Ian Sansom and The Bad Book Affair

Tammy Moore and Ian Sansom investigate The Bad Book Affair

Click here to listen to Ian_Sansom.mp3 (MPEG Layer 3 Audio, 7.7 MB) and Sansom reading an extract Ian_Sansom_TBBA.mp3 (MPEG Layer 3 Audio, 3.5 MB)

Unionist politicians, marital infidelity, financial chicanery, erections, sorry, elections and scandals.

Sound familiar? Only this time it isn't Iris Robinson in the middle of it but Morris Maurice, a character in The Bad Book Affair by Ian Sansom.

The fourth installment in the Mobile Library series The Bad Book Affair, released Jan 19, certainly seems to suggest that waistcoat-wearing academic and author Sansom has an inside track on political scandals.

'I wish!' he exclaims with boyish enthusiasm, eyes wicked behind rimless spectacles.

If Sansom wasn't already a lecturer in Creative Writing at Queen's University Belfast, someone would have to find him a job there. Ebullient, gregarious and eccentric, a man someone (who shall remain nameless) once described as a 'wonderful, erudite, Edwardian Jack Russell', Sansom is everything that a University Don should be. He could give lessons.

'There is an echo of the events engulfing us here,' he agrees. "But, I am always amazed there aren't more coincidences between books and current affairs.You observe everyday life and in everyday life people betray one another and they are duplicitous and they make terrible mistakes and get things wrong.Things go horribly wrong. That's what the book is about.'

If anyone asked Israel Armstrong, viewpoint character of the Mobile Library series, he would probably agree with that.

His life has been going horribly wrong for a while now. He's a north London Jewish vegetarian liberal freethinker who was sent to the north of the north of Northern Ireland to drive a mobile library for £15,000 a year. He lives in a converted chicken coop. His girlfriend has just dumped him.

Still, as Ted, still-fairly-hard man and Armstrong's friend, driver and goad, points out: 'Sure, there's people out there that don't have hands.'

Sansom has a sharp eye for the absurd and excellent comic timing, not to mention a brilliant foil in Armstrong. With lashings of indecipherable - to the bewildered Armstrong at least - local slang and a cast of wonderfully oddball characters the Mobile Library series gets funnier with every book.

It is also leavened with moments of  exquisitely realised pathos. From the little notes, like Ted's stubborn refusal to admit he's not quite as tough as he used to be, to the broader strokes of loss and regret that bring humanity to the most comedic of characters.

It's a knack that brings the place, not just the people, to life in Sansom's novels. The town of Tumdrum is as much of a character in its own right as Israel, which Sansom had planned from the beginning.

'I wanted to try and conjure up an entire place over time populated by many, many different characters'.

It was something that he had to do through the back door to stop his publisher laughing him out of the office. As Sansom points out, he'd have been pitching, to date, 400,000 or 500,000 words about a small town in the north of the north of Northern Ireland. That is only the first four in what he plans to be a ten book series. Sansom pulls a face at the ridiculousness of the idea. So instead, 'rather sneakily', he says with some pride, he 'broke the books up into a series and had one character move through all of them'.

500,000 words down then and 600,000 to go.

So, academic, novelist, man of letters. Is that all there is to Sansom? Look for Ian Sansom on Wikipedia and the site will respond with 'Do you mean Ivan Sansom?' As you read about Ivan Sansom, Welsh Palaeontologist, it's impossible not to wonder, does the author of The Bad Book Affair have a secret life of his own?

'Wouldn't that be wonderful!" Sansom chuckles. 'The funny thing is, my family called me Ivan for years, so maybe that is a secret life I don't know about. Ivan the Paleontologist. Oh, that's brilliant. I might use that.'