Center Stage with Paul Stewart
A creators in the limelight series
Welcome back to Center Stage: Creators in the limelight series. If this is your first time reading one of these articles, I'd like to take a moment to explain the vision.
My aim with each mini-interview is to give a small glimpse into what makes up these amazing creators through a fun and informative format. I've left the interview method up to them, either through facebook messenger chat, audio call or video call. I've also asked creators to come up with a question or two for themselves as this is to aim the spotlight on them.
My second willing subject in the series is the creatively prolific Paul Stewart. As will be the case with many of my initial guests, I 'met' Paul through interactions on Vocal-focused facebook groups. I was immediately drawn to his sense of humor, skill and love for trying new things. You can feel his infectious passion in each and every work.
Paul always surprises me with the level of care he puts into each piece even if it seems to just be a silly one, from word placement to formatting to rhyme schemes. There are always some hidden techniques or methods he's trying out. And they work! He has an endless array of quality short stories, poems, articles, and more on his profile so you're sure to find something to appreciate. Please consider checking out his works and subscribing!
For Paul's interview, we went with a facebook chat session. I hope you find it as engaging as I did.
H: Thank you for agreeing to this madness!
P: That is okay. Madness is usually my favourite place.
H: Perfect! So, I'll start with the first question, one of yours to get you going. What is your process when you are writing or planning a new piece?
P: I knew picking that as a question was going to bite me in the bottom.
P: So it really depends. Sometimes it's an idea. Like...uhm...I'll get an idea of something I want to do. Like say Red to Blue was just in my head. I thought of a conversation between these two characters and it had a kinda childlike quality to it.
H: Yes, I enjoyed the simplicity of it.
P: And then with blue being associated with being down. I felt it was going to be that kinda piece. So that was just a silly thought in my head. If it's an acrostic, then that's different again.
H: It played out nicely :)
P: Thank you. Yeah and because it was about an important message - simplicity was best.
H: Yes, it really did allow the focus to stay on the message.
P: Same with Dancing with an Elephant. I just had the thought of that silly verse in my head.
H: How do you go about it for a short story? Plot it out, start with the ending?
P: Again, it kinda depends. I've not had a chance to write too many so far since doing Vocal, which is odd as that was one of my original intentions. But with the two RYP (Reset Your Password challenge) ones, I had the vague ideas mapped out in my head. I knew the one about the girl was just going to be quite basic and cover her emotions. I wanted to challenge myself to write from a woman's point of view. Cos I'd normally write from a man's point of view and wanted to know that I could do it justice as a proper adult. So it was more an experiment. I mean, I liked the story too.
Most of the stuff is mapped out in my head. Sometimes the ending comes first like the Letters About K one. That was odd. Cos I wasn't originally going to make it so horrid. It was going to be this rather playful story about her finding herself again after a sticky divorce. Sorry if I'm mumbling too much.
H: I can appreciate all of these methods, so to speak. And you're doing wonderfully! I can relate to so many in the way I do things myself. I think readers appreciate a behind-the-scenes look
P: That's good to know, because I honestly don't pay too much attention or as much attention as I should to the methodology etc. I know about the basics of mapping out stories...character development all that. But really, I kinda go off piste.
H: Me too!
P: I realised that Letters About K...had to go dark. It was kinda hard to bear really. Cos I'm cynical and a grump and like a good nasty twist but was really happy with her having a happy ending.
H: Sometimes these scenes just demand to be written a certain way.
P: Exactly. Lots of my work at the moment seems to be around mental health. So I think I was just thinking along those lines.
H: Yes it's a hot topic.
P: Yeah. My wife has mental health issues. I've had depression and lots of people I know and in my family have had different issues. So, it felt cruel but also more realistic even though the brief was for fantasy.
H: Yes, I think more people can relate than you think.
P: You might be right. Like Pan's Labyrinth or erm...Bridge to Terabithia. That film broke me.
H: Oh me too.
P: When it became clear that she was this poorly girl and then she died, I was like NO! Don't you dare.
H: It was a lot to unpack.
H: Unjust, cruel just heartbreaking.
P: So I basically felt I had to do that to Diane, lol. In school, we were always taught to write up character descriptions kinda the same. I've learnt as marketing folk do for target customers. So John has brown hair, middle-aged, middle-class, three kids, blah, blah. I don't really ever write that stuff down from the few I've done recently. I kinda imagine them in my head and just let them grow and form in my brain. Which sounds pretty pretentious, lol.
H: Not really, they kind of live in your head while you're writing. I don't do big character write-ups for these short stories either.
P: That's reassuring to know.
