0 items | Total £0.00 | My account

Thanks very much for taking time out, Becky, to do this email interview for www.endeacott.com, it’s much appreciated. 

So, to start with, please tell us about yourself, such as where you’re from, where you live, your domestics, and so on.  

I was an army child until I was seven when my parents divorced.  I then lived briefly in Harrogate before spending seven years in Bradford then back to Harrogate – two places so close and yet worlds apart.  I went to eleven schools in total.  After secondary school I spent a year sofa surfing and living in overcrowded accommodation – wild parties; three, four, five, six of us sleeping in a self-contained flat.  I have been in Leeds since 1998 when I moved over with my son to continue with university studies.   As a single parent I was shuffled around student accommodation until I finally landed a Housing Association flat in Roundhay.  Then I met my husband and, thanks to a deposit he had saved in his previous career, we bought a house in Alwoodley in Leeds where the three of us are very happy.  It still feels uncomfortable to say that we are settled in suburbia after such a nomadic start and impoverished teenage/young adult life but I know how privileged I am.

What do you class yourself as, a poet, a writer, a performance poet even? 

All of the above and add novelist and creative writing facilitator into the mix.  I know the latter sounds a bit pretentious but it does sum up my non-didactic approach to the workshops  I lead.  It also makes people laugh because it rhymes with terminator.

How did you get in to writing?

Words in MOTIION-19How I came to love writing was no different from many writers.  As a child, I wrote at home for fun and still have text books full of illustrated stories and poems.  My parents read to me and my dad told good oral stories too.   Earlier in life, I had inspiring English teachers – Mr Oakley from Wellington Middle in Bradford in particular who believed in the power of narrative and was unfailingly encouraging.  As a teenager I was incredibly shy and unhappy and wrote awful but passionate poetry – it stuns me how the young writers I work with now are so much more skilled and nuanced in their writing than I was at that age.  Still, writing allowed me to make sense of the world around me and express myself at a time when what I said out loud was devalued and criticised.  I honestly believe it saved my life.

When I was a bit older, my mum was friends with a teacher who was a Head of English; he thought I had talent and gave me written feedback on some of my poetry.  Looking back, I’m not sure whether he genuinely rated my work or simply wanted to nurture my evident desire to write but I’m grateful.

And tell us about your writing career so far (publications, credits, appearances, awards etc etc).  How can people obtain your work?

I’ve had pieces in MslexiaNew Walk and Envoi, online at Well Versed, Berfrois and Voice In Journal and in anthologies published by Bloodaxe, Grist, Five Leaves and onlineI was resident poet for Morley Literature Festival in 2013 and have had pieces commissioned by I-move, The Hepworth Gallery, The Rotunda Museum and Grassington Festival.  Competition successes include first prize for The Speakeasy Open, second prize in the Ilkley Literature Open Mic, runner up in the Yorkshire Open and shortlist for Fish Short Story Prize.

My first, motherhood-themed, pamphlet Echolocation is coming out with Mother’s Milk in early 2016 and a first collection will be published by Cinnamon in November 2016.   Two of my poems have been made into films by Pru Fowler and are doing the rounds at film festivals this season.   Watch out for details on my bi-monthly blog http://beckycherriman.com/?page_id=645

In writing, what are you most proud of?

The two things that spring to mind are completing my second novel, which took me eight years and was a feat of imaginative engineering to write, and my poem Paisley Quilt, which deals with the subject of rape within a relationship.  It is a very simple poem but one people have thanked me – some women because it validates their own experiences, some men because it makes them reassess theirs.  ‘It really made me think, I’ve never seen it like that before,’ one man said to me.  I believe that on hearing the poem he understood that rape can be rape even within a relationship and determined never to commit it [from that day].

Do you think it is, or has been, harder for women to progress in writing or your particular area?

You only have to look at the ratio of male: female performance poets at festivals and in the review sections of papers and magazines to know the answer to this.  Most published reviewers are male and they tend to review more books by men even though 2/3 of readers are women.

But it’s not just women – people with disabilities; people from ethnic minorities, from outside London and from working class backgrounds are unequally represented too.  Kate Fox has done a lot to raise awareness of this already and things are beginning to shift slowly.

Positive discrimination goes some way to redress the situation but there is still a long way to go and some groups aren’t considered.  I think it is odd that single parents are not seen as a disadvantaged group – they tend to have a lot more time and money pressures on them and are more isolated than many people, which means they are able to make fewer contacts that are so essential to working in this world.  They are also demonised by the media.

Are you making a living from your writing?

I make a little from my own writing and performances but most of what I earn is from workshops, although I hope this will become more equally balanced in the future.

I never considered writing as a realistic career, after all everyone knows you can’t make a living from it!  When I left university in 2002 a friend told me about a community arts course she was taking to learn how to run arts workshops with vulnerable groups.  ‘You could do it with writing,’ she said and something clicked.  I’d never fancied teaching formally but this was different; I could work with words to help people unlock their own creativity and improve their confidence and self-esteem.  It turned out my workshops even made people happier.  As a job, it’s enough to get by but hardly a professional wage – sadly since I started working in this job twelve and a half years ago, fees have fallen in real terms, partly because a lot more external admin and ‘products’ are expected for the money and partly because fees have remained stagnant or even fallen.  I’ve noticed a marked change since the government stopped the Arts Council from recommending minimum fees.  It’s lucky I love what I do.

As a writer, do you have a regimented routine for writing and do you have a set workplace? 

With regards to fiction, I like to work on my novel for an hour or more first thing in the morning – before checking emails or being distracted by Facebook or work calls.  Then, if I’m not too busy with workshops or performances, I have a day in the week that is mainly set aside for writing.  I’d like to manage more but don’t always achieve this due to work and family pressures.  In the spirit of Woolf, I now actually have a writing room at home – I refuse to call it an office even though I do all my other work in there.  It is such a luxury and has made me much more productive (trying to work in the room while your child watches telly isn’t easy).

As for poetry, I write anywhere that I can snatch the time – on buses, trains, in bed, in cafes.  The Leeds Library is a great place to write as is Blank Page Industries, a writing space organised by Andy Armitage on the Leeds Waterfront.  I get to both as often as I can.

Any moments on this ‘journey’ which you regard as a Turning Point?    

On a small scale, every time I finish a piece or someone says something I’ve written or performed has affected them.  On a larger scale, finding out Cinnamon Press were going to publish my collection.   I had been writing seriously for such a long time and I felt like I would be at a dead end if they didn’t publish.  I went into the meeting with Jan on this beautiful Wales retreat worried I would cry if she said they wouldn’t publish.  Instead I cried when she said they would.  In reality it wouldn’t have been a dead end and I would never have given up – I’m too bloody stubborn  – but it came at the right time.

Favourite films, music, books, television programmes?  Hobbies, pastimes?

I never know where to start with books as I have so many favourites – Sula by Toni Morrison, The God of Small Things, Shame by Salman Rushdie, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, and that’s just the fiction.  Films I love include Bradford-based The Selfish Giant and Being John Malcovitch.  I’m looking forward to the next series of This is England.  I do like the occasional TV drama.  Radio 4 is great too.

With a lot of competitive athletes in my family, exercise is in my blood and I find it essential to counteract all the computer work I do and keep me well.  As a later starter, I was becoming reasonably good at running but I’ve recently had surgery so am not allowed to do that for a good few months and possibly not much after that.  I’m missing it terribly but am doing a lot more of what they now call wild swimming – at the weekend I went swimming in a lake under a full moon.  I also walk a lot, go to the gym, do pool swimming, cycling and bits of yoga and pilates.

