welcome to A Cup of Conversation where I am joined by author Paula Houseman – an author and a friend who makes me laugh with her fabulous sense of humour and her louder and bigger than life personality.
She is an absolute treasure and she makes me laugh every single day on Twitter. But putting that aside she is a wonderful writer with three books available now for you to read…her romantic comedies will certainly lighten up your day.
Today she is sharing her insight and wisdom with us from the life of a writer to advice if you’re just starting out as well as what she hopes readers will take away with them after reading her books. So thank you for joining us and let’s join Paula now.
1. When did you start writing creatively?
I had the makings of a writer as a child — spirited, passionate, imaginative, a misfit. And I loved writing school compositions; even won an inter-school essay competition when I was twelve. But my creative writing only came into its own twenty-eight years ago, and it was through my personal journal.
My father had passed away, a whole lot of repressed material came to the surface, and it felt like I was flailing and drowning in emotional slops. That dear-diary space was like a life raft. It was where I could release the inner, house-trained wild-child from the constraints of a boxy, moralistic culture. And by fully expressing my creative spirit, I began to write my realness back to life.
2. What did you enjoy reading as a child?
I loved the Winnie the Pooh collection and Enid Blyton’s Noddy books. (This was before the political correctionistas labelled poor Noddy a homosexual, misogynist and racist, and kicked him and his mate Big Ears to the kerb.) From Pooh and Noddy, I progressed to Heidi. I adored Johanna Spyri’s book and character.
All these years later, I still remember my mouth watering as I read about the fresh milk and fresh bread, the cheese and creamy butter, and the smoked meat. Being a foodie, of course I’m going to remember that I drooled, but it’s more about how Spyri’s descriptiveness elicited such a strong sensory response. I guess that even as a nine-year-old, I was already developing an appreciation for what makes a good writer.
3. How has your career in graphic design supported your writing career?
Because I trained in the days before computer graphics, and couldn’t rely on technology for the end result, I had to cultivate nimble fingers to fine-tune and perfect the finished art, with its exact trim lines and precise brush strokes. It means I do a bang-up job of applying eyeliner, which isn’t much use to a writer who spends most of the day at home looking like a homeless person. But applying that degree of discipline to my final draft means my editor knows she’s going to get a very polished manuscript.
And specialising in logo design—creating corporate identities for others—taught me a thing or two. From nimble-fingered to nimble-minded. Even though I write in the first person, and the process of writing is helping shape and reshape my identity, designing for others has made me mindful that I’m not just writing for myself. And that what I write is contributing to the reader’s own process of forming and reforming their selfhood.
4. I know that pink is NOT your favourite colour…can you fill us in please. (growing up, likes, dislikes)
It’s not that I disliked the colour pink; it was the connotation of frillies and frou-frou that went with it. I’m a direct, no-frills kinda gal, which didn’t sit well with the Brady Bunch era of engineered lookin’-good families I grew up in. It was a time full of affectation, made that much harder for me because of my dirty-girl bazoo. I used to think this was genetic—my father swore like a trucker. And it’s in my DNA, for sure, but it’s more of an ancestral throwback: an ancient one.
We all have a dominant force in our psyche and mine’s the ancient goddess of obscenity. She was potty-mouthing it through me from the get-go, making me laugh when I shouldn’t, often landing me in hot water and with a gob full of soap. But Pears Soap does not taste like pears, and until journaling resuscitated me, it got so that it was easier to smoosh the muse, shut up and conform. There was a lot of shame around women’s profanity back then, and my mother was a stickler for manners. (The upshot of this is that I’m still polite when I tell someone to fuck off.)
Anyway, not so long ago when I realised it was primarily nature and not nurture that was behind my locker-room lingo—a sacred phenomenon to boot—I embraced it and retitled Book 2 to what my editor had originally suggested: Cupid F*cks Up (formerly, Apoca[hot]lips).
Now, back to pink … kick-arse singer and songwriter, Pink, who also has a penchant for swearing, has made the colour cool again.
5. You write romantic comedy and you are always making me laugh with your Instagram posts. What own life experiences have found their way into your stories?
Ooh, way too many to list! And if I did, I’d have to post ‘SPOILER ALERT’. Suffice to say, I grew up in what felt like a cartoon. Specifically, an episode of South Park on an endless loop, which was then syndicated — I was drawn to nutjobs in the world at large.
So, while the characters I write can come across as caricatures, and the stories, exaggerated, this was my norm, my bizarre reality.
Not a bad thing, though. What was hell for me as a child and teenager is now a fabulous cache of raw twaddle to draw on.
6. Can you share an extract of one of your short stories with us and tell us why you have selected this particular excerpt.
I first went public with my writing on FanStory, an online site where writers showcase their work in the form of short stories or poetry, and have it reviewed and rewarded. I connected with some great, like-minded people there and had a lot of fun bantering via poetry. I didn’t do short stories, mostly because I was too bloody lazy, but also because we’re being conditioned into shrinking concentration spans. Poetry is short ’n’ sweet and hits the spot.
My humour isn’t frivolous; it’s largely satirical. Everything I write has an underlying social commentary. And the following poem, written for FanStory, is a bit of an up yours to a rah-rah-be-yourself! culture that, at the same time, attaches a woman’s worth to her physical appearance and then undermines it. The worst, through subliminal messages from women pushing weight loss regimens, anti-wrinkle creams, shapewear etc.
