RENOWNED as one of Ireland’s best living writers (and there are a lot of them still kicking about), Colin Bateman sat down with the Andersonstown News this week to speak about his hilarious and touching memoir about growing up on the mean streets of North Down.
‘Thunder and Lightning: A Memoir of Life on the Tough Streets/Cul-De-Sacs of Bangor’ has been published to rave reviews from the likes of Liam Neeson, Jimmy Nesbitt and Ian Rankin.
Colin's internationally known for his comedic crime novels such as Divorcing Jack, Titanic 2020, Mystery Man and for successful TV shows such as Murphy’s Law and Scúp.
The book charts Colin’s childhood and youth in Bangor, which despite being only around 10 miles from Belfast, managed to relatively escape the conflict which was encompassing the North. Although largely safe from the conflict, Bangor still had a lot going on for Colin, and this forms the backdrop as Colin describes youthful schemes to breed gerbils for cash, sell the straps of watches discarded from a bombed-out Woolworths and his forays in punk to becoming a journalist for the County Down Spectator.
Colin's style of comic writing is fluent throughout and I laughed out loud on several occasions, particularly at the scenes involving him attempting to breed pet gerbils (the aforementioned gerbil accidentally got its spine broken and died), to his dad accidentally joining the UDA after attending a rally to condemn paramilitary violence.
Bangor was then, and still is, a majority unionist town, so much so that Colin says he never met a Catholic until the age of 11.
Colin said: “We grew up in a 100 per cent Protestant area, away from the violence, so when you saw fellow Prods marching on TV we saw it like Cowboys and Indians and you dressed up as them when you went out to play – you look back horrified. It was true about my dad accidentally joining the UDA at that rally he went to, but he came home and threw the hat and scarf they gave him in the bin, but the picture on the front cover is me wearing that hat and scarf. It was a big shock for him and he didn’t have anything to do with them after that, but as boys we thought it was great!”
Colin’s school years are chronicled in hilarious detail, from his teacher beating them with a handcrafted wooden block in primary school, to successfully avoiding a geology teacher in Bangor Grammar who had a long history of beating boys in other ways. Colin quickly became enamoured of punk music, which was kicking off at the time, and he found a captive audience of other young people who were keen to rebel against the restrictions and boredom that existed in a society which offered virtually nothing in the way of entertainment.
Hilarious stories are told of weekends spent skulling cheap cider by the sea (now replaced in Colin’s words by "that f***ing marina"), promoting ill-thought-out punk gigs which end in chaos and how a scathing review of a local youth dancing troupe with rumoured paramilitary connections saw his newspaper besieged by angry parents.
Publication day - buy, borrow, steal, retweet. pic.twitter.com/caABQ91JQC— Colin Bateman (@ColinBateman) September 20, 2022
It's clear from the memoir and from speaking with Colin that his time at the Speccy (Co Down Spectator) was when he learned the ins and outs of writing, coupled with a streak of savage wit and a desire to cause mischief. Speaking of his time at the paper, under the legendary Annie Roycroft, who was Ireland’s first female newspaper editor, Colin said: “The great thing was I had an editor who allowed me to do whatever I wanted, it was small-time stuff, but I had a lot of liberty. I was a young punk writing about punk and also developing a sense of humour. I was naturally quite a shy person and my way to express myself was through the paper. It’s amazing to think how things work out, my dad made me go and get the job which I didn’t want at the time, but without doing that I maybe would never have gone on to become a writer.”
What is also clear throughout the book is that Colin has a very strong love – a tough love, you might say – for his home town of Bangor, and his writing displays that in spades. Colin spoke of Bangor’s recent elevation to city status, that infamous marina, and the changing face of Northern Ireland.
“It’s nice to see Bangor becoming a city, but it’s not really a city. It’s weird that within ten miles of Belfast there are two cities: Bangor and Lisburn. Bangor is a town that needs a lot of improvements which we’re starting to see, which is fantastic, so I’m hoping Bangor is on the up."
He continued: I’m a bit old-school when it comes to the marina, I think if you’ve a seaside town you should be able to see the sea and not rich people’s yachts, so come the revolution I’ll be the first on board to dynamite the marina!
"Despite Northern Ireland still managing to make the headlines every summer with the rioting season, I think the pool of people who get involved in that is getting smaller and smaller each year. When I was growing up, even in my lower middle-class area, your summers revolved a lot around the bonfire and the Twelfth, and I don’t think kids today are exposed to that in the same way, so it feels like that sort of indoctrination is getting smaller and smaller as time goes by.”
As for the future, Colin’s time is currently taken up by writing for TV and he is also has a new book currently doing the rounds of publishers – a crime thriller loosely based on his own experiences.
“I’m working a lot on TV projects, and if you work in TV you’ll know a lot doesn’t ever get made and that’s the way with all screenwriters. As for novels I’m working on a new thriller called ‘White Widow’ which is loosely based on my own experiences of what happened a few years ago involving Sally-Anne Jones, a terrorist for ISIS who had begun using the cover of my book ‘Divorcing Jack’ as her calling card. The cover featured a nun with a gun holding a Jack Russell, and for some reason she photoshopped her face onto the nun and it was used by her when she brainwashed loads of women and got them to join Islamic State. The book will be about an author who finds himself in a similar predicament.”
Colin Bateman's memoir, ‘Thunder and Lightning: A Memoir of Life on the Tough Streets/ Cul-De-Sacs of Bangor’, is currently in all good bookshops and available online.