- What writers inspire you?
Paul: H.G.Wells. Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and M.R. James were early influences and continue to inspire my songwriting, but the only non-fiction writer who I have continually turned to has been the late Colin Wilson. When he agreed to write a foreword to one of my books, ‘I Remember Dying’, it was the equivalent to winning an Oscar for me. And I was stunned by what he said of the book which was very generous of him and extremely gratifying after years of writing without so much as a review in the press. I had been writing for publishers who didn’t think it was necessary to promote a non-fiction title as they would a novel, although on the rare occasion when they did use a publicity agency I got a double page spread in a national newspaper and was interviewed by David Aaronovitch on BBC Radio 4’s flagship arts programme.
Writers tend to be dazzled by the size of the fee or the advance, but rarely ask how the publisher is planning to promote it, which is far more important. Having said that, some of my biggest-selling books were the meditation titles published by Hamlyn who didn’t promote them at all but they had such good distribution in other countries that they were able to ship 73,000 copies in the first year or so of publication. But those days are gone thanks to the recession and the advent of ebooks. The only other writer I read regularly is Warren Kenton (Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi), a modern Kabbalah master and teacher whose books are true to the tradition unlike those by Crowley whose ego-centric approach is contrary to everything Kabbalah stands for.
Again, I was extremely fortunate and honoured when Halevi agreed to write a foreword for my ‘Complete Kabbalah Course’, a title incidentally which refers to the completeness of the course rather than the study of Kabbalah itself, which is a continuous learning process.
- Care to tell us what you’re working on right now?
Paul: I’ve just completed a biography of H.P. Lovecraft which was a very demanding project in terms of time and thoroughness and was written immediately after I had completed a book on Steampunk, a movement which I have been associated with in regards to my own music. So I’m now taking a short break from writing to concentrate on making a new album. When that’s finished I plan to approach some esoteric publishers as I want to realise some cherished projects that I outlined some time ago but didn’t pursue.
One of these is a practical magic course adapted as a series of meditations and visualisations. It’s an inner temple course that should appeal to those who are attracted to ceremonial magic but who don’t feel comfortable putting on robes and performing rituals. Besides, we have evolved beyond the need for such theatrics in the 21st century which were devised to help focus the mind and attune to a specific level of awareness.
- When did you decide to become a writer?
Paul: I didn’t! I just fell into it by accident. I had been writing short stories since childhood and liked to make my own newspapers when I was a kid, but when I discovered rock music at the age of 14 I knew I wanted to be a recording artist and my stories became condensed into lyrics. It wasn’t until I took a single to ZigZag magazine in 1982 in the hope of getting a review and casually asked if they needed feature writers that I became a freelance music journalist. They offered me a job and that led to writing for ‘Sounds’ and ‘Kerrang’ and dozens of other magazines. Reviewing movies and music was great fun and I had the opportunity to interview many of my musical heroes such as Lemmy, Nico of the Velvet Undergorund and John Lee Hooker and actors such as Peter Cushing, but every few months a magazine would fold, so in the early 90s I looked to book publishers for something more steady and lasting.
I felt books would also be more substantial and give me something enduring, but the night I was offered my fi1rst project I had to think seriously whether or not I could work for 5 months solid on one project and make the deadline as I’d only been writing short reviews, interviews and features up until then. 50,000 words was quite a commitment, but once I did it, the subsequent books became easier and I became more efficient. I became excited at the prospect of writing each new book rather than intimidated by it provided the subject interested me. But I found it was easier if I thought about the amount of words I had done, at any particular point rather the amount that I still had to do! And I considered each one as an opportunity to research a subject in depth and find out more.
I feel that each one is like a degree course and completing it is an exhilarating feeling. But as soon as I finish one I get restless and keen to write another after just a few days break. Writing is addictive. Depending on how familiar I am with the subject (and many of the books that I’ve written have been my choice of topic) I can research and write as I go which keeps my interest at a high and the writing fresh and fluid. I hold myself to a very high standard and always revisit and revise several times before I send the finished text, but invariably the first way I express an idea is the best.
