Twelve Questions: Paul Little

As international publishing houses close, merge and suffer, local writer Paul Little has launched his own - Paul Little Books - which this month published two books including a satire on Prime Minister John Key. A biographer of Willie Apiata and Paul Henry, Little comes from a long line of funeral directors.

Writer and publisher Paul Little says  he has had mixed reactions to  50 Shades of Key , a satirical take on the Prime Minister. Photo / Greg Bowker
Writer and publisher Paul Little says he has had mixed reactions to 50 Shades of Key , a satirical take on the Prime Minister. Photo / Greg Bowker

1. He's riding high in the polls and has been one of our most popular Prime Ministers: Are people going to thank you for "taking the piss" as 50 Shades of Key states on its cover?

I defy anyone not to laugh at it and, disappointingly for some, that was the main objective of the book. I just wanted to give someone something to laugh at. The reaction has been interesting. A bookshop person said, "There's no point taking this to my owner because she's ardently National". I think that says something about the difference between when these political joke books were huge, in the 1970s, and now. People are not as open to letting ideas out there as we used to be, when the Muldoon book was really big. I don't know if it's self-censorship or if people are hunkering down with their own sides. "I vote National therefore I won't have anything against National in my shop." That wasn't the case before. These books were huge. The authors of them have told me that they stopped writing them because there were too many.

2. How do you know when satire has worked?

You know it's worked when they turn on you. Which is why they've learned not to react. So, paradoxically, a lack of reaction can also be a sign you've hit home.

3. How would you rank John Key's political skills? And his ethics?

His political skills are great when things are going well. When they get wobbly so does his smile. Politics isn't conducive to ethical behaviour because it works on compromise - which is a polite way of describing "doing and saying things you don't believe in order to keep your job".

4. Where is the money in publishing now, do you think?

Lots of places. There's room for some offline growth in, for instance, luxury presentation volumes that online can never hope to duplicate. In the 18th century books were published by subscription, with money up front - the equivalent of crowd-funding. That's one possibility.

5. Your grandfather, father and three brothers have all been funeral directors - what was it like growing up above the parlour in Dominion Rd?

We had an apartment upstairs with a little patio out the back. One of the complications when I was a kid was that even as a baby and a toddler, we had to be completely silent when a service was on. I was read to an awful lot and kept quiet with books. No, no smell upstairs. It wasn't sad. Funeral directors in general are very kind people. For every person who says "just throw me into a hole in the ground" I would meet 50 people who have had really nice, meaningful funerals. I get so much good feedback about my family.

Columnist couple Wendyl Nissen and Paul Little.
Columnist couple Wendyl Nissen and Paul Little.

6. What did it teach you about life and death - and work?

It taught me early on to understand the reality of death and how it works. It's also taught me sympathy for people who don't have to cope with bereavement until adulthood - that must be hard. Dad had a fantastic work ethic and a diligence and honesty that you just don't see rated that much any more. That was pretty inspiring.

7. You wrote Willie Apiata's biography, among many others: how does the man measure up to the myth?

It's weird but I know the man a lot better than the myth. I've always kept my promise to Willie not to talk about him beyond the book, but I can say I've never met anyone else with a clearer sense of who he is.

8. Like Paul Henry knows who he is?

No, completely the opposite.

9. Describe a day in the People's Republic of Grey Lynn?

We all sit around controlling the media, drinking coffee and comparing focaccia recipes. The tiring part is constantly having to come up with negative spins on positive stories.

10. Do you hate all the trendy rich folk moving into the neighbourhood now?

I don't like the conformity of it, the conformity of the houses that we are getting now. I don't know what people would paint their houses if mushroom hadn't been invented ... and the renovation noise. I don't complain, though, because when I first bought this house in 1980, we were the start of the gentrification that's just continuing now. It's change - and change is inevitable.

11. You're a long-time columnist and now your home life is laid bare by your wife Wendyl Nissen each week in her Herald column. Is anything private?

And don't forget Facebook and Twitter. You'd probably have to ask the GCSB for a definitive answer but yes, plenty is private. We have five children whose lives belong to them. Wendyl can't actually cover our whole home life in 750 words a week. And there's nothing I haven't signed off on. The point about privacy today is that people should have the right to choose what they do or don't make public.

12. What's your best tip for other blended families?

Be patient. Learn to live with teeth marks on your tongue. Know that the eventual reward will be more than worth the extraordinary effort.

- NZ Herald

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