Colin Bateman is an author so well-known that he doesn’t need an introduction. In fact, by publisher fiat he doesn’t even need the Colin. His books are published under the single, block-lettered Bateman.
With 24 adult novels and four children’s books - not to mention three films and five BBC series of Murphy’s Law under his belt - it's fair to say that Bateman has something of a literary green thumb. Yet he had never written a play for the stage, until now.
National Anthem, Bateman’s first stage-play, will debut as part of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's. In it two Northern Irish exiles, a poet and a composer, have a day to compose a national anthem for Northern Ireland before the American President arrives.
As the author explains: ‘The government, who sponsored it, are looking for something quite bland and easy-going. But because of these guys backgrounds and the secrets they have, it just doesn’t quite work out like that.'
From the sounds of it, National Anthem might be a difficult play to pigeon hole: is it a political drama, a thriller, the story of a forbidden romance? With Bateman at the helm, one thing is for sure: the satire will be laid on thick.
'It’s a comedy. It’s very dark and it tackles things that have gone on in Northern Ireland over the years. If you haven’t got a dark sense of humour,’ Bateman qualifies impishly, 'then you might find some of it quite disturbing, I suspect.’
Belfast-based Ransom Productions commissioned the play, and Bateman was happy to oblige, although he admits to finding the whole process a little nerve-wracking. With a play, Bateman points out, there’s no-one else involved in the writing process, no-one else to take the fall should the reception be a frosty one. It’s all down to him. ‘It could be the most fantastic experience of my life or a complete nightmare. I’m just waiting on tenterhooks to find out.’
National Anthem, it turns out, isn’t the only arrival that Bateman has been anticipating. His new novel, Dr Yes, was launched at Chillifest on September 11 in Belfast, although some lucky readers got exclusive early copies from No Alibis on Botanic Avenue.
It is only fair, perhaps, since Dr Yes is the latest in the Mystery Man series, which is set in No Alibis. In Dr Yes the Small Shop Keeper With No Name, a more civilized incarnation of the Continental Op, is dealing with impending fatherhood, an influential plastic surgeon and a paranoid crime-writer.
Bateman starts to deny any gory scenes, but then admits that ‘I tell a lie, there’s some very, very gory scenes in it. They’re great fun. They’re really pastiches of crime fiction. It takes all the genre conventions and plays with them and turns them on their head. So I’m having a ball writing them.’
There’s a Hammettian quality to the name Shop Keeper, but who would Bateman say are his influences? After a moment’s thought he name-checks some of the greats, Raymond Chandler and Robert B Parker amongst others, but adds that he’s ‘inspired by people who are good and also by people who are bad'.
If some future author is asked the same question, I think Bateman will make it into the ‘good’ pile. An author, a TV scriptwriter and now a playwright, the only literary medium left for Bateman is poetry. Maybe Seamus Heaney should be keeping an eye out?
National Anthem will be showing at the Grand Opera House as part of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's from October 18-30. Bateman's novels can be purchased from CultureNorthernIreland's Amazon Store.