Paul Timblick is the author of Perune Juice (2011) and No Lipstick in Lebanon (2015). He is an avid traveler and his stories reflect his extensive adventures. He has taught English all over the world, and for the past fifteen years, he has lived in Greece, Venezuela, China, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Peru. He met his wife Fasika Sorssa in Ethiopia, on whose life his second book No Lipstick in Lebanon is based on. Her riveting tale is what forms the base of the novel, and what follows is a story so gripping that it engages the reader like no other.
Presenting a chat with Mr.Timblick, who talks about his latest book No Lipstick in Lebanon, his travels, writer’s block, and much more. . .
Your book No Lipstick in Lebanon was published in an interesting manner. Kindly tell us about your journey.
It was a long and winding road of a journey to publication, and I think new authors can learn something from this (I certainly have).
To begin with, it took around a year and a half of solid research and writing to finish the book. But of course, it wasn’t finished. One out of perhaps thirty literary agents showed any interest in the story, but she recommended I use a ‘literary consultant’ to tidy up the work in terms of plotting and character development. At a fairly reasonable cost (£500), this consultant gave me comprehensive feedback on the book and while she thought it worked very well as a dramatic true story, there were some issues with the ending that just didn’t work.
It was strange; I caught a bus to go and visit this consultant in Oxford and on the way, I managed to completely resolve the plotting problems in my head after nearly two years of trying to do it on my sofa! And that was apparently that. The original agent failed to respond to the new improved version (surprise, surprise) and I went ahead with self-publishing the tome via Createspace.
We sold a few hundred copies and then out of the blue came an email from the literary consultant in Oxford; would we be interested in crowd-funded publishing? We would have to raise the money (£10,000) but they would offer an excellent platform for fund-raising and promotion, and then of course, the book would be ‘properly’ published. There was nothing else on the table and, like all authors, I desperately wanted my book to be published and available in actual bookshops.
We, and when I say ‘we’ I mean my wife and I (because it’s her true story)… we stepped into the dispiriting world of crowd-funding. Our biggest problems were the lack of decent numbers of social media followers (I had FIVE Twitter followers!) and the obvious fact that all our real friends had already bought the self-published version so why would they help us fund the same book? We raised a couple of thousand pounds over a month or so but couldn’t see how we’d raise the rest of the publishing costs (£8k). I sold my soul and went to teach English in Saudi Arabia for four months – away from my wife and two children – which was enough to raise the money without having to pester my friends and family any longer for crowd-funding, in what is essentially a form of legalised begging for the middle classes.
After much hassle, the publishers (Unbound) organised the copy-editing, a new cover and finally, in August 2015, the book was published. To no fanfare whatsoever. The publishers had made their money upfront and took a pretty economical approach to the publicity of the book (they even forgot to tweet it on publication day!). But at least the book finally appeared in London bookshops. Isn’t this what we all want? Well… we’d also like a large number of people to read it. The journey thus continues, and the final destination seems as far away as ever.
Meron is an interesting character. What inspired you to write her story and how did you go about researching for the book?
Meron is my wife. It’s her story, with some dramatization to make it work as a coherent readable experience. But most of what you read is, shockingly, based on actual events. We changed all the names of characters at the outset because we didn’t want to cause legal problems with the Lebanese family involved. When you read the book, you will understand this!
Researching the book was mainly a simple matter of talking to my wife. But the way she recounted elements of her ordeal was random and spread out over a long period of time; it was quite harrowing for her so I had to take a relaxed approach. I also managed to fit in a trip to Beirut, which was invaluable for scene setting. It would be difficult to write about a place without visiting it.
You are an avid traveler. Please tell us about any literary pilgrimages you have been on?
Sorry, avid traveler ‘yes’, avid reader ‘no’. So, no literary pilgrimages, yet.
What books do you love and who is your favourite writer?
