Reproduced from Female First
Female First speaks to Leeds-born author Paul Carroll about the inspiration for his new novel, Don’t Ask, about his former career in PR, and about his love of music, among other things.
Your latest novel is about the issues that can arise from having a home DNA test. Can you sum up your main concerns, and what prompted you to explore them?
Don’t Ask was inspired by real-life events resulting from a home DNA genealogy test, and I did plenty of research into the area as a result. To me, it’s best summed up in one medical expert’s view, that these kits are the equivalent of ‘the Wild West’. They’re banned in some countries, and I can well see why. Not only is your DNA data being sold on, many users are being scared out of their wits over so-called underlying health conditions they may very well not have – and that’s before you get to the Pandora’s Box element of discovering relatives you never knew — and don’t want to know — existed. DNA analysis should be left to the medical experts, working to strict ethical regulations.
You love music and include it in your novels. How do you weave musical elements in?
My new novel intermittently time hops back to the glam-rock era, centred around a fictional group called ‘Flight’. Readers will discover that Flight’s only number one record from that era – not so coincidentally called ‘Don’t Ask’ – is central to the plot. Not so much woven in as tattooed!
Is the fictional glam band, Flight, based on any real glam bands?
Let’s say it’s an amalgam of all those who enjoyed the sweet smell of pop success for a (very short) time. I’ve always been fascinated by the ‘one at the back’, the performer you see – if you see them at all – for two seconds on old Top of The Pops shows. It’s forty or fifty years ago, and he or she probably then went on to lead a very normal existence after their brief moment in the sun, but it defines their life somehow.
What was your go-to soundtrack when writing Don’t Ask, and why?
I don’t listen to music when I’m actually at the keyboard (I don’t know how some authors do), but I certainly like to use music to get in the zone. Don’t Ask covers three generations, five decades in total. So plenty of glam, yes, but sharp-eyed readers will also spot references to ‘Come on Eileen’ by Dexys Midnight Runners and ‘Supersonic’ by Oasis.
You previously worked in PR. What PR stunts are you most proud of devising?
One campaign that readers may recognise is one that I did in the mid-nineties and it’s still running. That’s the ‘Funerals Top 10’, a chart of the most popular songs played at funerals each year. Co-op Funerals have run the chart every year since to promote its services. Unfortunately, unlike records or books, there’s no royalties payable on PR ideas! (For the record, my song is ‘My My, Hey Hey (Into the Black)’ by Neil Young.
Who are your favourite authors, and why?
My reading list is currently dominated by Jonathan Coe, Hilary Mantel, John Niven and Kate Atkinson. David Nicholls and Nick Hornby, too. I like plot-driven literature, and to be carried along page after page. These authors also use humour to a brilliant degree, create a real sense of place, and offer up fascinating insights into human behaviour.
How do you unwind outside of writing?
Like everybody else, my favourite leisure pursuits have been on hold recently. I travel a lot, and want to visit as many countries in the world as I can. The ‘big one’ on my list remains a trip to Antarctica. It helps to have a dream destination. I also can’t wait to get back to visiting the theatre again (The Royal Exchange in Manchester is my favourite), and enjoying live football at Elland Road (home of Leeds United).
What are the most important elements for you when writing a novel?
Your book would make a good film. Who would you cast in a movie adaptation?
I try hard not to model a character on a known personality, as avoiding stereotype is hard enough in the first place. Let the reader – or a casting director – make that decision. I had one character in an earlier novel where every time I wrote her, a particular real personality sprung into my mind. It was sending me mad, but then nobody who read the book ever made the same association.
You’ve done some unusual things to promote your books. Can you explain more?
For my last book, Trouble Brewing, I produced a press kit containing my own Trouble Brewing bottled beer (a Yorkshire bitter), complete with branded glasses and beer mats! I honestly can’t say that it made any difference to reviews, but I didn’t have to go to the off licence for a few months. For Don’t Ask, I suggest readers look out for the release of the Flight song of the same name. It’s glam-tastic!
What’s next for you as an author?
A bit of a departure. My first four novels primarily dealt with quirky aspects of contemporary life and its impact on individuals. My next novel, nearing completion, is an alternative history, set in Roman-era Judea. It’s satirical and ironic in its outlook, and features loads of music (so not much change there, then). One friend has already dubbed it ‘The Life of Brian meets Woodstock’.