P: And an interesting thing with my Walls challenge one, I've cried twice actual sorta real tears over the two characters which is messed up because they aren't real.
H: No but they represent people that very well could be. I cried while writing the ending of the Dance.
P: Oh that was an awesome story by the way. I can understand why.
H: Thank you.
P: See my main character, I was trying to do the method actor thing. So I was walking to the shops, and I had to take a detour and walk to a different shop. I was just thinking and thinking about how crappy he was feeling (He's about to commit suicide at the start - that's no spoiler by the way.) He was just a guy whose wife and kid had been snatched from him from an accident (though not fully set on that) and he had nothing left. He was just...drifting. And that made me really sad, because there are people like that.
H: Exactly, people are relatable. Characters are relatable.
P: Yes. I kinda need them to be. I really want to get the fiction thing right as that's always been a kinda put-off dream of mine. The poetry thing was a bit of a side swerve.
H: Well, that would lend nicely to Q2 then :)
P: I had a funny thing to say about the other thing I cried about, lol. It might lighten things. Sorry.
H: Go for it.
P: I cried about the wall.
P: I really can't say much more than that. The guy's an ass, the wall I mean. He's awesome but an ass like some sorta weird mix between the rock biter from NeverEnding Story, Falcor from NeverEnding Story, Robin Williams' character from Good Will Hunting and bloody Deadpool, lol.
H: That is a serious mash up!!
P: But as I was developing his character in my head, I got really sad. I wanted him to be like Marley and some of the ghosts from a Christmas Carol, so profound and stuff. But to lighten up the suicide thing a bit and make it not this depressing story, wanted him to be kinda sassy.
H: That is very Deadpool, hahaha.
P: And Deadpool cares, especially by the end of the first movie and during the second.
P: He finds it annoying but he does. Holly's story kinda made me feel for the wall too.
H: Yeah, I can see that :)
P: (Everyone should check that out. Free promotion!) Anyway, sorry I diverted you away from question 2!
H: No, you are fine! I love all the details.
P: I like these kinda self-indulgent interview things too, lol, about books, movies and music etc.
H: We will come back around to that a bit later. Q2 - What does literary success mean to you? How do you picture it?
P: At the moment or in the future?
H: At whatever point you think you achieve the writing dream.
P: Well...I think people paying money for my stuff and then reviewing it and saying "it's not shit" would be nice. Haha
H: I agree. Haha
P: Seriously though, I would love to make money from this and ditch my other writing work.
H: Will that be for a novel? Screen play?
P: Ah see...I've always wanted to write a novel, but I'd love to write a screenplay.
H: Me too. To both.
P: I think novel first though, then when it's wildly successful I'll adapt it myself.
H: Icing on cake!
P: That kinda makes me sound like an ass but I am massively controlling. I'd find it hard to give it to someone else to do.
H: I honestly think most authors would prefer it but rarely get the chance.
P: Yeah exactly.
H: I feel the same way.
P: Ultimately, my goal is to write a collection of short stories...a long-form novel. At least one to get started cos that feels like a challenge. And now for some reason a book of poetry.
H: Is there a genre you're leaning towards?
P: I dunno. I've not really worked out what my genre is at the moment.
H: Hmm, do you know what it's not?
P: I don't wanna go down the detective or murder mystery route or not traditionally. Or anything too procedural cos I can't be bothered with the research required. It doesn't fascinate me enough.
P: Romance...hmm. I love a good romance book but not Mills & Boon, hahaha. Paul Stewart's Lady Chatterley's Lover: The Bitch Bites Back, nah! I like having romance in stories I've written. Love is important. (Hippie comment)
H: I like that! Guys don't always gravitate towards romance.
P: Yeah...I don't know that it can always be avoided. I like fantasy, sci-fi, not dragons and such as much, even though LOTR is one of my favourite books.
H: It is a classic for a reason!
P: And I do like writing about bad people, so maybe crime stuff but just not the traditional or modern versions? Horror always fascinates me, because I love horror films...the way that if you choose a few clever images or sequences, light it correctly, have sparse dialogue and then play some scary music. It scares people so trying to do that in just written form would be something I'd want to try at least.
H: Yeah, that would be me they're scaring, hahaha.
P: Dracula and Frankenstein are two of my favourites of old. The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde. Dracula is actually an impressive book. Many of the films do not actually do it justice cos the book is not actually campy, and the letters thing kinda inspired Letters From K. I had that in mind at least.
H: That's so cool!
P: Like narrative exposition being done through letters then you can control the narrative. I am a hideously big fan of unreliable narrators. Maybe there would always be an element of mystery, psychological stuff.
