Crime writer, screenwriter, children's author – Bangor's finest delivers words of wisdom in Ballycastle
It’s a mizzling, foggy evening to follow a rather drizzly day, but the trip to Thyme & Co in Ballycastle on the North Coast this particular evening is well worth it, as crime author extraordinaire, Colin Bateman, has come to wind up a 35-date tour of Northern Ireland.
As Bateman admits, this evening is 'a little bit of an odd one' for him, as the acclaimed Bangor-born author has been visiting schools up and down the country of late, not cosy cafes. But his final outing is open to adults and children alike, so we’ve shut the door on the drizzle and are ready to soak up his particular literary wisdom.
The name's Bateman, not Batman, as he reminds the children… Having penned more than 30 books to date, as well as scripts for film and television – including the James Nesbitt-fronted Murphy’s Law and well-received feature Divorcing Jack – Bateman admits that he has already fulfilled his lifetime's ambition.
'It’s absolutely my dream come true,' he says. 'When I was younger, I had two dreams – become a writer and play centre forward for the best football team in the world, Liverpool. Well, that one hasn’t come true. Yet.'
Explaining to his younger audience members that when he was growing up there were just three channels to watch on television, Bateman recalls turning to reading instead. His favourite book was The Lord of the Rings – 'one of those books you read under the covers at night, with the torch on'. The problem was, it ended.
'If you find something you love, you don’t want it to end,' Bateman observes. 'I knew the author [JRR Tolkien] was dead, so I started writing stories about the characters from Lord of the Rings so they would live on and have other adventures.'
Marvel Comics also had a hand to play in Bateman's formative literary experiments, as he was too impatient to wait from month to month for the next comics to arrive. 'I got around this by writing stories about the superheroes. That’s really where the seed was planted – when I knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.'
As for his young audience, Bateman wants to know how many of them read regularly. A few hands go up, but a few more shoot up fast when Bateman asks who prefers Playstation and the like. He shares a canny secret.
'There is one thing that games and the movies and TV have in common, and that’s that they all start with a writer,' Bateman declares. 'Without a writer coming up with the idea in the first place, there is no game. Everything we do with entertainment these days starts with the writer.'
So, what does it take, then, to become a successful writer? That, says Bateman, comes from 'a combination of doing the work and having a little bit of good fortune'. Bateman, of course, is proof of this theory. He shares his journey from cub reporter at the County Down Spectator (so he could get paid to write), to his first foray into producing adult fiction.
'The dream was to write one book and see it on a shelf in a library or a shop,' he remembers. 'The most frustrating thing about it was, I couldn’t think of a story I wanted to tell.'
Not one to be beaten, however, Bateman turned every opportunity to his advantage. For example, when his newspaper editor asked him to write a gossip column, the shy reporter turned it into a fictional column based on his real life experiences.
'I became the star of each story,' Bateman explains. 'With just a few words, you can change who you are. That’s the magic of writing.'
And then, one day, Bateman’s eureka moment arrived when a career-changing idea came to him – in the bath, of course. Hearing a radio presenter announce the name of a classical composer – Dvorak (pronounced ‘D-vor-jack’) – Bateman’s attention was hooked. He liked the curious name. He repeated it a few times and from that, he got the words ‘divorce’ and ‘Jack’.
'I then changed that slightly to Divorcing Jack,' he recalls. 'I didn’t know anything about it, but it seemed like a title. Every book I’ve written since always starts with the title.'
Having dispensed his words of wisdom over the course of an hour or so, Bateman finishes up with a reading from his most recent children’s book, Titanic 2020. His audience is rapt; he might just have inspired a few young creative minds to turn their hands at writing themselves – heck, even a few older ones too. As Bateman says, in fiction as in literature, 'You never know what will happen.'
Visit Colin Bateman's website for information on future events and titles.