Empty Corridors: Learning to Fail by Paul Douglas Lovell


Paul isn’t at school to learn, he’s there to be fed.

Though they often have no voice, a problematic child will more than likely have a tale to tell. Not that Paul would ever let slip the shame he hides. Weighed down for so long with insecurities, the scruffy kid already feels isolated from his peers. These formative years of secondary school, where confidence can be shattered by a single taunt, do not encourage children to speak out. If Paul’s secrets were ever known, no good would come of it, only humiliation.

So he disguises his anguish behind a facade of roughness. Paul excels at naughtiness; takes pride in being the baddest. It’s his only talent, and it’s been sharpened by his wayward upbringing. And if anything is going to break the monotony of learning, it’s being sent out to the empty corridor.

Glimpse Paul’s life in the 1980s, follow him through school and the streets, witness his crimes. Understand his motives but don’t judge him too harshly. Real life is never straightforward and the choices we make are not always sound. Why should Paul’s be any different?


My review

This is the third memoir by this irrepressible and talented author. It fills the gap between ‘Playing Out: Swings and Roundabouts’ and ‘Paulyanna International Rent-boy’ and recounts Paul’s experiences at secondary school.

Adolescence is a tricky time generally, but even more so for someone coming from a deprived background, and gradually realising they’re gay. Paul feels excluded a lot of the time. His family – five children raised by a single dad, who himself was raised in an orphanage – has to do without the latest fashions and gizmos, the trips and holidays that their peers take for granted. However, Paul’s in-built optimism seems him through. He accepts what he can’t change and gets on with life. He has a flexible approach to rules and the law, and whilst it’s true that at times he disrespects authority, it must be pointed out that authority disrespected him. The approach of schools at the time to ‘difficult’ pupils was brutal, intolerant and unsympathetic.

The writing is characterised, as always, by the author’s sharp wit and sense of humour. His style is upbeat and entertaining. He doesn’t spare himself as he shares his adventures, and he never wallows in self-pity. He always addresses his reader with honesty and good humour. He has a very engaging story to tell which at times is shocking, but mainly is life-affirming, even though Paul himself led a challenging life during these years.

It’s an immensely enjoyable book and vividly evokes (or re-evokes for those of us who where there!) the 1980s. It’s true to say this book can be classified as social history because of all the carefully observed detail and its authentic atmosphere. It’s a bit of a time machine.

I can’t recommend this compelling, extraordinary memoir enough. Available in all Amazon stores.