Colin Bateman on memory, telling his own story and bathing with Liam Neeson…

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It’s the day Colin Bateman’s new autobiography, Thunder and Lightning: A Memoir of Life on the Tough Cul-De-Sacs of Bangor, is published, and the best-selling author of Co Down remembers his years training in the seaside town is already causing controversy.

“I left my brother’s copy with him at nine this morning,” Bateman, 60, says via Zoom from his home office in Bangor.

“He hasn’t read any of it, so I’m nervously awaiting his reaction. He texted me earlier: ‘I like the book. Moments of laughter, but you saw George Best play “and then he sent me a clip on YouTube of George Best playing for Northern Ireland – a game I was definitely in for.”

Indeed, the author of Divorcing Jack has long known that there are usually at least two sides to every story. It’s something he learned as a straight-out-school reporter for the weekly County Down Spectator in the 1980s, covering everything from community meetings and court appearances to concerts, football (he sometimes admits to fabricating these stories for fun) and sporadic, often horrific incidents related to The Troubles.

It was also a driving factor in the process of writing the screenplay that became the 2016 film The Journey – a fictionalized account of the first one-on-one meeting between DUP leader Ian Paisley and process negotiator Sinn Féin Peacemaker Martin McGuinness.

“Before we started filming, we went to see Martin McGuinness at Sinn Féin HQ,” Bateman recalled.

“We just wanted to be polite and say, ‘Listen, we’re making this movie.’ He said to me, “Nothing happened. I just said ‘Hello’.”

“But the next day we went to meet Ian Paisley Jnr. And he said, ‘Aw, they were getting along like a house on fire. They were telling jokes and they were really funny.”

“So those were two completely different sides of the same story. So even though my brother is there to point out the mistakes I made in the memoir, it’s still my memory.”

Indeed, one of Thunder and Lightning’s occasional footnotes reveals another questioning of the events by his older brother. Bateman acknowledges the difference of opinion and simply advises her, “Write your own f****** memoirs.”

Apparently, the author wasn’t particularly keen on divulging the intimate details of his early years. He writes with retrospective fun of playing at being a loyalist paramilitary with the other kids in his neighborhood as a July 12-loving preteen who only met a Catholic when he was 11, valiantly revisits his awkward teenage years. as a shy and lonely teenage punk rocker, recounts various fun failed career opportunities in squirm-provoking detail and writes movingly about the deaths of his mother and father, while sharing his often brutally candid opinions on all kinds of subjects.

“It was hard enough writing about some of this stuff,” Bateman says as she shares her family’s story.

“But people’s lives just come and go. A few people remember certain stories about them and then they’re gone. So I like the idea of ​​putting something that’s going to be permanent, that gives you a glimpse of what what was someone’s life.

Obviously, although he has made a name for himself as a fiction writer with Dan Starkey’s novels (Divorcing Jack et al), his Mystery Man series and a number of young adult titles such as Titanic 2020 , the author of Co Down has retained certain journalistic instincts.

When it comes to recounting some of his most memorable clashes – including a savage concert critique of a young local dance troupe that culminates in parents besieging the offices of the County Down Spectator, a headline-grabbing expose on teenage drinking (which Bateman was perfectly placed to provide a personal testimony about) which earned him a savage beating, and a tongue-in-cheek reference to gun traffic for the local Boys’ Squad is slipped into a travel article that the organization and their lawyers didn’t see the fun side of – the author is happy enough to put it all on record.

“Well, you know, we’ll wait and see if I have to leave Bangor or not,” he laughs.

The author has taken a sideways step into writing for television, film and theater in recent years, with projects such as The Journey, his 2018 DeLorean-inspired feature Driven, the Irish-language television series Scúp and acclaimed stage productions such as Bag For Life and Nutcase.

“What’s great is that you can work on six or seven different projects at once, whereas a book tends to be all-encompassing,” he explains.

Thunder and Lightning is Bateman’s first book since the 2016 journalism-themed novel Paper Cuts. Appropriately, given his close association and (for now, at least) with the city that shaped him, the seeds for the new memoir were sown in 2019 at the tenX9 literary event hosted by his friends at Bangor’s Open House Festival.

“They ask nine writers to speak for 10 minutes on something factual,” he explains.

“At first I said ‘No’. But then I thought about it and wrote a 10-minute article which turned out to be the first third of the opening chapter. I read it for 200 or 300 people and it went really well.

“So it kind of stuck with me – but I had no intention of writing a full book.”

However, he quickly changed his mind when the Covid pandemic hit in 2020.

“The TV work just dried up, because nothing was being developed,” Bateman recalled.

“So I went back to it with the idea of ​​’Well, maybe I’ll just finish this first chapter.’ I didn’t think I’d be able to remember things, but it’s just funny – one thing leads to another and suddenly you run away And then I really couldn’t stop.

“It was written quite quickly, like all my books.”

Or rather, were: as mentioned, it’s been a while since a new Bateman book hit our libraries – and nearly 30 years since we met Dan Starkey, his rough-edged reporter and, more later, rough-everything-about private detective, in her Betty Trask Award-winning debut novel Divorcing Jack.

Starkey’s last misadventure was in Dead Pass in 2014, but the author recently resurrected his antihero for a brand new novel which, having failed to pique the interest of publishers, he decided to preview on Facebook. during 2020 lockdowns – too much enthusiasm among fans.

“It was just sitting there,” Bateman explains.

“During lockdown I just thought, ‘Damn, let’s put on a chapter a day’ – and it seemed to be going really well. So hopefully I’m about to sign a deal to release this and the novel I wrote after that, White Widow.”

The new memoir ends with the author coming up with the idea for his acclaimed debut novel in 1995 while in the bath – something Bateman’s famous friend Liam Neeson picked up for the commendation he received. he provided for the book, which he also read while taking a bath. .

“I couldn’t let go, even when my bath got colder,” coos the Ballymena-born star, whom the Bangor author first met at the actor’s New York apartment when he was in the frame to play Ian Paisley in The Journey (the role eventually played by Tim Spall).

“I had just watched Taken 3 on the plane,” Bateman recalls, “so I was expecting to meet this action hero – but I walked in and thought, ‘Oh my god, he’s to die.” He had lost a huge amount of weight and looked absolutely horrible.

“Turns out he was starving to play a 17th-century monk in Martin Scorsese’s Silence. The Cast [for The Journey] didn’t work out in the end, but he was really nice.

“I was just another writer for him at the time, but his partner at the time was also from Northern Ireland. She was a fan of my books and apparently after I left she told him. kind of says, ‘Do you know who that was?’, which is hilarious.

“He later found me by e-mail to tell me that he had started reading all the books. Since then, we’ve stayed in touch over the years – and he really gave me a great quote for the book.

:: Thunder and Lightning is out now, published by Merrion Press. Colin Bateman will launch the book at the Bangor Courthouse on October 29, tickets available through courthousebangor.com.

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