H: I like that.
P: I just don't wanna do like a proper romance or proper crime drama or proper detective or proper dragons and witches, lol, not in the standard form. Sorry, not a very clear answer.
H: Oh goodness we are two peas in a pod. I find traditional too full of constraints, lol!
P: I just think there is no way I can top Tolkien or Robert Louis Stevenson, so why bother?
H: They probably thought the same thing though.
P: I also want it to be like...pretentious time here...to read like a Paul Stewart book.
P: So whatever genre it happens to be...oh it's him again, lol.
P: Knew it was him cos the prologue contained a multi-haiku acrostic or something, haha.
H: That's great!
P: I fear I'd never hit all the right bits from the playbook.
H: I like to just see where things take me...why put limits, lol?
P: Yes, that. Like I said, some stories and poems, I know the goal. Others, it's just whatever.
H: General goals can always be tweaked as time goes by :)
P: Yes! Especially when you realise you want a word to fit in to it regardless if it fits the flow that exists or not. It's good to know i'm not on my own with a lot of this stuff.
H: Yes, I agree! Ready for Q3?
P: Yes, sorry. I'm not sure if I'm doing this right or not, hah!
H: You are doing it just like you would! The point is to showcase you :) Q3 - Do you have a certain writing routine or environment that you like to work in? (i.e. place, time, snack, background sounds)
P: For various reasons...I work where I always work...in my lounge. It's where I do my client work and where I do most of my "vanity stuff" lol. Snacks...well. Snacks are good. What snacks are you offering? (looks at interviewer for snacks)
H: Uh, I ate them. (looks sheepish)
P: That's unfair! I like coffee usually but have been drinking lots of sweet tea recently. I thought Americans were known for their hospitable nature towards foreigners.
H: I'll send cake!
P: Oooooo. That bit will replace everything else won't it in the editing stage, my snarky sarcasm? Lol
H: Hahaha, well we need to showcase all your attributes.
P: I can see the headlines now, "Paul is a massive USA-hater," lol!
H: I am sometimes too and I live here.
P: "Paul suggested that Americans hate foreigners." "Vocal sorta semi-half decent writer is a bit anti-American."
H: "Americans don't serve cake to guests...prats!"
P: So...it depends really, but usually just in my lounge unless I'm creating in my head. I remember my Nonna acrostic, I more or less wrote in my head in the bedroom when I needed to go for a nap while my wife was chatting to her mum on the phone. Only tweaked it when I finally typed it out. Said the non-poet.
H: Is this a comfy atmosphere or do you try to keep it professional to help yourself maintain that mindset? In the lounge I mean.
P: Nah, I'm just lazy and can't be bothered thinking of any other way to do it. Our flat is quite small so privacy is not really massively possible. I quite like the noise in background anyway I think. It's harder to do my client writing work in that environment.
H: I bet!
P: But my hobby writing seems to not be affected. And as for snacks, I have favorites but I'm not fussy.
H: Do tell :)
P: Lol. Tunnocks Caramel Wafers. Tunnocks Tea Cakes. (Google them) Any sponge cake is nice. Marshmallows I'm an absolute swine for. And pizza.
P: Oh, at the moment yes. I always grew up loving sweet popcorn and didn't get salty popcorn. Now as an adult, unless it's like Ott toffee crap, I prefer salty.
H: Do you listen to music at all?
P: Hmm. Sometimes yeah. Sometimes it's good because it means people in the house...whoever is in the flat are listening to it and not speaking and also helps me to focus. Other times it's distracting. I think for the Walls one, I'm going to listen to a lot of Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, Mogwai, because I feel it'll set the mood. I want the tone to be right.
H: Head Like a Hole!
P: I was going more The Downward Spiral, lol.
H: Used to vacuum and clean the house to that one...got me pumped up.
P: But Head Like a Hole was the first song I heard from them. Vacuuming should only be done to I Want to Break Free. You made an error there.
P: Hahaha. So, did you mean in general or when creating?
H: When creating.
P: Ah, oh good. That's what I thought you meant.
H: I used to listen to heavy piano or violin music when in college to help me concentrate.
P: If there is a kinda feeling I wanna get across, I definitely will carefully choose music. I wrote something recently while listening to Holst, The Planets. (Note the highbrow nod to classical there, folks)
(courtesy of Salem Ronkartz channel on Youtube)
H: Oh lovely!
P: I've been listening to flipping One Vision a lot recently.
H: I think sometimes certain lyrics or styles of music just speak to us.
P: Exactly. That's where I would find it hard to say...oh it's always cello or something.
P: What is the next question, oh mighty interviewer?
