Lin Treadgold talks to Author Ben Hatch about his comic travel book, ‘Are We Nearly There Yet?’
“A voyage of pain, suffering, argument, baby wipes, discovery and utter delight…Never travel in a car with children without this book by your side.” – Sir Terry Wogan
I recently corresponded with Ben Hatch through Twitter, (as we Tweeters do). The way he has introduced us all to his book has been both subtle and positive. I like his style of marketing on Twitter because it wasn’t pushy and the reviews were very good anyway. John Cleese has even said “Ben Hatch makes me laugh.”
Ben lives in Hove, East Sussex and is the writer of two earlier comic novels. The Lawnmower Celebrity and The International Gooseberry. He’s also written guidebooks.
When Ben and his wife Dinah saw the advert looking for a husband and wife team with young kids to write a guidebook about family travel around Britain, they jumped at the chance. With visions of staring moodily across Coniston Water and savouring Cornish pasties, they embark on, what proved, a rollercoaster five-month road-trip with daughter Phoebe, 3, and son Charlie, 1.
If you have young children the words ‘Are We Nearly There Yet?’ will always echo in our ears. I have just purchased the book for my 28 year old daughter who even to this day in her adult years, still manages to say ‘What time do we get there Mum?’ So for me this book was a ‘must have’.
When I asked Ben if I could interview him for my web site, he kindly agreed.
First, tell me a little more about yourself, your background and education.
I was bought up in Manchester and later in a windmill in Buckinghamshire where all the walls were curved meaning it was very difficult putting posters up of Kenny Dalglish. I also, naturally, got called Windy Miller in school after the children’s TV programme. “Where’s your blue smock and belted hat, Windy?”… “Do you have to duck when the sails go round?” I went to Chesham High School, and then studied at Sheffield University. Although studied makes it sounds more taxing than it was. Mainly I just watched Going For Gold. After a couple of years post-graduation of lying about in my pyjamas back at home reading books, getting fired from 20 different jobs and sponging off my parents, I completed a diploma in journalism and left home almost to trumpets sounding.
What started you writing?
I used to write derivative Monty Python sketches when I was 15. My dad used to be the head of light entertainment at BBC radio and he loved comedy. I wanted to move into this so I could make him laugh. I changed and wanted to become a novelist after I read Catcher in the Rye. I was about 17. It knocked me out. Before that I always assumed you either had to have guns in stories or bustles. I still read it regularly.
Tell me what you enjoyed most about your journey in the five months you were away with your family?
Being together for that length of time mainly, just the four of us as a family. No other influences, just us. It was a wonderful loving bubble. If it’s one attraction we visited hat I most enjoyed then it’s probably the Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth. They have a barn there that has pictures of all their donkeys. Under each picture of a donkey is the donkey’s bio. Some of the bios … “Nelly is big mates with Harold and Daisy. They are quite a little clique.”… “Betty has settled in nicely since her arrival but still doesn’t like her ears being touched.” … “Paula can smell a polo mint through a coat pocket. Beware!” I could read those things all day long.
What was your favourite chapter in the book?
I like the one with where we’re attacked by a bat or maybe the one where my wife is startled by some radiata tortoises. She has a tortoise phobia. She’s terrified of them. Just the sight of one and she hyperventilates. Seriously. We can’t even watch One Foot in the Grave on the telly because of that tortoise on the credits. Whenever we saw a tortoise on our travels I had to guide her by the hand past the enclosure like she was an arthritic pensioner with a shattered hip as she held the brochure up to sheild her eyes from what I would have deemed “the tortoisey side”.
On average how long did it take you to write each of your novels?
The Lawnmower Celebrity took a year. The International Gooseberry 14 months and Are We Nearly There Yet? 7 months. Although there is a novel I have in a drawer that took me 7 years to write. It never got published.
What has been your strategy for creating visibility for your books?
My first two novels were promoted by my publisher. I didn’t really do anything but turn up and do what they said. Summersdale, my new publisher, are smaller. It’s meant I’ve had to get more involved. Twitter has been a big help with that. It’s a great, direct way of reaching readers.
Is writing your day job?
Yes, although when the kids were small my wife went back to work and I was the main carer for a number of years. They were lovely years apart from going to Sing and Sign. I took my daughter to Sing and Sign. It was a baby group too far. It was awful. I had a crisis in there actually. I was sat cross-legged on the floor of a village hall at 9am on a Monday morning when everyone else I knew was at work, forging ahead in their careers, and I was the only guy in a room full of 14 mums about to go to Cake and Play singing, with actions, “The Wheels on the Bus go round and round.” A year before I’d been long-listed to be on the 2003 Granta list of the most promising novelists in Britain and now here I was singing about a bus and rotating my arms about. Looking back though overall, I’ve never been happier than I was looking just looking after the kids.
What plans do you have for the future, will you continue to write travel books or do something else? Can you tell us about the challenges in getting your first book published?
I’d like to write more novels and carry on with the travel books too. One day I’d love to have a stab at writing a sitcom too.
Can you tell us about the challenges in getting your first book published?
My mum died. I was a journalist, aged 30. It proved a turning point in my life. I decided I wanted to do something that would have made her proud of me so I quit my job and using some money she’d left me I gave myself 12 months to write a novel. My girlfriend, now my wife, sent it off to agents the day I left the country to go backpacking round the world. I assumed it would be rejected and I wanted to be on a beach when this happened. Five month’s into the trip an agent emailed to say he loved it. He’d plucked it from the slush pile – a room at the agency full of thousands of unsolicited manuscripts. One day each month they chucked them all away after skim reading a few pages of each. I was very lucky.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novels or being published that you would change?
I would not have thought after writing my first two books, “Oh, I know, I’ll write the 3rd novel out of contract so I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck.” Without a deadline the time washed over me. That’s why it took 7 years to write. When I handed it in everyone I knew at the publishing house had left. They were like, “er… what novel? Who are you?”
How are the statistics for Are We Nearly There Yet? It seems to me this has been a very popular ‘Retweet’ on Twitter and your strategies seem to be paying off. I think the title has proved so very reminiscent for all parents with children.
I’m not sure about statistics. My publisher never tells me anything. I know it’s doing very well on kindle. I think it’s the number 3 non-fiction download.
My own novel is awaiting publication and shortly I will be looking for an agent. Did you go straight to a publisher when you finished your first book? Perhaps you can explain how it all began once your first book was complete.
I got an agent first then he found me a publisher. Good luck Lin with the book. I wish you all the very best.
Thanks Ben for granting me an interview, I shall continue to put this on Twitter, I wish you every success, and I look forward to reading ‘Are We Nearly There Yet.’
SEE INSIDE THIS BOOK ON AMAZON http://tinyurl.com/cy97trr