Colin Bateman Reports Back

The celebrated writer revisits his newsroom roots in his latest novel, and looks forward to his Paisley/McGuinness script making it to the big screen

When you’re about to publish your 34th book, you can be forgiven for wanting to shake things up a bit, and Bangor author Colin Bateman is doing just this with his latest offering. Preparing to launch his new novel, Papercuts, on February 10, Bateman has a new publisher, a new publishing style and has swapped crime for a bustling Bangor newsroom. 

Available from February 11, Papercuts is a departure from the author's usual writing style in that it consists of eight short stories, all featuring the same characters. Readers can subsequently purchase it as a hardback book, or download each story as an e-book – either individually, or as an entire novel.

'It’s something different,' says Bateman. 'You get to the point where you have so many books, you need to shake things up a bit and remind readers you’re still out there. People have so many options for entertainment these days and books sometimes get a little neglected. So, you can try one of these stories and see if you like it. You can consume it any way you choose.'

Paper Cuts

Based in the fictional Bangor Express, Papercuts centres on Guardian journalist Rob Cullen, who flies home for the funeral of his former editor. He ends up staying behind to do a day’s work at the now flailing paper however, and soon finds himself reporting on everything from armed robberies to arson attacks.

Well known for his crime fiction, Bateman was previously named one of the top 50 crime writers of all time by the Daily Telegraph. He started his writing career however, as a cub reporter at the County Down Spectator, so journalism is where he cut his teeth. And thus while Papercuts is entirely fictional, and a digression from his more well trodden literary path, it’s undoubtedly informed by a legitimate chapter of his working life.

'I’ve been writing crime for a long time,' says Bateman. 'I felt I needed a bit of a break, so I deliberately decided to step away from crime fiction last year. I’ve been doing more in the way of screenwriting.

'One of the things I did in the last few years was Scúp, which was two [television] series set in a weekly newspaper in West Belfast. This brought me back to the newspaper world and meant I had lots of material for that, some of which was used and some which wasn’t.

'Authors are like magpies – if something doesn’t get used somewhere, you can use it somewhere else. Because I shifted to doing screenwriting, I just started working on adapting one of the scripts into a short story and found I really enjoyed it.'

Already in the process of switching to new publisher Head of Zeus, Bateman knew they were enthusiastic about e-books and suggested publishing the story this way. Having liked what they had read, the firm then asked Bateman for more of the same, and so Papercuts was born.

'I’ve been stopped by quite a few people in Bangor asking if I’m writing about the Spectator, but it’s all fictional,” he says. 'When I was working there in my late teens, it was an entirely different culture. But I drew on my experiences.

'It’s an easy to read book, and quite funny. And there are still crimes in Papercuts, because I’m dealing with all that the newspaper deals with, but small-scale crime.'

Aside from Papercuts, Bateman is also looking forward to the imminent release of The Journey – a film he wrote about Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness. Currently in post-production, the fictional journey of the title is used to portray the relationship between the two, showing how they come together to forge an alliance. Timothy Spall plays Paisley, while Colm Meaney takes the role of McGuinness, with John Hurt also part of the cast.

'It all went very well and I’m pleased with it,' says Bateman. 'I’m really looking forward to seeing that with an audience. It’s definitely a movie for the cinema, but it’s very complicated getting movies out there, so it’ll probably go down the festival route as a small, independent release, and hopefully it will pick up some interest.

'Although I’ve been working in TV quite a lot in the last few years, I haven’t been in the movie business and The Journey came about really through fate.'

The Journey

Timothy Spall as Ian Paisley and Colm Meaney as Martin McGuinness in The Journey

Indeed, in 1999, one of Bateman’s previous novels, Empire State, attracted the interest of a New York director, Nick Hamm, who thought it would make a fantastic film. He’d only read the blurb however, says Bateman, and when he’d finished the book, he retracted his comments, describing it as 'too politically incorrect.'

'That was my last real dealing with the movie business until the summer before last, when I got an email from my agent saying this Hollywood director had a pitch for a movie about the relationship between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness,' he says. 'It was Nick Hamm - the same director who had spoken to me 17 years ago. I went out and met him and we got on like a house on fire. 

'It’s very relevant to today’s world. Even the most extreme enemies can get past a real hatred and forge bonds that can literally change a country. From my point of view, it’s a departure from the crime writing – it’s very much a serious drama. I’ve also just moved on to a new movie script from the same team, which I hope to make later this year.'

Meanwhile, Bateman’s one-woman play, Bag for Life, will take to the stage at The Playhouse in Derry-Londonderry in April, before touring in August/September. He’s certainly not a writer to rest on his laurels but then, that would be the journalist in him.

'Up to about the age I was when Divorcing Jack came out, I would have said ‘no’ to everything,' he says. 'But as I got more experienced, I started saying ‘yes’ to everything. I have confidence in my writing now. I’m not saying I could do everything well, but I’ll make an attempt at it. I enjoy the variety.

'So much of it goes back to being in The Spectator and the opportunities I got there. You don’t always appreciate it at the time, but I had tremendous freedom to write what I wanted to write.'

'Also, when you write a story as a journalist you then go on to the next story, and that’s always what I’ve brought to writing fiction. It’s a job you love doing, but you have to do the work every day. I’ve always had that discipline. If I’m writing a novel, I’ll always write a chapter a day. I don’t think my books would be any better if I took longer over them…'

Papercuts launches at Space Theatre in Bangor on Wednesday, February 10 at 7pm, in association with Open House Festival. The book is available to buy on hardback from February 11 from all good bookshops, and to download from Amazon and other online distributors.