Your short and long-term hopes, if any?

Long term, I hope that society becomes fairer and that people treat each other a bit better.  Personally, I hope that I become a better writer.  In the short term, I hope people enjoy the two poetry collections I have coming out next year and that an agent is interested in taking on my novel.  I also hope that Jeremy Corbyn wins the labour leadership contest.

Back to writing: are you ‘self-taught’ or did you study some form of creative writing course and the like?   Do you have an ideas ‘process’?

I studied English at Leeds Uni then was accepted onto the Yorkshire Art Circus Writer Development Programme.  Some people who were on the programme with me said it was more useful than their MA in Creative Writing.  It certainly helped me develop techniques and gave me professional insight into the industry.

As for an ideas process, I’d like to say I have a fail-proof method but I’m afraid my thinking style is a little chaotic.   With poetry, I tend to have an idea and free-write around it soon after.  Then I wait a week or so and finish a first draft.  Then I edit and edit and edit over a period or weeks, months or years.  With novels, I write scenes and, at some point – usually around a third of the way through – I decide how they might roughly hang together and what the end might be. Then I work towards that before again editing thoroughly.   Feedback is useful after a few drafts.  I’ve been lucky enough to have two mentors in my writing life – you and Caroline Davies who helped with my poetry collection.

How hard is it to keep your domestic life organized along with your writing work?

When I was a single parent it was very difficult as I was having to juggle so much with limited help.  Now my son is 18 so understandably prefers to spend time with friends or on social media than with his mum.  My husband is incredibly supportive.  We have both sets of working hours in our diaries and I schedule work I can do at home for when he is at work or in bed – I’m an early riser.

What if anything (!) do you find as most enjoyable about the whole writing process?

Those precious moments when I’m writing and my body goes so cold that I get goosebumps.  It is as though all my energy is going into what I’m typing or scribbling on the page.  Sports people call it flow.

Do you have any preference in writing literature or stage or TV?

I like writing in various genres.  For me, an idea decides what form it should take and I go with it.  Writing a poem is like spending a day with a good friend.  Writing a novel is more like bringing up a child.  Make of that what you will.

Whose work do you admire?  Why?

So many people’s, especially magical realist novels by Angela Carter, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood.  I read a lot of poetry – Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes and Plath are great.  I’m also liking what I read by Zaffar Kunial and Gaia Holmes at the moment.   David Gaffney is well worth a read for his hilarious and socially accurate flash fiction.  Angela Readman’s collection of short stories Don’t Try This At Home is the best I’ve read – beautifully written in the voices of characters who come from the wrong side of the track and with a touch of magical realism thrown in.  Performance-wise, Miranda July for her originality and Kate  Tempest for her integrity of delivery.

Do you think you will ever retire?  (I always ask this question as I can’t see a day when I’ll be ABLE to!)

I would like to retire from workshops one day.  I hope by then I’ll be earning enough from my writing and performances to do so.  When I retire I’m going to go to as many different workshops and classes as I can, be on the other side of the desk – I’ll learn to sing and draw and paint and dance.

What motivates you?

My desire to write.  Injustice.

Any advice for ‘new’ writers or artistes or anyone considering taking the plunge?

  • Make time for your writing
  • Write what you are passionate about
  • Challenge yourself by experimenting
  • Edit, edit, edit
  • Keep going by focussing on what you are doing and not on what other people have accomplished
  • Remember to enjoy it

Finally, what are you working on currently and any planned projects you can tell us about?  Is there anything you want to promote, or personal website or blog etc?

In addition to workshop projects, Steve Toase and I will soon begin the next phase of Haunt, a project working with people experiencing homelessness and commissioned by I-move.  The anthology has now been published and will be launched in the autumn.  Find out more here:  https://harrogatehaunt.wordpress.com/

I’m also seeking an agent for my second novel and working on another magical realist novel.

My next project will be a poetry performance piece inspired by a historical figure from Leeds.

You can find out more about what I’m up to including release dates for my pamphlet Echolocation, and my collection Empires of Clay on my blog at my website www.beckycherriman.com

Alice NutterThanks very much for taking time out, Alice, to do this email interview for endeacott.com, it’s great to have you here.  I realize that I could just Cut & Paste biographic info on you from Wikipedia and the like, but that would just be lazy of me.  Besides, it’s a wee bit boring that way!

So, to start with, please tell us about yourself, such as where you’re from, where you live, etc etc.

Originally from Burnley but have lived  in Leeds since 1982. I moved here to live in shared squat with the rest of Chumbawamba. I’m not exactly sure how I ended up in the band, we wanted to live communally with shared money and tasks. It was a moment where we all wanted the same things… ie: massive social and revolutionary change. Made sense to be in a band together. For years we spent all our times either on demos or playing benefits. When it became harder to be on the dole, we had to start treating the band as a vocation and a job.

Haven’t lived communally for over 15 years now. When we decided to have a baby, we (Keir) and I, wanted our own space.

And tell us about your writing career so far (books, stage, television, radio …) and of course your music career with Chumbawamba.

I was in Chumbawamba for almost 23 years, which as a non musician is quite incredible really. We were a gang and did a lot of creative stuff together, we weren’t just a band we were mates. And incredibly hard working, always either making albums (11 by the time I left) or touring. Bands have a natural life cycle and the electric band was turning towards folk – although still entirely political. Dan, Harry, Dunst and I left to do our own things. I’d always known I was a writer. Always done it… although I’d left school at 15 and didn’t know where to put a full-stops for a few years. But (apart from a stint at Leeds Other Paper) band commitments had never allowed me to write full time. And I was 43, I felt it was now or never. So I went for it, aware that I had to make up for lost time. But the good thing about being older is that I had things to say and the confidence to attack it. I started with plays because I thought I’d have more chance of getting work on (doesn’t cost as much to produce as TV) but I knew I was aiming to work across theatre, TV and radio.

I’ve been writing fulltime for 8 years now. I’ve had 4 produced theatre plays, Love and Petrol, Foxes, Where’s Vietnam? And My Generation. West Yorkshire Playhouse have been incredibly supportive of my work and I’m writing another play for them at the moment.

I’ve had two radio plays on, Snow In July and My Generation (which I adapted for stage too) but I’ve mostly worked in TV. I was lucky, Jimmy McGovern spotted me and took me under his wing, so I’ve written for several of his series, The Street, The Accused and Moving On. But I’ve also worked on quite a lot of other stuff from Casualty to The Mill (with John Fay who I also admire). And last year I worked with Simon Beaufoy (Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire) and learnt a lot from him. I see working with other more established writers as an apprenticeship. I try and learn what I can, and it’s only this last year or so that I actually feel I know what I’m doing.

TV is ruthless, you get commissioned for stuff that ends up not getting made. Some of the people I’ve worked with are great, others… well, you wouldn’t want a beer with them.

I seem to have become known as somebody who can write political/period drama so I get offered a lot of that. I’m currently writing a couple of Eps of The White Queen (Tudor women) and then it’s back to developing my own stuff.

It’s easy to get stuck in development hell and I like to see things I’ve written on screen, so I tend to try and balance the two.

In writing, what are you most proud of?

Probably the screenplay I wrote about Bernard Manning ‘For One Night Only.’ It was for the Curse of Comedy slot, only the cuts descended. After it had been commissioned they decided not to make any more of the series. I wrote about how fear of the big wide world turned him into a racist – universal really.

Please tell us about the ‘Pendle Witches’ and your namesake Alice Nutter.

