Wonderful Women Series: Emily Paull

I know a number of very special, creative women and I want to share them with the world. These are the women who inspire me; they are driven by passion (and compassion!), and they have found ways to live authentically and thrive as artists. I should define my terms, because I intend to interview some wonderful ‘non-artist’ women too. Some of them are simply making the world a better place, because they have a vision and they have the courage to go forth and create; these are people who make beautiful things happen.

I met Emily Paull last year, and we’ve become fast friends. I’m inspired by her commitment to her craft and her natural wordsmith ways. Introducing blogger, editor, fiction writer and bookseller extraordinaire, Emily Paull…

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What do you do/create?
I am primarily a writer of historical fiction- my two obsessions are the 1930s/ 1940s and the Tudor/ Plantagenet eras- but I occasionally write short fiction. My short stories are usually about dysfunctional relationships or families in emotional crisis.

When did you know that this was what you wanted to do with your life? How did you get started?

I’ve wanted to be so many things, and I’ve always been so suggestible. If someone said to me, as a teacher once did ‘Oh you’d be a fantastic newsreader,’ then that would be what I would tell people I was going to be… but writing was always there as something I loved to do. My grandparents have a short story I wrote when I was around six which is about Winnie the Pooh finding 50c and trying to decide what to buy with it! It’s possibly the only bit of fan fiction I have ever written. At our old house, I used to have a publishing company set up in my bedroom, and I would write long short stories, make covers and blurbs and then have mum bind them. I kept all my books in a plastic suitcase and people could borrow them if they wanted. I don’t think anyone ever did though. For some reason, writing never seemed to be a job for me, and so I would always say “I want to be a Japanese teacher and write on weekends” or, “I want to be a chiropractor and write in my spare time (ha!)”. But then when I got to the end of year 12 and I had to apply for courses, I just decided that no, writing was the only thing I really loved and I was going to study it, even if I ended up teaching literature to pay the bills.

Did you do formal training as a writer? If so, where have you studied?

I did a Bachelor of Arts with Honours at Murdoch, where I majored in English and Creative Writing and Modern Social History. The history units were immensely inspiring in terms of things to write about. I loved studying there. My honours degree was all about what made Western Australian writing unique, and I looked at my favourite book of all time, Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.

Do believe that your training has influenced your process?

The number one thing that I have learned is that there is no one way to learn to write. But the ability to go to a space with other people who were starting out like me, under the guidance of someone who had a lot of theoretical and practical experience was really encouraging, and it made me form good habits. I don’t think I would have learned to keep discipline in my work without it. It would have remained a sometimes hobby, and I wouldn’t have produced as much work to date.

What is your process? Can you see the finished product before you begin or do you work more organically?

I’m a pantser, which means I fly by the seat of my pants. I have a genuine idea of what I want the story to say or mean, or sometimes I’ll know if I want the characters to get what they want, but I let how that happens come to me as I draft. With my novel, I typed the whole thing, just writing each bit as I thought of it, and then I printed it all, started a new document and typed it up again, changing things as I saw them more clearly. I have done that same process, with some professional input from editors and other writers, about eight times now. The draft I am doing this year will hopefully be the last.

Do you intellectualise your work before or after the act?

Before. Often I start the story with a grand idea. Sometimes that gets lost in translation though.
Do you do anything special to get your “creative juices” flowing? Please explain.
My best ideas come to me in the shower, so if I am frustrated or blocked, I take one. It doesn’t always work but it’s pretty helpful most of the time. If only they made waterproof writing implements…
How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additional work?
I don’t. I could keep revising until the work was totally mangled. Usually when a piece is rejected, I revise it again before I send it somewhere else. But I have heard that a piece is done when the only things you can find to change are commas that you put in and take out again, endlessly. It also helps if one of the people I share it with can’t think of anything they need clarified or taken out.

Is your work mainly political or personal? Do you have a conscious agenda?

Personal. I still haven’t worked out what my politics are. I write a lot about people who have hurt me, or incidents of people not getting what they want through misunderstanding. I also (not so secretly) have a weakness for love stories.

What do you do when you feel discouraged?

Threaten to quit! I have had a few incidents this year where I have just thought ‘That’s it! I need to go back to uni and get a real job!’ And then I cry a lot, and inevitably someone says to me ‘Do you really think you could stop doing it?’ and the answer is no. So I pick myself up and start again.
What kind of jobs did you have before your career took off?
This list is still in production but I have:
Helped teach a children’s Tae Kwon Do class, worked in a fish market, worked the registers at a discount variety store, worked for a jewellers and worked at a fantastic independent bookstore, where I get to stare at shelves and remind myself of why it’s all worth it every day. Seriously, I love my job… well, most of the time.

How do you balance your creative life and work/home life?

I don’t always do a fantastic job, but I try to be very organised, and I set myself deadlines. I don’t work Fridays and those are usually my designated writing days. If I have a draft of my novel going, I try to do 1000 words a night on work nights, usually between dinner and my bedtime cup of tea. I just have to be careful not to write in bed because I fall asleep.

Who inspires you?

Margaret Atwood. I would read her shopping lists.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Please explain your choice.

Right now I want to visit Amsterdam, because I read an amazing novel called The Miniaturist and it’s calling me… I also want to try living on the East Coast of Australia, because that’s where most of the publishers are, and I want to live in Barcelona because it’s a beautiful gothic city and Hemingway drank absinthe there… but mostly I want to live here in Perth, because this is where my heart is.

How do you find the artistic life in Perth?

It’s slowly getting better, but it could definitely be more of a priority. I hope Colin Barnett is reading this.

Choose your favourite creative work (your own) or accomplishment. Why?

My first ‘win’ in three years of submitting things! I just got accepted to do a Young Writer’s Residency at the end of the year, at one of our local Writers’ Centres. I’m not sure if I am allowed to say which one yet. I’m pleased as punch.

What is your advice for someone starting out as a writer?

In Hitch-Hiker’s guide to the Galaxy, they say you’re always supposed to bring a towel, but I say always have a notebook. I have a tiny one now so that if my bag’s too heavy my journal can stay home, and the tiny one records lists, overheard conversations and lines of prose that dance into my head when I’m not even thinking about it.