Paul Breen is an Irish author living in London and recently had his first work of fiction published by Thames River Press. His book is entitled The Charlton Men, and is set in the aftermath of the 2011 London riots, the story follows two “Charlton Men” as their lives become intertwined with the fortunes of their local football club. The South London Blog caught up with Paul following its recent release to discover more of the inspiration behind the story.
1.What brought you to South London, and what’s kept you here?
I live in Charlton and work as a university lecturer, I came to South London to work in the University of Greenwich in 2006 after teaching overseas for several years. From the minute I arrived in the South, I fell in love with Greenwich – love at first sight almost – and it was here that I would eventually meet my future wife, and settle down in the first house of our own. That is in Charlton which I love because of its village feel, the sense of community that exists there, and of course its local football team.
Aside from these personal reasons for moving to, and staying in, South London, the whole area has so many great things going for it, there are so many parks and green spaces, and each area has its own distinct identity.
2. When did you decide to write a book based in South London, and what inspired you?
I had been writing about Greenwich more or less since I arrived, but The Charlton Men was inspired by a combination of the place, and then real life circumstances based around my own story and experience of starting to follow Charlton Athletic Football Club. The timing of deciding to write a book that combined Greenwich and Charlton, alongside other aspects of London life, also coincided with a season in which the football team was very successful. This was the 2012 season, and that’s the one in which the fictional story takes place.
Of course I would also say that my own life experience plays, and has played, a part too though The Charlton Men is not biographical. It is very much a work of modern London fiction.
3. Give us a brief overview of what readers can expect from your new book?
In order to answer that question, I will draw on feedback that I have been given by readers, rather than my own views. The Charlton Men has been described as well-written, showing good imagination and good command of language, with an appeal that goes beyond the football fiction market. This is a story of love, friendship, riots, and everyday life that will appeal to all readers with an interest in contemporary London fiction, and is one that has been read and acclaimed by readers from across the world.
I would hope that just as the characters fall in love with people and places, as the story develops, readers will feel the passion of the tale, become hooked on the characters, and enjoy the book so much that they will want to read further, future examples of my work. Above all though I would like readers to also feel that the story captures a realistic sense of London in the 21st century, while at the same time sweeping them away to a place of the imagination for the hours or days of the journey from start to finish.
As my publisher has said, he’d like someone to pick up this book 20 years from now in New York, London, Paris, or anywhere in the world and get a feel for Greenwich, and Charlton, and the time period in which the story was written. I’d also hope that the people who live in South London, especially those who have come from other places, might see The Charlton Men as a story worth sharing.
4. This is your first book, how hard was it to discipline yourself to the art of story writing? and how long did it take from initial idea to publication?
The story took approximately two years from the point of conception to its publication, and it was quite a tough slog. I think discipline is a very appropriate word because, as many writers, including Ernest Hemingway have said, success in writing is about far more than inspiration. Perseverance plays a major part too, not just in the writing, but the editing and the proof reading also.
For me, doing much of my writing in my spare time, the need for discipline and dedication has been paramount.
If I could make a living out of writing I would probably spend my spare time and weekends by the sea, but instead I write in my study in Charlton, in the early hours of the morning, just a mile or so from the Thames and The Valley, where Charlton Athletic play their games. And when I run out of ideas I take a walk through the local parks, at different times of the day, and seek out inspiration.
5.What advice would you give to any other budding authors looking to write their first book?
Very simply, if you believe you can make a success out of it, and you are prepared to put in the effort then stick with it! Sooner or later somebody will want to listen to your voice, and your attempts to become a writer. A few years back I emailed a famous London writer and academic (who I won’t name here but maybe some readers can have a guess), and he told me that good books are always in demand, and that my stories of South London would have an appeal, if I could find a publisher to put faith in me. I found that through my own publishers, and hopefully the success and quality of my work so far has repaid their faith in me.
And remember it is a major investment of publishers’ time and money – so always come across as serious, professional, and original.
Lastly stay humble, stay true to your roots, remember that it’s not a competition (especially in these days when there is such an emphasis on sharing and open-sourcing of ideas), and don’t celebrate the finish until the book’s published and released.
6. Finally, can you share any of your favourite south London spots with us?
Obviously I would recommend some of the places and ideas in my book –such as a picnic date along the side of the Thames, in that lovely stretch of waterfront between Greenwich and Charlton where you are facing Canary Wharf on the far side of the river. There’s one particular stretch near the 02, which always makes me think of the cityscapes you find in small Australian cities such as Brisbane – a little wooded hidden gem on the Thames pathway where one summer I would love someone to open a pop-up bar. Investors and entrepeneurs – there’s an idea for you.
Greenwich Park, especially the parts of it slightly off the beaten track, is also a fantastic place to visit at all times of the year.
Another place where I have spent a fair amount of time recently is Woolwich, which is almost unrecognisable from a few years back. It has been the scene of rapid regeneration especially around the historic arsenal area, and the riverside. Highlights include the Greenwich Heritage centre, where there is currently a fantastic WW1 exhibition, and I say that as someone who is very anti-war!
Aside from this, there are some great places around Goldsmiths in New Cross for an evening or night out.
Paul Breen’s book ‘The Charlton Men’ is out now!