I wrote a play ‘The Power’ about the Pendle Witches that’s never been produced. The director I wrote it for didn’t like it and I’m reluctant to let it go unless it can be done as a full production with seven women on stage. There is a myth that thousands of women were persecuted for witchcraft in England, actually it was probably less than 200 (though in Scotland it was about 3,000) and a very particular set of circumstances led to the Pendle Witch trials. Ten people were hanged at Lancaster in 1612. Alice Nutter was the only middle class woman to hang, probably because she was in a boundary dispute with the Magistrate, and my Sunday school teacher was one of her ancestors. While in the band we all adopted names to avoid the dole finding out we were making records. Only I changed my name by deed poll. Nutter was awkward and I grew up in the shadow of Pendle Hill, so I felt an affinity with her.

‘The Power’ is currently being developed for BBC with Touchpaper (an independent company.)

As a writer, do you have a regimented routine for writing and do you have a set workplace? 

I write everyday, generally I go for a run at 8 and I’m at my desk by 9. Near a deadline I start at 5.30 AM. I try and work to around 6PM. Sometimes later but I don’t think as well at night. Weekends I just do about three hours a day. Generally I aim for at least 4 pages a day. And I rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

If I come across a problem I can’t solve I leave the house and walk. Sometimes I don’t let myself come back until I’ve solved it.

Do you generally work alone or as part of a team?

Well, I have to write alone but once the words are on the page and rewritten God knows how many times (my first draft is actually at least my 4th) I work with a script editor, producer or director. Depending on which medium the work is for. I move between TV and theatre so I can keep doing my own ideas. After being in a band for so long I’m reluctant to co write. I value the freedom of making my own decisions. And as Eric Morecombe would say, I like writing all the words.

Do you ever ‘get in character’ like an actor does, when you’re creating roles?

I get into the world rather than just one character. I do a lot of research into whatever I’m writing so I know the environment. I can imagine where they are, what they’re doing. I hear their voices and I read work out-loud to see if I’ve caught them. I mull over script problems before I sleep and often I have an answer in the morning. Or at least know what’s shit and what to cut. I do a lot of cutting.

How did you commence your writing career, and are there any moments on this ‘journey’ which you regard as a Turning Point?   

It was getting on the So You Want To Be A Writer course at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Which to most people would seem like nothing because there were no promises or anything. Just 12 or so people who wanted to write in a room and the Tutor was Mark Catley. But I knew it was a chance to make West Yorkshire Playhouse notice I could write. I got Foxes on at the Playhouse from that. After McGovern read Foxes he offered me a job.

Favourite films, music, books, television programmes?  Hobbies, pastimes?

Peter Bowker’s Marvellous, was well, Marvellous. Nothing else like it on TV and so much to admire.

Wolf Hall was so under-stated. The writing and the acting were inspiring. Peter Straughan adapted it, he did Smiley’s People too, he’s always good.

The series I wish I was as good as is Deadwood. I watch a lot of the American series and aim to write for them one day. They use the writers’ room format to story-line and map out series. The American series have much longer story-arcs (13 to 20 episodes instead of Britain’s standard six) so the characters undergo profound changes in a way that seems natural. If Walter White had been a British character he would have been Heisenberg by episode Three. The work that comes out of those writers’ rooms is a cut above. Brains move faster when they’re linked. I don’t want to co write but I want to be part of co thinking.

I run a few times a week. I’m addicted to cooking programmes and I’m a good cook. Don’t go to many gigs anymore, used to all the time… but I can’t listen to music while I’m writing, so sometimes feel like part of my life has been amputated. I have a daughter and a partner who put up with my head being in my work. In return I try and be supportive to them and play nice. And I like walking, talking and drinking with friends.

Your short and long-term hopes, if any?

I want to live long enough to write something really good and be there for my daughter for as long as she needs me. I had cancer in 2007, my first thought on diagnosis was, ‘I’ve got a kid, I can’t die.’

Back to writing: are you ‘self-taught’ or did you study some form of creative writing lessons and the like?   Do you have an ideas ‘process’?

When I first left Chumbawamba, I started an MA in scriptwriting. I was learning more on my own so I left. They offered to give me the degree anyway if I paid the money. I didn’t need it to get work so I didn’t bother.

What if anything (!) do you find as most enjoyable about the whole writing process?

Chiselling away. Paring down to as few clear words as possible.

Do you have any preference in writing literature or stage or TV?

I enjoy the actual writing, telling stories with pictures for the screen. But I love stage rehearsals and being involved in the process. Being in a gang again. An intelligent actor helps you rewrite though they may not know it. Harry from Chumbawamba usually does the music for my stage plays. Suppose that’s why theatre stuff has a bit of a being in a band again feel.

Whose work or music do you admire?

Singular voices. Nina Simone, Robert Wyatt, Maxine Peake, Peter Bowker, Sally Wainwright, David Chase, David Milch, David Simons… all the Davids.

Do you think you will ever retire? 

Wasn’t planning on it.

What motivates you?

I’m not as good as I know I could be. And Iwant  tell the stories that experience has taught me – for a middle aged woman I’ve been in several riots. Part of the reason I put so much work in, is the fear of someone I respect reading something I’ve written and thinking: what a pile of shit.

And I’d rather fail spectacularly than be on safe ground.

Any advice for ‘new’ writers or artistes?

Stop trying to network and actually write. Study other writers; see how they do it. Don’t be satisfied with a first attempt. When you first start you think everything you do is great, least I did. And then you realise that talent isn’t enough, it’s the hard graft that follows; learning the craft that makes your work less hit and miss. And the hours you spend writing when it’s sunny and you’d rather be out. Or the nights you go home early cause you can’t write with a hangover. You have to give it your all. And do it with confidence. I knock out pages so I have something to rewrite. Nobody else has lived the life you have. Use that. Put your heart and mind into it.

Finally, what are you working on currently and any planned projects you can tell us?

After I’ve written these two Episodes about Tudor women, I’m back on adapting The Power and My Generation for TV. And there’ll be a break to write a play about Barnbow Munitions Factory (WW1) for West Yorkshire Playhouse. And then I’ve been asked to work on somebody’s American series, but I can’t say what or who because it’s all hush hush.

That takes me to at least the end of next year. Not all of it will come off. So you have to enjoy the process as much as the end result.

Please give us a ‘summary CV’ of your writing career and highlights.

The Last ChampionsI fell into writing by accident. Ever since I was very young and obsessed by songs such as How Much Is That Doggy In The Window? music has been my main obsession. My father played piano in the local working men’s club and bought me a toy one, and one day introduced me to the drummer there, Jeff, who played a red sparkle kit and gave me a pair of drum sticks. Years later, my Mum bought me a small kit to go with the sticks and a few years after that I started playing in bands. That was my main goal, really, although somehow I ended up doing a degree in economics and politics. I spent most of my student grant on a bigger kit and missed lectures owing to rehearsing with the band. After graduating I found myself virtually unemployable, not least because at interviews most prospective employers seemed to suss out that my dream job was playing drums in New Order, rather than working for them. The dream job never became available – it still isn’t, although when Steve Morris finally steps down I will of course be putting myself forward. In the end a mate of mine said, “Look, all you’re interested in is music. Why don’t you write about music?” It was glaringly obvious that he was right, but it had never crossed my mind. When I grew up reading NME, I was interested in the bands, not the bylines. However, I gave it a go and after a stream of reviews were rejected by NME I found myself getting one published in Melody Maker. I wrote the odd piece for other magazines as well, but MM proved a primary outlet for the best part of a decade. I wrote my first live review for the Guardian around 1995 or so and have written for them ever since, regularly since 1999. I’ve interviewed the likes of Robbie Williams, Roger Daltrey and Bryan Ferry and have had escapades ranging from watching UFOs in the Nevada Desert to seeing the band I was writing about carted off by soldiers in Pakistan. I wrote The Fallen – Life In And Out Of Britain’s Most Insane Group about exactly that and The Last Champions – Leeds United and the Year Football Changed Forever about the 1992 title winning LUFC side and the fateful last few weeks before the arrival of the Premiership would start to transform the game beyond recognition.

