EXCLUSIVE: Paul Collins… Slightly Skewed

I started The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler about three years ago. However, about that time I thought I’d like to start publishing other authors’ books so I had two careers happening at once. The trouble is, I’d created a monster with Ford Street Publishing. Although publishing seven to eight books a year doesn’t sound too hectic, it’s easy to forget the major publishers have staff to edit, do accounts, market/publicity, proofread, design, liaise with authors and illustrators, write contracts, etc, etc. With a small press, it’s usually just one person that does all that.

Moi in other words.

So I wrote Toby in dribs and drabs whenever I had a chance. I knew I wanted a character, Fluke, to have a certain character trait. That is to say, words in sentences that change the meaning of the sentence.

I didn’t know what a malapropism was until I started researching for Fluke’s character. They’re sentences that have a substitution of a word that doesn’t really make sense but have a comic effect. So a “decaffeinated coffee” becomes a “decapitated coffee”; “for all intent and purposes” becomes “for all intensive purposes”; “charity begins at home” becomes “clarity begins at home”. The trick is to make sure the verbal gaffes all relate to the actual story. Some of my favourite malapropisms are: “the town was flooded and everyone had to be evaporated”; “dysentery in the ranks”; and of course, “Kath and Kim’s friends who are very effluent”.

The characters’ names come from anecdotal stories. Toby is nicknamed Milo, because he’s not Quik. Fluke was named after his mother tried conceiving on the IVF program, gave up, then conceived. Hence, Fluke.

Once I’d finished The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler I wondered which publisher I could send it to. After all, most know me as a science fiction writer – I don’t know why this is because I’ve written many more fantasy novels than science fiction novels, but there you are! So taking a leaf from Doris Lessing’s book (she also sent two manuscripts to publishers under a pseudonym), I sent the manuscript to all the major publishers under another name. Like Doris Lessing, it was rejected. One publisher did say I could send more of my work because I “showed promise”. But one editor loved it and recommended another publisher because his company was being subsumed by another publisher. So I took up his suggestion and waited . . . and waited. And despite having a great recommendation from this eminent editor, my manuscript waited in a slush pile for four months. I enquired about it, but received no reply. I waited another month before withdrawing the manuscript. The editor then said it was nearing the top of the pile to be read. Now this is a very subjective statement. The slush pile could be a mile high, and three quarters way near the top is months away from being read, but is still “nearing the top”, right?

I withdrew the story. I was then faced with a dire predicament. Where could I send my new book? I was judging a writing competition called the Charlotte Duncan Award at the time. Celapene Press was the publisher. So under the pseudonym I sent Toby to Kathryn Duncan, the publisher at Celapene. It was accepted within the week and within four months it was published. So, there you – this reads more like the slightly skewed life of the author, hey?!

Paul Collins