UNDER THE KNIFE
Just slide your numbing stent inside my vein,
And knock me out to make me young anew,
As botoxed brow and hoisted chops regain
a mirror casting back a luscious view
Two silicone balloons … augment my chest!
Please liposuck my dimpled thighs and hips.
With tummy tuck, my blubber you’ll divest,
Then give me JLo’s arse and Jolie’s lips
A cougar I’ll still be, but who would know —
my spandexed bod will surely hide the facts?
Oh wait … inflation tends to reach a low,
And skin-tight stretching ends up looking lax
On second thoughts, it seems that I’ve been blind:
You have to wear a mask but mine’s not writ.
I’m outta here; I think I’ve changed my mind,
’Cause when it’s lost I’ll hardly give a shit.
7. How do you want your readers to feel after reading one of your books and have you achieved that?
I’d like them to feel uplifted, empowered, hopeful. Importantly, unashamed of what society judges as negative. Women, traditionally, have been taught to make nice. But everyone has embarrassing impulses and uncivilised, intrusive thoughts—all, natural aspects of the primitive brain that will fester in the mind and body if we don’t own them. My irrepressible protagonist, Ruth Roth, shows how it’s done.
I’ve had readers thank me for being ‘real’ and I’m chuffed that several have told me I should—‘for God’s sake, woman’—get my books adapted for the small screen; that Netflix is always on the lookout for original content. So, even though I’m achieving what I hoped for, this is my new and next dream. And it’s one for the sisterhood.
8. What has most surprised you about the writing community?
The overwhelming mutual support. And that’s important because the marketplace sets us up to believe we’re rivals. It makes no sense that fellow writers are competition because we all have our own styles. Even if we write on the same topic, each story will differ because of the unique history and experiences that we bring to bear on it.
The writing community is my tribe, but it doesn’t end there. Our readers are also part of the community spirit.
9. Who has been the biggest champion of your stories and how did they motivate you to keep going?
I can’t say there’s one person who’s been the biggest champion. The wonderful feedback I receive from my readers inspires me. Without question, though, the greatest motivation came from opponents rather than champions.
Throughout my late-blooming university experience, I was blessed with extraordinary lecturers who applauded my non-mainstream approach to everything. But the resistance I met at the end of my degree could have undone it all.
My honours thesis on cancer, from the perspective of the archetypal reality found in ancient myth, polarised the two anonymous markers (one of whom was troll-like in his/her criticism). So, a third one was recruited—another traditionalist, unfortunately. A few progressive academics encouraged me to appeal, but they were warned off by the powers that be.
The overall drubbing was disheartening and made me question my ability, until I figured out that if I could piss off the establishment to such an extent, my writing and this theme must be pretty powerful! The experience galvanised me into writing my first book. I already had a small collection of individual short stories, but once I introduced as a minor thread the concept the conservatives weren’t too happy to entertain, the stories all came together and paved the way for a full-blown novel
10. What are your three main goals for the next three months?
It’s been on-the-job training in the technical aspects of fiction-writing, and how to keep the reader engaged! Putting myself in their shoes helps, and being more pantser—flying by the seat of my pants—than plotter makes that easier. It means I don’t know where the story or characters are going to take me, making me as much the reader as the writer; seeing it from both viewpoints. And since publishing Book 1, I’ve become more eagle-eyed when reading other authors’ work, now noticing techniques that have an impact on or disrupt my reading experience. Things such as overlong chapters. Or giving away too much of a character’s backstory in one hit (info dumping). Then there’s finding the correct balance between show and tell, and sometimes neither show nor tell; just hint—as a reader, I want to have my imagination tickled. And because I also enjoy books with cliffhangers at the end of each chapter, I’m doing the same with my stories.
11. What advice would you give a new writer?
Find your process, or rather, let it find you. There’s a glut of information out there from authors with varying levels of expertise telling you what you should or shouldn’t do. Read it, but then be discerning. The way you express through your writing is distinctive, so it follows that your writing MO will be too. One of the beautiful things about creativity is that it doesn’t follow rules. So, if you want to edit as you go and that works for you, then do that. (It works a treat for me.)
And please don’t call yourself an ‘aspiring’ writer. The minute you start to write, you’re a bona fide writer.
12. What three things are on your current to-do list?
I have an inordinately long list of to-do’s. And because most of them come under the umbrella of book marketing, after (1) finishing Book 4 in the Ruth Roth Series, and (2) producing more blog posts, then (3) would be a visit to the zoo to find a trained monkey to take care of what feels like grunt work, the promotional side of it all and my least favourite aspect of authorship!
Thank you for joining us Paula and I must say your books sound hilarious…laughter makes the world go round, right? Thank you too to my weekly readers, if you would like to link up with Paula you can do so on her links listed below.
Until next week, Happy Reading, Happy Writing, Happy You.
Big hug, Soulla xxx
Amazon link to books:
Odyssey in a Teacup: http://myBook.to/OdysseyinaTeacup
Cupid F*cks Up: http://mybook.to/CupidFcksUp
My Troyboy is a Twat: http://mybook.to/MyTroyboyisaTwat