Ben Hatch is a British author who has been enjoying a very nice writing career since the publication of his first novel, The Lawnmower Celebrity, in August of 2000. Along with his second novel, The International Gooseberry, and several guidebooks including England with Your Family, Scotland with Your Family and Britain for Free, Hatch has sold over 25,000 books. And, to top it all off, Hatch's latest book, Are We Nearly There Yet?: A Family's 8000 Miles Around Britain in a Vauxhall Astra, has gotten the endorsement of Monty Python's very own John Cleese, who very simply says, "Ben Hatch makes me laugh." So, without any further ado, here are 10 questions for Ben Hatch:
1. What would you like readers to know about Are We Nearly There Yet?: A Family's 8000 Miles Around Britain in a Vauxhall Astra?
It's not only about the funny things kids say (although Tim Brooke-Taylor has called it "Outnumbered in a car") or the horrors of spending five months on the road with two under 4s, although obviously that throws up a fair bit of chaos that provides a sound basis for humour. I'm thinking about my wife's reaction when we were forced to change our son's nappy on a bench outside Eastnor Castle using nothing but a KFC lemon fresh wipe after I lost the key to the roofbox containing his changing bag. It's also about what it's like to be in a young family. How it makes you reflect on your own upbringing, your own parents. My dad happened to be sick when we went on the trip so I think about my childhood quite a lot on our way around Britain. I think long journeys make you thoughtful too even when there are kids in the back arguing over who was first to hit the other round the head with the Corfe Castle activity sheet. Primarily though I wanted to make people laugh.
2. Who are some writers that have affected your storytelling sensibilities?
The first writer I fell in love with was JD Salinger. I was obsessed with The Catcher in the Rye for a number of years. I still like to reread it from time to time. My first fictional novel, The Lawnmower Celebrity was partly about a character who couldn't shake off his Holden Caulfield-perspective on the world. I have been through Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Hunter S Thompson, and Kingsley and Martin Amis phases. These days I'll lap up anything by Geoff Dyer, Mil Millington, Julian Barnes and Ed Docx.
3. How exactly did you chance upon the opportunity to write a guidebook about a five month, 8,000-mile road trip through Britain?
I was writing a guidebook originally for an American publisher: Frommers. That's how we came to embark on the trip. I got that commission because my wife answered a journalist alert looking for young families prepared to travel. I think normally guidebook writers don't go to the lengths we went to. We wanted to turn it into an adventure though; to see and do everything in Britain. Our daughter was also starting school in September. I'd been her main carer since my wife went back to work after her maternity leave ended and I wasn't looking forward to saying goodbye to her. It was a send off for her then—five months, all of us together every day in a car. No nursery. No tag team parenting. Just us lot. As mad as that seems now, we assumed it would be a piece of cake. The guy who'd commissioned me to write the guidebook was very kind too. He was unhappy at all the things he was having to cut from the guidebook: personal stuff that happened to us—car crashes, the time we almost got blown up going for a nature wee in a field of live ordnance, etc—so he introduced me to Jennifer Barclay at Summerrsdale, who thought it might make a good travel book.
4. What methods and strategies have you employed in order to promote both yourself as an author, as well as Are We Nearly There Yet??
Ten years ago when my first novel was published I didn't do a thing. There was a publicity department at Orion who did all that. They arranged for you to go on the radio and you turned up. They stuck up tube posters. Nowadays you're expected to get a lot more involved in selling your book. I've tweeted about it, facebooked about it. I've sent the book to anyone who I think might like it and be in a position to help promote it. There are just so many books out there—100,000 a year are published in [England]. It means it's very hard to get noticed so you do what you have to do. It does mean you spend less time writing, but that's the price you pay for being able to spend all day in your pyjamas.
5. Writing a book is such a complex exercise that I imagine no two authors do it exactly the same. Can you summarize your process for me?
I don't have a process exactly. I've approached each book differently. Maybe that's a problem for me. The key is to get a deal, for me anyway. I realise that now. Once you have a deal you have imeptus and a process will come. After my first two-book deal ended, I decided because I'd had to rush my second novel, The International Gooseberry, that I'd write the third one out of contract. How stupid was that? That way I'd be satisfied with it, I told myself. It took me nine years to write that book. And then it was bloody well rejected. Everyone in publishing had moved on and forgotten who the hell I was. Big mistake. Once you have a deal you just have to work really hard to hand a book in that you're satisfied with on time. Although, saying that, I had no deal for my first book. To write a book out of contract it has to be your first book and you have to be slightly crazy and amazingly single-minded to see it through. I was fired up because my mum had just died. I wanted to write something that would have made her proud of me. That's where that zeal came from for my first novel.
6. While Are We Nearly There Yet? Is nonfiction, you’ve also written fiction, including the comic novel The Lawnmower Celebrity. How does writing nonfiction compare to writing nonfiction for you?
There's not much difference actually. It's the same process. Characters and a story. Although it did give me sleepless nights during the days after I handed in Are We Nearly There Yet? I felt like I'd given something of myself away (much more than normal) and I was worried because if people didn't like the book they were really saying, this time, that they didn't like me. With fiction you have more distance from what you've written about. You can say, "It's not me, I don't think like that - it's a nasty character I made up," even if you do think a bit like that.
7. What drove you to write Are We Nearly There Yet??
I had the final scene in my mind and it made me cry my eyes out every time I thought of it. I wanted to finish the book to get to that final scene. I wanted everyone else to cry their eyes out when they read it too.
8. Where do you see your writing career five years from now?
Jesus, I have no idea. Hopefully I am still typing away and getting paid just enough to survive to make it worthwhile carrying on. Maybe I'll have jacked it in and become a crane driver. I've also always fancied working on a trawler boat, some job that requires massive padded gloves. That would be good. Although of course then I'd want to write THE book about being a traweler man in massive padded gloves. I don't have a career plan as such. I just want to write good books that make people laugh and think occasionally.
9. What are you currently working on?
I'm working on a novel about the week in a character's life. It's the week before his marriage and his life is starting to unravel as the big occasion draws near. And the by the way it's not based on me Dinah (my wife) if you're reading this—it's just a nasty character I invented. Oh dear, now I have made it sound like me. IT'S NOT ME OK.
10. What advice would you give to an aspiring author who hopes to see their work published one day?
Stick at it. Make notes on everything. Practice writing. Read a lot. All the obvious stuff. And one other thing—make sure you have an understanding partner. Actually, I'd probably put that number one.
And there you have it. I'd like to thank Ben Hatch for being so generous with his time. If you want to learn more about Ben Hatch, you can follow him on Twitter.