Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
I’m Paul Connolly, and I’m 59.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I was born and brought up in Liverpool in the North West of England, but have lived most of my adult life in the South East county of Berkshire.
Fiona: A little about yourself (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
After attending grammar school, I went to university in Manchester (the North West’s other big city) where I studied biology. I had no intention of pursuing a career in biology or science in general, and my favourite part of the scientific process was writing up the findings of experiments and field work. After graduating, my first job was as a software technical author in the computer industry, which involved writing user manuals for complex computer systems. I freelanced as a technical author for about a decade, working mostly in the London financial district, and then I transferred my skills to the market research industry, writing business reports for big IT companies. I’m still in the research industry, these days as a Communications Director.
I am divorced, and I have a grown-up daughter. I regularly visit a small beautiful island off the South West coast of England called Lundyto write new material for my books. My daughter, sister, brother-in-law, and two nieces are also lovers of the island and we sometimes go as a group.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
I’m excited that my second novel, The Enduring Influence of Ken Potts, has just been published.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I’m fortunate to have had a career as a technical and business writer, but my first foray into creative writing was with my first novel, The Fifth Voice, published in 2014.It reached the top 10 on Amazon’s literary fiction (humour) best sellers list, and was shortlisted for Independent Book of the Year by Writing Magazine in 2015.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
While I’ve been a writer in the computer and market research industries for many years, the first time I considered myself a bona fide creative writer was when The Fifth Voice was published and I started to get positive feedback from readers.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
In 2005, I joined an a cappella choir called The Royal Harmonics in Windsor (not far from the castle!) and also started singing in a barbershop quartet. The world of amateur singing and music-making, the many interesting people I met, and the complete passion they have for harmony singing, gave me the idea for The Fifth Voice. In a nutshell, it’s a poignant and comic story of how the dysfunctional lives of four singers are transformed by the inspirational power of music and friendship.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
The ‘fifth voice’ is an expression sometimes used to refer to the harmonic overtones that are created when voices singing in four-part harmony combine. Those overtones can effectively create an independent fifth voice, which happens when the four voices are very closely aligned in tuning and tonal quality.
The four main characters in the book are struggling in various ways with what life has thrown at them (an illness, a betrayal, a bereavement, a mid-life crisis), but when they sing together none of that matters. Together they embark on a journey of self-discovery and self-healing, as they go in search of the mysterious and elusive Fifth Voice – something that goes beyond the vocal technique itself, and something that ultimately delivers a prize much greater than the one they imagined.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I write about real people in real situations, so dialogue tends to be very important. What people say, and don’t say, drive my stories, though of course, narrative and setting are also very important. Writing realistic dialogue is sometimes challenging, as the reader would instantly know if a piece of dialogue didn’t ring true – both in general terms (do people really speak like that?) and as it relates to the character (is this the kind of thing this character would say?).
As my first two books are ensemble pieces rather than having a single main protagonist, it’s also a challenge to sustain and interweave four or five different story lines, even though there’s a connection between them all.
As a technical writer, I learned to write with economy, not using more words than I need to get the point across. I take a similar approach to my creative writing, while always searching for the most apt and elegant phrasing.
Finally, I tend to use humour in my writing, not gratuitously or with the deliberate aim of getting a laugh, but as a reflection of the way people are.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
As I say, my experiences singing with an a cappella choir and in a barbershop quartet gave me the idea forThe Fifth Voice, based mostly on the variety of people I met and witnessing the passion shown by my fellow singers. The Enduring Influence of Ken Potts is a sequel to The Fifth Voice, and continues the adventures of the four main characters.
Some of what the characters experience is based on experiences and events in my own life, but then I think drawing on your own experience is a very natural thing for a writer to do.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
As mentioned earlier, I go to Lundy Island three or four times a year to make progress on new material. I stay in one of several properties that look out to sea, and though it sounds like a cliché, I find I can immerse myself in the writing to the exclusion of all else for several hours a day. With no roads, no TV, and no internet connection, and with the island generator going off at midnight, the island is the perfect escape from all the hubbub of modern life. Lundy is also very beautiful, so if inspiration is needed, walking the island is an ideal way to get the creative juices flowing.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The cover of my first book was designed by Mark Ecob, who has designed covers for most of the leading publishers. I wanted to make a bold statement with the artwork, and it really helped that Mark was able to come up with a stunning cover. I designed the cover of the sequel, but based closely on the first book, using the same bespoke typeface and other design cues.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
At a time of chaos and confusion in the world, this is a story of how basic human values (of friendship, love, belief, a sense of belonging, and a sense of humour) can win out. The principal characters come from different backgrounds, are of different ages, and have a variety of life experiences, but they form a strong bond because of a shared passion – what people have in common is more powerful than their differences.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I really liked Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, the 2017 debut novel by Gail Honeyman.
My favourite writer is probably David Nobbs, who wrote the Reginald Perrin novelsand many more wonderfully funny and wryly observed stories.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
I’m glad you used the word ‘entity’ because what supported my commitment to become a published author was not a person but a place – Lundy Island. The island has been like a friend, a reliable place I can return to again and again, not only to focus on my creative writing, but also to help alleviate problems I may be dealing with in ‘real life’.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
In the sense of being something I take seriously and want to keep improving at, yes. In terms of becoming my main source of income, that’s not really important to me.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No. I take the time it needs when writing and try not to cut corners, so I’m fine with the end product. Of course, nothing is ever perfect, but you have to be able to decide when your story is as good as it can be, and stop there!
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
That I will change direction and write something very different for my third book. I’ve really enjoyed writing the first two, and it’s tempting to go for a third in the series, but I fancy a different kind of writing challenge.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
That would have to be four leads, as my book has four main protagonists. If one of them could be Hugh Laurie, that would be cool.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Write what you enjoy, and find your own distinctive voice. Don’t try to follow some supposed formula for success, as there isn’t one (except for writing the best book you can).
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
If you’re new to my writing, I hope you enjoy it, and remember to read the books in the order they were published!
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I have just finished reading Perfect by Rachel Joyce, who’s probably best known for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. She really knows how to tap into human emotions and writes beautifully.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Not exactly, but I have a feeling it might have been Jennings Goes to School by Anthony Buckeridge.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Laugh? Irreverent and off-beat comedy (think Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan) and puerile humour (think Viz comic). Cry? Anything about the human condition that tugs at the heartstrings.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
David Nobbs (RIP), the celebrated television comedy writer and best-selling author of the Reginald Perrin novels and many more. I corresponded with him when I was writing my first book, and he very kindly gave me a quote for the front cover.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
I have sung bass in an a cappella choir for the last fourteen years, though I’m taking a break from it at the moment.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Favourite dramas include Luther, Line of Duty, Californication. Favourite comedies include anything by Ricky Gervais, and classics like Rising Damp, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads, and Fawlty Towers.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Food: Indian, roast dinners, tapas. Colours: blue, yellow. Music: all sorts, from classical to rock and pop.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Go a little bit crazy.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
I’m not sure I want one!
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
Yes, please go to www.paulconnollyauthor.com
Amazon authors page UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Paul-Connolly/e/B00JS2YYEO/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1