I can’t say there’s never been a dull moment along the way because there’s been plenty, but it’s been a rollercoaster ride and is clearly what I always wanted to do, even though I didn’t know it.

What’s your official job title, if you have one?  I always feel slightly uneasy calling myself a writer, but IS what I do for a (near) living after all.

The Guardian website calls me a “music critic”, which doesn’t really cover everything I do but I’ll take it.

What, in addition to your ‘day job’ (which is what exactly?) are you working on at the moment?

I have two day jobs now, really. After over 20 years as a purely freelance/contracted journalist, I was asked to fill in when someone left at Huddersfield University, lecturing in music journalism. I had never lectured or taught before in my life but found it very rewarding, and by way of various twists have ended up doing it part time, for half the year. It’s true that teaching (and marking, and prep, and the requirement to study for various qualifications) takes over your life and I do miss the more freewheeling life I had before. I barely have time for anything now. On the other hand I’ve discovered I really like working with young people. Nobody ever taught me to write – my “education” was writing essays etc. for my degree, being very good at English from an early age and seeing countless gigs from my mid-teens on. I always try and stress to students that the course is just a part of it: character and gumption are things you can’t teach and I think you need an element of obsession to be a writer.

How are sales for The Fallen and for The Last Champions?  Did you enjoy writing one more than the other?  I know you are a devout Leeds fan but are The Fall your favourite band or was it more a case of them being a bloody fascinating subject to write about more than loving their music?

The FallenThe Fallen was very well-received and did really well in music book terms. The Fall aren’t my favourite band but always in the top three or four offer such dynamite material for a writer. I wrote the book by accident after interviewing Mark E. Smith for the Guardian and the paper asking for one or two of his old musicians to talk about the singer. “One or two” became an 18 month mad odyssey that ended with me outside what may or may not have been the terraced house of a drummer who left the Fall after an onstage punch up in 1998. At one point, The Fallen was outselling Cliff Richard’s new autobiography on Amazon so for that hour or so I could say I was “bigger than Cliff”!

The Last Champions sold mainly to the Leeds United hardcore, which was disappointing, to be honest, Rob, because it’s a story of heroism, dedication, sacrifice and the end of an era that I had hoped would cross over to the more general reader. JK Rowling needn’t have too many sleepless nights. Maybe some day someone will make a film of it and cast an appropriately gritty northerner in the role of Sergeant Wilko. It could be the football version of The Great Escape!

Do you set yourself a To Do list each year or half-year?  And do you have a list of future projects?  Let us know what they are too, if you’re willing to confide.

I’ve been telling myself to “get more organised” for as long as I can remember, but this job/life is usually more about flying everywhere by the seat of your pants. I rarely know what I’m doing more than two or three days in advance, which plays havoc with your social life. “What social life?” I hear my other half cry. This year, I’m hoping to finish my PGCHE teaching qualification course, start a PhD based on The Fallen (which means I will actually become a Doctor of the Fall) and play some gigs for the first time in years, with Refuel, a spiky, post-punk pop power trio with harmonies.

How the heck do you manage to fit all your writing duties in with having a domestic life?

Domestic life has suffered, unfortunately. If I am awake I am usually at work of some sort and I am forever trying to spend more time with my young son, but he’s a bit too young for gigs yet and recently told me to turn off the War on Drugs album so he could watch Thomas The Tank Engine. It’s a perennial struggle.

Any advice for aspiring journalists (music) or authors?

The best advice I was ever given was from James Brown (Loaded, LeedsLeedsLeeds etc.), who told me not to spread myself too thinly: find one publication you really like and write good copy for them. Nowadays we have the phenomenon of websites etc. who expect people to write for free, so I would tell people to by all means write a handful of such articles at the beginning, to build a portfolio, but no more. Otherwise you’ll probably find you’re only offered unpaid writing work because people know you’ll do it for nowt.

It’s an immense portfolio of interviewees in your two books so far, did you have any memorable incidents during the research/interview process?  Is it hard work finding the leads and conducting the interviews?

I tracked down some 40-odd former Fall musicians for The Fallen and then some 20-odd Leeds players and staff for The Last Champions. Sitting in the living room of the last English manager to win the English title (with the club I’d supported since I was nine) was a surreal, pinch yourself moment. Similarly, I was very moved talking to ex-chairman Leslie Silver about his wartime past and hurtling around a Los Angeles golf course in a buggy driven by Vinnie Jones was like being in a Bond film, but with swear words. The unexpected thing about the interviews for The Last Champions was realising that they all had a fascinating story – whether it was John McClelland’s tales of growing up amid the Irish Troubles or Mick Whitlow’s story of being signed from non-League Witton Albion and winning a title medal with LUFC. These were ordinary but extraordinary men, who in turn came together under a very special manager to pull off a once in a lifetime feat: hauling themselves from near bottom of the second tier to win the English title in two and a half seasons is something I don’t think we will ever see again.

Please tell us your favourite books, films, plays, writers, music, HEROES etc., etc.  What is it that you like about them?

All the Last Champions for the aforementioned reasons. My all time musical heroes are Joy Division, because seeing them at Leeds Futurama in 1979 (my first ever gig) taught me that music could be much more powerful than mere entertainment and in doing so changed my life. My favourite film is Twelve Angry Men, an old courtroom drama about overcoming injustice and prejudice which I first saw when I was on the dole in the 1980s. The message stuck with me: fight for what you believe in and be aware that there’s often a bigger picture and another story to the one which immediately meets the eye… Favourite books are stuff like George Orwell’s 1984 and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar: all the cheery, comic stuff.

I’ve interviewed a lot of famous people and never been star-struck BUT if I ever meet one of my very early childhood heroes – the likes of Roy Wood from Wizzard or Slade’s Noddy Holder – I’ve immediately reverted to my gibbering nine year old self, staring at them like they have come from outer space. Which of course they must have: I mean, they never sold silver boots like that in Clark’s.

In your two capacities, as a FAN and as a writer, what are your views on the events and the characters bestowed on us at Leeds United.  Please be as controversial as you like here, it is only opinion after all.

I don’t feel Leeds United is my club any more and I think a lot of fans feel that way at the moment. The last 12 years have seen it stripped of any semblance of a connection with the community. I went the other day to watch us lose to lowly Wigan and the place felt like a shell. I noticed that they’d put the price of coffee up again and cut the number of people selling it. Tiny details that tell the bigger story: mismanagement of epic proportions and people who have done very well financially from contributing to its decline. I miss the feeling of seeing Tony Currie swivel his beer belly to unleash a devastating 40-yarder or Chris Whyte and Fairclough marshalling the defence like a white shirted Maginot Line while the crowd sang “Sergeant Wilko’s barmy army.” They were magical times, when the whole city of Leeds felt properly United, rather than Damned.

What do you like or dislike about writing?  Do you prefer words on paper or in e-form?

When Everett True told me that Melody Maker were publishing my review of Drug Free America at Leeds Warehouse in 1989 I was so excited I almost dropped the phone, and I’ve never lost that thrill of seeing something I have written appear in print (or, indeed, online).  Ideally things will appear in both formats: I know people who only ever see my stuff if it’s in the printed paper that they buy from the corner shop. Most of my words are produced in a little room with a tree outside, and then fly around the world. It’s thrilling but also a bit scary when you start to think about that stuff, so I prefer to keep my focus on that tree.

