I was lucky enough to read Paul's latest book, psychological thriller The Closer I Get, a couple of months ago and absolutely loved it. Before I re share my review of it, let's find out a bit more about Paul.
Paul Burston is the author of six novels and the editor of two short story collections. The Black Path, was a WHSmith bestseller. His first novel, Shameless, was shortlisted for the State of Britain Award. His third novel, Lovers & Losers was shortlisted for a Stonewall Award. His fourth, The Gay Divorcee, was optioned for television. He was a founding editor of Attitude magazine and has written for many publications including Guardian, Independent, Time Out, The Times and Sunday Times. In March 2016, he was featured in the British Council’s #FiveFilms4Freedom Global List 2016, celebrating “33 visionary people who are promoting freedom, equality and LGBT rights around the world”. He is the founder and host of London’s award-winning LGBT+ literary salon Polari and founder and chair of The Polari First Book Prize for new writing and the newly announced Polari Prize.
I asked Paul a few, rather random, questions - he came back really quickly with some great, interesting answers. Thanks Paul!
Did you always want to be a writer, or was there a particular point, or person, that set you on that road?
I’ve always written stories, since I was at junior school. I had an English teacher, Mrs Price, who encouraged me to write. So I wrote adventure stories about a boy named Jim and would read them out in class. I was bullied as a result - but they didn’t beat it out of me.
You had personal experience of a stalker. Did you find writing The Closer I Get to be a cathartic experience, or was it emotionally difficult because of memories it brought back?
It was a bit of both, at least to begin with. Reliving the impact of the stalking was essential because I wanted the book to be emotionally truthful. But what I found was that, as I wrote it, the process of fictionalising the story gave me control and that in turn gave me closure. I used to harbour a lot resentment towards the person who stalked me. Now I just pity them.
If The Closer I Get was made into a film, what three songs or pieces of music would be on the soundtrack?
- Morrissey - The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get
- Blondie - The Tide Is High
- Kate Bush - Aerial
All three are referenced in the book.
Who would be your ideal dinner party guests? Please name four people, alive or dead, and tell us why.
- David Bowie - I met him, briefly in 2003. I’d love to continue our conversation - only this time I’d be sober.
- Marlon Brando - because he was a fascinating man who changed the face of film acting.
- Kate Bush - because she’s one of the few musicians I grew up worshiping who I haven’t met or interviewed. And I’m told she’s great fun.
- Joan Crawford - because she was a fighter who overcame huge odds and had a strong work ethic. She was a gay ally long before it became fashionable - and she loved a party.
What one book so you recommend to everyone and why?
Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s the book I turn to whenever I think I’m losing the plot or convinced I’ll never be able to finish my latest work in progress. He’s an inspiration.
In case you aren't familiar with Paul's book The Closer I Get, here's the information:
Tom is a successful author, but for the first time in his life, he has writer’s block. His main distraction is an online admirer, Evie, who simply won’t leave him alone. Evie is smart, well read and unstable; she lives with her sick father and her social media friendships are not only her escape, but everything she has. When she’s hit with a restraining order, her world collapses, whilst Tom is free to live his life again, and to concentrate on writing.
But things aren’t adding up. For Tom is also addicted to his online relationships, and when they take a darker, more menacing turn, he’s powerless to change things. Because maybe he needs Evie more than he’s letting on.
A compulsive, disturbingly relevant, twisty and powerful psychological thriller, The Closer I Get is also a searing commentary on the fragility and insincerity of online relationships, and the danger that can lurk on the other side of a screen…
The Closer I Get is published by Orenda Books, and was released as an eBook on 11th May 2019 and as a paperback on 11th July 2019. You can purchase it from the publisher, Waterstones, Amazon UK, Amazon US and other good bookshops.
And to wrap up my wee spotlight on Paul, here's my review of the book:
Oh. My. Goodness. This is some book. It's dark and disturbing. And it's relevant. We all know about internet trolls, people who say vicious things about others on social media, often having never even met their target. And then there are some folk who take things a step further. To stalking online and maybe in real life too.
The story is told by both Evie and Tom, so we hear from the stalker and her victim. Each character gets their own chapters, and we switch backwards and forwards between them, which kept me both on my toes, and interested. But Evie's version of events is very different from Tom's. In fact, just about the only thing they agree on is that Evie came to one of Tom's book signings.
Everything seems obvious. Tom is a victim, and Evie is delusional, twisting the truth to fit her version of reality. But is everything as clear cut as it initially seems?
I warmed to Tom pretty much from the get go.. He is an author after all, and authors are my rock stars! But he is struggling because of all this nonsense with Evie - he can't write anything, and has become anxious and paranoid. The only person he trusts is his best friend Emma. He has pages and pages of printouts showing Evie Stokes' vicious, bullying tweets and Facebook shares. He's an innocent victim. Tom is easily relatable - I felt sorry for him, although I didn't always like the way he treated other people, but other than that, he was OK. BUT my opinion of him changed as I progressed through the book and learned a wee bit more about him.
And Evie? Evie is hard to like. She is clearly obsessed with Tom - pretty much her every thought and action is related to him, and she . She seems to be deluded, but is at as clear cut as that? There have been difficulties in her life, but it was hard to be sympathetic towards her - she's not a very nice person - and there was one huge OMG moment for me with her!
But both characters are so beautifully written. I felt I really knew them, was utterly absorbed and invested in what happened to them. I also have to mention Colin, a small player in the story but, for me at least, one who really stands out.
I found the whole story claustrophobic, chilling and compelling - my heart was in my mouth more than once. I didn't see where it was going, at all, which made the denouement all the better! There is twist upon twist in this book, so The ending was such a surprise. I still don't think I knew the entire truth, I still have questions, but that's OK. It means I'm still thinking about it now and may well revisit it.
Overall, I loved it. Dark, powerful and relevant, The Closer I Get might be a piece of fiction, but it shows the very real potential danger of online relationships, how they can be toxic, and how we all need to be vigilant in what we share on social media.
Huge thanks to Sarah Hardy at Book on the Bright Side Publicity for inviting me to take part in this tour, and to Paul for answering my questions!
Be sure to check out the other bloggers on the tour - there will be a different author highlighted each time!