What can our readers expect form your current novel Bring Me the Head of Ryan Giggs?
Well, on the surface it's the story of the least successful player ever for Man United - he plays, once, gets injured and sent off, and never plays again. He becomes obsessed with the most successful player ever - Ryan Giggs - and it goes from there. But really all my books are about how people communicate, particularly how men fail to do that...so it should be interesting reading for both men and women! We need to try to understand each other more, I think.
Where did your inspiration for the book come from?
Did you see The Damned United, the Michael Sheen film a couple of years ago? Well the book that was based on was my inspiration. It looked at the England of the 1970s as a backdrop, using sport as the main story and I thought, hey, I want to do that for the 21st Century. Try to show something interesting about how society has changed since then, and base it around a tragic story. Hopefully mine is a little funnier though. The author of that book, David Peace, is famously pretty grim in his writing whereas I like to break it up a little more.
How difficult was it to blend fact with fiction?
Tough at the start as I hadn't done it before, but I had written novels, and a biography of an artist which was quite unorthodox. So mixing them was fun - I just had to remember what I was presenting as 'real' and what was obviously fantasy. Basically in this book, my character, Mikey Wilson, is totally made up so everything in his life is from my head, with just the historical time period real. The rest of the cast - Ferguson, Beckham, Giggs - they all feature as minor character, and I really enjoyed playing around with what they might or might not have said to Mikey.
Have you always had an interest in football?
In a way I'm the least interested in my whole family, but that's because I grew up in a family pretty obsessed with it. I do love the game - if you didn't, it'd be pretty impossible to write a whole book about it! - but I was always interested in what was going on at the fringes of the action, and if the team lost, it'd never spoil my day. my brother was the opposite. But football did bring my family together - we've had season tickets at United for 60 years, so it's a big family tradition.
Tell us about your background in writing?
I have Glasgow to thank for being a writer. I moved to Scotland in 97 and got involved in the writing community there, lots of live events always seemed to be happening and there were some great living writers who set a fantastic example. I then was tutored by, and mentored by Alasdair Gray, a great Scottish artist and writer who later became my boss, me his secretary. In the end I wrote a whole book about Alasdair which is really about the process of learning to be a writer, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have had so many great teachers. It was a real education, and it gave me the confidence to write and perform the way I do now.
What project do you have lined up next in terms of your writing?
Funny you should ask that, as I just signed the contract for it last night! It's a collection of short stories called LoveSexTravelMusic....and it's about, well, love, sex, travel and music. The stories are set all over the world and it'll be out in May 2013.
How much does your lecturing in creative writing aid your own writing process?
Mostly it helps, as you're continually having to work on the basics, and teaching editing skills to others is the best way of keeping those things at the forefront of your own mind. I think it's mostly a subconscious influence, but it's definitely there. The challenge for most writers at Universities is to find the time to teach and write. But if you can do both, they complement each other well.
How does your role as an associate editor affect your own work?
Like the writing community and the teaching, it's all of a piece as far as I'm concerned. I'm interested in bringing on others who need the help or who are youngewr and are keen to develop their writing. Cargo is a wonderful thing - all the people there are young volunteers, and they achieve incredible things in publishing. My role is to help edit the books and steer the company's direction along with the MD and Editor in Chief but editing the actual books does have an effect on my own writing too. I think that you have to be a keen close reader to be a good writer, and so working on the books of others is a great experience.
You have received many awards for your previous books, how does this make your feel as a writer?
I try to switch off to all that or else your ego can be a hostage to whether people like your work or not. But it does make a difference to your career - winning the Somerset Maugham Award opened a lot of doors for me - so I'd be lying if I said it's a bad feeling! But I've been shortlisted for many more things than I've actually won, so that can be a bit of a let down. Just don't take it too seriously, I say. After all, Van Gogh never sold a painting in his life. So immediate acceptance isn't everything.
What advice can you give our readers who are also aspiring writers?
However much you're reading at the moment, read twice as much. Then double it. Then clear your head, sit down, and begin...
Interview by Lucy Walton