I’m very proud to welcome the prolific and quite brilliant writer CHRIS NICKSON as the latest interviewee for this website.  I was lucky enough to work with Chris recently, where he chaired a kind of Music Writing Forum with me and Peter Mills answering questions on our Stranglers and Van Morrison books respectively… that was the first time we’d met, despite Chris having almost a library bookcase of great tomes to his name.  And a very varied writing career too.  Anyway, I won’t bang on about how much inspiration and encouragement Chris provides, probably without even knowing it, see for yourself in the interview, another exclusive for www.endeacott.com.  Chris has his own site too: www.chrisnickson.co.uk

Ta!  Robert.

Chris, a summary of your writing career so far, please.

Gods of GoldIt’s been sort of an odd road for me.  My first published pieces were album reviews, back in the 1970s, just after I’d moved to America.  The first Kate Bush disc, and the reissue of a couple of Roy Harper LPs.  That was in a local music paper in Cincinnati.  I did a few more things for them, and published a couple of short stories in a tiny local magazine whose name escapes me now. I moved to Seattle in ’86, had a couple of one-act plays staged (never be writer and director; that’s a lesson I learned quickly), a couple more short stories.  In ’93 I had my first music reviews published in The Rocket, also local, but very influential and filled with excellent writing.  I went on to do more and more for them until they folded in 2000, by which time I was a senior writer on their masthead – I’m still very proud of that.  From ’94 I did a lot of quickie unauthorised biographies. A friend got me started. I combined that with music journalism as I wrote for more and more people.  It meant I could quit my job and write full-time, a big step as my son was born in ’95.  I moved back to the UK in 2005, still doing plenty of music journalism, but also writing more fiction again (in the intervening years I’d amassed 7 unpublished novels, the first from when I was 20.  I’m glad they never saw the light of day).  Finally The Broken Token came out in 2009 and now my focus is much more on fiction.  But I still keep my hand in with music and actually also write a number of press releases for artists (yes, I’m available, folks).

Books you’re most proud of?

The Crooked SpireThat’s almost impossible to answer, but if pinned to the ground and forced, I’d say At the Dying of the Year, the fifth in my Richard Nottingham series.  One reviewer said I write ‘the fiction of loss,’ a phrase that struck me, and it’s very apt in that book.  Emotionally, it drained me completely, I was a wreck when it was done.  But I think that depth comes out on the page. It took me to a very dark place inside myself and I needed time to recover from it.  It’s about love and loss, even though it’s a crime novel, although crime novels should always be about more than simply finding the bad guy.

That said, each of my novels has something to make me proud, I feel. Gods of Gold, which came out earlier this year, features a woman, Annabelle, who first appeared in a short story, then wouldn’t leave me alone.  When I decided to set a novel against the backdrop of the 1890 Leeds Gas Strike, she was the one who said ‘I lived through that.  Let me tell you about it.’  She’s very much the linchpin and emotional heart of this new series.  My two books set in Seattle take some of my own experiences as a music journalist there. I loved the place, I lived there for 20 years, and I wanted to take people there.  The Crooked Spire came to me in ten seconds, driving through Chesterfield (I’d lived very close to there for four years and knew the town well).  That one was a gift. So each book has something special for me.

Life balance – how do you manage it?

I write.  It’s what I do, it’s my living.  Between fiction and my paid work (press releases, music journalism) I spend most of my day writing.  But I do get away from the living room table, where I write.  Walk, go for a coffee, things like that.  One day a week we get out somewhere if possible.  Of course, you never escape being a writer. Even when you’re not typing, you’re thinking, even if everything is just on the back burner.  The subconscious is still ticking over.  And I do write fiction every single day of the year.  I’d feel lost if I took a few days off, to be honest.

I like this question, I’ve asked it before, likening writers to actors: do you try to get ‘in character’ when writing about or ‘as’ different people?

I don’t really do anything to get in character.  These people come to me (don’t ask where they’re from.  It’s the ether, and beyond that I don’t really want to know as it might break the magic).  All I’m doing is writing down the movie playing in my head.

With a series, the characters become family.  When I write a new book in a series I’m just seeing what’s been going on in their lives.  To me, they’re very real people.  Their relationships alter, they grow older and change, the people they love change, too.  To make them static would be the unreal part.  These folk are very much flesh and blood, even the minor characters.  They have to be.  If they’re not real to me, how can they be to someone reading the book?

Sometimes they’ll surprise me by doing something I didn’t expect.  But I love that.  When they get up and walk around and show their free will, it’s great.

How did you get started in writing?

My father was a musician when he was young, and a writer.  He had a couple of plays on TV in the late ‘60s.  So both those strands were there already.  I first fell in love with writing when I was 11 and had an assignment to write a story in three paragraphs.  I did, and something clicked into place.  I realised I loved this, creating something.  But then at 13, music took over. I bought a bass guitar and spent too many years hoping to be a rock’n’roll star.  I also wrote poetry, and once I set that to music, I saw myself as the next Leonard Cohen.  The only thing missing was talent.

So when I began writing about music I was putting my two loves together.  But fiction had been there, on a low level, for many years, a constant, a perpetual love.  I need to serve my apprenticeship first, to learn the craft of writing.  Journalism and those quickie bios were great for that.  You don’t have the luxury of time and endless revisions.  You learn to get it down right the first (or second) time.  Bang and it’s gone.

I take more time now, but that training has stood me in good stead.  When you have deadlines you have to meet them, so you work and develop self-discipline.  If nothing else, I hope I’ve acquired that.

How well does it pay?

It’s a living.  There have been times it’s been a very good living, but they’re the best part of 20 years in the past.  Between one thing and another, I get by.  Let’s leave it at that…

Writers you admire…

So many.  I return on a regular basis to the novels of Joanne Harris and John Lawton, for different reasons.  Joanne’s books have that sprinkling of magic that make me wonder if she’s really an earthling. John’s books, especially the Inspector Troy series, are a wonderful dissection of places and times.  They’re immersive. Candace Robb’s Owen Archer books were a huge influence.  She included her main character’s family, and the ways they changed and grew.  For beauty of prose, I go to Michael Ondaatje quite often.  For something as smooth as cream, Elmore Leonard.  For otherness it’s Peter Høeg.

Musicians you admire…

Thelonious Monk, the jazz pianist.  He was unique, and there’s never been anyone who’s managed to do what he did.  No matter how often I listen to his work, it always surprises me and catches me off guard with its twists and turns.  I love piano, and Bill Evans is wonderful, but it’s Monk who catches that sweet spot.  There’s a whole history of black music in his fingers, but the way he brought it out was completely his.

John Martyn.  His ‘70s album were a fabulous run of remarkable music, remarkable playing and songwriting.  It just got me.  I remember just after I was 18 and a girlfriend played me ‘Bless The Weather’. We were at her parents’ house, in the first music room I’d ever experienced – big grand piano, cases full of sheet music, amazing stereo system – and she put on the album.  It was like someone had flicked a switch.  I was a fan from that point.  Still am – I even wrote a biography of him.

Even though I lived in Seattle a long time and saw most of the big bands before they filled stadiums, my tastes there are out on the fringes.  People like the Walkabouts, Gary Heffern, Michael Shuler; the ones who were not so much in the spotlight but who made more interesting, enduring music.  These days, for a long time, really, I’ve covered world music, and most of my listening now is in that area. I feel very far removed from mainstream music, and I don’t miss it at all.

Geography / Character.

