“Paulyanna International Rent-boy” by Paul Douglas Lovell is a very accomplished memoir that tells with great honesty and no false pretence the story of a gay working class man, who, amongst many other things, gradually comes of age during his younger years, Coming to terms with his family situation and his class position within society, poverty, religious aspects of his life and his own personal needs are just as big a part of this memoir than his chosen profession as rent boy, first in London and then in other places .
His private life, his feelings for his customers, his friends and his lovers are described with tact, understanding and love. His book shows insight into the gay world of the 80ies and 90ies,a world I witnessed first hand, also in London, and I must congratulate Lovell for his accurate and sensitive portrayal, describing the life as it was, without exaggeration, unnecessary drama or political victimisation. If you are looking for a book that does cover this world without bitterness and blame then this is for you. An insightful and fascinating read.
Interview with Paul:
Tell us a little about yourself as writer and as a person.
As a writer: I am a newbie just beginning to find my voice. My confidence is growing (slowly) yet I still lack the self-belief required to fully release my tongue.
Indie authors such as Mr Fischer encourage me to believe in my abilities with favourable reviews and by inviting me into their own literary circle. Unfortunately, the person tapping these keys continues to suffer with what is typically a writer’s quandary: nagging doubts that make me question if my stories are worth telling, worth reading or even worth occupying a single pixel.
I suppose these misgivings stem from me as a person: I am unsure, always unsure (I think). This partly comes from knowing I am not an academic, and although I have a passion for words, I have been known to apply words that mean the opposite of their intent. ‘Frequent’, for instance. Buying shampoo marked ‘for frequent use’ when I washed my hair only once a week. I did that for years. There are many other examples but, luckily, I now employ the services of an editor.
Some people proudly label themselves working class. I’m not one of them. I wish I were. Tragically, we could only aspire to reach those dizzy heights. My childhood was authentic underclass. Not like these nouveau-pauvre with their electronic gadgets and Adidas gear. We were proper poor. I possessed nothing but my imagination and a crap education to match. On the upside, I was given a large helping of freedom.
My personality default setting is carefree, cheeky and lazy. I cry for happy, not sad, and I am a proficient daydreamer who is easily distracted. That’s why I have never held a driver’s licence.
Strangers generally view me with suspicion, so much so that when culprits are sought I automatically glow red. I do, however, normally win people over with my honesty.
I fully admit to presenting the better side of myself. It is only those closest who get to experience the complex weave of my psyche. My negative traits lean towards egotism and infantile stubbornness.
What is your main reason for writing?
It has been my only ambition for so long. I like the idea of people reading my words, even after I’m gone. I want to leave a legacy to prove I existed and live on through my work.
Tell us about your writing history. When was the first time you decided to write and when was the first time you did?
My writing history is a little flimsy. Before self-publishing Paulyanna International Rent-boy (PIR), I could only boast about receiving two ‘thank you’ credits. The first was in a novel entitled Cold Blood by Lynda La Plante. This I obtained for a page of research regarding my observations on the streets of Los Angeles. It was actually required for a previous book, but her PA included it in Cold Blood as a belated ‘thank you’.
The second credit is in a book called The Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist by Deirdre O’Connell, a good friend of mine. I’d read various drafts over the years, and also snippets from research documents. I like to imagine my enthusiasm and inquiring mind assisted her in some way.
I had an article published in a book compiled by the website ‘Friends Reunited’. It was a letter to a female classmate who once paid my entrance to a theme park.
The first time I wrote anything was in 1987, when I was aged 18. Handwritten in biro. I still have it and can’t bear to look at it. It reads like an illiterate underachiever. Still, it does have a weird prophetic connection to what later became my reality. I spoke about it in my novel, PIR. I remember I ran out of paper so the story had a sudden ending. Which was a blessing, I suppose.
Years later I received an encouraging rejection letter from the British Film Institute. I thought it was so lovely of them so I kept it. Now I can see it’s simply a ‘standard polite refusal’, so I may dump it.
Unremarkable as these accomplishments were, I fully utilised them to camouflage my secret life and to seek approval from my poor departed father. I now believe he was always proud of me.
Did anyone influence you / encourage you to become a writer?
No one writer influenced my ambition. In fact, I wanted to write even before I could read… properly. As a student I was a natural chatterbox and used to struggle with long blurry lines of text so study and reading didn’t happen. Too busy being a clown, I was unaware when my classmates’ chuckles switched from laughing with me to at me. If I have to admit regret it would be that I chose amusement over education.