I don’t fuss and worry over it and rework it to death, although I make a point of not using the same word twice in the same paragraph if it can be avoided, or even on the same page. I trust my intuition (but only after I have studied the source material) which is why I can write for hours without a break, seven days a week. I love writing. It’s a passion with me, so I don’t consider it to be work. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about the next chapter or the next topic or making notes about something I want to add to enrich what I have already written.
- What is your spirituality and what others have you ‘dabbled’ in?
Paul: I am a Kabbalist by inclination. I find the system is logical, practical and its principles can be applied to all areas of life – and also in everything that we create. It stresses the importance of balancing complimentary aspects of ourselves and those same attributes as they manifest in society. In short, it explains how the Divine manifests in the Universe (macrocosmos) and in ourselves (microcosmos). I have practised Buddhist meditations too and found a profound peace and wisdom in these, but again and again I am brought back to Kabbalah as the foundation for my understanding of the Universe and our place in it.
- What is the biggest thing you have learned in your journey with the occult?
Paul: That you must keep your head when all around are losing theirs! We have all the answers we are seeking within us and also a profound inner peace and stillness which we can tap into at will. We only need to raise our awareness (initially through meditation then once the connection is made it can be attained at will) to connect with that all-knowing loving being within, our True Self and receive the guidance and answers we seek.
That is why I have a deep faith in everything working out for the best provided I remain true to myself. But if you want to know what was the most revealing experience that I had it would have to be the out of body experiences I had as a child and later in life when I went in search of what they signified. I met many interesting people on their path who were generous in sharing their insights with me and the more I learnt and trusted my intuition, the more I lost my initial fear of the unknown. This is something I have tried to integrate in all my esoteric books – even the ghost books which have a light-hearted element at times – so that the readers are given a common sense approach to the supernatural which is too often sensationalised.
I don’t necessarily believe in every paranormal incident that I write about, but I include them because they address a specific aspect that needs to be covered, or they are simply too good a story to pass up and I trust that my healthy scepticism is conveyed by the language that I choose. But I hope that the insights that I have been fortunate to obtain have helped me to include some serious and reassuring observations on the subject of the occult which still disturbs a lot of people.
- Who are your biggest influences?
I don’t have influences as such, more models by which I measure the standard of my work or behaviour. My parents naturally provided my moral compass, how to behave and the need to respect other people, even if you don’t agree with them. My external influences – the people I admire – tend to be sharp witted and intelligent comedians such as Groucho Marks and the irreverent Irish comedian Dave Allen who took life lightly and pricked the pomposity of those self-righteous and bigoted individuals we are unfortunate enough to encounter occasionally.
- What was the hardest thing about writing this book (‘The Dark History of the Occult’)?
Paul: Condensing so much information and so many ideas into such a limited amount space. I had read Rolo Ahmed’s ‘The Black Arts’ and various similar titles and I quickly came to the conclusion that I couldn’t cover every aspect, but I could make certain revealing observations and raise certain issues such as the capacity of human beings to externalise their fears onto symbolic figures, such as the devil and to project their flaws onto others who they persecute in the name of their imaginary deity.
If I could do that then the reader would be more able to evaluate their own ingrained beliefs, question what they took to be inviolate truths and draw their own conclusions. The core theme of the book was that the devil and demons do not exist and that all evil is man-made. Hell too, is a state of mind and not a place, although the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying suggests that we may go through a purifying process after death which gave rise to the Christian concept of purgatory and ancient myths of a descent into the Underworld.