A sense of place is very important in my work.  I want readers to feel they’ve been to that time and place.  Most of my books are set in Leeds.  It’s where I was born and raised, where I’ve come back to live, and I’m glad I have.

I know Leeds in a way I’ll never know anywhere else, and that’s deep in my bones.  I understand it.  And for quite a few years now I’ve been a student of Leeds history. I love it, love the discoveries and connections between past and present.  Where Trinity stands now, for instance, was the home of the Grand Pygmalion, Leeds’ first department store, well over 100 years ago – and then there was C&A.  So that spot has such a retail history.

Sadly, Leeds hasn’t been kind to its past.  We have some great Victorian buildings, but try to go back further, and you quickly hit some dead ends.  We have more older pubs than anything else, which might be a comment on Leodensians.

(I’ll drink to that!)  What’s coming up, Chris?

Dark Briggate BluesIn January there Dark Briggate Blues, which is set in Leeds in the 1950s.  English provincial noir featuring an enquiry agent – the term we used from private detective in those days – called Dan Markham.  He’s young, loves jazz, and Leeds actually had a jazz club in those days called Studio 20, on New Briggate, where Sela Bar is today.  So music is a vital part of that.

Then, in April, the sequel to Gods Of Gold, called Two Bronze Pennies.  Much of it takes place in the Leylands, just north of the city centre, where many Jewish immigrants settled.  It’s about prejudice, what we’d call race hatred now, the fear of immigrants, which is still resonating loudly.

Then, in June, a small local press, Armley Press, is publishing my collected Leeds short stories called, imaginatively, The Leeds Stories.  The heart of it is a history of Leeds from 363 AD – 1963 told in short stories.

So yes, 2015 will be busy…

Thanks Nick for the interview for endeacott.com.  To start with, tell us about your writing career so far.

Aside from a batch of short stories which have appeared in a variety of publications, including The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime, and a novella BANG BANG YOUBroken_Dreams_-_front_cover’RE DEAD, my work follows the character Joe Geraghty, a small-time Private Investigator.  Geraghty works from an office in the Old Town of Hull and over the course of three novels he’s been a device or tool for me to explore my home city.   BROKEN DREAMS sees Geraghty looking for a missing person but it’s really a novel about the demise of Hull’s fishing industry and the effect of that in the present day.  THE LATE GREATS sees Geraghty babysitting a reformed band, but it’s also about the nature of Hull as a city and aspects that make it unique.  THE CROOKED BEAT sees Geraghty involved with a missing consignment of smuggled cigarettes, so it deals with the city’s recent regeneration as well as its courting of green technology.  Together I think of them forming an overview of recent change in the city.  The pleasing thing for me is that each book pushes me forward a little more and gets my writing noticed more.  I’m doing more and more events (writing and author events) and have recently appeared at Crimefest, one of the UK’s major crime festivals, and Iceland Noir, my first foreign trip to talk about my work.  The books have also attracted some national reviews, so fingers crossed things are heading in the right direction…

This is my ‘Sophie’s Choice’ sort of question, Nick: which of your books are you most proud of?

I think it’s always the latest one, so I’ll say The Crooked Beat but in truth it’s probably the one I have in my head ready to write next.  When stories are only in your head, they feel perfect.

As a writer as well as a family man, how do you manage, do you have a regimented routine for writing and then try to focus on your ‘domestic’ duties? 

I try to make the best of what time I have available.  I have a couple of days set aside for writing, as well as the usual weekends and evenings.  Deadlines are a mixture of the two but on the whole I’m disciplined about writing.  Of course, other things sometimes have to take priority, but equally you have to make sacrifices, mainly in terms of a social life and television etc.

Do you ever ‘get in character’ to create believable protagonists, such as your Joe Geraghty or other protagonists? 

No, I don’t feel the need to ‘get in character’ as such.  I spend some time thinking what kind of person a character is and what their motivation is.  From there, I try to pick them apart by approaching them from different angles.  People aren’t all bad or all good so I try and reflect that.

You’re a football fan (Hull City for anyone who didn’t know or guess!) so why did you make your protagonist, Joe Geraghty, an ex-rugby league player?

That’s true. I’m a long-term season ticket holder at HullCity but I’m also a sports fan who greatly enjoys rugby league.  I made the decision to give Geraghty a rugby background to serve the stories better.  I want the Geraghty novels to explain the city of Hull and rugby gives me an extra tool to do that.  As well as adding local colour based around the rivalry between the city’s two clubs, it also explains social change.  When the city had a fishing industry, generally speaking the east/west split meant fisherman and Hull FC fans on one side of the city, dockers and Hull Kingston Rovers fans on the other.  When the industry collapsed, the slum housing was demolished and people moved to outlying estates, diluting traditional lines in the city.  I find it fascinating.

The Late Greats CoverHow did you commence your writing career, and are there any moments on this journey which you regard as a real Turning Point?     

For me, it was more a gradual build-up.  I have no background in the arts.  I’ve always been a big reader though, and studying Social Policy with the Open University brought things together for me.  I started to see the topics I was studying appear in the page-turning novels of Ian Rankin.  It made total sense to me, so after finishing my studies and reading a really bad crime novel, I thought I’d give it a go.  How hard could it be?  Turns out it’s harder than I thought!

Favourite films, music, books, television programmes?  Hobbies, pastimes?

Books and music are constants in my life and there really are too many to mention.  Television and films have largely been sacrificed to free up time for writing but I’m not too fussed about that if I’m being honest.  Outside of writing and family life, I go to the football.  I don’t think I’m a hobby kind of person.

What are your short and long-term hopes for Hull City FC?  Are there any teams you do detest?  Any individuals in the sport today who you would gladly never see again?

There’s a question… our owner is trying to force a rebrand of the club from Hull City to Hull Tigers in an attempt to generate extra revenue in Asia.  To me, that sound like absolute nonsense.  Our history isn’t heavy with silverware but it’s our story and we should be proud of where we came from and who we are.  In the short-term, I’d like the idea to be consigned to the bin where it belongs.  In the long-term, it’d be great to see the club establish itself in the Premier League but I’m not star-struck by that level of football.  I don’t detest (too much) other clubs, but I have a list as long as my arm when it comes to players!

Do you think you can ever walk away from your club, never to support them again?

Given the above, it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.  As you Robert demonstrate in Scandal FC through Jimmy’s eyes, as you get older your priorities change, and although defeat still hurts, it’s not as consuming as it once was.  I don’t think you can entirely walk away but if my club changes its name and with it the people it represents, I’ll be thinking long and hard about whether I want to continue going to the matches.  In some ways it’ll still be the club I first watched as a nine year old but equally I’ll be disgusted with it.  I’m all for ambition but I don’t believe it has to be at the expense of tradition and history.

Back to writing fiction: are you ‘self-taught’ or did you study some form of creative writing lessons and the like?   Do you have an ideas ‘process’?

I’m self-taught, though I would say the countless books I read before deciding to write were my apprenticeship, even if I didn’t realise it at the time.  Once I’m half-way through a novel and can sniff the ending, I can start to think about the next one.  I keep a lot of newspaper clippings so often an idea starts to emerge from the pile.  It’s usually nothing more than a character or basic idea but from there it slowly grows in the back of my mind.  Sometimes the ideas are more fully formed.  All three Geraghty novels came from very specific issues I wanted to explore.

What do you find as most enjoyable about the whole writing process?  Are your books paying you well?

Having written is the best thing for me.  I like having something on the page to work with and improve.  Sometimes the act of writing is great, sometimes it’s like pulling teeth.  Like most writers, books don’t sustain me in a financial sense, though I’m luckier than most.  I combine writing with looking after my daughter.  She’s two, so it’s hard work at times (all the time!) but it could be far worse.

