Like many writers Colin Bateman began his working life as a journalist. This was in his native Northern Ireland. He still lives there and has a string of big-screen movies to his credit, together with three successful TV series – Murphy’s Law – which featured Ulster actor Jimmy Nesbitt; a string of best-selling novels and a number of books for children. An 8-part TV series starts shooting next month and it’s being shot entirely in Irish.
I began by asking Colin what tips he had for aspiring writers?
Many people dream about writing, but never actually get round to doing the hard work – everyone can spend a night or two at it, but then quickly they tend to get lazy and give up. You need a certain amount of talent, but you also need to be able to stay the distance. The secret is to do a little bit, but make sure you do it every day or night. It will soon build up as you get into your stride.
What changes have you noticed in the writing/publishing business since you started?
It hasn’t really changed that much - the top authors are still responsible for a huge percentage of the sales; and every once in a while there’s a phenomenon – from Bridges of Madison County to Harry Potter and the current 50 Shades of Grey.
You have a light, breezy writing style. I suspect its natural – but do you have to work at it?
Of course I do. I think it’s all about the editing I do, which I used to do a lot when I was a journalist. Elmore Leonard had a famous piece of writing advice: try and leave out the bits that readers tend to skip over. Never a truer word!
I mentioned in a recent blog how I bought some quality hardcover books by leading authors, including a brand new copy of your The Day of the Jack Russell, recommended retail price £19.99, for £2.99. What do you think of this growing trend and how do you think it will affect you and the publishing business in general in the future?
Publishers will try and make a buck wherever they can – if they’re left with a pile of full price books that haven’t sold, and someone comes along and offers them 50p a copy, of course they’ll take it rather than destroy them. Then the guys who buy them for 50p sell them on for three quid, and still make a couple of quid per book. It’s a business. It’s never nice to see your book going for so little, but tis the way of the world.
Could you describe a typical working day/week for you?
I’m in my study five days a week, 9-5. Not writing all the time, but because I was a journalist I’m used to writing quickly. And, like a journalist, I can be working on lots of different projects at once, so I like to divide my writing up into weeks. So I might get a week or two to concentrate on a book, then switch to a TV script or a screenplay or take meetings. It’s nice to be able to mix it all up.
Have you a favourite among your own books and who is your favourite character?
Oh, I don’t know really. Dan Starkey, the journalist who started out in Divorcing Jack, is the easiest to write because I know him so well. Mystery Man, who’s been in four books, started out as quite easy to write but has become progressively harder. The book I’ve just finished, The Prisoner of Brenda, may be his last. My favourite book, probably because it is the least known, is ‘Mohammed Maguire’. It has been out of print for about ten years, but hopefully it will be coming back next year.
What other authors do you read?
I’ve been so busy writing these past few years that I’ve neglected my fiction reading in favour of history and biography – slowly getting back to it now. I like the work of Robert Harris very much. I re-read Fatherland, his first big hit, recently and didn’t enjoy it as much as I remembered – but I think his books have gotten a lot better in the past few years.
How hard do you work to publicise your books and how do you go about it?
I’m active on Facebook, more recently on Twitter, but beyond that I leave it to the publicity people. But I should do more. My website is badly out of date.
No more Murphy, that’s pretty definite. (See Jimmy Nesbitt (left) as Murphy) Otherwise I’m always writing TV scripts, but the hit rate (for any scriptwriter) is very low indeed. I do have an 8 part series shooting next month – but entirely in Irish!
How do you view the rise of the e-book and readers like Kindle? Can you see a future without hardbacks?
No, I think there will always be hardbacks and paperbacks; the Kindle is just another way to read a book. The problem is that everyone can put a book out on the Kindle irrespective of quality, so people trying it for the first time will see a new cheap or free book, download it, realise it’s not very good, and so go straight back to buying the authors they always did. The bestselling book authors are still the bestselling Kindle authors.
Finally, what are you currently writing and what have you lined up longer term?
I’ve started a new book (under wraps!) and have been working on a TV version of my book ‘I Predict A Riot’, which is called ‘The Devil Wears Primark’. The script was commissioned by the BBC, so it’s up to them now whether they make it!