Prepare for a shock: I don’t read books. It’s a question of time and energy. If I have any free time, I prefer to write than read, and with a full-time job and two young children, the energy factor is also important. But more crucially, I hate the idea of other authors planting their voice inside my head, which then turns up on the page when I write my own material. It can be a subconscious process, and I think many writers are unaware of how influential the voice of their favourite writers can be. But if I have to name a favourite writer it would Raymond Chandler, the famous crime novelist who greatly contributed to the ‘film noir’ genre of the 1940s. His writing is sardonic, cynical and undiminished by time.
How did the struggle to publish your first book change you as a writer?
My first book Perune Juice was self-published. It took around two years to write and was really an unloading of numerous incredible experiences and amusing moments that had filled my time in Peru. With a heavy emphasis on humour, the book enabled me to then ‘mature’ a little before I wrote No Lipstick in Lebanon, which required a more restrained approach.
Is there a certain routine you follow when you start writing? If so, please tell us!
In the morning, I will write for around two hours, but most of that is reviewing and editing the previous day’s work. Then, I go for a run to clear my mind. If there is a problem with the writing, the running helps me to resolve that and I often find that the answer comes through very clearly the moment I step into the shower. In the afternoon, after lunch, I take a nap, followed by strong coffee and then I settle down for the real work: two or three hours of intense ‘new’ material, which can spill over into the evening if I feel that the words are really flowing. Endorphins and caffeine play important roles, but mainly it’s about dedicating chunks of time to the process, rather than trying to fit it around other activities.
Do you believe in writer’s block? Have you ever encountered it? If so, how did you get rid of it?
No, never. A good run will shake it off, Or a beer and a chat with my wife.
What is the most difficult scene for you to write?
The final scenes of a story always feel like the most important and therefore are the most difficult to write. The last thing anyone wants is an anti-climax. However, for potential publishers, the first five pages are absolutely vital; this is all they will read before they decide if it’s worth going any further.
Have you ever googled yourself?
Yes, and not just to see how (un)famous I am. Once you have a book published and ‘out there’, it is worth doing periodic google searches of yourself to see who is reviewing your book. There may be obscure websites that are commenting on your work; you might wish to set the record straight, or simply thank the reviewers. I didn’t realise Good Reads existed until I googled myself!
If you would like your readers to know one thing about you, what would it be?
I don’t use my fingers. I type with the tip of my nose, like a deranged pecking bird. It’s just a personal thing I don’t like to talk about… because it’s not true. But seriously, readers should understand that the vast majority of writers earn virtually nothing from their writing. We do it because we love writing. This has nothing to do with earning a living!
For newbie authors, what are the best ways to market themselves?
If I knew the correct answer to this, I’d have a bestseller on my hands. But I don’t. Many would say it’s all about building your social media platforms over a period of years, steadily developing a loyal fan base, whilst in parallel continuing to churn out great books. These are two full-time jobs, which require very different set of skills. I’ve only mastered one of them. I think the answer is that you need a partner or close friend with lots of free time who happens to have a massive following on social media. Alternatively, pay a large sum of money to a reputable publicity agent. Or, in my case, hope the good old ‘word-of-mouth’ method works.
How many hours a day do you write?
Zero at the moment, but when I get back up to speed, it’ll be four or five.
If you could be the protagonist in a book, which one would it be?
Philip Marlowe in the Raymond Chandler books, e.g., The Big Sleep.
How do you choose the names for your characters? Do you base your characters on real people?
All my characters are based on real people, or composites of real people.
What do you feel inspires or influences a writer the most?
Negative vibes from family, friends and enemies. Prove them wrong!
What would you advise new writers to deal with negative criticism and failure?
Be honest with yourself. Are you really a great writer? If you don’t have self-belief, stop now and do something else.
How do readers reach you?
I’m very easy to find on Facebook. There’s only one Paul Timblick in the world. Oh, and I’m on Twitter with enough followers to fill a phone box.
And here’s the final question. What are you working on at the moment? Are there any books in line we can look forward to?
We have a great story to write and develop, again set in Ethiopia, and again, with a storyline that will appeal to people of all ages, races, genders, etc. It explores the question of how much do you love your own mother? And I can’t say anymore because we are a long way from publication. It could be another two or three years! Arrrgh!
You can reach Paul Timblick here.