Gert Scholtz

3 years ago · 5 min. reading time · visibility ~10 ·

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Paul Walters on Writing

Paul Walters on WritingPaul Walters

On BeBee we have come to know Paul Walters as an eminent travel writer. From all parts of the world, he gives us a tantalizing glimpse of people and places. Perhaps lesser known is that Paul is also an accomplished novelist and a successful former advertising copywriter. His novels include Final Diagnosis, Blowback, Counterpoint and Scimitar, and he co-founded and ran Logan Meo Walters for twelve years. Paul says in his online profile: “I have been a writer all of my working life.” Interested to learn more of Paul’s writing, he kindly agreed to take the time for an interview.


Gert: You mention in a blog: “Looking back, aside from copywriting I have always been a compulsive writer, scribbling journals, tapping out intense, verbose letters to absent friends as well as writing long, clumsy pieces that would, over time be consigned to the bonfire or left to yellow in a long - forgotten drawers. When did you first become aware that you have a knack for writing? Were there specific events at school or university that prompted you to a writing career?

Paul: Actually, thinking back, I was always involved in writing when I began editing school magazines and then later at university when my scribbles became more ‘politicized’ writing content for the University magazine. As a traveler, I keep copious notes of daily events on my journeys. I have always had the philosophy of staying in touch with old friends and even today I hand write letters to these same people.


Gert: When you do a travel article, do you write it while traveling, or do you only take notes and then put all in an article once you get home?

Paul: I take notes mainly, things I see, snippets of conversations overheard in coffee shops or bars. Only when I come to write a piece do I “untangle” these random thoughts and attempt to craft them into coherent sentences and paragraphs.


Gert: Which novelists do you particularly admire or enjoy reading?

Paul: Tough question Gert as there are so many. My reading habits are varied depending on my moods. Prior to writing a book, I will often re-read authors like Douglas Kennedy, John Le Carre or Michael Ondaatje. I switch genres depending on my moods, so an Ian Rankin could be closely followed by Simon Winchester or Anne Enright or Kate Atkinson. I get through about a book a week.


Gert: Do you find you need a particular place to write well, or do you jot down those wonderfully descriptive sentences wherever you are?

Paul: I do particularly like writing in restaurants especially at lunchtime. There is something esoteric about writing fiction in a crowded place surrounded as one is by strangers. This is where I tend to “steal" people to remodel them as characters. Of course, the process is assisted by copious amounts of red wine or whatever else is on offer!


Gert: When writing a novel, do you plot the whole story and then sit down and write it? Or do you have a vague idea about the characters and storyline and invent the rest as you write it?

Paul: To have a novel one has to have an idea. Then the process begins. By the end of the process, my walls are festooned with post-it notes. Arrows lead to all sorts of places linking characters to scenes. I have always been a great admirer of JK Rowling and her character thread process whereby a character in book two suddenly pops up in book five as an integral part of the plot. The novel should always be crafted as a three-act play. One cannot deviate from that strategy otherwise the writer finds himself or herself in all sorts of trouble!


Gert: You wrote your first novel “Final Diagnosis” in 39 days, obtained a publisher in a week and the novel was released four months later. Then within a year, a further three novels followed. That is an extremely fast pace! How long does it take you to complete the first draft of a novel? And how do you come up with ideas for the plot and characters?

Paul: The first part of your sentence regarding the 39- day novel is correct. As for the follow-up books, this was certainly not the case. Blowback was pretty technical and took nine months to write and a further four months going through a difficult edit. Most books take if I don’t procrastinate or fall into sloth, four to six months to write, four months to edit and a further two months to publish. One burns through one’s advance pretty quickly. (I tend to invest mine wisely in alcohol and recreational drugs leaving not much left after a couple of months). The next pay cheque will be about four months after the book is released so there is a long time between drinks! I have considered a career in prostitution but to date, that particular profession has been a complete and utter failure.


Gert: In a blog, you say: “Writing for a living is indeed a curious business when one’s workspace is but a short commute from bedroom to study without the tedious chore of donning suitable clothing applicable to an office environment.” How do you plan your days? Do you work to a certain word count? And how do you keep going during what must be a long stretch when you write a novel?

Paul: My sign off on all of my piece contains the phrase, “when not cocooned in sloth and procrastination” and this is perhaps my downfall. Magazine editors are continually driven to despair or drink or both when awaiting an article from me. I more than often meet the deadline with just seconds to spare. I tend to lie around and think and sort of compose a piece in my head and then when the deadline is fast approaching type like a demented demon until the piece is finished. I sit on it for a day and often will tear it to bits and rewrite the piece again before sending. It’s the adrenalin that does it for me Gert! This is a technique I used as a copywriter driving unloved creative directors to an early grave.


Gert: Paul, you worked for Ogilvy and Mather once, and say that you admired David Ogilvy. What specifically did you learn at O&M about the art of copywriting?

Paul: Each agency, Saatchi’s, Young &Ribican, BBDO and Ogilvy’s and others taught me many things. It was, however, David Ogilvy under whose tutelage I grew into what I considered to be a competent copywriter. I followed (and still do) his ironclad rules.

1) Never treat your audience like inferior beings.

2) Never, never, ever use reverse type. The human brain cannot absorb text when written in white type on a black background. It is a fireable offense.

3) No more than five words to be used on a billboard.

4) A 30-second television commercial must be written along the same lines as a three-act play with just 27.5 seconds to cover character development, plot and a rousing conclusion.

5) Long content works better than short snappy sentences.

6) Surround yourself with people who are a lot cleverer than yourself. If you do this, you will become a giant. If you surround yourself with people lesser than you, you will become a dwarf.

