Widely acknowledged, as well as one of the games most vocal anti-violence and anti-racism campaigners, Dougie Brimson has acted as an advisor to both the British governments working group into soccer disorder and the European commissions’ soccer group. He has also written extensively for various magazines, newspapers and websites including The Sun, The Times, The New York Times, The Guardian, Loaded, Four-Four-Two magazine, About.com and Soccer 365.
In 2003, Dougie made the move into screenwriting first with the critically acclaimed short movie, “It’s a Casual Life”, and then with his first full length feature, the Hollywood funded, “Green Street Hooligans”, starring Elijah Wood.
Please tell us a little about yourself, Dougie.
Since then I’ve written a further thirteen books in a variety of genres as well as a couple of movies including the Elijah Wood film, Green Street.
When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?
Dougie: I actually never set out to be a writer at all, it happened by accident. I had left the RAF in 1994 with no real idea of what I wanted to do other than I was intent on avoiding any more engineering for a while and somehow ended up working as a television and film extra with my younger brother.
Anyone who has ever done any of that kind of work knows how much sitting around you do and inevitably, discussions turned to football and the forthcoming EURO 96. That’s when the idea for a non-fiction book about football fan culture was born. That book became Everywhere We Go, and it was a smash as, to be fair, we knew it would be.
It was very much a case of ‘right book, right time’ and went so well that I wrote a further three non-fiction books with my younger brother before branching out on my own into fiction. Since then I’ve written two best-selling thrillers (The Crew and Top Dog) and a number of comedy books as well as more non-fiction.
I’m very lucky in that I have a very loyal readership who seem to like the varied nature of my list. Someone recently called me the Forrest Gump of literature as they never knew what they were going to get next. I hope that’s what they meant anyway!!
When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?
Dougie: Initially I had one clear goal, to make as much money as I could as quickly as I could and then retire. Simple as that.
I know that sounds mercenary, but you have to remember that my first book was the first thing I’d ever really written, so it never occurred to me that it would end up as any kind of career. I was also well into my thirties when I started writing, so I wasn’t exactly looking for a fresh challenge!
These days it’s all about keeping my readers happy because, without them, I don’t have a career of any kind. And if I write something they don’t like, they’ll soon let me know.
How do you develop characters? Setting?
Dougie: That depends on the idea but how it tends to happen is that as the idea unfolds in my head so will a mental image of that character. Once I have that, then the character traits roll out, and then I need two final elements. A name, which has to suit both my character and the subject matter, and finally, I need to hear the character’s voice. Literally. So to do that, I’ll find someone who is as close to my profile as I can possibly get, and from that point on, that becomes my character. It can either be someone I know personally or an individual who is in the public eye, it doesn’t matter.
The reason I do that is because, if I become stuck on anything or unsure of how that character would react in a given situation, I can simply call that person up or YouTube them. Usually, simply hearing the right voice will provide me with the solution to my problem.
Setting wise, I base my fictional work in places I know simply because it saves on research although, occasionally, Google maps have provided a nice and rapid reminder.
Who’s the most unusual/most likeable character?
Dougie: My comedy novel Billy’s Log was written as a male response to the Bridget Jones phenomenon (or anti-male propaganda as I prefer to think of it), and as a consequence, it required the creation of a character who not only possessed a great deal of depth but was also incredibly likeable.
The result was Billy Ellis and in many ways, what I created with him was my invisible best mate. I adored working with Billy and as a character I still miss him ten years on. Thankfully, so do the people who read the original book and as a result of the success Billy’s Log is currently enjoying in eBook format, I’m coming under a great deal of pressure to write a sequel simply because people are keen to know what happened to him. I’m very excited about that prospect and will be writing that next year.
Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?
Dougie: I write in an apparently odd way in that once I have a rough outline of my idea and my basic characters, I work on the ending first. Not in rough form, I mean that it is tight and edited to within an inch of its life.
I do that because to me, fiction is all about the ending. It’s the part most readers remember and is certainly what keeps them coming back for more. Only once I’m totally happy with the ending will I take a fresh look at my characters to tighten them up a bit, and then I thrash through a first draft in true panster style. After that, it’s all down to polishing and editing.
Do you have a specific writing style? Preferred POV?
Dougie: I think all authors have their own style and if they haven’t, then they should have. After all, if your aspiration is to be like everyone else, you surely need a different aspiration.
Mine is biased toward providing snappy dialogue simply because I prefer to involve the readers in the creative process and let them paint the pictures as I’m getting on with telling the story. Indeed, someone once reviewed one of my books as reading like a film script, and I took that as a huge compliment.
I’ve written in both first and third person and actually prefer the former because that means that, as a writer, I’m writing about me or a version of me. Similarly, first person makes the reader the actual hero. Or the villain of course! I love that it takes you out of your comfort zone, and isn’t that the point of a book?
How does your environment/upbringing colour your writing?
Dougie: I’ve lived a very interesting and varied life thus far, and it would be foolish to say that it hasn’t impacted on my work because of course it has. If nothing else, it’s equipped me with a colourful vocabulary!
I’m also a great advocate of the ‘write what you know’ school, so many of the situations you’ll read in my fictional work will have happened to me or people I know in real life. But I do struggle with my writing environment at times, and to combat that, I use headphones and music. Indeed, music is vital to me when I write anything as I use it as a trigger, so it’s very important to find the right album for the particular project.
For example, when I wrote Billy’s Log, I listened to the Stereophonics first album on repeat and after about fifty times (seriously), it became almost like hypnosis because as soon as I heard it, I was back in character. Conversely, if the phone rang, I could simply pause it and step away for a few minutes. Of course, once the book was finished, I had to throw the album away. Even to this day, ten years later, if one of the tracks comes on the radio, I go into writing position!
As a professional author, do you enjoy the part of your job that doesn’t involve writing?
Dougie: The promotional aspect of writing is great fun, and I do everything I can to sell my books and spread the word about what a former editor once called ‘Brand Brimson’.
I also like to talk to writing groups whenever I’m asked, but that’s about it really. I don’t get invited to literary functions, and although I’ve spoken at a couple of festivals abroad, I’ve only recently received my first invitation to speak at a festival of any kind in the UK.
I’m not really sure why that is, but hey, that’s the literary world for you. I’ve been writing for over sixteen years now, and it’s never made much sense to me at all. But one thing I have learned is that there are a huge number of people involved in publishing who fail to grasp the simple truth that the most important person in the whole process is the reader.
Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.
Dougie: I’ve had some brilliant reviews in the mainstream press over the years as well as some hilariously bad ones, but in truth, although I read them all, and they certainly sell books, I’ve never really given them much consideration.
I know my market and it’s feedback from that which is important to me, especially these days as it’s such perfect customer research. In effect, reader reviews tell me what to write next.
That’s why I have made myself so easy to contact, and I do receive lots of direct mail from readers, which I absolutely love. Hearing from someone that I wrote the first book they’d ever read cover to cover, or even the first they had ever actually finished, is incredibly rewarding.
What are your current projects?
Dougie: Book wise, I’m currently putting the finishing touches to a novel called Wings of a Sparrow which is a comedy based around a football fanatic who inherits ownership of his local rivals. Think Fever Pitch meets Brewster’s Millions. Once I’ve finished that, then work will commence on the third book in the The Crew/Top Dog trilogy and then the sequel to Billy’s Log.
I’m also working on a few movie projects at the moment, and if they go as I hope they will, there may well be book versions of those to write.
Where can folks learn more about your books and events?
Dougie: Everything you will ever need to know about me can be found at www.dougiebrimson.com