Paddy Scott is the author of The Union of Smokers (Invisible Publishing) and Fatal Errors (Devilhouse Press). His shorter fiction and poetry has been published in Broken Pencil, Grain, Feathertale Review, untethered, FreeFall and other equally fine places. As well, he has been a nominee/finalist for the Canadian Magazine Awards and the Alberta Magazine Awards, and been longlisted three times for various CBC awards He lives in Trenton, Ontario.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first “book” was the chapbook Fatal Error, published via the incredible kindness of Amanda Earl and Devilhouse Press. It arrived about two years before my novel, The Union of Smokers (Invisible Publishing), although the novel was written first. The chapbook was a much more relaxed affair, a kind of introduction to the big bad world of timelines and edits, which is not to say that working with Invisible wasn’t the great joy that it was, thanks to Leigh Nash. As far as life changing goes, there hasn’t been much of that. Even with the lockdown I leave the house about the same amount (only when necessary) and none of it having to do with books.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I can’t definitely say that fiction did come first. I seem to recall splitting my time equally between fiction and poetry, although much of my poetry crap was long form, possibly fiction disguised with extra line breaks.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
One thing I can say without hesitation is that I’ve never had to ask myself what or how ahead of the next thing. Even if I have no idea what is going to happen or who it’s going to happen to, I can sit down and start. It might take me a month or two to realize that what I have been writing is garbage, at which time I abandon it, yet I never consider it time lost or wasted. Chances are I have probably already started on something else anyway. Consequently, I’m not a big note taker in advance of the writing, being more of a W.O. Mitchell freefall guy, I think.
4 - Where does a work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Every book I’ve written (I’m counting all the unpublished ones too) began with novel as the goal. Even the collection of short stories in Fatal Errors are taken from a larger linked series. I think a writer will have a sense of the kind of legs their idea has, and I’m including poetry here. Sometimes an idea works best shortest.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I’ve only read a couple of times, and nothing in support of Fatal Errors or The Union of Smokers, so I’ll have to get back to you on that one, rob. Best guess, and from the little I recall? I can’t think of anything less useful to the creative process. Readings are all about the past, the writing already written.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
This is a series of odd questions to answer, because each assumes I’ve begun something with some sort of preconceived intention. While I do enjoy fables, parables etc, if I have a larger point to make beyond what my little characters are doing, it won’t be because I’ve pushed them toward that point. Organically, a lot does come from my past, how I’ve been affected, how I wish I had not been affected, what could I have done or had done to me differently, but these aren’t questions as much as they are wishful thinking rearranged to suit a fictional aesthetic, whatever that is going to look like. People can get out of it whatever answers they want, just as long as they’ve brought their own questions with them. Or they can just enjoy the walk.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Let’s put it this way. I live in a city that doesn’t have a bookstore and whose library doesn’t even carry my book. I think the larger “culture” should be spared my thoughts on the matter of my role in it when my smaller one won’t even acknowledge me. lol
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
One of my regrets is having not solicited the guidance and opinions of others sooner. It’s no coincidence that my successes didn’t come until after I purchased the available brain power of people like Ruth Zuchter, Bethany Gibson of Narrative Agency, and Kathryn Mockler’s writing group. Even if those projects weren’t these projects, everything I learned from them, even generally, did find a specific application later. I’m leaving Leigh off this list because I’d never consider her “outside”, although I know what you mean. She arrived on the scene already fully invested in The Union of Smokers and how to make it better. I had no problem with that.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Writing advice? Don’t create more questions than you have answered for a reader.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
My writing day begins EARLY. Around 3, 3:30 am. I coffee up and catch up, then get going on whatever I’m working on. I can get in a pretty good six hours before puttering takes over, but I leave the work on the screen and go back to it on and off for the rest of the day.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I sort of answered this in question 3. I can’t recall ever being “stalled.” That being said, I’ll keep a copy of something by James Joyce within reach, and Moby Dick. (See “puttering” above.)
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Lately… last night’s spilled wine and pot.
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I have a couple of painter friends who I talk with via internet quite frequently. Both are also big freaks of nature (I mean nature freaks), so our convos can branch every which way. They aren’t influences as much as they are creative people who have interesting things to say on topics unrelated to writing. That’s a kind of influence.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Aesop’s Fables, hands down.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Travel to Romania. My grandparents came from there.
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Well, since I have already done the thing I would end up doing (carpenter) if I hadn’t been a writer, all I have left to do is write.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Boredom, probably. It was a long time ago, but I seem to remember a lot of free time alone.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Because I’d just had a conversation about the film, I’m going to say Immortal Beloved. The soundtrack was pretty good too. Angie Abdou’s Bone Cage introduced me to Angie, so that was unexpectedly great.
19 - What are you currently working on?
A memoir based on the year I spent living and working at the Hotel Quinte in Belleville, to earn enough money to move to England where I would write my first novel. It comes with a lot of good advice on what not to do.