This was the second time in just a few days that James Draper of the Manchester Writing School hinted that I might as well go and sit on the front row. He knows I won’t. There was a lovely chair right at the back, in the corner, with my name on it.
Colin Bateman was at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester last night, bravely telling us what a great football team Liverpool is. That wasn’t all he had to say, which could be why we let him continue. He’s a very funny writer. I had almost come to the conclusion that I can’t keep up with all his books, so might have to put Bateman on pause for a while, but now I want (need, even) to read more of Colin’s books than I ever imagined.
Like Divorcing Jack, for instance. I’d consigned Colin’s first novel to history for practical reasons, but then he read us a bit from the book he named after Dvorak (yes, really) and I realised the error of my ways. It’s about to be re-issued, so perhaps..?
He started his writing career as a 17-year-old ‘reasonably good’ journalist. He was put on the gossip column of the County Down Spectator, so had to make it up, seeing as his knowledge of the cool and the famous wasn’t interesting even in Northern Ireland terms. This might have been the time of The Troubles, but the only organisation he was in direct contact with was the Animal Liberation Front. And when a bomb went off by the paper’s offices, he discovered he hated that kind of thing.
So, after coming up with the idea for Divorcing Jack while having a bath, he wrote it, had it rejected by ‘everyone’, until his girlfriend read it and loved it and told him to send it to the biggest publisher he could think of. That was HarperCollins and they quite liked it. Thank goodness for girlfriends. They are never wrong.
Before reading the first chapter from his latest book, Nine Inches, Colin told us about his narrow escape from a select writing retreat, where you mustn’t park in front of the lake, thus preventing the inmates from being inspired by the view of the water, where there is no television, and where you even have to talk to the other writers over dinner.
He doesn’t plan his books. It appears Colin begins with the title, and then he writes 90,000 words to fit. He’s got a stockpile of one-liners that he’s working his way through, and he likes breaking the rules, like killing people prematurely.
Colin writes fast, a chapter a day, and doesn’t believe a book will be any better for taking longer. A little every day soon builds up. Discipline and learning to turn off the television, and before you know it you will have written a book. Embarrassed by his own writing, he gets on with it to make it to the end.
Being a writer was one of Colin’s two goals in life. The other is to play for Liverpool. Yes, well. Even a good writer can sometimes be wrong.
Asked why he started writing children’s books Colin said he wrote Reservoir Pups for his eight-year-old son, who thought Dad’s efforts were ‘all right.’ It took the boy another couple of years to discover and appreciate the books properly. Colin doesn’t feel there is all that much difference between his adult and his children’s books, as long as you remove the violence and the ‘sex.’
When Colin writes, he doesn’t read. He’s worried he’ll discover that someone else’s book is better, and he doesn’t want to be influenced by their style. And he reckons crime readers don’t want humour. Today even Raymond Chandler would end up in a sub genre of comic crime fiction.
Quite right, too! It’s the best kind. Although the (real) main character in Colin’s Mystery Man series, the owner of Belfast crime bookshop No Alibis is less keen on his fame these days. Apparently people buy Colin’s books in Tesco and then pop over to No Alibis for a signature.
Then we queued up to have our books signed. I pointed out that Colin had had the pleasure of speaking to me before, at the Bolton Book Award a few years ago. He almost remembered.
And Colin, if you haven’t already done so, it’s time for you to return the pen you borrowed from the man in the signing queue. He might be seeing other authors some day.