Many writers have a Eureka moment when they realise what they want to do with their life. I had a moment when I realized there was nothing else I could do with my life. For years after I left school I was directionless. Aged 18, for instance, I wanted to become a professional snooker player. I had my own snooker cue autographed by Tony Meo, and on a small quarter-sized snooker table that I shared with my brother, I’d recently achieved a break of 27. It would have been 35 if I hadn't had to use a 2b pencil instead of a cue to pot the black in the tight corner of my bedroom, where the table didn't quite fit. It seems absurd, but I genuinely thought if I practiced hard enough I could become as good as Steve Davis. This snooker obsession helps explain my A-Level grades, which scraped me into Bristol poly. My snooker ambition lasted until the Christmas first term. Having not attended even my 6 hours of lectures a week so I could practice in the Riley Sports Bar and Bingo Club, I told my dad I'd something important to tell him. As was customary, we went upstairs to play a frame of snooker to discuss matters. I was hoping to demonstrate how good I’d become at the game and use this to soften the blow that I'd soon be abandoning my studies to turn pro. As it transpired, my dad - not a very good snooker player - beat me by almost 100 points. What clinched it, and forced me to abandon my snooker dream, was not just the fact my dad was playing without his glasses on - they were at Dolland and Aitchison having the lenses altered. But that he also at the time had quite bad conjunctivitis. Barely able to see, with his eyes bloodshot and watering, my dad, who’d not hit a snooker ball since I saw him three month's earlier, had comprehensively beaten me at a game I was hoping to make my living at.
Living back home after dropped out of poly I sought my fortune in The City. I didn’t want to work in The City, but my dad thought I was suited to high finance having based this on two things.
1) He thought I had a good brain for figures because I knew never to develop hotels on the green set at family Monopoly and
2) From how much time I spent spiking my hair with country-born gel and borrowing his car without filling it up with petrol afterwards, he thought I was shallow and sufficiently selfish.
I bought myself a pair of bright red braces and the stripiest shirt a £15 voucher at Mr Byrite could afford and was quickly offered a job in The City at Copenhagen Reinsurance. I wrongly assumed (on the basis of the word Copenhagen) I'd meet a lot of blonde-haired Swedish female work colleagues. There were no female Swedish co-workers. In fact, there were no females at all. Everyone came to work in a tie pin and cuffs, was called Oliver and talked about nothing other than which new company car they'd be buying in August. My work involved calculating the reinsurance cover for various oil tankers. Great pains were taken to explain how this was done. However, it was just too boring to pay any attention to. Rather than ask someone to go over it again I simply guessed the cover. For a few weeks I came to work, made up some insurance cover, discussed super cars and went home again. Fearful I’d be found out I resigned two days before the Exxon Valdez ran aground spilling millions of tonnes of crude oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska. I understand it sparked the biggest insurance claim in history. I never did discover if she was one of mine.
After finance I decided to become an actor. I enrolled at a local theatre company and won the lead in a play written by Mary O’Malley. The only trouble with acting was that I couldn't do it. I was 21, not even sure who I was yet, so had little chance in convincing people I was someone else. Also my character’s storyline involved me wooing a teenage girl, who I had to kiss in the play. It was a small theatrical troupe and the only teenager available to play the role was 14. This set up was already uncomfortable for me, even before her father, Barry, or Bazza as he liked to be known, started staying to watch rehearsals after driving her to them in his plumbing van. Two weeks before the play opened the nerves and fear got the better of me and I did a Stephen Fry. I phoned the director and quit, claiming I’d moved unexpectedly to Norwich. Curious to discover what I’d been doing wrong, however, I attended the opening night. I watched my stand-in’s performance with great interest from a back seat in the theatre. He was, of course, even in the limited time he’d had to prepare, a thousand times better than I could ever have been. This both cheered and depressed me. What also cheered and depressed me was to hear later that he’d been so convincing in his role as seducer, at the after-show party, Bazza had beaten him quite him up badly with a pipe cutter.
Many other careers came and went after this. For a time I was involved in the horticultural trade. I sold photocopiers then insurance. I worked in a pub, a video shop. I was a postman. I tried painting and decorating. I worked in the dole office and in the Royal Bank of Scotland on Baker Street in London as a grade one clerk but was asked to leave after mailing actor Michael Crawford’s cheque book to the wrong address. Claiming it was what Frank Spencer might well have done was probably a mistake. One time I tried to set myself up as a private detective. I put an advert in my local paper, The Bucks Examiner. Under the image of a large magnifying glass my ad ran: “Marital surveillance. Question mark.” Much to my parent's despair (I'd used our home number), I had plenty of phone enquiries. But for some reason hearing my mum shouting upstairs: "Benjy, there's a man on the phone who wants you to follow his wife, can you get out of the bath please," tended to discourage potential clients. Once I got get sacked from selling advertising space at the Independent newspaper for writing a letter of acceptance for my job unacceptably. Though the epitome of what a moron I was, is best summed up by the letter of resignation I wrote when I quit selling advertising space at a computer magazine. In a two-page missive questioning their ethics in cold-calling potential customers and also in dissecting my own fragile soul, I quoted a line from the Orson Wells film Citizen Kane about losing my innocence. I’d only been there 6 days. On a training course. I hadn’t sold a single advert.
The turning point for me was aged 29 when my mother died. She was the greatest mother any son could wish for. And by that I mean she always took my side when I argued with my dad. Whatever crime against common sense and decency I committed she backed me up. Almost 20 years since she died, I can still hear her voice defending me to my dad. “He didn't mean to bite it, spill it, break it, steal it, lose it. He's sensitive." My mother took in people’s ironing. She ironed in a blue boiler suit with Ironing Lady written on the back. She ironed seven hours a day every day and had a muscle in her forearm the size of Popeye’s because of it. Just before she died, the final time she was strong enough to leave the house, in the pub next door to us, she handed my brother, sister and I each a cheque for £20,000. It was money she’d saved ironing at £5 an hour. That’s 14,000 hours of ironing. At the time I was a reporter at The Leicester Mercury newspaper. My mum’s death made me determined to do something that would’ve made her proud of me. So, once again, I quit my job. But this time I did something constructive. It took me a year to write The Lawnmower Celebrity. I sent the manuscript off in ten manila envelopes to literary agents the day before I left the country to go travelling round the world. I went travelling because I didn’t want to be around when the rejections came in. Halfway round the globe in Thailand I was composing a grovelling a letter asking for my old job back when I got an email from the very last agent I’d sent my book to. He wanted to take me on. I’ve been a writer ever since.
Author Bio - Ben Hatch was born in London and grew up here, in Manchester and Buckinghamshire, where he lived in a Windmill that meant he was called Windy Miller at school for years, though he's not been scarred by this experience at all. He now lives in Brighton with his tiny wife Dinah, and two children, in a normal house. He likes cheese and is balding although he disguises this fact by spiking his hair to a great height to distract people he wishes to impress.*
Are We Nearly There Yet? is currently priced at £6.47 paperback and £3.04 Kindle
Road to Rouen is currently priced at £5.40 paperback and £3.99 Kindle.
Ben Hatch's Amazon Author Page can be viewed here, Goodreads here and you can follow him on Twitter @BenHatch.
(*Author bio via Amazon.co.uk)