H: I was just typing it :)
P: I'll be right back. Gotta go to the little poet's room.
(The readers needed that tidbit.)
H: Of course, my hard hitting interviewing style demands it, lol. So, does it help or hinder you reading other people's work while you are working on and writing your own?
P: That's another 'depends' question. The traditional advice to writers who say "How do I become a good writer?" is to read, read, read. Oh and then write. While I get that as a way of learning how to format things, how to draw out stories and show don't tell and all that, or if it's a different style you are unfamiliar with like Dharrsheena's latest Top Story, that's all well and good. But sometimes, I'd worry that I might be influenced too much even just accidentally and it might affect the story or poem and take it directions I had no intention of going. Or worse, it just would sound like someone else's work.
H: I hear that. I have those same concerns. Or even like a response to the other work.
P: Yes, which is fine if that's the intention but not if you weren't shooting for that. So it's something I think I personally need to be careful with.
Like...I've been trying (because I'm basically an accidental poet) to figure out ways to do free-flow free-form well. So when I came up with Poetry Found Me and some of my other more recent free-flow sorta ones, I read Gina's or looked at them. Which is fine. I think I even looked at one of yours. Can't pinpoint which but one that didn't stick to a syllable count or whatever per line.
H: Most of them then...hahaha. I give two shits about counting...other than haiku.
P: I would hate to start writing like you or Gina. Like <whispers> to *SELF* people would then be like, "Oh he's doing a Gina," lol.
P: And I'm quite happy with Gina doing Gina, And Paul completely bastardising the fine art form of poetry.
H: I think it helps to read a variety then to keep from sounding like one in particular.
P: Yes, or Melissa or Em or just any of them that just write so fluidly.
H: I think the longer you write the more your voice shines through.
P: That's true. You find what feels comfortable and what sounds like you or the way you wanna sound.
H: And people recognize it as your device or things that you do.
H: Like, ahh typical Paul, but not in a negative way.
P: Oh I knew you didn't mean it that way. Yes. Like Melissa...I can't put my finger on it but all of hers are just so uniquely her.
H: Yes, you have that too. You probably just can't tell cuz it's yourself.
P: I know what you mean, and if that's what people get from me, I'm glad. I like to think some of the more introverted pieces sound similar, like not connected but are a wee bit. Poetry Found Me and the Imposter one because I had the same mindset going into them.
H: Give yourself some time and keep writing...I think those things work.
P: So reading stuff does help, cos this is all basically not what I was planning with my Vocal endeavors or writing.
H: Sometimes those can be the best things that happen.
P: I originally intended on getting some stuff online that had a byline or my name by them because most client stuff is essentially ghostwritten, copywriter written. So, I thought, opinion pieces, articles, fiction, cos that was the dream. But something went awry, lol.
P: I wrote one poem during the first batch in 2022, and it was well received. I worked so hard on that one, harder than some I put out now. And cos it was about abuse-related stuff (Untitled 1).
H: Ah, yes. I think I read that.
P: Yes, I think I remember you commenting. Then I had a massive break, and when I came back, I was a bit nervous about writing again.
H: It is daunting to put yourself out there.
P: Loads of things had happened. My depression had kicked my ass. I had made some truly terrible decisions and done some awful things. But there was the dream challenge thing, full moon and everyone was going on about haikus cos the blue haiku challenge and all that had just been going. So haikus...do not require lots of work, is what I thought, lol.
P: But I thought, I'll start with this and then move on to the other stuff, and then I started to...chokes on words...
H: The poetry bug bit.
P: Yes. I've not been a regular reader for many years but even when I was, poetry was not really the thing I'd turn to. I thought poetry was impressive. Like Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath. Two of my favourite poems of all time are The Raven and Tam 'o Shanter. It was not a Paul Stewart thing.
H: And now it is :)
P: Yes. Wandering round looking at the stars and the clouds in shrouds of love and tangled webs of desire, blah blah blah. People kinda seemed to think I wasn't sucky. And I enjoyed it even if I felt people weren't going to.
H: I've thoroughly enjoyed this session with you and have one final question. (I need to run off to make dinner, lol...ahh mundane things.) What would you most like readers to know about you as an author?
P: Haha...That I always try to be sincere. That I actually do put effort into the madness. That I want to connect with people and every time someone says "that resonates" or "howthefuckdidyoucomeupwiththat," it makes me feel a bit warm. I dunno...yeah. That I care.
H: Aww, I love that.
P: I'm not a poet, not really. I'm not Keats or someone amazing like that, but I don't need to be.
H: Well, you are if you're writing poetry :) I dub you an official poet!
