I’ve been to Paul Cuddihy’s previous book launches to hear about his writing and also because one of my close pals is his sister-in-law so it’s a great excuse for a wee night out. Following Paul’s writing career has been an interesting ride as he’s the author of a trilogy of historical novels – Saints and Sinner, The Hunted and Land Beyond The Wave – as well as a non-fiction book, Read All About It, which charts his year of falling in love with literature again. As Easy As A Nuclear War is his first collection of short stories which link to the titles of Duran Duran songs. Not content with merely reading a few stories at the launch in Bishopbriggs Library, along with his specially formed band, PC and the Bookends, Paul treated his friends and family to a few of Duran Duran‘s hits. As a fan of Duran Duran, hearing songs like Rio took me back to 1982, all that was missing was the dodgy hairdo and leg warmers!
I was keen to learn more about Paul’s latest venture so I’ve fired a few questions at him…
What’s so special about the music of Duran Duran to inspire you to write a collection of short stories?
I have always been a fan of the band since I heard their first single, Planet Earth, back in 1981, and that has never wavered – I’m looking forward to their new album being released in the autumn and going to see them at the Hydro in Glasgow in December (I’ve already got the tickets). Like other bands from the ‘80s, their music takes me back to my teenage years, when I was younger, thinner and in possession of a full head of hair (which has now transferred itself to my chin!). I suppose nostalgia can be a positive or a negative thing. As long as you don’t look back with regrets or a longing for what might have been rather than what was and is now, then it can be enjoyable. I’ve had this project in mind for a long time, and it has taken me a while to write enough short stories to make up the collection, but it has been a real labour of love to complete, and I’m delighted to see it finally come to fruition.
What’s your favourite Duran Duran song and why?
It’s got to be Save A Prayer. There are a number of reasons for this – first and foremost because it’s a great song. It was back in August 1982 when it was released and it remains so to this day. As I mentioned about Duran Duran’s music, there’s also a real sense of nostalgia when I listen to it. I had just turned sixteen when it came out, and any time I hear the song, it does take me back to being in fifth year at Turnbull High School, Bishopbriggs, remembering all the people I was at school with, and the great time I had then. If I want to sound like a Duran Duran obsessive, I would also pick Secret Oktober, which was the B-side to their 1983 single, Union of the Snake, again, just because it’s a brilliant song.
What are the challenges of writing short stories as opposed to a novel?
I like writing short stories because everything’s contained within a very short form, and you can just offer a snapshot of what’s happening with the characters and then leave them. I think the best short stories are the ones where you feel you’ve stumbled into someone’s life and then you leave before anything comes to a definite conclusion. It’s a different discipline to writing a novel. For me, writing a novel involves a lot of planning before I actually start writing so that I know what I’m doing and where I’m going with the story, which gets more involved and complicated with every chapter. With a short story, I feel you can have the germ of an idea and then start writing and see where the story takes you.
What did you learn from putting a collection together and what tips would you offer other short story writers?
In putting these stories together, the common theme with them all is the fact they’re named after Duran Duran songs. The stories themselves don’t really have any other connection. When I was working out the order in which they appear in the book, I tried to vary the story lengths, so that after reading one that might be 4,000 or 5,000 words long, the reader would get a breather through reading something shorter, maybe about 1,000 words, or even shorter than that. There are also five stories in the book, each of which has a link to one of the original five members of the band, and they are all between 400-600 words in length.
I think short stories can be great in terms of practising your writing, being able to tell a full story without feeling like you’re going to run out of steam or get lost in some aspect of the plot. They’re also a good way of trying out different writing styles or trying to find your writing voice, and many short stories have subsequently gone on to be developed into fully-formed novels.
The market for short stories is supposedly booming. Do you think it’s because readers find them easy to digest and the bite sized chunks can provide an emotional buzz or epiphany in one quick hit?
The presumption would be, in an age when people are apparently always on the move and don’t have the same amount of time to devout to reading, that short stories would be ideal, giving someone a fully-contained story which can be quickly devoured. Whether or not that’s true, I don’t know. Certainly, publishers still seem to put out the line that ‘you don’t make money out of short stories’. That might be the case, and publishers know the business better than me, but I’d like to think that the market for short stories is getting bigger, even if it’s not quite booming. I also believe that the more short stories are published and promoted, the more people who perhaps don’t normally read short stories will enjoy reading them.
What’s your latest writing project?
I’m working on a couple of things just now – a novel which involves a road trip from Glasgow to Benbecula with three generations of the same family, and a book of poetry called ‘Life Is Just Like The Jeremy Kyle Show’, with each poem the title of a Jeremy Kyle episode. For example, ‘Why would I tattoo your initials on my face if I’d cheated?’ Now, who wouldn’t want to read that poem!