I am delighted and not a little relieved to finally release brief details of my next movie project.
Provisionally entitled ‘Solider, Soldier’ it centres on the rehabilitation of a British Muslim soldier who loses both legs as well as his best mate in an IED incident in Afghanistan and touches on all kinds of issues ranging from family loyalties to the problems faced by Muslims fighting in the British Army.
The script has been written by myself with additional writing by my old friend Clare Perry and is being produced by Rakha Singh who made ‘The Killing of John Lennon’. The awesome David Blair who made the brilliant ‘Accused’ series for the BBC will direct.
We are currently looking at casting but former Eastenders star Ace Bhatti will play the lead role and since the plan is to film in Bradford, we have been lucky enough to secure an agreement from local MP George Galloway to play a cameo role.
Financing is well under way and I will of course release more details as and when I can.
BTW, continued thanks to all of you who are keeping The Crew at number 1 in both the Amazon and iTunes football charts. It’s held the top slot for pretty much 8 solid months now and that’s entirely thanks to you lot.
Work on the third book in the trilogy will commence as soon as Wings of a Sparrow is complete and that won’t be long now. Honest guv.
I’ve posted this as a page on my blog but thought it might be useful to post it as a standard blog as I know some people have connections set up.
So what follows is the text of an as yet unpublished interview I gave to a journalist just yesterday (Jan 9th 2012)! I’ve posted it simply because it provides reasonable answers to many of the questions I receive on a fairly regular basis.
I hope you enjoy it but if you have a question of your own, please don’t hesitate to mail me. Oh, and it’s quite long!
How and why did you become a writer?
I fell into it by accident really and it was certainly not an aspiration or anything like it! I had left the Royal Air Force after 18 years as an engineer and was ‘working’ as an extra on TV and in films. EURO 96 was on the horizon and I was on set filming an episode of Casualty for the BBC when the idea came to write a book about my experiences following football. That book eventually became ‘Everywhere We Go’ and it really was a case of right book, right time.
The rest as they say, is history.
How do you get your ideas?
In the early days, they were driven by the readership as I thought they would be. That’s why I wrote follow-on books about local derbies, England and the London clubs (all of which are now out in eBook format).
After that, I moved into fiction which largely came about as a result of an approach from the TV writer Lynda La Plante who wanted me to write something for one of her series and from that point on, I’ve tended to write about things which either interest me or which I am passionate about. Given the way I write and the fact that much of my work revolves around my own opinions, I think it’s vital to take that approach.
How long does it typically take you to write a book?
How long is a piece of string? I actually write fairly quickly but there are all kinds of things which impact on how long a book will take to complete. However, I usually aim to have a first draft of a full-length book completed in two to three months although I actually wrote the second half of my novel Top Dog in under ten days and some people say that’s amongst my best ever stuff!
How do you write?
I’d like to tell you that I have a very clearly defined routine which involves writing at least 5000 words a day or a straight 8 hours at the keyboard but the truth is that I am horrifically ill disciplined and it doesn’t take much to distract me if I’m not very careful. Twitter for example, can keep me occupied for hours which is quite pathetic and if I know that there’s an old movie on telly it’s game over!
I actually had to sell my beloved motorbike because if the sun was shining I’d be out on the road, deadline or no deadline!
However, if I’m in the mood I’ll sit down and simply write for as long as I can and that can be anything from 2 to 20 hours in a day. All I need is tea, food and very loud soul or jazz funk music to keep me going but make no mistake, it’s bloody hard work sometimes.
So why do it?
Well it’s actually quite a decent way to earn a living! After all, I don’t even have to get dressed most days and you can’t say that about many jobs!
More seriously, writing can also provide a real buzz especially when I get in the zone and the words just come pouring out without me having to think too about them. Whilst writing ‘The Art of Fart’ for example, I was having so much fun that I actually had to keep stopping because I’d be giggling so much I’d get tears in my eyes.
It’s also fair to say that I derive a huge amount of pleasure from interacting with readers. That’s actually a huge part of it for me because having someone tell you that they like a particular book kind of makes all those hours at a desk worthwhile if only because it proves I’m doing something right!