Do you think you’ll ever write about somewhere else other than Hull?

It’s something I think about a lot.  The Geraghty novels were always designed to be Hull-set novels, simply because it’s the city I know best.  I haven’t lived anywhere else.  Now, I’m not so sure.  The next novel, which is slowly forming in my head, will probably use some other locations, though its heart will be in Hull.

Do you see the title of City of Culture 2017 making a difference to Hull’s future?

Massively, I think.  I hope it’ll be good for the artists working in the city, as we’ve already shown we can put on great events that people want to attend and enjoy.  It’ll be great to build on that but I’m also a resident and a parent.  It can’t be denied that Hull has suffered from a negative image in the past so this is a real chance to change that, both to visitors and for my daughter to realise that her own city is full of fantastic things to experience and explore.  I have no doubt 2017 is going to be a great year.

Do you see yourself writing outside of the crime genre at some point in the future?

The Crooked BeatNot in the foreseeable future, but maybe one day.  It still feels like I’ve got a lot to do in the crime genre.  It’s what I love to read and write.  I do have other ideas, though.  I love what you and David Peace do with the mix of football and fiction. I can see the potential of a few Hull City-related projects.  I’m not sure how much I want to write non-fiction but I have a few ideas in that direction, too.  I really like Roddy Doyle’s earthy and gritty tales and have the vague notion that a story telling the life-story of Hull over the last hundred years through the eyes of a handful of families might be a good idea.  Think Downtown Abbey with added fish and violence, maybe!

Who do you admire outside of the crime genre, both as a writer and a reader?

I see reading as being entertainment so I like writers who are accessible yet interesting.  I love Roddy Doyle, Nick Hornby and going further back, John Steinbeck.  They all write with a big heart, which is something all writers can take and use.  I’ve recently read Mark Lewishon’s masterful All Tune In, a look at the early years of The Beatles.  It’s heavily researched but the book wears it lightly.  It’s a highly readable and insightful look into a story we all think we now.

Finally… do you think you will ever retire? 

I’m like you. Why would you want to stop writing?  It’s the most fun you can have without leaving your seat!  I don’t foresee a time I won’t be writing.

Thanks David for committing your time to answering some of my interview questions.  I will not even try to deny that you’re one of my favourite writers but I’ve tried to make the interview non-obsequious and only objectively respectful!


1 Perhaps it’s a bit of a ‘Sophie’s Choice’ question but which of your books are you most proud of?

1977There are bits of each of the books that I like and bits of each of the books that I don’t, but I think Nineteen Seventy-seven is perhaps the published book that is closest to the imaginary one I had in my head. However, the book I’m “proudest of” is still GB84 because I believe the Miners’ Strike of 1984 / 85 is the most important and still most relevant and still most contentious moment in post-war British history.


2  You must be very busy virtually all the time, how do you manage, do you allocate yourself a regimented routine for writing and then try to focus on your ‘domestic’ duties as a family man?  Do you set personal timescales or are they determined by publisher deadlines?

Well, I’m very lucky in that Faber & Faber basically let me set my own schedule in terms of the delivery of the books, though obviously it is very much a discussion between us. But then, day to day, yes I do have a very strict routine in terms of the research and then the writing. But it’s not much different, really, from what most people do: work, sleep, work, sleep, work, sleep.


3  If any, what book(s) are you working on now?  Can you reveal any ideas that you haven’t started yet but plan to write?

Well, right now – October 2013 – I’m working on a film treatment of Red or Dead, a short story for Granta’s forthcoming Japan issue, and also preparing and teaching the course in Contemporary Literature which I teach at the University of Tokyo. But in January I’ll go back to finishing the third Tokyo book which I hope will be published in 2015. After that book is done, I then plan to go back to UKDK, which is a novel about Wilson, and forms the last part of a very loose quartet with GB84, The Damned Utd and Red or Dead.


4  Writing fiction I’ve always thought of as similar to being an actor in that you need to ‘get in character’ to create believable protagonists. So on that note, and remembering some of your amazingly diverse characters in your novels, how have you achieved it?  Do you go in to ‘Method’?  And when it’s someone as extreme as say a sex killer or a police high-up, does it affect you emotionally/mentally?

damned unitedYeah, I think you’re right, Rob. And that was why it was such a change and a relief to write about Bill Shankly. I know it sounds very dramatic, but writing about crime in the way I do can be very depressing and draining. But I think that is an inevitable part of the process, if you are going to write about the tragedy and violence of crimes (political ones as well as criminal ones).


5  Tell us how you started your writing career, and are there any moments on this journey which you regard as your Turning Point or Call To Adventure?

Well, I’ve never really viewed it as a career as I’ve just written pretty much every day since I was about eight years old and kept going. But probably moving to Tokyo in 1994, starting what became Nineteen Seventy-four, and then meeting my agent, William Miller, were the major “turning points”. William was both the most important influence and biggest help I’ve ever had in my life, outside of my family, and his death in 2009 was then the lowest point I’ve been through.


6  In the brilliant ‘Red Or Dead’, I’m sure (well, I hope I am) you won’t mind my mentioning the frequent use of repetition within the text…  Has it been well-received or heavily criticised?  Personally, I ‘get it’ and I also think it works very well, especially when hearing extracts recited, plus I think it’s brave and original… would you though like to explain it here to the reader?  Did your editor and/or publisher have any input on this aspect?

red or deadWell, the repetition has come in for a fair amount of criticism, but other people – like your good self – have been more tolerant. Thank you. However, and I think this is worth stressing, I see Red or Dead as a portrait of Bill Shankly. It’s not a photograph, in the way some people might consider a biography to be. It is a novel which I hope is a portrait of Bill Shankly; my “painting with words” of the man. And everything in the book is there to try to illuminate that portrait of Bill Shankly. And the repetition came from things Shankly said himself, and from my own research. It wasn’t just a stylistic tic on my part or an affectation, as some people have suggested. In his retirement, Shankly himself said football was like a river; it was relentless, it went on and on, and there was no stepping out of it. And I think, even as supporters, we know the truth in that and can imagine how very, very much more intense that must be for the people on “the inside”, let alone for someone who was so consumed and obsessed by the game as Bill Shankly was, day in, day out, for every day of his life. And so his words, and then the things he did, the way he lived his life, this was where the repetition came from and is then simply my attempt to show both the rituals and routines of the training and the matches, all the games through all the seasons, and also Bill Shankly’s utter commitment and dedication to both the sport and the supporters, and the sacrifices and struggles he made in order to “make the people happy”. But, of course, Lee and Angus, my editors at Faber & Faber, and other people I trust, were involved in the various drafts of the novel and made different suggestions, too.


7  Of all your books so far, I found ‘GB84’ the heaviest read – I don’t mean physically, that biceps-building honour definitely goes to ‘Red Or Dead’! – can you explain here what research you did, in to such aspects as corruption, industrial and political espionage, the hierarchies of government, the police and the National Union Of Mineworkers?  In light of subsequent developments in the investigations of the police involved with Hillsborough and Orgreave for instance, do you feel that your  observations of so much crookedness at the highest levels will be proven beyond doubt?

Well, if it’s any consolation, Rob, it was the heaviest for me to write, too. I mean, it took a long, long time to research and while that did include interviewing people “from both sides” and usually “off the record”, most of the research was reading through as much as I could find, particularly concentrating on “the Secret State” and its involvement in undermining and bringing down the National Union of Mineworkers.  And as I’ve said before, as I was writing, I just became more and more angry at what had gone on and, at the same time, more and more guilty, because a lot of the violence against the miners, the use of agent provocateurs, for example, was known at the time but ignored, but mainly guilty at not having fully comprehended the sacrifices and suffering that so many, many of the families were going through and just paying “lip service” with my Coal not Dole sticker etc.