The certainty that there is no external sentient evil force is the principle which is fundamental to my own philosophy or outlook and which has, as the Americans would say, empowered me and helped me to live without fear of my own shadow. Unfortunately not everyone is able to be so certain and may be plagued with doubts and chained to the superstition rooted in organised religion. I try to provide them with some core esoteric concepts to consider and perhaps use to challenge their conditioning, but everyone has to go their own path and at their own pace. I do not presume to be right, only to know what is right for me.
- What other works on the occult would you recommend?
Paul: I would recommend all of Warren Kenton’s (Halevi) books plus Colin Wilson’s ‘The Occult’ and ‘Mysteries’ as good places to start. I also enjoy the biographies of certain mediums such as Tony Stockwell, John Edward, James Van Praagh and the late Betty Shine for their down to earth approach and honesty. One of the most exhilarating books I remember reading was ‘Hidden Journey’, Andrew Harvey’s account of meeting Mother Meera, an avatar that I had the good fortune to see in person during a visit to her ashram in Germany. Whether she affected a transformation in attendees as her devotees claim, or whether merely making that spiritual pilgrimage facilitated it, I can definitely trace a rapid rate of insight, understanding and development from that point in my life.
- What is your favorite book and why?
Paul: There are too many to name, but I wouldn’t want to be without H.G.Wells’ Collected Short Stories because they transport me to an idealised Edwardian England with the possibility and presence of the fantastic, whether they be eccentric inventors, idealists challenging the complacency of that period or whimsical and fantastic other worldly occurrences.
10. What was your favorite book that you wrote?
Paul: I honestly enjoyed writing them all. I’m proud of them all too and satisfied with them all – otherwise I wouldn’t have offered them for publication. The only one that I wish I had been more ruthless in editing was the second Marc Bolan biography that I wrote, ‘Cosmic Dancer’, which I now see as being too critical with regard to his later albums. I still don’t like them and I’m not the only one who feels this way, but I should have been more objective, more of a music journalist and less of a disappointed fan. But other than that, I think I have approached each topic with a fair share of objectivity and a serious commitment.
There always has to be an underlying idea or theme behind even the most esoteric topics or you won’t engage the reader. It will be too abstract and subjective otherwise. I see no value in those books which present compelling evidence for the existence of ghosts, for example, and then cop out with ‘we may never know the truth’ or ‘only time will tell’. I don’t see the value or purpose of sitting on the fence. An author should have an opinion and present the evidence which both supports and contests their case.
They should have the courage of their convictions and experience. And if they don’t have any, perhaps they would be better working as a reporter when they only have to deal in indisputable facts. I would like to think that my esoteric/occult/supernatural books have a core of common sense and offer reassurance even if they do cover some disturbing incidents for which there may be a more mundane explanation. Supposed poltergeist activity, for example, appears to be a natural phenomenon linked to emotionally disturbed individuals and bursts of kinetic energy emitted by adolescents. So while I am predisposed towards accepting most phenomena, I evaluate the evidence with the healthy scepticism of a journalist.
I try to keep my feet firmly on the ground and talk common sense even when exploring some of the more unusual aspects of the supernatural, but if people have ingrained religious beliefs you can’t persuade them otherwise no matter how compelling your case. There is a saying, ‘For those who believe, no proof is necessary and for those who don’t, no proof is enough’.
11. Do you have any advice/tips to leave for aspiring writers?
Paul: I would simply say that you are more likely to succeed if you write about what interests you and then you will not consider it to be work. Also, it can be beneficial to practise some form of meditation or spiritual practice to relax and awaken the ‘inner teacher’ who will attract the type of work you need to live on but also the type of work that will increase your understanding of your chosen subject and of yourself. Finally, trust your intuition and be receptive so that the words flow through you without having to rationalise and agonise over every sentence. Writing is partially a craft and that part can be learnt, but it is also a form of self-expression and that aspect only evolves with practice and with faith that you are doing the right thing and you are in the right place. It’s a tough business and to succeed, or even survive these days you need a tough skin and a sharp pen. Oh and preferably another source of income to take you through the lean periods!