One early migration to New Zealand
The study of psychology and past psychological obsession with traumatic events
One stint as a primary school teacher
A Wiki! Glossary of Traumatology
Two novels: ‘Mr Vitriol’ and ‘The Bush Baptist’ and a children’s e-book thingy titled ‘A Thingummy of Things’
One cat (mouse enthusiast)
Several travel expeditions
A proper gentleman
A proper and undeniably understated gentleman
Hardest working author in show business
An appetite for life
And a good head of hair
As an author, Mr. Burns blends his vast psychological knowledge; his love of what makes us tick, with all things peculiar to create memorably mad yet fragile characters navigating their way through a sea of fetishes, kinks and obsessions. His story, ‘Beholden’ was short-listed and published in this year’s Gem Street: Collector’s Edition’ anthology.
- What brilliant bit of scribble are you working on now?
2. Any interesting, odd or captivating writing rituals?
I seemed to be an oddity in writing courses and groups in that I input almost exclusively via a desktop PC apart from a few handwritten notes or pages when I had nothing but pen and paper. I also store ideas electronically. My preference is partly due to not liking the sight of my handwriting and not always finding it legible.
3. Is there anything you would love to write about but haven’t gotten around to?
I had notes for an essay about sexual variants (aka paraphilias and fetishes), but I have found someone who has done this with such wit, readable scholarship and honesty that I’m glad he beat me to it. The book is ‘Perv’ by Jesse Bering and came out, so to speak, last year.
4. What does your writing process look like?
I begin after swimming and breakfast. Most days I’ll sit in front of my screen for at least five hours not counting breaks for chores chosen to counter blurred vision and RSI. My biggest challenge is limiting searches of the Internet rather than following my curiosity.
5. Writing schedule: whip-cracker or easy-does-it?
Writing is what I want to spend most of my spend time on. In that sense, it’s easy-does-it. But I get cross if I don’t use time well. For example, long before my first novel was finished, I spent days finding quotes, one for the start of each chapter. The quotes never appeared because the book needed to be shorter and they were the first to go. Then I had to apologise to two living authors who had given permission to use their quotes.
6. You’re all about kinks, obsessions and fetishes!
Where does that come from?
The question might suggest being fascinated by the diversity of human sexual behaviour is unusual. I think the opposite is true.
My interest was boosted while at university by two books, Colin Wilson’s ‘Origins of the Sexual Impulse’ and Krafft-Ebing’s ‘Psychopathia Sexualis’, and by studying clinical psychology. One of the themes of my novel, ‘The Bush Baptist’ was obsession with beauty, the kind of forces that lead some teenagers and older people to feel their lives aren’t worth living unless they meet some notional standard such as nose or breast size. I made links between this and a sexual fetish in a minor character and noticed how a kink added depth to him. After that, I often asked myself what would turn on a character or what bent could I ascribe to make the person more interesting. And then there is the way fetishes often act as fault lines in relationships and divide society.
7. Are you a conscious or unconscious plotter?
I usually start writing sentences from a slender idea rather than sketching or making notes of how the story develops. My aim is to finish a rough draft that repeated re-workings will polish.
I encourage unconscious plotting with what I do just before going to bed; writing for a short time or reading where I had got to. I think of the unconscious as a huge resource that works better for writing when primed.
8. What are you wearing right now?
Unremarkable (Sue, my partner, would say boring) cotton clothes and flip-flops. I wear the latter at home and another pair in the garden for as long as the weather permits.
9. What’s more important to you, character or plot?
It’s more a question of what else might help improve a story, chapter or paragraph. That might be mood, a sense of place, better dialogue or dozens of other things.
10. What’s the toughest criticism you ever received?
My first submission to a writing course was slammed, quite rightly, for gross overuse of internal dialogue. The tutor was Neil Ferguson and the quality of his teaching and writing, in particular his novel, ‘English Weather’, makes me think I was lucky to be in his class.
11. Three words you love.
Enigma, tintinnabulation, aroha (Maori; one translation is ‘the love that sustains’)
12. Three words you overuse.
In writing: when and after. In speech: what?
13. The cliché goes: we all have a book inside us. To date, you’ve written two, 'Mr. Vitriol' and 'The Bush Baptist'. How many more books do you have inside you?
I have set aside a third novel that exists in draft form, 'A Modern Privateer', to pursue mostly short stories. I don’t know if there will be a fourth novel, but some ideas might better suit one than a novella or short story.
14. Ever misplace your writing Mojo? Is so, where does it eventually turn up?
Is failing to make real time for writing for forty years misplacement or misspent youth? I haven’t stopped writing in the last six years and feel OK about parking a project. If I keep typing or return to a piece, something will emerge or I will decide the idea is flawed and abandon, but not throw away.
15. Why did you start writing?
For attention; I had a short poem published on a children’s page when I was eight and wanted more of the backslapping. A stimulus for getting serious about writing as I approached 60 is having no children. I want something of me to remain after I am gone. Any highbrow reasons for writing come after these two things.
16. What were you doing before tying yourself to the writing desk full-time?
My last salaried job was change management / organisation development in British Telecom between 1986 and 2000. Towards the end of that time I sought accreditation as a psychotherapist and began working with clients in 2000. I saw my last therapy client in 2008 and wound down freelance OD work over the next four years to make more time for writing. In short, I found writing more satisfying than OD or therapy (not the clients, but the rigmarole of annual registration, marketing and professional politics) and could afford to give up paid work.
17. Inspiration comes from?
Writers and other artists, people I’ve met, places I’ve been, situations encountered, looking at a dictionary of psychology, and what I call fortuitous ambivalence. For example, I hear bits of a story on the radio and guess what is missing and how it might end. Where others might have to turn down the volume to create the ambiguity, my moderate hearing loss can avoid the need for this.
18. Emetophilia, floating zebras, a love of academic pursuits and the Mental Health Act. Your story ‘Beholden’, published in this year’s Gem Street: Collector’s Edition has all this and more - why, where, how did you decide to write that?
The starting point was finding emetophilia in a list of paraphilias, which I was looking at for an idea for a story. I was curious because whereas most people are disgusted by vomit, an emetophiliac is turned on by it. The emetophilia ended up as quite a small part of the story and appeared very late on. I felt the need to prepare readers for it through foreshadowing the vomiting and with other paraphilias. The latter included balloons, one of which was a zebra. I chose balloons as most people would see it as pretty tame kink compared to getting off on regurgitating.
At the time I started writing the story, a friend who is an academic was involved in a dispute with his university.
The incident at a party for two that leads to a character being sectioned is based on someone I met forty years ago who was going through a manic phase.
19. Any free advice for those on the verge of writing?
Some verges are very nice. I spent pleasant decades on them sniffing the weeds and watching others pursuing their writing. But it was the kind of loitering with half an intent that gives procrastination such a bad name.
20. It’s a few years down the road, what are you doing?
Honing my craft. I’m still way behind writers half my age who didn’t loiter.
Find out more about Paul here: http://paulburns.site50.net/