The TEB Interview – Paul Breen
The latest to feature in the TEB Interview is author Paul Breen. We had a chat with the self confessed Charlton Athletic fan to find out more about his latest book that will be of interest to football fans, especially those in and around South London. We thank Paul for taking the time to talk to us.
Q. So let us begin with the most obvious question for you, why Charlton Athletic?
Basically, I came to live in the area and liked the idea of following my local football club. Very soon I found myself getting more and more attracted to the whole ritual of going to games on a Saturday, and eventually midweek, and then becoming a season ticket holder over time. I come from Ireland and I have lived in a lot of places before, but there was something special about the atmosphere and the history of Charlton and the Valley, and this got me hooked.
Q. Where do you see Charlton in five years time?
I would hope to see them in the Premier League by then, but at the same time there is a part of me that would rather see success in the Championship every season than fighting relegation in the top division every year. I think regardless of what division the club is in, assuming that is the top two divisions, stability is the most important thing. It would be nice to see the club performing well, week in week out, and not having any financial worries. I think the new Belgian owners do have a vision for the club that is geared towards Premier League football, so that is promising.
Q. What do you make of the South London rivalry?
Being a relative newcomer, I am still trying to understand the depth of local rivalries. I am told by Palace fans that we are not as important to them as Brighton & Hove Albion, and by Millwall fans that we are second to West Ham United in the rivalry stakes. That makes Charlton sometimes seem like a club that nobody hates, and this also seems to be a popular source of banter on rival club forums, according to mates who support Palace. I think though there is a bit of an edge to the atmosphere when Charlton play Millwall. You do not seem to get that tension at Charlton versus Palace games. I think though that older Charlton fans might have different ideas and memories on account of Charlton’s time at Selhurst. But these days the three south London clubs probably have more in common than things that divide them, especially with the way that players move around from club to club so frequently in recent times.
Q. Are you a fan of modern football and if so, why?
There are lots of good aspects to modern football and some big drawbacks. The money that is in English football is both good and bad, as is the situation with so many overseas players on the books of Premier League clubs. I do not think that is healthy for the English national team, and it is not good for the Irish, Scottish or Welsh either.
On the other hand, it does generate a lot of excitement and public interest in football. I do think though that a lot of the money being spent on wages and transfers at the present time is crazy. Just a few weeks ago I heard about a radio show in Northern Ireland where they discussed when, not if, we will see the first professional footballer to earn a million pounds a week. People like Ronaldo and Falcao are already close to being on half of that sum. It is mad.
Q. Tell us about your passion for writing, how did it all start?
I have had a lifelong passion for writing. Even as a child, in the days before starting school, and before I had learned to read, I was looking at pictures in comic books and making up stories. I have always had a good imagination,and enjoy the whole process of turning the seed of an idea into a story. It is a craft that takes a while to learn though, and requires a lot of self-reflection, self-criticism and discipline to actually sit down and get the writing done.
Q. What is your new book ‘The Charlton Men’ all about?
The Charlton Men, the first part of a trilogy set in South London, combines literary fiction with a love of football. It is the story of two characters and how their lives become entwined with the fortunes of their local football club. One man is a lifelong supporter, wearing the club badge as a tattoo, while the other falls in love with the team over time. The story of these two ‘Charlton Men’ takes shape in the aftermath of the 2011 London riots, over the course of a single season in the life of Charlton Athletic Football Club as they chase the holy grail of promotion. Of course along the way, a woman comes between the two male characters, hence the bye-line for the book which is that ‘All’s Fair in Love and Football.’
Q. Does the book appeal to football fans that do not follow Charlton?
Yes, this is a book that should appeal to a wide range of readers, and is no way limited to just fans of Charlton. This is a story that should have appeal to anyone who loves the beautiful game and even those who do not. That is because the story is not just about football but about life in 21st century England, and that is something which fans of other clubs, up and down the country, can relate to. I have written this book for an audience that is out there but under-represented, football fans with intelligence, passion, and an appetite for stories that capture the lives they lead and experiences they go through on a weekly basis.
Q. Are there any sports books that you would recommend?
There are a couple that I have on my ‘to read’ list at the present time – one is called ‘More than just a game: Football v Apartheid’ by Chuck Korr and Marvin Close, and another is Rick Everitt’s ‘Battle for the Valley’ which might actually give me a better sense of the historic rivalry between Palace and Charlton. There is also one by a guy called Rodge Glass which is titled ‘Bring me the head of Ryan Giggs’ and is quite funny, good for those long coach journeys to away games up north. Football books aside, I hope to also read Charlie Connelly’s recent work on cricket, called ‘Elk Stopped Play: And Other Tales from Wisden’s Cricket Round the World.’ From what I have heard of it, it has got the funny qualities of Bill Bryson’s tourist writings about England and Australia.
Q. What do you find most rewarding about being an author and do you have any tips for budding writers?
The most rewarding thing about being an author is in getting positive feedback on your writing, and my tip for budding writers is to keep going even when things seem darkest. I think sometimes you have to go through tunnels of despair to reach a point of confidence in your work. You also need to treat writing as a profession, even if it is only a hobby, because publishers, agents, and so on do expect work to be at a professional standard these days even at the stage of submitting early drafts. Above all, your heart has to be in it, and the primary focus should be on producing a good piece of work rather than seeing it as a way of getting rich. Good luck to those who produce bestsellers that make tens of thousands of pounds, but for most of us it is about writing for pride and passion rather than profit. Ah – also find an understanding spouse!
Q. And finally, tell us about any other projects that you are currently working on or anything that you wish to promote.
I am starting out on the second part of this trilogy very soon and again it is going to have a local (London) and contemporary feel. I am also thinking of releasing some old works in e-book format at some stage, probably next Christmas. The wheels of the publishing world move slowly, and that is another thing aspiring writers need to be prepared for.