You seem to have written books in pretty much every format there is which is quite rare amongst authors. Why did you branch out from non-fiction?
Simply because having written four books with my brother, I wanted to do my own thing. The problem was, I didn’t really know what and so I wrote a comedy book called ‘The Geezers Guide to football’ and then a couple of thrillers before going back into non-fiction. Now I’ve written another comedy book and my next project is also more humour so maybe that’s where I’ll settle. Who knows?
Where do your ideas come from?
Two places, my warped imagination and the market. Whenever I talk to writers I always tell them that if they want to write for publication it is absolutely vital that they get to know who their target readership will be, research what they are reading and then write something to suit.
That might sound mercenary but it’s exactly what a publisher will do when they’re deciding if a submission is right for them so why not make the process easier for yourself?
In my case, my target readership is lads and as a lad myself (albeit an older version!) I understand that we’re basically simple creatures who know what we like to read and more importantly, how we like to read. I try to give them what they want, it really is as simple as that. Thankfully, it seems to be working!
However, don’t get the impression that I take my readership be they real or potential for granted because I don’t. As a professional author my readership is my livelihood and if I don’t keep them entertained, I’ll starve!
How much time do you spend on research?
That depends on the project. When I was writing non-fiction football stuff it was a 24/7 operation because football culture was and remains a constantly moving beast. Thankfully, I had loads of good contacts who kept me supplied with information and to be fair, I couldn’t have written half as much as I have done without their help.
For the fictional and comedy stuff, research hasn’t ever really been an issue because I’ve been able to draw on personal experiences. If you’ve read ‘Billy’s Log’ I’ll come clean and say that it’s very much an amalgamation of my own life and that of my mate who will remain nameless!
So are all of your fictional characters based on real life?
God yes! Everyone in every novel I’ve written has been based on someone real be they family, mates or even celebrities. I ever based one character on my local newsagent!
Character creation is actually a really important part of my writing process because once I have the outline nailed down, the next stage for me is to fully construct the people I will be writing about and that starts with three things; their name, their face and their voice. After all, to all intensive purposes that character is a real person with a real history and real problems of their own and so you have to know what they will look and sound like! But equally, if you’re going to put them through something you have to understand exactly how they will react and what they will be thinking at that moment and all of that has to be built up.
That’s so much easier to do if you use a real life base-line to work from not least because if you’re struggling, you can actually ring them up and chat to them or even stick something on YouTube to give you a feel of them. It’s amazing how simply hearing someone’s voice can help you work through something. It certainly does it for me!
So what other writing tricks do you use?
Music is fundamental to my writing because I can’t write without it. But it can’t be any music, it has to be the right music. As a result, before I start work on a new project I’ll spend ages picking the right album or tracks which I put together as a playlist on iTunes. That becomes the soundtrack and it’ll be on repeat throughout the writing process.
It fairly quickly becomes almost hypnotic and I soon find that I’m able to switch in and out of a project simply by pausing the music which is an awesome thing to be able to do. The downside is that once I finish the project, I can’t listen to any of those tracks again without instinctively starting to type!
Your novels The Crew and Top Dog are two fast paced and very tightly plotted thrillers. How much work did you do in advance?
Ah….. well I actually spent a huge amount of time on these two books but the funny thing about them is that in both cases I wrote the endings first. You see I knew I wanted specific twists within the last few pages and once I had those straight in my mind I had to commit them to paper. The rest of the book was about how I took the reader to that point.
Judging by the fact that The Crew is frequently ranked at #1 in the kindle download charts for football books and is still receiving good reviews over ten years since it was first published, it clearly worked!
So why the move into comedy?
My dad was an entertainer and comedian so I think comedy is in the genes! Truth to tell, I love writing humour more than anything else although in real life, I’m desperately unfunny bordering on grumpy!
You spent a long time in the Royal Air Force. Will life in uniform ever feature in your future work? Or would you ever consider writing your autobiography?
I have a couple of ideas but at the moment, that’s all they are. I have a list of 3 or 4 books ahead of those.
As for my autobiography, it’s an idea that has cropped up a few times in recent years but the honest answer is that if I did write it, I doubt anyone would actually believe it because it would be like a bizarre version of Forest Gump! As anyone who knows me is aware, I’m one of those people ‘things’ happen to!