But the full extent of the role of “the Secret State”, including the Thatcher government and certain parts of the police, has yet to be fully disclosed and, as with Hillsborough, and also Northern Ireland, there still has yet to be a full reckoning. And for anyone interested in helping to bring about that reckoning, please help and support the Orgreave Truth & Justice Campaign (at otjc.org.uk).


8  As the great Roy Castle often used to sing, we all need Dedication to succeed.  In the case of literature, what else do you think is needed for a writer to really make it?  Have you had the same editor throughout your career, and how important is an editor?

Yes, dedication and patience, determination and practice; you have to write every day, at least something, and if you are stuck, then I still think going back to books and writers you admire, copying out passages, and then re-writing them, is a great exercise and certainly helps me through the less inspired or productive times. But editors are very important, too. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of the best there are; John Williams at Serpent’s Tail, Jon Riley, my original editor at Faber & Faber and still a close friend and someone who still always reads early drafts of my work, Shunichiro Nagashima, my editor in Japan, and Lee Brackstone and Angus Cargill at Faber & Faber. William was also always my first reader and made many very useful editorial suggestions, as does Hamish Macaskill, who took over as my agent after the death of William. And also my father. I think it is very, very important to have people around you whose opinions you trust.


9  Favourite films, music, books, television programmes?  Apart from writing and creating, do you have any hobbies, pastimes, and likes or dislikes?

Ah, that’s too difficult, Rob; too many books, too many films, and too much music. But, for what it’s worth, my favourite book of this year, so far, is Blue is the Night by Eoin McNamee, my favourite film this year is The Place Beyond the Pines, and the best album is You’re Nothing by Iceage. I also enjoy A Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, but mainly I just watch football on the telly and football would be the nearest thing I have to a hobby, although we both know that word hardly does justice to the commitment and time involved!


10  Japan or England?  Please give Pros & Cons comparisons.

Again, very difficult. I like the routine I have in Tokyo, in that it allows me the concentration and discipline I need to write, But I miss my family and friends in Yorkshire. And the beer, the football, and the weather.


11  ‘The Damned United’ novel hit some ‘legal’ obstacles didn’t it?  Care to divulge?  Personally, I regard the film adaptation as very poor and an embarrassing missed opportunity to make a classic British sports film comparable to ‘This Sporting Life’.  What do you think of the film adaptation of your ground-breaking book?

To be honest, I think the so-called controversies and legal issues that surrounded The Damned Utd are probably best left – get me started, Rob, and I don’t stop (as you well know) – but all I will say is, don’t believe everything you read! And yes, in many ways, given the initial discussions about the film, it is disappointing that it wasn’t closer to This Sporting Life (which was the original intention). But that said, the film brought many new readers to the book, and other books I’ve written, and so it would be churlish and ungrateful not to admit that the film helped me a lot.


12  You’re a lifelong Huddersfield Town fan… what are your short and long-term hopes for the club?  Do you manage to keep up to date with their fortunes while you’re in Japan, do you get to any footie matches over there?  I know there have been a few misconceptions about your football allegiances and whatever the opposite of that word is, are there any teams you do detest?  Any individuals in the sport today who you would gladly never see again?

Well, and as you well know, the Championship is a very, very tough division and, so far, Town have already exceeded my expectations for this season; I was pretty sure we would be involved in the proverbial “relegation battle” (though with Town there’s always still time). And, of course, long-term, I would love to see them in the Premier League and with bigger gates. But pragmatically and realistically, I would settle for a couple of solid seasons in the Championship and a play-off place or two in the short term. And yes, I can follow their fortunes from afar but there are no Championship games on Japanese TV and they’ve also cut back on the FA Cup games now, too. But I do see the odd J-League game (as my son follows Urawa here) and also some of the pre-season friendlies when the likes of Arsenal or Manchester Utd come over and also, for example, I was lucky enough to see Barcelona when they were here for the Club World Cup a few years ago. But no, there are no teams I dislike and certainly not Leeds, for example. Of course, there are plenty of folk within the game who I wish were not but mainly men at FIFA, UEFA and the FA.


13  How did you react on hearing of Margaret Thatcher’s demise?  What do you think of Arthur Scargill?  Do you like the royal family?

I think this obsession with particular individuals and personalities distorts and masks the real political conversations and debates we need to have. And so I didn’t feel anything when I heard that Thatcher had died because, for me, it is not her but the idea of Thatcherism and its legacy that is the issue. Don’t celebrate, as Billy Bragg wisely said, organise! The same with Arthur Scargill, though I would say that all he warned would come to pass if the National Union of Mineworkers were defeated proved to be true. Similarly with the Royal Family; I am not interested in them as individuals, but I do believe the abolition of the monarchy is long-overdue.


14  Are you ‘self taught’ or did you study some form of creative writing lessons and the like?  Tell us about your ideas process; is it correct that you write your ideas down on paper and then put them in boxes so as to revisit them at a later date?

Yeah, I am “self-taught” and have never taken any creative writing courses. And so as we discussed earlier, I think it comes down to dedication and practice. But yes, I always have a number of “ideas” for books and, over the years, I chip away at them, doing bits of research and adding notes and so on, and sometimes there are enough pieces of paper that I need a box to put them in and then, when the box is full, that is usually the time I start to write the book.


15  Any personal and professional ambitions?  I am hereby admitting/declaring that your ‘Red Or Dead’ novel has inspired me to write about a favourite footballing ‘saint’ of my own… have you had any direct inspirations from writers too?

Thank you, Rob. And yes, I’ve been directly inspired by writers; James Ellroy and his LA Quartet really helped me to form the ideas that became the Red Riding Quartet, for example. But in terms of personal and professional ambitions, it is always the same one: that the new book is better than the last book.


16  I mean no disrespect or disservice to your ‘Tokyo’ series when I say it’s perhaps your riskiest subject matter in commercial terms (here at least), how has it been received in Japan and what are your plans for the series?

Actually, internationally, the Tokyo Trilogy books are by far the most successful in commercial terms. And the first two books have been well-received in Japan. And as I said before, I’m now working on the third one.


17  Do you try to keep check on sales performances of your books?  And if so, how are they faring and WHERE are they faring?

No, not really in any detail. But as I’ve just said, I’m aware that the Tokyo books sell better abroad than they do in the UK, and that the opposite is true of books such as The Damned Utd and Red or Dead which so far sell much better in the UK than, say, in the States or France.


18  Did you enjoy being the subject on (then) ITV’s ‘South Bank Show’?

Not much, no. Again, I know it can sound churlish or ungrateful, and also that it is very necessary and very useful, but anything to do with television is always the part of the publication of a book which I am most uncomfortable with.


19  What do you find as most enjoyable about the whole writing/publishing process?  Are your achievements paying you well?

The actual writing! And I’ve been lucky enough that, at least for now, I can earn my living doing that (although I also still teach as well, but I enjoy that, too).


20  Finally… my own answer to this question is ‘not a chance while my brain still works well enough’… do you think you have a limit to your fiction output and will you ever retire?

Well, I went through a period around 2009, after William died, when I couldn’t see much further than a twelfth novel. But one of the many things writing Red or Dead taught me is to think very, very carefully before you retire! And so the bad news is, I now plan to keep writing, as you say, “as long as my brain still works well enough.”