It was Deirdre O’Connell, my mentor through the London years, who encouraged me to educate myself. I truly owe this Australian hippy, liberal vegetarian and environmentalist more than she could ever know… I’m welling up just thinking of the guidance she gave me and how much influence she had in steering my ambition.
When did you decide to write in your chosen genre(s)?
My genre is currently memoirs and biography. I see PIR as a relevant piece of social history, but then I would.
Others may mistake it as gay erotica. Those expecting titillation may be sorely disappointed. I purposely leave out the graphic details, preferring to rely on the reader’s own imagination. Which in some cases is a lot more fanciful and pornographic than the text.
At a push I’d include PIR in the travel genre. An alternative tourist guide with the main character sharing his views on many worldwide destinations, including popular locations and unknown areas that are off the beaten track.
Faith and spiritual undercurrents flow continually throughout in a bid to disprove the damned for all time doctrine so often heard.
Finally, romance. Questions of worth and the search for love could easily place PIR on a romance reader’s shelves.
Tell us about the concept behind your book. How did you get the idea?
The concept behind PIR was to deliver my qualified version of a stereotyped life. Reveal how my perception of rent-boy life differs from the established view. Fracture the stereotype a little, even if I do reinforce the key elements. Most importantly, I wanted to dispel the myth that damaged goods, especially those with nowhere else to fall, are destined to remain victims. They are not forsaken by luck, love and, if they’re gay, by an angry god. I definitely didn’t want to bolster what I’d often heard myself, namely “if you only work harder you will achieve”, but I did want to imply that maybe Karma plays a role. Who knows? I also wanted to portray a (normal) human side, one with optimism. Not a tragic woe is me but instead a braggy look at me! Although technically I should say him as I’m hardly the same person today.
The idea for PIR came for my own experiences. Write what you know.
Were the plot and subplots completely planned from the start or did they change during the process, and if so, how?
Life and living spawn their own (unplanned) plots, and as I write memoirs I just needed to sift through the crucial events and perhaps tweak the timeline to make them fit my story. For example, I grouped some of the less significant, smaller events together in one paragraph rather than outlining each individually. Other than that, plots and subplots flow in a linear fashion.
Who are your editors and how do you quality control your books?
I have built a comfortable relationship and fully trust the abilities of Stephanie Dagg from EDIT MY BOOK. She has been working in the industry since 1986, has an English degree from Oxford University and an MPhil in Publishing Studies. She is an author who has written over 30 children’s books, both traditionally published and independently. She is sympathetic and practical. It was she who guided me through the whole process of publishing my first novel.
What are the best and the worst aspects of writing?
The best aspects to date have been dancing around the living room, fluttering the pages of a paperback that I had written. Relishing the waft of my achievement, a sensation that felt totally alien. I especially enjoyed designing the cover and creating advertisements.
The worst aspect is definitely promoting. Continually screaming for a little cyberspace attention and sensing it swallow my message, echo and all. This is when you question your reasons to continue.
Also being chastised by prissy page administrators who often block, ban and report my posts. Lastly, pouring over a blog-post for hours only to receive a single like and no sale. (Yes, I know this is typical.)
Then I get a brief message from a satisfied reader. A simple line containing the word ‘thanks’ which reignites my passion and adds air to my deflated bubble.
How have you found the experience of self-publishing? What were your highs and lows?
I found the actual uploading and formatting a real struggle. Understanding the lingo and requirements frustrated me. This was an excruciating low that brought out the petulant brat in me. I then made a special deal with my editor to include this as part of her service. It is quite a bit of work. Fortunately, and as a high point, I realised what a gem I had in my editor. She uploaded it to Amazon, Smashwords (Premium Catalogue), Lulu and CreateSpace. It is also on iBooks but not Google.
How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?
I am a very slow writer who is purposely taking time to ensure my second book is better than my first. Plus I’m in no great hurry to be ignored. When I’m not in the mood to write I don’t force it. That is when I advertise, as is every morning over breakfast. There is a danger of overkill but there is also an issue of visibility. I chose to be seen. I decided to gamble that those moaning about seeing too many adverts are way too grumpy and are most probably not going to buy my book anyway. Experience has taught me the moody people are generally quite tight.
What are you working on now?
A pre-prequel. A fictitious piece constructed using real events from my early childhood. A light-hearted nostalgic reminisce. Playing Out is the working title. Think storm-drains and scrumping, street-games and playgrounds. A 1970s inner-city childhood. I’m keeping it as close to my own life as possible. So far I’m bang on track.