For example, I was quite possibly the first person in the west to know about the Chernobyl disaster! But if I tell you how, I’ll possibly have to kill you!
As a professional author, do you enjoy the part of your job which doesn’t involve writing?
I love the promotional aspect of writing and do everything I can to sell my books and spread the word about what an ex-editor once called ‘Brand Brimson’.
I also like to talk to writing groups whenever I’m asked but that’s about it really. I don’t get invited to literary functions and have never been anywhere near a literary festival of any kind.
I’m not really sure why that is but hey, that’s the literary world for you. It’s never made much sense to me.
I’ve been writing for 15 years now and one thing I’ve learned is that there are a huge number of people involved in publishing who fail to grasp the idea that the most important person in the whole process is the reader.
So does that explain why you were once quoted as saying that you’re not at the bottom of the literary ladder, you’re one of the rubber bungs underneath? What did you mean by that?
I made that comment during an interview in which I was asked about the genre of ‘hoolie-lit’ which in case you don’t know was the label tagged on to those of us who wrote books about the subject of football hooliganism.
Anyway, the point I was making that in spite of the fact that as a genre it spawned something like 60 books the bulk of which were by first time authors, drew loads of people back into reading and made a small fortune for various publishers and bookshops, no one involved has ever received any recognition let alone credit from within the literary world for what happened. Quite the opposite in fact, we just get looked down upon.
It still pisses me off to be honest. But that’s literary snobbery for you.
It’s well documented that your involvement in the Elijah Wood movie Green Street Hooligans did not go too smoothly. There have been various versions of the story but you have never really given your side of things. Would you like to take this chance to explain what really went on?
The brief version is that the director and I had a difference of opinion. She thought she knew everything and I knew she didn’t. Sadly, in the end I was forced to give up on it and walk away but the finished item kind of proves I was right because whilst it’s ok, it could have been so, so much better. That’s women for you.
Will you do more movies?
I certainly hope so!
I actually have a few screenplays on the production treadmill at the moment and would hope to do more in the future but I learnt an awful lot working on Green Street so won’t make any of the same mistakes I made there. I hope not anyway!
How did you secure your first publishing deal?
My brother and I had been writing some draft material and in the end, I walked into WH Smiths, took a book and wrote to the publishers asking if they would be interested.
That publisher was Headline and within a week or so they wrote back asking for some material and so I sent them some. They quickly came back asking for more and after two or three times I told them that if this carried on they’d have the whole book anyway so they best tell me if they wanted it or not. They wrote back and said they did and that was it.
It was only some years later that I realised how lucky we were and that it doesn’t generally happen like that!
How did you find your agent?
I don’t have an agent! Oddly, in spite of having 14 books published I’ve never been able to find one who wants to take me on so I’ve basically given up looking now. However, if anyone wants the job, I’d be happy to talk to them!
What tips would you give to aspiring writers?
The single most important piece of advice I would give them is this; if you can’t take criticism, don’t do it. Reviews can be brutal but so can reading or hearing simple feedback and if you think that you will struggle with someone slagging off your work, don’t put yourself in the firing line.
After that, it’s the basics. Write what you know, know your market, join writing groups, etc, etc. But above all, enjoy it! If you don’t, how can you expect your readers to?
What was your worst ever review?
Time out in London reviewed my first book ‘Everywhere We go’ thus: Everywhere We Go…. yeah right. Fuck off.
And your best?
I can’t remember the actual book but one of the English broadsheets (The Times I think) once called me ‘the hooligan’s pornographer-in-chief’ which I thought was quite cool. It’s certainly going on my gravestone!
Actually, the best reviews and in truth the only ones that really count are those from readers. I’m very lucky there and appreciate them all (but please, keep posting them!!)
If someone wanted to get a feel for your writing, which of your books would you recommend?
That would depend on who they were and especially what sex!
I do have a soft spot for my novels and to be honest, of all the books I’ve written ‘Billy’s Log’ is a personal favourite because it still makes me laugh. Indeed, I’m going to bow to pressure and write the sequel later this year.
