The Hippo


May 30, 2020








Paul Durham at his home office. Kelly Sennott photo.

Meet Paul Durham

Barnes & Noble, 235 DW Highway, Nashua: Wednesday, April 15, at 6 p.m.; call 888-0533
Barnes & Noble, 45 Gosling Road, Newington: Sunday, April 19, at 2 p.m.; call 422-7733

Living the dream
Durham talks perseverance and The Luck Uglies series

By Kelly Sennott

Paul Durham says he’s living a dream. The Exeter author just released his second middle grade children’s book, Fork-Tongue Charmers, the sequel to his successful first, The Luck Uglies, both of which are set in a quaint, fantastical little town called Village Drowning.

He writes in a tiny chicken coop-turned-studio whose walls are covered by planked wood and artwork by his daughters. His desk is a slab of barnwood, and on it sits a desktop computer and a family photo. An electric heater sits in the corner, and on the wall hangs a sign that says, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
The coop, he says, helps him get into his fantastical world, filled with secret societies and monsters called Bog Noblins. There’s a map of Village Drowning, drawn with chalk on his office door, that he uses as reference. 
But his biggest inspirations are his two daughters, Caterina, 10, and Charlotte, 7, without whom he might still be an unhappy lawyer working long hours.
“I wouldn’t trade this job for anybody,” he said during an interview in the coop. “I never wanted to hit a home run in the World Series. I never wanted to walk on the moon. I just wanted to be able to tell stories.”
Afraid he’d never be able to make a living as a writer, he studied business and accounting as an undergrad, then tax law. Until last year, he was chair of the entertainment, media and publishing practice group at the law firm of Sheehen Phinney Bass + Green PA.
“I went as far from the creative spectrum as I could get,” he said. “I was so worried about not having that safety net, so I was always building it. I just never actually jumped.”
He had given writing a shot about 10 years ago with an adult fiction novel. He secured an agent and began shopping it around to no avail. Publishers sent positive feedback, but always messages of rejection.
“Then I started a whole bunch of stuff that I never finished,” he said. “And then I basically gave up. I wasn’t writing at all. I had two little daughters, and writing is this inherently selfish activity in some ways. I already wasn’t around my family as much as I wanted to be because I was practicing law and doing these long, crazy hours.”
Durham got another shot when his eldest was 6 and he asked her what she wanted for Christmas.
“She said, ‘Dad, will you just write me a story? Something we can read together?’” he said. 
So he did. He wrote a story and told it to his  girls and wife, Wendy. They were entranced and wanted to know what happened next. 
“It was supposed to be a short story, and then it just started turning into something else. So, every week I wrote a chapter. Again, not worrying about making it perfect — I just kind of took the filter off,” he said.
In three months, he had a children’s book, and his wife encouraged him to make the jump. He snagged HarperCollins, considered one of the “Big Five” in the publishing industry, in 2012, after an arduous process.
In very slight ways, the characters in the book resemble his own family; the parents’ discussions are similar to those he and his wife will have, and at the center are two girls, Rye, who is 11, and Lottie, who is 3.
“There are a lot of orphans in kids’ fantasy books, and I have nothing against orphans, but frankly, I don’t know that many orphans in real life,” he said. “In [The Luck Uglies], I just wanted to explore the idea of family.”
The third book in the trilogy is already written, and only his family and editor know the ending.
“[My family] is so invested in this,” he said. “They’re my test audience, and their feedback is really valuable. ... Caterina was 6 or 7 at the time when I saw that the monsters didn’t scare her. That wasn’t as frightening to her as the idea of these soldiers coming in and taking her family away ... which I thought was really interesting.” 
Today, Durham spends his days taking his kids to school, writing in the coop and visiting classrooms.
“I try to express that whether you want to be a doctor or lawyer or an artist … you just have to keep at it. … I tell [students], ‘Look. It will be nice if you remember my name. ... But I want you to remember the story. … I had to get rejected for 30 years trying to do what I wanted. It was only because I was stubborn as a brick and a glutton for punishment and kept coming back.’” 
As seen in the April 9, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

®2020 Hippo Press. site by wedu