I have an interview today with Paul Southern. We’re chatting about his new psychological thriller, Daddy Dearest.
Following an induced labour some time in the 1960s (due date: Halloween night), I had my subscription to a normal life revoked by itinerant parents, who moved from city to city. Lived in Liverpool, Belfast, London and Leeds, then escaped to university, where I nearly died of a brain haemorrhage. After an unexpected recovery, formed an underground indie group (Sexus). Met the lead singer through standing on a bee. Made immediate plans to become rich and famous, but ended up in Manchester. Shared a house with mice, cockroaches, and slugs; shared the street with criminals.
Five years later, hit the big time with a Warners record deal. Concerts at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Melody Maker front cover, Smash Hits Single of the Week, Radio 1 and EastEnders. Mixed with the really rich and famous. Then mixed with lawyers. Ended up back in Manchester, broke.
Got a PhD in English (I am the world's leading authority on Tennyson's stage plays), then wrote my first novel, The Craze, based on my experiences of the Muslim community. Immediately nominated to the Arena X Club (the name Arena magazine gave to a select group of creative, UK-based men responsible for shaping the way their readers lived and enjoyed their lives). Wrote a second book, Brown Boys in Chocolate, which predicted the London bombings.
Fell foul of the censors and subsequently gagged by the press. Got ITV interested in a story on honour killings and inter-racial marriages and was commissioned to write a screenplay (Pariah) based on my life story. ITV balked at the content. Subsequently, trod the Wasteland before finding the grail again: a book deal with children's publisher, Chicken House. Killing Sound, a YA horror set on the London Underground, was published by them in September 2014. The book, originally written for older teens (16+) and adults, was censoriously edited by the publishers to fit a much younger demographic, and inevitably failed to reach either market; the grail proved elusive and I returned to writing something it was impossible to dilute. Daddy Dearest, a dark, psychological thriller, will be released in 2016.
Welcome, Paul. Please tell us about your current release.
An estranged father’s weekend with his beloved five-year-old daughter turns into a nightmare when she gets into the lift of a city centre tower block and goes down without him. She vanishes without a trace. It sets off a race against time, and a nationwide manhunt, to find her. As the police investigation closes in, suspicion falls on those closest to her - with devastating consequences. Daddy Dearest is a terrifying story of love, obsession and psychological meltdown.
'My daughter has always had a thing about lifts. There’s something about the thrill of pressing a button and seeing the lift doors close which excites her imagination. It terrifies me. Every time she walks in, I imagine it’s the last time I’ll see her. What if she hits the button before I get there? What if the lift doors close and I can’t get her out? It drives me nuts. There are eight floors in the Sears building, nine if you count the basement, and the lift is fast: more like a fairground ride, really. It does top to bottom in twelve seconds. I’ve timed it. Taking the stairs, I’ve done it in forty-two. That leaves a gap of thirty seconds. You’d be surprised what can happen in that time. I was.'
What inspired you to write this book?
The story came about through something my daughter did in the block of flats where I live. She always used to the call the lift there as a matter of course. And one day, she got in without me. I managed to get my hand between the doors before they shut. It was that image of her in the lift that I most remember, looking out at me. A second later, she would have been gone. From that moment, I knew I had a story. The idea of your child suddenly being cut off from you, trapped like that, filled me with every kind of dread. Every parent who has been in a busy shopping centre with their kids knows the feeling when they suddenly look round and can’t see them. For those first few seconds, your world just stops. The thought of them without you, defenceless, wandering around, looking for you, is really the worst feeling you can have. You spend your life protecting them, taking care of them, and suddenly they are gone. What happens to them next is down to the kindness or malevolence of strangers. Or blind chance.
What exciting story are you working on next?
I am working on an adult supernatural thriller called Pendle Fire, set in Pendle in Lancashire (a northern town synonymous with witchcraft), about a police officer and a social worker getting caught up in a chilling and harrowing child prostitution ring that seems to have links to an apocalyptic, end of the world cult. Pretty nihilistic. And not very PC.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I still don’t. If I ever earn enough to support the family from it, I may reconsider.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Yes, I write every day, as early as possible. I have three kids so there’s really not much time in the rest of the day!
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I write three sides (about one thousand words) a day and stop in the middle of the sentence if needs be, just so I don’t go on to the fourth side.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A footballer, then a musician. I got to be the latter, so I was quite lucky.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Keep an open mind and never stop fighting for what you believe in.
Thank you for being here today, Paul!