Today it's my pleasure to welcome Paul Burston, author of The Closer I Get, to the blog ahead of his appearance at next month's Salisbury Literary Festival.
I’ve always written stories, since I was a small child. I wrote short stories and puppet shows for my marionettes Goofy, Pinky and Perky, Ermentrude and The Witch. I had a very vivid imagination! I tried writing several novels as a teenager - all abandoned. I then studied English Literature and Drama at university and wrote and directed a few fringe productions. In my mid 20s, the AIDS crisis impacted on my circle of friends and I became very politicised. I joined the AIDS activist group ACT-UP and started writing opinion pieces for various newspapers and magazines.
I later became an editor at Time Out and co-founded Attitude magazine. I also published four non-fiction books. Then in 1999 my editor suggested I write a novel and in 2001 my gay rom-com Shameless was published. I wrote three more novels in a similar vein before turning to crime fiction in 2016 with The Black Path.
If you had to give an elevator pitch for The Closer I Get, what would it be?
A novelist with writer’s block attracts the attention of an online admirer and is drawn into the dark side of social media.
Tom is a successful author, but he’s struggling to finish his novel. His main distraction is an online admirer, Evie, who simply won’t leave him alone.
Evie is smart, well read and unstable; she lives with her father and her social-media friendships are not only her escape, but everything she has.
When she’s hit with a restraining order, her world is turned upside down, and Tom is free to live his life again, to concentrate on writing.
But things aren’t really adding up. For Tom is distracted but also addicted to his online relationships, and when they take a darker, more menacing turn, he feels powerless to change things. Because maybe he needs Evie more than he’s letting on.
They say write what you know and for you this was scarily the case, did you find it cathartic to use your own experiences of online trolling to write this story?
Yes, very much so. I had a few doubts at first. The real life experience was deeply unsettling and traumatic and I feared I might reopen old wounds. But in order for the book to work, I had to get inside the head of the stalker and discover what made them tick. Writing the book became a way of working through my emotions. I went from being very angry with the person who stalked me to feeling sorry for them.
Which character did you have the most fun creating, Tom or Evie? Are there any parts of you in Tom seeing as you're both authors?
Evie’s chapters were great fun to write. As soon as I found her voice, those chapters came quite quickly. She’s clearly damaged but also well read, erudite and often very funny. There’s a vein of dark humour running through the book. Tom was harder to write, because he’s more emotionally guarded. There are certainly parts of me in him - but there are parts of me in Evie, too. I’ll leave it for others to work out which parts.
How did you feel to be invited to be a part of this year's Salisbury Literary Festival? And what are you most looking forward to about your event?
I was delighted to be invited to be part of Salisbury Literary Festival. It’ll be my first visit to Salisbury and I’m really looking forward to sharing a stage with Erin Kelly. She’s one of my favourite writers.
When you're not writing or hosting events for your Polari Literary salon, what type of books do you like to read for pleasure?
I read a lot of crime and horror fiction, new and old. I’m a huge fan of Patricia Highsmith, Stephen King, Alex Marwood, Lisa Jewell and Sarah Hilary. I also read a lot of contemporary and historical LGBT fiction. James Baldwin, Armistead Maupin and Sarah Waters are among my favourites.
And finally what can we expect from you next?
I’m working on another crimei novel, set largely in Hastings, about a man seeking vengeance for things that happened to him when he was a child. I’m also working on a memoir - though I’ve been saying that for years, so don’t hold your breath!
And thanks to Paul's lovely publisher, Karen at Orenda Books, I have a signed limited edition hardback copy of The Closer I Get to give away to a follower of the blog.
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