Chris PalingBy Sarah Hutchings
This interview with Radio 4 producer Chris Paling was first published on The Deckchair website on 05/02/2007.
How did you get your first break?
My first break came when I had a play accepted for 30 Minute Theatre on Radio 4. I'd written a number of short stories and received encouragement but no commissions so I thought I'd try my hand at drama. They took the second play I sent in so I thought my career was set. However, I then spent the next five years being rejected. It was because of this that I decided to sit down and try a novel.
I wrote 'Deserters' in five or six months. Much of it was based in Brighton. A friend read it and said she'd show it to an agent she knew. The agent liked it and took me on. I was lucky. Her name was Deborah Rogers. I then discovered she had a pretty hefty client list - including Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Shena Mackay, Peter Carey etc. She didn't find a home for 'Deserters'. I wrote another novel which we both agreed was rubbish, and then I wrote a third: 'After the Raid'. I still remember her calling me one day saying she had no doubt she'd be able to sell it. Within a week I was signed up with Jonathan Cape. 'Deserters' was then published as novel number 2.
Could you describe your working day.
I don't write full time. The vagaries of life as an author mean that it's very hard to make a living. My working day is usually a commute to and from London where I work as a BBC radio producer. I write on the train - which is not ideal, but you have to find time and space where you can. When I'm in the middle of a book I tend to continue after getting home.
How does an idea become a novel?
All are different. I've written 8 or 9 novels and all have started either with an image or a line of dialogue. That becomes the seed which gestates in you. You then get that nesting feeling which signals the start of something. You hunker down at the PC and try it out. Sometimes the idea dies there and then. Sometimes it lasts for 20000 words and then withers. Occasionally it goes the distance. Ideas choose you, not the other way round.
Which book do you wish you'd written?
'Revolutionary Road' by Richard Yates or any of Raymond Carver's short stories.
As a reader, do you always finish a book you've started?
I used to, but not any more. If a book doesn't captivate me within 20 pages I no longer have the patience to go on with it.
If you weren't a writer, what job would you like to have done?
Well, because I'm not a full time writer I think that's the job I'd like. I honestly can't think of any profession I'd prefer.
Describe your perfect day.
I think part of the day would have to be spent in writing. Probably lunch and much of the afternoon with my nearest and dearest in the Nelson pub in the North Laines. Maybe Samuel Beckett would be around for a quick chinwag. A good meal and a film in the evening. I have very simple tastes.
What keeps you awake at night?
Seagulls, pigeons and/or indigestion.
Why did you choose to live in Brighton and Hove and what keeps you here?
I went to Sussex University in 1975. After I got married we moved back down here in 1980 and we've been here ever since. What keeps us here is the fact that my son still goes to school in the town. When he's finished we may move away.
How does living here inspire your work?
Brighton is an increasingly hedonistic place. I don't draw as much inspiration from the city as I used to. The great cliché that's always trotted out is Keith Waterhouse's comment that Brighton is a town that looks like it should be helping the police with their enquiries. But that's the old Brighton. I probably sound like an old codger but I do think that as the city has become smartened up much has been lost of the old spirit. The new Palace Pier is vile, the development round the station is hugely unimaginative. The Marina looks like a flooded 1970s housing estate. So many wasted architectural opportunities. I wrote 'Deserters' nearly 20 years ago. Since then I've found inspiration from the places I've visited: Prague, The USA, Australia, Spain. All have featured in the more recent novels.
'The Repentant Morning'
'A Town by the Sea'
'The Silent Sentry'
'Newton 's Swing'
'Morning All Day'
'After the Raid'
This page was amended on 03/02/2012