UNEDITED 1st Draft sample … Unquestioning of his altered predicament Todd stands alongside Darren and Jason in a large lounge-playroom. He isn’t concerned with the absence of his eldest brother Mark but wonders as to the whereabouts of his sister Carole. A friendly middle-aged man with brown eyes and bushy brows introduces himself as Malcolm, the head supervisor. Todd hears nothing of the conversation that follows. Instead his gaze wanders around a space that is clean and orderly. Squeezed into a corner, next to a door marked ‘fire exit’, is a small classroom. Brightly-coloured toys and toddler-sized furniture indicate it must be a kindergarten. A red-carpeted story-time area partitioned off by low bookshelves provokes in Todd a nostalgic memory of Yellow Class.
Through the windowpane of the fire-door, children playing outside jostle to get a view of the newbies. Like matryoshka dolls, small, medium and large, the three brothers stand, arms outstretched holding a bundle of clothes. A dark-haired child in his teens knocks at the window. “Oi, that’s my jumper!” his annoyed heckle stirring up much laugher amongst the gawping kids.
Todd doesn’t have a clue what is going on: from messing about tidying clothes in Carole’s room to here, wherever here is, in a couple of hours. No explanation has been given to him, or if it has, it was done in such a way, perhaps to lessen the impact, that he hasn’t actually grasped that he is now in what his dad had so often referred to as “the cottage homes”.
How do you handle criticism of your work?
Not well. I think it’s rather rude and try to avoid it.
I reckon that something has to be really terrible for a paying customer to go out of their way to write a scathing review. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t given my book away for free. It’s too easy with a freebie to say, “Naw, don’t like it.”
I assume that when a book has been bought, the customer is already half satisfied with the available samples – enough to invest anyway.
This is how I try to avoid them.
Who are your favourite independent writers?
Uvi Poznansky – An artist who sculpts, writes, paints such a realistic atmosphere you can feel the desert sand sift through your fingers with each turn of the page. I’ve read all her books and rate them all highly.
What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?
Oscar Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Gray (eBook)
Christoph Fischer – The Black Eagle Inn (eBook). Three chapters in and enjoying it immensely.
What is your advice to new writers?
If you like to chat and can hold the listener’s attention in a conversation then you can surely write.
I’m not sure if this method will work for everyone but when I get writer’s block, I remind myself (out loud with harsh tones) that I always get through it.
Something like, “Right, what are you trying to say? C’mon, just say it out loud, what is it? You know you can do it, you’ve done it before.”
If I’m really struggling to find the correct wordy-words, I simplify it with ordinary words.
In my opinion, an editor is more important than a cover designer.
What is your life like outside of writing?
Leg stretching, going to the toilet and refuelling. I also garden, planting flowers and making areas pretty where I like to sit. Since my dog died L I have a taken up new walking hobby: geocaching. Using a Global Satellite thingy and coordinates from online, my husband (civil partner) and I look for hidden treasure in the form of plastic boxes containing logbooks. They are usually hidden on top of hills or at other scenic locations. It’s very addictive.
What makes you laugh?
Tickling makes me laugh but I don’t find it at all funny. The evil me can’t get enough of people slipping over so I suppose ice.
Who would you like to invite for dinner?
I’d sit next to Dolly Parton with Stephen Fry across the table. I’d invite a celebrity chef to cook at the table, one who’s not too loud. And Prince would pop by to play a mellow set in the corner. That’s about it. Oh, and someone for the hubby to chat with. Erm… I’m leaning towards the Dalai Lama, yeah he’ll do.
What song would you pick to go with your book?
‘Do You Know Where You’re Going To?’ by Diana Ross. I think this fits the general sentiment.
Tell us one odd thing about you and one really mundane thing.
I read on the toilet, out loud. Not sure how odd that is, so perhaps that can be mundane. I also play Candy Crush and have reached level 981.
What (not who) would you like to take to a lonely island?
A clockwork radio and, if permitted, a mosquito net.
Hot or cold?
Cold climate, providing I have a suitable coat.
Salty or sweet?
Salty? I‘ll be awkward and opt for a savoury curry madras flavoured pizza.
What would your friends say are your best and your oddest quality?
Here are two unedited responses.
- Ok I wud say your best quality is reaching out to friends and offering them help, advice, kindness, not sure bout your oddest, mayb bit stubborn.
- Ok, best quality is loyalty as you are a very loyal, supportive, stick-with-you kind of person. Also very witty and upbeat. And oddest, Oddest – hmmm, banana obsession maybe?
See how lovely my friends acquaintances are. Still, at least they use the word MAYBE.
What would you chose as those qualities?
My best quality is my optimism. Oddest quality – I’m good at breaking things.
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