What books do you read?
Autobiographies are a favourite of mine together although I steer clear of footballers and anyone under 40! I recently re-read Joan Simms book which is brilliant and very funny.
I also read military non-fiction and there is a book about the bombing raids on Port Stanley during the Falklands war called ‘Vulcan 607’ which is a particular favourite as I was there!
You have recently made the switch over to epublishing. How did that come about and how is it working?
I was approached by a company called the ebookpartnership.com who wanted to know if I would be interested in putting selected books from my backlist online.
I didn’t really know much about the process at that point but had a couple of titles which I knew I had the electronic rights to and so handed them over, more as a test than anything else. The reaction was amazing and now I have 12 of my backlist available to download. Two of those, ‘The Crew’ and ‘Everywhere We Go’ are actually free and although I was reluctant to do this at first, it has worked out astonishingly well as the ratio of sell-through purchases has been brilliant.
Is it working? Well I suddenly have full control over what I write and when I write it and it all happens at the speed I want it to happen as opposed to having to fit in with a publisher’s schedule. So hell yes! I’m a convert. So much so that I actually wrote ‘The Art of Fart’ specifically to release to the online market.
Tell us about ‘The Art of Fart’.
As anyone who has read the opening chapter on Amazon will know, it’s yet another book which has its roots in my own life! After all, when you grow up in a house of 8, 6 of whom are male, farting is going to feature quite heavily!
But in all seriousness, it’s just a bit of fun. It was certainly hilarious to write!
So what’s next?
I’m currently working on another novel, this time a comedy about football and then I may well write the sequel to ‘Billy’s Log’ which I already have mapped out.
However, if life has taught me one thing it’s that it never runs smoothly so who knows? I just hope I’m around to find out!
I don’t really know where to begin with this. Like many people I am both furious and dismayed by the scenes I have witnessed on my television over the last few days.
Equally, I am disgusted by the attempts of supposedly intelligent people to try to justify the riots as some kind of legitimate rebellion against the government. What total and utter bollocks. There is no excuse and there never can be. Because the root causes of these riots lie in the breakdown of the values that this country was founded on; family, respect, right and wrong. It really is as simple as that.
As I wrote yesterday (and as the deputy leader of the Met and the Home Secretary repeated about 12 hours later) all of those involved are sons, daughters, brothers, neighbours, etc. Where on earth did some of these mothers think their children were at that time of night? And when they did eventually crawl home, where did they think they had been?
But equally, the lack of respect for the forces of law and order sends shivers down my spine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of the old bill generally (a sentiment forged by years of football and motoring experiences) but they have a tough job to do and deserve our admiration. However, it was clear from what I saw last night that they are obviously not getting it from sections of the community who clearly thought that not only were they untouchable, but that they would never get caught.
Hopefully, with so many cameras on our streets and many already in custody, the majority of them will not only be named and shamed, but hauled before the courts and dealt with to the full extent of the law. However, this does not deal with the most pressing issue.
When people are involved in what amounts to civil disorder, I, as a citizen of this once great country, want the police to wade in and batter those responsible. Not for revenge but to let them know that if they don’t fuck off and sharpish, they are actually going to get hurt.
Sadly, like the military in such situations the police are governed by the rule of minimum force. For the police, what this actually means is that they can use whatever force they feel necessary in a situation but they must be confident that they can justify this in a court of law.
Now as we have seen all too often, that is an incredibly restrictive rule because the risks are immense. And clearly, over the last few nights, we have seen the impact of that with police holding back when the obvious (and possibly best) thing to do would be to wade in and batter a few people to show force and intent to those causing mayhem.
I don’t know about you, but I want to see that rule relaxed in certain situations. It’s not about revenge or anything like it but it is about the protection of the law-abiding individual and their property. That can only happen if we allow the police to actually uphold the rule of law by taking whatever steps are necessary in such situations and if they could do that, then we wouldn’t need to be screaming blue murder for water cannon or the Army.
Because the truth is that the bulk of people involved in these riots –like all people involved in such riots- are cowards and the knowledge that they might well end up on the receiving end of a few batons courtesy of the thin blue line would almost certainly be enough to make them behave.
