Q- Hi Mat, congratulations on the publication of your new book, Another Bloody Saturday, and thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell me a little about yourself and your background?
Well Another Bloody Saturday is my first book, and was written alongside my day job at an independent cinema in Southampton, so things have been very busy for quite some time! I am 43 and this was my first attempt at writing about the sport that I love. I was quite nervous about it, as football is such a large part of my life, but I found that I really enjoyed writing about matches, the people at those matches, and memories of games long gone.
Q- You are quite experienced with blogging for your blog “Dreams From Victoria Park” is literary heaven for a football fan. When did you decide to write a book on lower league clubs? Was it specifically for lower league football?
To be honest I started writing the blog as a simple diary of my travels through football, but the characters that I met and their stories soon made me think that it could make a good book. Thankfully Luath Press thought so too – as it is very hard for an unknown writer to get anywhere – something I learnt from my years of writing fiction, so getting a book published is very surreal!
I was quite content with writing the blog, and having people read it and enjoy it, and it wasn’t until a journalist suggested that I try and get a publisher interested that I seriously thought about it, and then actively sent extracts out to people. My reasons for writing it in the first place stemmed from the team my grandfather and I supported, Salisbury, folding last summer. It left a huge gap in my life, as non league football had always been my way of connecting to what I call ‘real football’, where it’s soul can be found.
Premier League football is all well and good – but it is so expensive that it is now no longer a league ‘for the people’. Lower league and non league football is, and I wanted to explore it to help me reconnect with it now that my team had gone.
Q- The idea behind a ‘spiritual’ football club is what attracted me in your book. Your love for Accrington Stanley proves in what I always believed that a man can love two different football clubs for altogether different reasons. Is it more than the spirituality in watching lower league football? What attracts you the most?
Clubs like Accrington offer the fan a real sense of belonging, of community, where you can meet your heroes, the players, where you can get involved in your club and actually be a part of it. Premier league clubs cannot offer that anymore – the players are too distant from the fans, and the fans are often seen as nothing more than customers to the club.
The lower leagues are more a reflection of how football was when I was growing up, where even top flight teams had a real community feel – where players earned a little more than those that watched them, but not a lot more, lived on the same streets as the fans.
Accrington Stanley survive because of a small band of dedicated fans and club officials, who pour their heart and soul into it. It is powerful stuff and easy to fall in love with when you see it first hand.
This is what football is all about for me, clubs are a reflection of the people that love them – they represent their community, and when it is done well as in Accrington, it is a magical thing.
Q- I really enjoyed your book Another Bloody Saturday. Every chapter is unique and tells a different tale. How about the craft of writing? How do you approach your writing? Do you have a writing routine?
I try to write a chapter as soon as I can after a match, aiming to have it finished within a week. I like to strike while the iron is hot.
I don’t go into writing with any detailed notes or anything. I often come up with a starting point/an opening line while at the match, and then sit down and go from there.
I have always had to be quite strict and disciplined with my writing as I have to fit it around my day job, so I don’t have a routine as such, but when I know I have a spare couple of hours I always make sure I am sat down at the computer ready to go.
Because football is a passion of mine I can always find a way in to each chapter, whether it is a memory from my childhood, or something that captured my imagination at the match.
Writing this book was never a chore, and always a very enriching experience. I believe you can only write well if you are writing about something you truly believe in, whether that is a plot or character for a work fiction, or an idea for a work of non fiction.
The idea of reconnecting to what made me so happy as a boy; watching Salisbury with my Grandfather, made it a wonderfully profound and moving experience. At every venue I went to I found a piece of what made me and Granddad love our Saturdays together. That made writing the book very easy.
It is something I will do in everything I write from here on in.
Q- Have you tried your hands on the Football Manager Game?
Yes I have, and I am rubbish! I always picked someone like East Stirling or Elgin City in the Scottish Third Division, sometimes a team from the second division in Finland, and always got sacked!
It never occurred to me to be Real Madrid or someone – I guess that is why the book exists!
Q- When writing, what do you prefer: Pen or Computer? And how do you stay organized (any methods, systems, tools you use)?
Computer – I have an old laptop that I write everything on. Before I start I rarely write notes – I try to let the idea formulate in my head, get a sense of how it will flow and then just go for it! If I have missed anything out I will add it at a later date.
I try not to alter things too much once they are written, I think about the structure and tone I want it to have a lot before I start writing, so hopefully if that has been done well there will be minimal corrections
Q- What motivates you to write?
People, the characters that I have met that make these clubs so special. I also feel a need to write about the people from my past that helped me become the person I am today, who enabled me to experience this rich world of lower league football. Without them this book couldn’t exist
Q- What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Football! I go to far more games than I write about! I also love spending time with my two nephews, reading in my local coffee shop, and swimming. I love swimming!
Q- Are you working on anything at the moment? When can we see your next work?
I’ve written a couple of chapters that I hope will become the start of another book. I want to do a book on the outsiders of world football – teams and nations that are geographically, politically, ideologically at the far ends of the football world.
I’ve written about a small team from Luxembourg, and a team from Palestine so far. Hopefully if Another Bloody Saturday does alright then I might get another shot. It would be amazing if I could.
Q- Do you have any advice for aspiring/emerging writers?
Yes, never give up! Read, read all the time – everything and anything, things you never thought you would read, as you can get inspiration from the most unlikely places. Also write as much as you can. Let your own personal voice develop over time – it will never come straight away – you have to work at it, and keep doing so. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You started writing because you love it. Never let the notion that you have ‘failed’ if you aren’t published make you lose that love. Writing is a personal thing, an emotional and spiritual thing, and a very rewarding and enriching experience; to create something all by yourself.
Just because some publisher doesn’t see what you see doesn’t mean it is no good.
Always remember the enjoyment and excitement you felt in creating it. Cherish the ideas/plot/characters you built, then tuck them safely in a folder and go again. They will help you progress and move forward. I did this for more than 20 years, and finally, finally I got published!
Love what you do, not what can come from it.
About Your Reading Life:
Q- What do you prefer while reading: paperbacks or ebooks?
Q- Do you re-read books? One book that you would read again & again?
There are a number I want to read again, but as a rule I don’t go back
Q- Your favourite author(s)?
Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, Nick Cave
Q- What book(s) are you reading at present?
I’ve just finished ‘Guantanamo Diary’ By Mohamedou Slahi – amazing but terrifying