A PLAYWRIGHT at heart, Scotland-based author Philip Paris has published an eclectic trio of quality dramatic literature, from a humorous coming of age novel to a full tour of an historic Italian Chapel. His latest fiction tackles the relatively taboo subject of male domestic violence and echoes the tragedies playing out in real life at the hands of an abusive female partner. Written with the clarity, skill and sensitivity that only an accomplished wordsmith could achieve, Men Cry Alone has been widely acclaimed by Philip’s peers and endorsed by industry professionals as a compelling and realistic study of a highly emotive and difficult subject. The Kindle version of the book is now available from Amazon at just 99p, so there’s little excuse not to utilise the site’s One Click function and buy it. In the meantime, and for the foreseeable future, Philip is concentrating on play writing.
1. Who do you think you are, Philip Paris?
Me? Just some Geordie bloke trying to write.
2. From the humorous tales of a young boy growing up in a Gateshead scheme; a beautiful, illustrated tour of Orkney’s famous Italian chapel; to the uncomfortable subject of male domestic violence, you have quite a varied repertoire of books under your belt. What in your life inspires you to write?
Apart from my teenage years, I really only started writing in 2005 when I moved to the Highlands and had a complete life change. By then I was in my late forties so there was a lot of catching up/learning to do. Now there’s no stopping! Ideas constantly pop into my head, either because of something I’ve read or a comment made by someone. Often there’s no logic to it. I’m not a genre writer, but if I can highlight an issue that might help people then that inspires me.
3. What made you choose the subject of domestic abuse to men for a novel?
Well, I had the idea back in 1977 to write a stage play about domestic abuse where a man was the victim of a woman. I honestly don’t know where this came from – you simply didn’t read about such things in those days. I never wrote the stage play but I’ve still got the letter sent to me in 1984 by the BBC rejecting the script for a one-off TV drama I had submitted called Battered Women, Battered Men.
At the beginning of 2011 I was unexpectedly made redundant (I worked for a media relations company in Surrey for 21 years, even after moving to Scotland) and suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands. My wife Catherine (she is a brilliant support) said to take the summer off and write. One day I keyed ‘Battered Men’ into Google. Wow. There’s a staggering amount of stuff out there on this subject. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find a novel that had used this theme. The old idea started whirling around the edges of mind and within a few days I was working on Men Cry Alone.
4. What kind of research did you undergo to get to the heart of this issue?
Researching for Men Cry Alone was one of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve ever had. I was learning about the subject and writing side by side and initially spent a lot of time reading information on the Internet – men’s stories, women’s stories, websites, articles, interviews, research papers etc. I studied the websites of charities for abused women and discovered there are several UK charities for abused men. I read their websites in details and later made contact with a few of them.
I started contacting local professional people who were in some way connected with the subject – the minister, a solicitor who used to deal with domestic abuse cases, the domestic violence police officer at Inverness, the Rape and Abuse Line at Dingwall (which deals with men and woman and includes DV within its remit). I had meetings with all of them, often more than once. I remember asking the minister if she had ever had a male member of the congregation ask for advice because he was being abused by his wife? ‘Yes’, she said, ‘the first time was nearly 30 years ago.’
Via the charities for abused men I was able to speak to men who had been abused by a previous wife (one woman was serving a substantial prison sentence for the abuse).
This intimacy, strangers telling me things about their lives that they haven’t told their nearest and dearest, is one of the greatest privileges a writer can have. I’m just a bloke off the street, with no medical training and no ‘right’ to hear such private revelations. It’s humbling. Having said that, Men Cry Alone is not based on anyone’s story. I wanted the freedom that fiction gave me to examine as many different examples of domestic abuse as possible.
As well as raising the issue of domestic abuse against men, I wanted to highlight the situation where someone is being abused because their partner has dementia. We all know that dementia is more common due to the ageing population but the very fact that a percentage of people will become aggressive means that this is a growing problem in society. One could argue that this is not domestic abuse because the violence is not premeditated and there is no desire to control someone by domination. However, if you’re on the receiving end of punches and kicks, it probably feels like domestic abuse.
Trying to gain an understanding of dementia took me down a whole new avenue of research. The local community psychiatric nurse and the matron of the nearby nursing home were particularly helpful and, of course, I had many conversations about this with Catherine, who is a GP.