Not so long ago, someone contacted me and suggested that I should consider writing my autobiography.
Primarily because I doubt anyone would actually be interested in what passes for my life let alone the fact that hopefully, I’m only half way through my time amongst you mere mortals, I initially dismissed this idea. However, it did get me thinking about some of the things that have happened to me over the years because it’s fair to say that I am one of those people that ‘things’ seem to happen to.
Of course ‘things’ covers a multitude of sins and whilst it is fair to say that many of my experiences over the years are by my own design (and for that read ‘fault’), others seem to be guided by exterior forces. Indeed, I’ve long believed myself to be little more than a Subbutteo man being flicked around by some other entity for their own amusement.
Now whilst this has made my life thus far extremely interesting, there is an inherent problem attached to being someone who experiences ‘things’ and that is that when I look back on them, I do occasionally struggle to believe that some of them actually happened at all. And if I struggle, how on earth could I relate the tale to anyone else and expect them to believe it?
What makes it worse is that often, these ‘things’ involve detailed and quite lengthy explanations. Many of which are themselves of such a bizarre nature that they themselves, fall into the ‘are you sure?’ category.
For example, I know exactly why and how a very famous gravestone was liberated from it’s ‘home’ and ended up crossing the channel but the whole tale is so outlandish (not to mention hilarious) that if I were to relate it in a bar full of lads, I’d be marked down as a simple bullshitter.
Others however, are similarly bizarre yet more easily explainable but the sheer quantity and variety are certainly beyond the scale any normal person would expect to endure in a normal lifetime and would, if committed to print, indicate that I am some kind of Forrest Gump figure and I’m not sure I fancy that tag!
So for now at least, the idea of an autobiography will remain firmly on the back burner. However, in the interests of fair play, what follows are a selection of facts about my life all of which have tales attached to them and which if nothing else, might go some way toward explaining why I have ended up as I have!
I’ve only ever been arrested once and that was for theft of my own property from my own motor vehicle (!). I have however, been arrested twice on ‘The Bill’
I was almost certainly the first person in the west to know about the Chernobyl disaster (it’s an RAF thing)
I once ended up in court as a defence witness in a case against someone who was accused of assaulting me (think about it for a second)
I’ve seen not one, but three planes crash.
I have stood inside the remains of a building which is possibly the most evil place on earth.
I was booked on the ‘Spirit of Free Enterprise when it sank outside Zeebrugge but cancelled the trip at the last minute.
I’ve had numerous experiences of the ghostly kind over the years!
I once had a German policeman point a gun at my forehead and switch the safety catch to ‘off’
I’ve had two mates die in front of me. Both as a result of motorbikes.
I’m afraid of heights. And by afraid, I mean terrified.
I once stole a parrot.
I inserted 14 things into Green Street which are either ‘in-jokes’ or refer to something very personal and they all made it onto the screen. Some will forever remain a secret. I also put some into Top Dog and We Still Kill The Old Way.
I used to sell condoms for a living.
I was once trapped in my car for 24 hours during a snow storm.
I’ve been a guest at Buckingham Palace three times.
I’ve flown a Harrier jump jet. A real one, not a simulator!
I have never taken, sniffed or smoked any kind of illegal substance!
I appear in the James Bond movie, Goldeneye and once had a screen test as a potential presenter of ‘Top Gear’
I have only been a best man once and that was at a same sex wedding (and it was brilliant!)
Phew……! And that’s only a few of the ones I can tell you about!!!
*As you might have noticed, I have updated this from the original which was first published in 2010!*
Like many people, I am at my happiest when I’m sitting down and doing bugger all. There is, as I’m sure you’ll agree, something incredibly gratifying about doing nothing.
Indeed, it is fair to say that these days, having passed the magic five-zero, the avoidance of work, be it paid or domestic, doesn’t just give me huge amounts of pleasure, it’s actually a source of pride. Something that the half built brick barbecue in my back garden stands as a monument to.
I actually first grasped the concept of idleness whilst serving in the Royal Air Force. For having worked hard for years and got nowhere, I suddenly realised that all of my immediate bosses were lazy so-and-so’s who were getting all the praise –and wages- while mugs like me did all the graft. However, in the forces, it’s not regarded as being idle, it’s celebrated as delegation. And once I embraced that idea, with both hands I might add, I pretty soon found myself flying up that promotion ladder.
