Meet a Member: Paul White

Interview by Sophie Gordon

This month I caught up with another member of our New Zealand contingent. Don’t be fooled by Paul’s humble answers – he’s been playing a hugely instrumental role in recent projects like Dear 26, and I was keen to find out more about his writing life.

Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do?

I’m from Birmingham in the UK originally, and it’s amazing how much Peaky Blinders has altered people’s reactions to that statement in the last few years.

I am a copywriter by trade, who over the years turned into a creative director, brand strategist and a university lecturer. I am pretending to freelance currently.

I came out to New Zealand at the end of 1990. The big change for me came in 2001 when I joined fellow 26er Jane Berney at Auckland University of Technology and together we ran NZ’s only university adschool until we both left at the end of 2019.

Up until then I had written lots of copy, a bit of poetry and no short stories. Nowadays I try to do quite the opposite.

Where did your love of words come from?

Not sure. There were only two books in my parents’ house: one about growing roses and a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, hidden at the back of a cupboard underneath my mum’s knitting patterns.

Like many kids I was desperate to learn to write though. I remember being particularly proud of being able to write the words ‘Land Rover’ at the age of five.

I was originally intent on going to art college. An English teacher at grammar school introduced me to the poetry of Wilfred Owen when I was about 16 and that changed everything. It made me realise I could paint pictures with words.

What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?

I’d read John Simmons’ We, Me, Them and It and I was lucky enough to meet John in 2003 at a D&AD Exchange conference, just after 26 was formed. I’ve been a big fan of John’s and 26 ever since.

Have you been involved in any 26 projects?

The first was very early on – a Christmas card project for a charity where we wrote a piece based on a child’s drawing; mine was about a Christmas tree bauble. Then 26 Writers in Residence, 100 Days Armistice, and Dear 26. I’m also involved with Fine Cell Work and the parallel version of 26 Habitats that we’re running in New Zealand this year.

What’s your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)

Having had to write every day of my professional life, I thankfully don’t have to get into the right frame of mind anymore. Equally, I don’t have to be an ideal location. (Having said that, I am convinced that open-plan offices are the worst places on earth to write, or think, about anything.) I wouldn’t choose to play music either, but if it’s classical I can cope with that. I used to drink gallons of coffee when I was writing, but I tend to actually take a break for my two espresso coffees these days. I have also been known to consume about half a bottle of red wine while writing at night – but it’s totally unnecessary.

What are you working on at the moment?

As well as getting the book of Dear 26 ready, and the two current 26 projects, I’m working on what I hope will be my first collection of poems.

Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?

The last three poems I wrote. One of them I’ve been trying to write for 40 years.

Where do you get your inspiration?

People, the ocean, the sunrise, the sunset, mountains, trees, birds, books, poems, news, the stars, the moon, the cat and whichever astonishing power in the universe occasionally puts something into my head from who knows where.

– Interview by Sophie Gordon

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