5. What particular aspects of the topic shocked or surprised you the most?
I’m not sure that I was ever actually shocked but I was certainly saddened and surprised, generally by the level of control and abuse that goes on against men and women on a daily basis. Once the book was out I was taken aback at the number of readers who admitted to domestic abuse that had gone on within their family or amongst friends. As the minister said to me, people often think that if there is no physical violence then there can’t be abuse but this is not the case. If someone spends years ‘walking around on eggshells’ every single moment their partner is present then we’re talking of abuse.
6. Your book compares and contrasts three unrelated individuals who all share the same ‘terrible secret’. Is there a difference, owing to age, culture and social status, in the way in which these men cope with the abuse?
I set out from the beginning to highlight as many examples of domestic abuse as possible, so created three male characters that were faced with very different dilemmas. Tom is the strong, handsome guy in his thirties, who is a successful businessman, well respected in the local community. Ironically, he is the one who is being most physically abused. But Tom has a young daughter and if he leaves his wife he risks losing contact.
Gordon is a young man who has grown up being screamed at and, like many people in real life, he actually doesn’t realise he is in an abusive situation. His wife uses almost no physical violence towards him.
I wanted a balance in the book so created the character of Jennifer, who has escaped a marriage after 25 years of terrible abuse from her husband. She befriends Gordon and tries to help him recognise the unhealthy position he is in by telling him about her own life and the stories she heard from other women at the shelters in which she had stayed. Ironically, having written this storyline I read a real life account that reflected it exactly. Like so much in the book, the stories and situations mirror what goes on around us every day.
The old barber, Alfred, is being abused by his wife because she has dementia, so their storyline is very different to the others. As well as having to live with increasing physical violence, Alfred has to care for Enid more and more. The turning point occurs during a Sunday lunch when Alfred hits her back and realises they have reached the end of the road. Each of the characters reacts differently, but then they are faced with very different situations.
7. How difficult is it to write a fiction on such a sensitive issue?
I’m not sure whether it’s more difficult to write a fiction about domestic abuse than it is for someone to write a non fiction or a memoir about the topic. There are lots of autobiographies out there that cover this subject, although I haven’t seen one about abuse against a man by a woman. I guess, like any novel, you have to strive to achieve all the various elements – good plot and dialogue, with believable characters that the reader cares about.
8. What is the real message behind these stories?
You could read Men Cry Alone as a straight novel and hopefully find it worthwhile. But the ‘message’ is to try and help people who may be about to enter a relationship that is potentially abusive, who may be in an abusive relationship or who may have escaped from one. I wanted to highlight examples of behaviour that are not acceptable, even though for all sorts of reasons people do accept them.
I was very keen that the advice given by the characters in the book representing professional people was ‘good’ advice. So when Tom rings the charity for abused men, when Gordon asks his local vicar for help or when the community psychiatric nurse explains to Alfred how best to deal with Enid, the advice is what these professionals would give in real life. When the relevant text was written I sent it to the people I had interviewed for them to ensure it was authentic.
There has been some extraordinary feedback to the book, with comments coming from a seventeen-year-old girl to men in their eighties. One reader wrote to say that she had left her first husband twenty-five years ago and had been happily married for the last twenty. However, it wasn’t until reading Men Cry Alone that she realised the degree of abuse that had gone on in the first marriage. Another reader said that reading the book had made him analyse his own behaviour. That surprised me. I had never considered the novel would do that.
9. What other subjects interest you enough to write a book about them?
At heart I really want to write plays and after the publication of Men Cry Alone I decided to concentrate for the next few years on writing plays. So that’s what I’ve been doing during 2013. It’s been great – you certainly see the results of your efforts a lot more quickly! I’ve focused on the 45 minute dramas you hear on Radio 4 during the afternoon and on stage plays. It’s as tough a market as any other to break into so I’ve had no successes yet. I’m hoping that this is because it’s early days and not because I’m no good at it!
10. Do you have a work-in-progress at the moment?
Well it’s plays and more plays. My most recently completed work is a stage play about the Italian chapel in Orkney. I spent many years researching the events surrounding the chapel’s creation in order to write my historical fiction and non fiction books about the building, so the knowledge was already in my head. I often write a radio version of a stage play, or vice versa, so a script for radio has also gone off to the BBC. I’m now on to the next project …
You can read more about Philip on his blog at: http://www.philipparis.co.uk
Buy his books at Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Philip-Paris/e/B003V40HDC