Tragically, outside the confines of HM Forces, things weren’t so easy. I soon learnt that being expected to actually work for a living wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. And I could never escape the idea that someone was driving around in a Aston Martin which I had paid for. I wasn’t happy with that at all, hence, the move into writing. It was the only occupation I could think of which allowed me to work from home, for myself and remain sitting down all day.
Of course, I quickly discovered that being a writer does have other advantages. The most obvious of which was that I was able to justify my love of lounging around as either ‘thinking time’ or ‘clearing my head’ time. Both things for which, somewhat ironically, daytime TV is perfectly suited. After all, I have to get inspiration from somewhere. And if you watch This Morning long enough, sooner or later, every known form of life is going to pass by in front of your eyes. Watch MTV and you’re mind goes blank in minutes.
Sadly, my wife has always been wise to this. And as time passes, and her life as a full-time mother, housewife and carer to her husband shows no sign of easing up, she is becoming increasingly irritated at my pathetic attempts to justify watching Sky Sports or reading Zoo at times when I should be working.
And, it is fair to say that for a while, I started to feel a degree of sympathy for her case. Because the truth is, I have never really been inspired by either The Real Deal or Loose Women. And although the gloriously wonderful Holly Willoughby merits a fantasy-laden mention in my next movie, I hardly need to watch This Morning every day.
However, recently I have had not one, but two odd experiences. Both of which made me realize that not only might my pangs of guilt be misplaced, but that maybe my commitment to time wasting has not been in vain.
The first of them happened in Manchester. I had ventured North for some reason or another and was returning to the sanctuary of the South when, upon my arrival at Piccadilly Station, I was greeted by the stench and noise that can only be created by that relic of the so-called good old days, a steam engine. Of course, realizing that such a machine was in residence, my heart sank. For I knew exactly what was coming and sure enough, as I walked around the corner, I couldn’t see the beast for the hoards of middle-aged saddo’s pointing and muttering excitedly about piston sizes and boiler pressures. These weren’t your ordinary feeble part-time trainspotters you see standing on the platform at Euston with a notepad in one hand and a flask of tea in the other. These were the real deal hard-core spotters of the type who wear sleeveless anoraks covered in small metal badges and smell of meths. But as I watched what was going on, in a kind of detached bewilderment, it struck me as decidedly odd that in this day and age, not only could grown men be whipped up into an almost orgasmic frenzy by the sight of a simple machine, but that they would want to be.
Then, two weeks later, for reasons to banal to relate, I had to endure a day at an old RAF airfield in Gloucestershire. As we were having a coffee in a café in the control tower, I happened to notice a group of elderly chaps in stained overalls, sitting in the corner and arguing over an old book. Being naturally nosey (it goes with the job) I soon learnt that they were aircraft enthusiasts in the middle of restoring an old De Haviland Comet. And they were having a heated discussion about the markings on a particular fuse box. Believe it or not, the book they were using contained the actual manufacturers drawings. It was a picture of tragedy.
Reflecting on this and the Manchester experience as I headed homeward, the thought suddenly struck me that not only were all the people involved in the fuse box debate men, but that you never see any female trainspotters. And then I began to consider the possibility that maybe something else was going on. Maybe the people who indulge in these most unfathomable of practices do so not because they’re sad loners, but because it’s something to do with their spare time. And why on earth would anyone need to fill time? Isn’t it obvious?
These poor men aren’t sad, they’re victims. Driven out of their own homes by bitter women who refuse to sit back and allow them the luxury of enjoying their hard earned time-off in the comfort of their own homes. Think about it. It makes perfect sense. I mean, why else would blokes have sheds? They’re the only space in the house that they can call their own!
So, having deliberated over this at length, I have decided that rather than feel guilty about being idle, the fact that I am able to spend most of my time here in my own home at all should be regarded as a moral victory. And while it might not appear that I’m doing much, at least I’m happy which is the most important thing.
My wife may not like that, but maybe if I explain it to her just one more time………