How have you found the entire process of writing, publishing and promoting a book?
Extremely challenging but also really enjoyable. It's given me the opportunity to revisit random games from the last six years or so that I'd forgotten about, some of them for good reason. The book covers everything from 31 October 2010 to the end of the 2015-16 season, so that's a lot of football. A lot of great goals, horrendous defensive errors, shit signings, and surprising victories. Having the chance to reflect on some of the things that were so shocking or devastating at the time, such as Di Canio's reign for example, puts into perspective how immediate football is, an how quickly we pick ourselves back up after being knocked on our arse. On the whole, it's been a really good laugh. Anyone who knows me will understand how much I love to take the piss out of Sunderland, the football club and the area, but I take great pride in both of those things and being able to write about them has been really satisfying.
In terms of publishing and promoting, I'm lucky enough to have A Love Supreme behind me to sort all of that out. Martyn [McFadden, A Love Supreme Editor] has been publishing books for years, I think this will be his 16th, so he knows what he's doing. That's a relief because I wouldn't have a clue. I'm in a band and I can't figure out how to get people to listen to a three-minute song, never mind read a 100k+ word book! I've been involved with the A Love Supreme fanzine for ages now, so dedicating great amounts of time to writing about the Lads is something I have experience of.
What sort of impact has writing this book made on your life?
It's had quite a large impact, really. With the subject matter of the book, I knew that it would only carry a buzz for a short period of time. Beating Newcastle six time in a row is incredible, but if they beat us then it's all effectively undone. With that in mind, I knew I had to write it now in order to benefit from the bragging rights. I had the idea for the book in about April/May time, and had to start working on it immediately to catch the Christmas market. I packed my day job in, 'cos f**k it. I've always wanted to write a book about Sunderland, and I knew this would be my only real chance to do it. The last four months or so, I've been locked inside a tiny room with nothing but a tele, old Sunderland matches on a memory stick, and my laptop. I've kind of lost my mind a little bit, but you have to throw everything you have into these things to make them work.
Obviously you’re a Sunderland supporter, and the character in your book, John Foster, is your typical mackem fan – was he a character you created by drawing on personal experience or is he entirely a figment of your mind?
I can certainly draw on my own experiences as a Sunderland fan, with games I've attended and things I've seen and felt, but John Foster is nothing like me. At least I hope not. John Foster is your typical arse hole, twist on 21 Sunderland fan. The type of lad who sits behind you at the match and slags off the keeper for not saving a penalty. He's not a character you're going to get behind as a reader, rather the opposite. You're going to want him to fail. He likes going out on Saturday nights to Gatsby’s, Ttonic and The Point, with his permed hair, false tan, and V-neck shirts. He has a membership for the Aquatic Centre gym but spends most of his time there on his phone or talking to his mates. He hangs about in McDonalds car parks in his Renault Clio and listens to mainstream house music. 2010, where the story picks up, was the year of Geordie Shore and the likes, and John is definitely created in the mould of one of these characters. The problem John has is that while he is a thoroughly unremarkable, unlikable, smarmy, and generally forgettable character, all he wants is to be liked. He wants to be a winner, and he's willing to do whatever it takes to become one.
The funny thing about John is that he's not actually a massive Sunderland fan at all. He doesn't spend every penny he has getting to the away games or doing the pre-season tours. He's just a casual Sunderland fan who happens to be really pissed off after seeing Newcastle beat us 5-1, has too much to drink, and ends up accidentally selling his soul to the devil while having a tab in the back lane between Gatsby's and The Borough in the city centre. Beating Newcastle six times in a row is just one of the things he asks the devil for, but because he becomes so obsessed with football, as well as convinced that his arrangement has placed a curse on SAFC, it becomes the central point of the book. By the time we get to the cup final, he has so much invested in SAFC's success that he can't afford for them to lose. Obviously, we know how that turned out.
If this book becomes really, really popular and makes you really, really famous, will you buy Joans Café next door and knock the wall through so that ALS can have a bigger office?
I'm not so convinced that anyone other than Sunderland fans will find this book interesting, though I've tried to write it in a way that fans of other clubs would also be able to pick it up and relate to it. Also, with the book taking place in Sunderland, anyone from the area would be able to identify with some of the things that the characters do and say. I look at the work that Paul Swinney has done with the Mackem Dictionary and admire how he has celebrated the culture of Sunderland with something informative and entertaining, and this book definitely aims to do that as well. For example, John eventually ends up opening a Flossy shop in Park Lane Market. Make of that what you will.
I would consider knocking through to Joan's Cafe, but if they weren't there, who would park in front of our shop on match days so we can't set up our stall? Who would hassle us to knock the hot water on and off? Who would shout at us for playing two touch in the back lane? If I had the money, I would turn Joan's Cafe into one of those zen gardens, and then all the radgie blowkes who come out of the match would be able to go in there and chill the f**k out instead of coming into ALS and talking shit to me. Nah man, I love it really.
If you could choose three local celebrities to go out on your promo tour with you, who would they be?
We're talking Sunderland here, so first of all it's got to be Steve Cram. I think that's almost a prerequisite. I dunno what I'd have craic with him about, mind, probably running. He could tell me what the furthest he's ever run is, and I could pretend to be interested. The second person would have to be Wearside Jack, the Yorkshire Ripper hoax-caller bloke, as I reckon if we got him pissed we could convince him to do anything. He'd be a canny lad to have on tour but I imagine we'd end up getting sick of him quite soon. Maybe we could just leave him at a service station somewhere, like we do to misbehaving kids on ALS coaches. Thirdly, moving out of Sunderland a little bit, I'd have to choose Robson Green. My mam reckons that he once stood on her foot coming out of Woolworths in Chester Le Street, and didn't apologise, so I'd love to knock that c**t out. Plus he's a mag.
Sillyness aside, where are people going to find your book should they wish to buy it?
Six in a Row is available to pre-order on the A Love Supreme shop here.
But you will also be able to buy it from Waterstones in the town, who are kindly stocking it.