The Next Big Thing

Great Britain, Reading & Writing

It’s spreading like a virus, or possible a minor rash, but I’ve foolishly agreed to encourage an author round-robin that goes like this…

The Next Big Thing works by getting an author to answer these ten questions on his blog. He then tags five authors to do so the week after. Which presumes the author knows five other writers, let alone five other human beings, which is normally unlikely. According to Guy Adams, tramps scribbling mad notes in cafes count if I’m short, so here goes;

1) What is the working title of your next book?

Jeez, which one? I’ve two awaiting proofs, two awaiting publication and three awaiting an acquisitions meeting. Let’s take the first of the the pair heading for publication (in April), ‘Film Freak’, about which the jacket has this to say;

In the late 1970s, Christopher Fowler, film freak, obsessively watches B-movies in London’s run-down fleapit cinemas. Longing to put his dreams on the screen and become a famous scriptwriter, he heads for Wardour Street, England’s equivalent of Hollywood, with an armful of scripts.
But he’s made a spectacular mistake – arriving just as the industry collapses, crushed by the first appearance of video and the destruction of the old movie palaces. The only British films being made are smutty low budget sex farces, gore flicks and TV spinoffs. Thinking he’d be asked to write another ‘Bullitt’, he finds himself stuck in an era when ‘Holiday On The Buses’ is striking box office gold, and ends up writing sales films for boilers.
Somehow, against the odds, he accidentally finds success as a film freak – although it takes a very different form from the one he was expecting…
Ghastly, hilarious and finally moving, ’Film Freak’ is a trawl through the arse-end of the British film industry that turns into a search for friendship and happiness.

So there you go. A kind of companion to ‘Paperboy’ but not a sequel, with plenty of footnotes about how horrible the seventies were.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Real life, I’m afraid. It’s all painfully true, although setting down one’s memories on paper suggests adopting a system of order, something I’m utterly unable to do. The finished text made the editor laugh a lot, though, which is a good sign.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Everyone knows I can’t stick to genre for more than three days at a time. I’d say this was memoir/ humour/ social history. There, that’s three categories covered. After ‘Film Freak’ there’ll be two stand-alines – a comedy-thriller and a straight thriller, before I plunge back into the world of Bryant & May.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

When I wrote Paperboy the voice artist for the audio book called me to find out what I sounded like, and it was a strange sensation having somebody play me. If it happened again I’d force myself to be played by an amateur Amazon reviewer called E. Clarke, or “Cambusken”, who is clearly a moron, not because he loathed Paperboy but because he got his facts so very wrong. Or Brad Pitt.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A film fan discovers that loving movies and getting one made have nothing at all to do with each other.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m sorry, I’m having to answer the questions as they’re set down. It’ll come from Transworld, who publish my Bryant & May books, and long may they continue (I have to put that because they’re considering two new ones at the moment).

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Like Paperboy, the book assembled itself through readings and essays, bits of chapters, lots of notes, jotted down memories and a connective tissue of researched facts. I still feel I’ve only just begun to mine the parts of my brain that cover this period, and think I’ve subconsciously left out all the parts that were miserable or demeaning. That would be another, more depressing, book.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Clearly Nigel Slater’s ‘Toast’ was an influence on Paperboy, but I think the new volume is partly an antidote to all those film books that think the seventies was a great time for the movies. It wasn’t if you were stuck in London. To quote from the book, ‘What constitutes a British film now? It’s a complex equation of finance deals and creative talent. Once, it meant anything with Sid James in. I turned up just at the beginning of the end for popular English cinema. What I got was a glimpse of a world that has now completely vanished. Having said that, there’s not a huge difference between ‘Lesbian Vampire Killers’ (2010) and ‘Oooh…You Are Awful!’ (1972) in which Dick Emery chases after a bank account number tattooed across four sets of buttocks. They both bombed, funnily enough.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I ran a film company for a quarter of a century. As a consequence I feel that I didn’t ever really have a ‘young’ life; mine was spent working long fretful hours, living in darkened screening rooms, dedicating my days and nights to movies, and I’m only now starting to ask myself why. Why did I do it? What was it for? As Victoria Wood said; ‘Nuns had more fun. At least they got to play billiards.’ This book is partly intended as an exorcism. With all the fun that that entails.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