P: Pfft. You may be admin level on a facebook group, doesn't make you queen of poetry, lol. That's like Colleen or Cathy surely. I do realise they'd probably back you up cos nepotism and stuff.
H: LOL, no BUT I am listed as a top creator in the poets community!
P: Lol, I know. I got a top story three times essentially for poems, so maybe I should change my profile a bit, "Poet...yeah, I don't get it either."
H: So, I will pull out my wand and wave it around!
P: I'm sorry I've dragged this one with diversions. Did we cover everything?
H: I believe we did because we talked about one of the questions as part of another question so I didn't ask it separately. One final question though, what is your favorite color?
P: *Coughs* you mean, colour? Haha. I think it's red or green.
H: Yes, my poor American grammar...hahahaha.
P: Lol. I've enjoyed this, and I imagine that Gina's was incredible and better.
H: Yours was YOU! I loved it!
(I'm ending this here as we went on to chat with lots of humor and additional nonsense. So this is the end.)
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into Paul's writing life. I highly encourage everyone to check out his amazing work.
Stay tuned for the next article in the series coming soon!
Note: I was given permission to use the full chat string and change any misspellings. Paul was able to see the article before publication and approved all content. Chat interview conducted on February 13, 2023.
Catch up on the first interview of the series!
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Expert insights and opinions
Arguments were carefully researched and presented
Original narrative & well developed characters
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
This was great enjoyed getting insights into another creators process
Wow! Your journey is truly inspiring! Your dedication and passion are evident in everything you do. Thank you for sharing your story!
Well, *cracks knuckles* time to subscribe to Paul, and if I don't then my name's not Thavien Yliaster! I mean, it is and isn't at the same time. I feel bad because I haven't read a single story of his, maybe a poem or two, but nothing really major. Lowkey, I always wondered why or how he found my "Reset Your Password" challenge entry. When it comes down to it, there's tons of gems within the haystack that is Vocal. Some are rubies, other sapphires, and maybe even emeralds here and there, but everybody's content, structure, cut, shine is unique onto themselves (except for the spammers). Guess I got some more exploring to do.
Congratulations 🎉 👍Paul is Awesome ✨ ❤️💯💬😊
Great and fun!
Paul is a darling. Says what he feels, Feels what he writes. Great interview,
What a great interview! It's so nice to get a window into other's processes and you very skillfully gave us a window into Paul's. Congrats on the top story!
Great, fun interview, Paul and Heather! Congratulations on a well deserved Top Story 💕🙂
Such a great interview about process ... AND a shout-out for Tunnocks Tea Cakes! What's not to like? Thanks for sharing this Heather — and Paul — it's really meaningful to have insight like this into Vocal creators.
That was so good and the interview flowed with ease. Fun, lively and also very emotional. Thanks for sharing. Well done. ❤️
OMG, I don't even know where to begin. What a fun interview. There's so much I want to quote as my favorite lines from you two. It would be so cool to have a meet up of all the Vocal+Assist folks. I'm sure it would be a rousing time. I enjoyed getting to know Paul more!
Great interview. I’m new to the Facebook pages and this series is helpful to catch up on all these wonderful creators 😊
Fantastic interview!!! Thoroughly enjoyed it!!! Congratulations on Top Story too!!!💖💖💕
I love this idea! So fun! And cool to get to know the other writers in the community! Now I gotta go read Gina’s!
Congratulations on top story!
Congratulations on your Top Story
Really enjoyed this! Great job
You asked some great questions, great job
Excellent and enjoyable!!!!!!!
Another excellent Center Stage piece! I am loving these interviews. I am so happy to learn more about Paul on this session. Well done!
Lol, you guys are hilarious! But I gotta say, I was shocked when you both said that you cry over your characters in your story. *Nervous giggle*. I kill off my characters happily! My most favourite character that I killed was baby Stephanie from The Planned Pregnancy. It's like I'm so detached from my characters. Omggg, I think I might be a psychopath or sociopath! Butttttt, any sad thing about any animal, I'd be bawling my eyes out. The other day, I saw a sad monkey photo in FB and started crying. I don't know, I'm weird, lol! Anyway, it was so nice to get to know more about the King of Poetry, Paul. This was a fantasy interview, Heather!
Amazing job, Heather and Paul! ❤️ This was a really fun read! Heather, you did an amazing job once again with questions and flow! Paul, it was so interesting to read your creative thoughts! And, I think it’s really sweet you cried about the wall 🥲
These interviews are so entertaining! Good job Heather and nice to meet you Paul. ❤️
Very enjoyable. it's always nice to get a sense of the person behind the stories. :)