Sunday 13 December 2020

The Hippo Hangs Out . . . . with Paul Marriner


I'm absolutely delighted to be hanging out with Paul Marriner today. I first heard about Paul's book, The Blue Bench, when I read an extract from the book as part of a recent blog tour over on the lovely Nicola's blog - Short Book and Scribes. As soon as I read it I knew that this was a book that I'd be adding to my TBR mountain and I've subsequently been lucky enough to win a copy in a giveaway and I'm really looking forward to reading it. After chatting to Paul via email I thought that it would be great to invite him to The Hippo for a chat and I'm so pleased that he accepted my invitation. So lovely readers allow me to introduce you all to Paul Marriner and to tell you a little more about his book, The Blue Bench.

Photo courtesy of Paul Marriner

Paul grew up in a west London suburb and now lives in Berkshire with his wife and two children. He is passionate about music, sport and, most of all, writing, on which he now concentrates full-time. Paul has written four novels and his primary literary ambition is that you enjoy reading them while he is hard at work on the next one (but still finding time to play drums with Redlands and Rags 2 Riches).



Margate 1920. The Great War is over but Britain mourns and its spirit is not yet mended.

Edward and William have returned from the front as changed men. Together they have survived grotesque horrors and remain haunted by memories of comrades who did not come home. The summer season in Margate is a chance for them to rebuild their lives and reconcile the past.

Evelyn and Catherine are young women ready to live life to the full. Their independence has been hard won and, with little knowledge of the cost of their freedom, they are ready to face new challenges side by side.

Can they define their own future and open their hearts to the prospect of finding love? Will the summer of 1920 be a turning point for these new friends? As the body of the Unknown Warrior is returned, can the nation find a way forward?


Welcome to The Hippo Paul! It's great to have you here, but please don't stand on ceremony, pull up a chair and let's begin.

Many thanks Neats for inviting me to take part in The Hippo Hangs Out. I’ve really enjoyed thinking about the questions and hope there’s something in my answers of interest to readers. Please feel free to leave comments below or drop me a line via FB or my website – it’s always good to hear from you.


What’s your favourite under-appreciated writer/book?
I picked an easy one to start. I came across this writer in my teens when my Grandmother, Maud, gave me a battered paperback, saying, ‘Here, you might like this, it’s a bit racy for me.’ And I still vividly remember her using the word ‘racy’, even though this was over forty years ago. She gave me the book because I was the family ‘book-worm’. Naturally, in my late teens, I was keen to delve straight into any book described as ‘racy’ and it took me just a few pages to discover a favourite writer. My nan, bless her, had overstated its ‘raciness’ but that was ok because I loved the narrative style, imaginative use of language, great characterisations and clever plot. The book was ‘Boys And Girls Together’ and the writer was William Goldman. The book itself was already something like fifteen years old and, in some ways, already old-fashioned – the fast moving sixties and seventies meant styles and language were constantly changing – but at its core was a story about people I wanted to know better, told in a way that was engaging and entertaining; it felt like William Goldman was sitting in the room with me, telling the story.


After that, I went on to read everything I could find by William Goldman. In those days, relying on bookshops, there was an element of joy in discovering his books which has disappeared with online buying. I know the convenience is great but I can’t help thinking the pleasure of coming across a book by my favourite author I didn’t know about definitely enhanced the reading.

By the time I discovered William Goldman he was already a well established writer of both novels and screenplays and one of his most endearing and popular novels is ‘The Princess Bride’, the film of which has developed a faithful following. Goldman died a little over two years ago but left a canon of work spanning genres and mediums and it’s sad to think I won’t be able to ‘discover’ any more of his work – unless there’s an unpublished manuscript waiting to be found – I live in hope.

Postscript: William Goldman is not to be confused with William Golding. In a newspaper interview a few years back I was quoted as being a fan of Golding, rather than Goldman and as they ran the piece without showing me a draft I wasn’t able to correct it.

I'll confess, I automatically thought, William Golding and Lord of The Flies, when I initially heard the name as well so I can see where the confusion could stem from. I didn't realise that William Goldman wrote The Princess Bride. I've seen the film several times but I'll now be looking into his books for some potential future reading Paul.

What book/books made you cry and why?
I’ve chosen a book that might be considered an unusual choice for this question and not an obvious candidate. This is a book I read every couple of years and each time I find something new to enjoy (or perhaps as my memory gets worse I simply forget it’s not new – which is ok). The last time I read it I was struck deeply by the tragic waste of the lives of young men and how I fear lessons seem never to be learnt. This books includes an ensemble of young airmen and as the story progresses the ensemble is gradually diminished as the war takes them. Though the book is usually considered to be taking a humourous, satirical, absurdist look at war, in my last reading I focused on the dwindling ensemble of young men and found it very sad and moving. The book is ‘Catch 22’ by Joseph Heller.


Do you have any bad habits?
Yes, of course. Am I going to divulge them here? Absolutely not, sorry.

Aww, you're among friends here. We wouldn't judge . . . or tell anyone! 😊

What do you think is more important: characters or plot
I could sit on the fence here and quote F Scott Fitzgerald who is quoted as saying, ‘Character is plot, plot is character.’ But that’s a cop out. I’m a great believer that a story moves forward by characters ‘doing stuff’ or ‘stuff happening to them’. I may start with an idea for a story or an idea for some interesting character(s) I’d like to write about, but as I think more on how the story can progress (plot) I naturally start to consider what characters are needed to make things happen. As I consider the characters I then think of what they might do, how and to whom. Or what might happen to them. And if those actions are relevant to the story and move the plot along then I can develop the characters further. Or I may want to show a character in a particular light which means I need to introduce a plot line to do so.

In this way it becomes an iterative process. BUT, I try to hold on to the story’s core and the main character’s primary dilemma(s) and wants. The iterative process throws up a lot of good ideas and interesting characters but most of them, when I challenge them with the question, ‘do they move the story forward or enhance our understanding of the main protagonists,’ fail and go into the bin or are put aside, perhaps to resurface in different story.

I should, perhaps, emphasis here that I throw away a lot of ‘stuff’.

Something else I’d like to mention is the importance of themes. Often, I will want to include specific themes in my stories – some quite obvious, others secondary. In order to introduce the themes in as natural way as possible I will use plot and characters – hence, both are informed not only by the core narrative but also primary and secondary themes. I guess this is another example of the iterative process for my writing. The challenge for me here is to make sure the themes are complementary to the plot and characters – I don’t want to introduce spurious plotlines and people purely so I can write about a specific unrelated theme. This again means being prepared to discard ideas. Sometimes, it can be brutal.

But, I hope this all explains why I agree with Fitzgerald: Character is plot, plot is character. And yes, sitting on this fence is painful.


Well that went really quick, seems I’m out of time  - hope there was something of interest and thank you for reading. Thanks again to Neats for the opportunity to contribute and hopefully I’ll be back some time soon.

You can find out more about Paul, his books and connect with him using the links below:

Amazon UK
Amazon US

I'd like to say a huge thank you to Paul for taking the time to stop by and chat today. It's been really great to get to know you better and I can't wait to start reading The Blue Bench. I will of course be reviewing it here for you so watch this space! 😉