We talk about cinema in the abstract or from the point of view of fans, we discuss epics and big stars, but few people ever consider the realities of working in the area and failing to get anything made. Britain does not make films anymore, not really. Oh, there are a few interesting small directors but except for a brief period in the 1950s and 1960s we never got to grips with the idea of popular cinema. Most of the films we now consider English aren’t at all. For example, ‘The Full Monty’ is wholly an American film owned by 20th Century Fox, who to this day have never released the director’s cut because they don’t think it’s worth it.

Above all, though, there was another reason for writing this. Our dreams rarely meet our expectations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve failed. There are other ways of winning, and I hope ‘Film Freak’ will show that.

Now, the authors I tag are;

Kim Newman
Forget anyone else’s version of Sherlock Holmes or Dracula, Kim Newman is the game-changer with ‘Anno Dracula’ and ‘Moriarty: The Hound Of The D’Urbavilles’, along with ‘The Bloody Red Baron’ and ‘Dracula Cha Cha Cha’,but even these huge and ridiculously enjoyable reads are only part of the vast joined-up universe Newman creates for his clued-up readers. Warning, though – once you launch into them you may become as addicted as Holmes was to his 7% solution.

Jake Arnott
Having made his name with gangland novels ‘The Long Firm’ and ‘He Kills Coppers’, Jake has flexed his muscles and blossomed into (for me) a far richer writer, from ‘The Devil’s Paintbrush’, about Aleister Crowley’s nights out with Major-General Sir Hector McDonald, to ‘The House of Rumour’ his best work yet, an almost unclassifiable tapestry of occultism and multiple universes that’s demanding and enthralling science fiction.

Graham Joyce
I realise a theme is emerging here, as most of the authors I pick are unclassifiable. Graham Joyce is an anomaly, a multi-award-winning author, and a Yorkshireman in touch with a natural sensitivity rarely found in soft Southerners. His novel ‘The Facts of Life’ should be on everyone’s must-read list. All of his books have a strange other-worldly quality, a little like Jonathan Carroll, but far better. He writes about women and children, dreams and fantasies, and the invisible connections that bind us to the natural world.

Laura Wilson
A crime writer with a direct line to London’s past, Laura is particularly fine at capturing the pleasures and tragedies of post-war Britain. Her Detective Inspector, Ted Stratton of West End Central, gets to investigate real-life cases gently disguised as fiction, and this way Laura can explore the roots of crime and guilt by adding fictional layers to the story. She is by far the best of the writers exploring the lines between true-life crime and fiction, in books like ‘A Willing Victim’ and ‘A Capital Crime’.

Mark Pilkington
Interested in the ways in which myths and disinformation affect society? So is Mark Pilkington, from his book ‘Mirage Men: A Journey into Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs: The Weird Truth Behind UFOs’, which reveals the long history of UFOria and its parallels in little known tales from the murky worlds of espionage, psychological warfare and advanced military technology. But he’s also the publisher and editor of the brilliant ‘Strange Attractor’, a book-sized magazine about which the Guardian says ‘Every one of its pages would pique the curiosity of anyone interested in the unusual’.

3 comments on “The Next Big Thing”

  1. Anne Fernie says:

    I think the best book I read that covered that whole gory 70s period of British film in informative but very funny detail was Mathew Sweet’s ‘Shepperton Babylon’. I recommend it highly (and I don’t know the guy….) and can’t wait for your own version of events…

  2. John Howard says:

    “Our dreams rarely meet our expectations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve failed.” Now thats something to pin up on the wall and take heart from whenever necessary. Who needs Confucius?

    With every little snippet dropped about ‘Film Freak’ my desire to read it NOW just grows and grows…. ( And the others are nudging each other trying to get out I can see )

  3. glasgow1975 says:

    Had no idea the wonderful Devil’s Paintbrush came from the same author of the ‘gritty gay gangster’ sagas that were adapted very well by BBC2 (or was it ch4?)

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