That last piece of wisdom stood me in excellent stead when I owned my own agency.


Gert: Many thanks for taking the time for this interview Paul - I do appreciate it. The last question: what is the greatest satisfaction you get from being a novelist and travel-writer?

Paul: Meet an attractive woman in a bar who asks you what you do for a living and, when you answer, “ I’m a writer" her eyes will sparkle, her demeanor will border on adoration and then you can regale her with tales that with keep her enthralled for hours. Say you are a plumber and seemingly details about pipes and blocked toilets don’t have the same appeal! Seriously, I do get a buzz when wandering around a resort swimming pool and I see someone reading one of my books. It’s a thrill. With regards travel writing, if my scribbles help anyone to have a better experience in a foreign land then I feel I have done my job.

Writing…’s a sexy profession.

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Nick Mlatchkov

2 years ago #18

It seems Gert Scholtz is sharing some old posts lately ...

Paul Walters

2 years ago #17

Gert Scholtz yes gert...where are you ?

CityVP Manjit

2 years ago #16

BTW Good to revisit this buzz. It has so many different areas of focus. The one I picked up upon today was the Three Act Play. This year has seen a minor breakthrough that i am showing signs of beating my book reading apathy, and at the same time I have become more and more aware of how understanding storytelling is more than just a communication skill or a skill an author needs - there are much larger aspects of personal development simply from exploring the terrain of storytelling, understanding how great storytellers see life at a much nuanced and deeper level and how the art of storytelling becomes the art of understanding the human condition. The three act structure just shows just how vast the subject of storytelling really is - including these skill building areas also.

CityVP Manjit

2 years ago #15

It is like the plot of the Avengers movie Infinity War movie - Thanos clicks his fingers and people disappear. The metaphor of Thanos is how social media works. There are high points and then their are not so high points. The trick is surfacing again and ensuring the Infinity Stones are on our own hand..

Nick Mlatchkov

2 years ago #14

Btw where's Gert Scholtz lately ...?

🐝 Fatima G. Williams

3 years ago #13

Great interview Gert Scholtz I love what you do in your current job please keep doing it. I enjoy each of your travel pieces and silently keep wishing to go there someday soon to make new experiences for myself. I also love the last advice your boss gave on being around smart people and I'm glad beBee gave me a platform to meet some great minds. Once again wonderful interview, a good laugh. Thanks Guys

Paul Walters

3 years ago #12

Jennifer Leach-Trask . Oh do tell me that you are a writer and I will be enraptured by your stories !!

Gert Scholtz

3 years ago #11

Thank you for the comments to this post, and a special thank you to Paul Walters that took the time for the interview.

Jerry Fletcher

3 years ago #10

Gert, Thanks for another great interview. Paul, please don't change careers, I enjoy your writings way too much. Anyone that actually worked with Ogilvy is on my list of folks to listen to. Thanks guys for making my Saturday morning meaningful and filled with chuckles. Gotta go. I'm on deadline...again.

Phil Friedman

3 years ago #9

Superb. Succinct. And serious without being self-impressed. Kudos to both of you ... Gert Scholtz for being, well, Paul Walters, a writer's writer. Now, if I could only experience like Paul the adoration of unattached young women in bars when I tell them I am a writer instead of smart alec remarks like "... of what, notes on the assisted living facility bulletin board? ..."

CityVP Manjit

3 years ago #8

Writing is a sexy profession when Paul Walters does it, it is a labour of absolute and unequivocal unrequited love when I do.

Renée 🐝 Cormier

3 years ago #7

I love this! People's creative processes are always so different, and of course, Paul Walters is a rather witty fellow, even while cocooned in sloth and procrastination. :)

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 years ago #6

I never thought of writing as a sexy profession, but Paul convinced me - attractive women love writers, not plumbers. :) Gert, my comment to your excellent interviews begin to look the same. Great questions, a charming interviewee, interesting answers. Paul Walters, look forward to your next scribbles. I like David Ogilvy's rules. One thing is for sure I never feel like inferior being while reading your articles.:-)

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 years ago #5

I never thought of writing as a sexy profession, but you convinced me -attractive women love writers, not plumbers. :) Gert, my comment to your excellent interviews begin to look the same. Great questions, a charming interviewee, interesting answers. Paul Walters, look forward to your next scribbles. P.S. I like David Ogilvy's rules. One thing is for sure I never feel like inferior being while reading your articles.:-)

Ian Weinberg

3 years ago #4

Once again, a great interview Gert Scholtz Now I know with absolute clarity that I will remain a reader of novels rather than the writer! Scribe on sire, we await the next helping of pearls.

Ken Boddie

3 years ago #3

Great interview, Gert Scholtz. I've read a couple of Paul's books and am a fan. As I've told him before, though, "Scimitar" had me pretty worried, as it shows he has an unenviable technical knowledge about blood splatter and small pox outbreaks. 😂🤣😂

Ken Boddie

3 years ago #2

As a geotechnical engineer, Paul Walters, I've been writing all my life also, but if I were to go into a bar and say "I'm a dirt doctor", I'm sure the demeanour of the ladies would border on disgust. But there again, we 'geotechs' have a unique knack for solving problems that people didn't know they had, and for writing about it in a way they just don't understand. By the way, Paul, I've got a great idea for a novel based on a barista who specialises in cappuccino. Help me out here, mate, because all the publicists I've approached so far think it's all froth and no substance. 😂🤣😂

Debasish Majumder

3 years ago #1

what a ;lovely buzz Gert Scholtz's travel posts which are absolutely fascinating!

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