Q&A With Author Paul Tomkins
Want to know what other writers think? Check out our I Am A Writer Series where we ask writers to share tips, experiences, and thoughts about what matters to them.
When you begin to write, how do you get started? With an outline, character idea, title, theme, plot?
I’m currently planning my second novel. I’ve jotted down themes, notes on characters, plot ideas, and locations. I know where I want it to go, but not the route it will take to get there. I don’t want to start writing until the story has developed in my mind, and a lot more research is required. At the moment it’s like a dream: visions, feelings, sensations, snippets of scenes, but not quite clear. I don’t want to kill its essence by turning it into definitive sentences just yet.
Do you get writer’s block? If so, what technique gets you writing again?
If I’m really struggling with my fiction I switch back to sportswriting, for which I’ve never once had writer’s block. Fiction is more difficult, because ideas can be elusive, and sometimes the words don’t flow. Sportswriting is about facts, or interpretations of events, but creating fiction needs a certain mood to be present. To help it along I’ll read something inspiring, do some research, or watch a film that will set the emotional tone I’m searching for. Other times I’ll force myself to write whatever comes into my head, and even if it’s not very good, it can sometimes lead to something better.
Did you always want to be a writer or did you fall into the profession?
I trained as a graphic designer, with art and football my only interests at school. I started reading fiction at 18, fell in love with books, and decided that I wanted to be a novelist. When illness meant that I had to give up my career in design I started writing about football for a hobby, and that turned into my new career. My ambition was always to finish my novel, which I finally did last year. It’s by far and away the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done, and now my aim is to write something even more satisfying.
Do you prefer to have friends and family or a professional editor review and critique your work?
My debut novel was years in development. I started it a long time ago, then, unexpectedly, my sportswriting turned from a hobby into a profession. I kept coming back to the novel, but always had to put it away again soon after due to other commitments. Literature-loving friends were helpful in terms of discovering whether I was any good at fiction, and what wasn’t working. After a while I began to recognise for myself what worked and what didn’t, and found the time to complete the novel. I then worked with professional editors who helped tighten the writing and remove flaws in the plot.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced while writing?
Falling ill (with M.E.) allowed me to focus on writing, as I had to give up my job, my social life, and all sports, but it’s also made life tough. The greatest challenge has been finding the time and energy to focus on my fiction, when my sportswriting pays the bills, and also when part of the week is spent with my son. Having an illness that limits both my energy and concentration span is hugely frustrating, but without it I might still be working in London as a designer, and feeling less fulfilled.
Born in 1971, Paul Tomkins is a well-known sportswriter who has written for some high-profile websites. Since 2005, he has published 11 successful books on football, as well as The Girl on the Pier, his recent debut novel. In 1999 he was diagnosed with M.E., which left him unable to work, resulting in writing becoming his full-time occupation.
When you begin to write, how do you get started?