Tuesday 16 August 2016

Interview: Paul Crampton (Author)

Today, I've invited Paul Crampton to interview with me. A highly respected expert on historical Canterbury and author of novels, Paul - kind and affable and an absolute gentleman - tells about his books and how he deals with depression and anxiety whilst writing them. It's a pleasure to invite him along and get some answers to a few questions I've been dying to ask!

Paul Crampton: Novelist and expert on Canterbury
Hi Paul.  Before we talk about your latest book, let's hear a little about yourself. Tell me, what are your passions?

I love the history of Canterbury, of course and the cathedral in particular.  I’m passionate about music: classical, jazz, folk and, my schoolboy love, prog-rock! I also love my garden, where I grow wild flowers and old roses.  And then I have my modest orchard, which is only three years old but doing well.

What's prog-rock? I've never heard of that :-D

Prog-rock is short for progressive-rock, which was a name given to classically influenced album bands in the early 1970s, such as Pink Floyd.

Lol that's me showing my ignorance :-) I believe, as a local historian, you occasionally give people tours of some of the old sites in Canterbury. You're a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, aren't you! Did I hear you say you also have your own weekly column in the local newspaper?

Ah yes, the tours are only for friends, when they show an interest. The column is something I’ve been doing, in one form or another, since the late 1980s. It’s currently called ‘Paul Crampton’s Canterbury’, and I get a lot of feedback from it. It’s also nice to help people trace, for example, a photo of their grandparents’ house in the city. So many old houses were pulled down in the early post-war years. In fact, demand for these pictures was so high that I produced a book specifically about them called: Canterbury Suburbs and Surroundings. In 2010, I won the John Hayes Canterbury Award for that one.

Paul Crampton, local historian, giving his friends
an informal tour of his favourite places in Canterbury

Wow, that's awesome, Paul! And it's so great that you can help people discover something about their past. So, I know the answer to this, but let me get to what you're dying to talk about. I know The Dream Messiah isn't your first published novel so, tell me, what else have you had published?

Well, The Dream Messiah is the first one to be published in the mainstream, and certainly the first one to reach a, potentially, worldwide audience.

But, yes, let's talk about the other books first. As you know, I'm well-known for local history books, particularly about Canterbury, and have published around 18 titles to date...

Eighteen? That's impressive. Sorry for interrupting. Please continue...

Paul Crampton's local history books of the Canterbury area

That's okay... As for novels, I self published ‘Strangers in Focus’ (2005) and ‘Ronnie Darwin was my Uncle’ (2006), both by Pen Press, which has since gone out of business… not, I hope, due to my books! After that, I won a writing competition, which saw two novels being published: ‘I want to be Half Jewish’, in 2008, and ‘Toby’s Burden’ in 2009. Sadly, both sank without trace, as there was no follow-up, or publicity whatsoever.

Paul Crampton's novels including his latest The Dream Messiah

That was just over six years ago. Was there anything between Toby's Burden and The Dream Messiah?

There were a few non-fiction books, but there were some rather unpleasant personal issues and also some mental health problems to sort out. You know... life.

Yes, I know a bit about that. Maybe, if you feel like it, we can talk a little more about that in a moment? Just for now, let's talk a bit about The Dream Messiah, which seems to be gathering a lot of positive attention in the press... I believe there's a story behind the book. Please tell.

Yes, there is. This goes back to my personal reaction to 9/11. I hadn’t thought much about Islam until then, so I began to research it. And, to my surprise, I found out that the three main monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity, had much more in common than they had differences; after all, it was the same God. And, I had to question, why is there so much mutual hatred and mistrust? It was then I decided to say something positive about the whole subject.

I can see from your overwhelmingly positive reviews that your message has certainly reached an audience that agrees with you! And part of that reason is your carefully chosen characters, and the events that bring them together. For a start, your main characters couldn't be more different from each other, could they. Your female character is Muslim, isn’t she?

Yes: Hamila Rashid is a young, black, Somalian refugee, in her 20s, who lives in modern-day London. The premise of The Dream Messiah is that she and my main male character, Tony Hammond-Jones – a white, Bishop’s son from rural Hertfordshire – begin having the same recurring dreams featuring each other. And, as the blurb says: when they finally meet, they slowly realise they share a destiny that has the potential to change the world forever.

Model for Hamila during photoshoot
for the front cover of Paul Crampton's

The Dream Messiah

Is that a heavily pregnant Hamila on the cover illustration, and is that a clue to their shared destiny?

Yes and yes; as is the book’s title itself! 
Hamila and Tony: main characters of The Dream Messiah
So what do you feel about such a great reaction to The Dream Messiah so far?
I am delighted it’s been a very positive one: 27 reviews currently on Amazon are anything to go by. I would love to thank everyone who's read the story and left such good reviews. I really feel they've connected with the characters and understood what I was trying to convey. And I was very careful to be respectful in every way when writing the book; after all, I want to convey a positive message, and causing offence is not my aim, in the least.

Did you find the book easy to write?

After a period of research, the first draft took me about six months to complete, which was fine. But writing fiction doesn’t always come so easily for me. As I mentioned earlier, I have a mental health condition that means my life is governed by chronic anxiety and depression. I've had therapy for this, and I found CBT invaluable. But I refused any medication.   

Any particular reason for that? I meant to come back to your mental health problems (thanks for talking about them openly. I know readers will appreciate that).

Well, I feel my condition has also given me my creativity, so it’s not all bad, and I don’t want to blunt the creative edges with drugs. Mind you, I occasionally self-medicate with alcohol, but have got a better handle on that one recently. In fact, I don’t drink at all at the moment. All in all though, I wouldn’t change the way I am. I write furiously when I’m in the mood, which is the way it is at the moment, thank goodness. Last year though, I just couldn’t touch my new work-in-progress. And the longer I left it, the more of an issue it became; the more I was afraid to pick it up again. But I finally managed to resume work in early 2016.

That's really interesting about the anxiety and depression actually being a source for your creativity. I recently saw a post on Bustle, talking about the link between depression and creativity in some famous authors, including J. K. Rowling. I suppose there's nothing worse than dulling something that, ironically, makes you happy. Are you working on anything at the moment?

I am in the advanced stages of a major project that began in 2009. This is a trilogy of novels called: ‘The Canterbury Apocalypse’. It’s another religious thriller but, this time, it’s a conspiracy trilogy that blends fact and fiction. Should I mention a slight similarity with the writing of Dan Brown? Well,  perhaps, but that’ll be one for others to decide. In any case, I am having enormous fun writing this. The first book is now ready, and I am currently putting the finishing touches to the second volume. For the first time, I'm really able to merge my love of Canterbury history with my fiction writing.

Another appearance: Paul Crampton in the Kentish Gazette

The perfect combination :-) So, how do you see your life in five years time?

I would love to be earning my living as a novelist. I don’t aspire to J.K Rowling’s heights but, having said that, I’m not setting any limits to my ambitions. In a recent interview, with my local history hat on, I was described as a novelist and writer, and it looked very good to see that title in print.  

Finally, where can we find you on the Internet?

Amazon Author page (getting round to it)
Twitter: @dreammessiah

Facebook pages:

Cordelia the cat curled up withThe Dream Messiah

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