Interview: Karen Roy
Ben Hatch is a former journalist and the author of Lawnmower Celebrity and Are We Nearly There Yet? 8000 Misguided Miles Round Britain in a Vauxhall Astra. He was born in London and has also lived in Manchester and Buckinghamshire.
Did you know you were going to write Are We Nearly There Yet? when on tour for the Frommer's book, or did you decide to do it later?
I had no idea it would turn into a travelogue/memoir at the time. I just set out to write the best guidebook I could. It was only later when my guidebook editor at Frommer’s, Mark Henshall, suggested it, that I thought, ’he’s right, it would make a good story’.
Lawnmower Celebrity is obviously autobiographical (Ben's father was Sir David Hatch of BBC Radio). Did you really sneak out your dad's contact book and make spoof calls to the likes of Henry Kelly, Paul Daniels and Noel Edmonds?
I did make a lot of crank calls, yes. I acquired a list of celeb numbers whilst shifting on a national newspaper. I was young, about 22, quite irresponsible and it seemed very amusing to have the power after a few pints in the pub with my mates to ring up say, Boris Yeltsin, and ask him what he thought about the new series of The Flumps. The best exchange I had was late at night with Denis Healy. I was impersonating Ted Heath at the time. They had both been in the papers rowing about something or another. It was my crowning spoofing glory that Healy concluded my haranguing call with, “Go to bed Heath – you’re drunk!” I phoned Paul Daniels a few times pretending to be from various newspapers asking him to respond to stories that he was being prosecuted for animal cruelty. There’d been a picture of him pulling a rabbit out of a hat on the front page of the Radio Times. To his credit, Daniels was impressively calm. “No,” he retorted. "I always carefully cup the bums of rabbits when I pull them out of hats.” To which I remember replying, “That sounds like an even more serious crime Mr Daniels.” Another one I sort of regret now was Sue Townsend, who wrote the brilliant Adrian Mole, one of my favourite all time books. Sue Townsend was incredibly nice. I rang her up to say I was lost on the Leicester gyratory system, did she know the way to Narbrough. Amazingly she did. I remember she very kindly gave me directions. She was wonderful. Ranulph Fiennes I used to ring up whenever the weather was moderately extreme. I’d ask whether he thought I needed a jumper and scarf. I wouldn’t do it now, but when you’re in your 20s anything that makes you laugh feels the right thing to do.
Which of the two books did you enjoy writing most and why?
I enjoyed writing Are We nearly There Yet? more. I didn’t really know what I was doing when I wrote Lawnmower Celebrity. It was my first book. I hadn’t clue about structure, or story arc. It was almost by trial and error that I arrived at the final result. Also my mum had just died and I was living alone at the time. I lived a bit like a wild animal then. I became obsessed with the book, a little. I didn’t go out. I just used to write all day. I was wearing out a keyboard every 6 weeks. I hardly saw anyone. It was part of the grieving process, I think now, of digesting my mum’s death by writing about it. Before my mum died nothing bad had ever happened to me. The worst thing that I’d had to deal with before this was maybe just getting a B in maths O’Level, or a girlfriend finishing with me because I had a hairy neck (for some reason it never occurred to me when I started shaving that I had shave my neck. I had a very hairy neck. I looked like Captain Ahab. It caused problems with girls). Now I had a parent who’d died. I just locked myself away. I remember feeling so lonely at one point I actually went to Woolworths to buy some triple A batteries just so I could hear someone ask, “Do you want a bag?” Writing Are We Nearly There Yet? I was always no more than a thin study door away from the kids in the kitchen tearing around. I could go out whenever I wanted and spin them around or pretend to be a German quizmaster (they like that). It was a much happier experience.
Do you plan your writing?
I do now. I didn’t used to. I think you plan when you have a deadline and you don’t when you don’t. It’s always best to have a deadline. I used to be a journalist. I’m used to them. I need them. Without a deadline time just expands, it stretches before you and you become obsessive about removing and adding comas and the book also goes down dead-ends that wouldn’t have resulted if you’d been stricter about plotting.
What does 2012 hold for you as a writer?
I am hopefully going to finish a novel I have started and also I’d like to write a follow up to Are We Nearly There Yet? Last summer we drove 10,000 miles round France. The book will be about that.
What three pieces of advice would you give to the aspiring writer?
Read a lot, write a lot, marry an understanding partner.