Interview with author Wayne Barton about football, his books and music

Wayne is a best-selling author, ghostwriter and the weekly football columnist for international sports broadcaster eirSports, he has published several books, some of which are listed below.

Fergie’s Fledglings,

74/75,

Its Mick, Not Mike

Coal House

Mablethorpe

 

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PC: You are Manchester; I grew up in Newcastle, safe to say both cities are football daft. As a kid did you want to be a footballer? Were you going to games at an early age?

WB: Yes, I did! I really did. But my problem was that I never had the confidence. (I mean, I thought I was good, but I just lacked the ability to put myself forward) I was a winger and a centre forward but because I had a bit of a difficult time at school I never put myself forward for the school team, where everything tended to start back in those days. I would be the kid making excuses not to do PE.

But then I started because I enjoyed athletics. I was a really fast runner, I think it ran in our family if those things can. A few of us were quite tall in our early teens. My cousin was a runner too, but he was next level to me. Anyway I gained confidence from that and would play football in PE, and got asked to play for the school team because the teachers thought I was pretty good. But they had an established team and I didn’t want to be on the bench and introduced that way – I had visions of being the star man and proving everyone I didn’t like in the school wrong. So I decided not to play at all. I had trials for teams, my brother and I attended some open trials for Sheffield Wednesday but it was on the day my granddad died so to say it didn’t go well was an understatement. My brother actually got picked, though. He was a goalkeeper there and I think he just lost interest before he was 14. He still lives where we grew up and he told me about a year ago he went out to his local and a few of them were talking about us playing football when we were younger, and we’re talking twenty years ago, and our old friends were telling him I was the best player they’d seen who never made it. I’m allowed to pass that story on because it’s not me bragging about myself!

We actually lived in Sheffield so didn’t get to many games, interest in football in my family skipped a generation from my granddad to us. I watched literally, every single game of football there was on television though, not just United. I’d watch anything to do with football.

 

PC: How did you go from being a fan to becoming a best-selling author, and also how did you get into being a columnist for Setanta Sports?

WB: I set up my own Manchester United website as I liked to voice my opinion; luckily I knew a few former players, and they helped provide opinion pieces in the early days to get the site some good recognition. I made some connections and that’s how I ended up being offered the opportunity to be the football columnist for Setanta – now eirSports, since they recently rebranded.

So that’s how that happened, and then I got the opportunity to interview United legend Brian Greenhoff. I’d always wanted to write a book and the idea came to me just before I went to sleep the night before, I said to my wife, remind me in the morning, if I can pluck up the courage I’m going to ask him if he’d like to work together on his autobiography. Let me rewind and say I’d always wanted to write a book. I think it was my year 8 school report that had my ‘ambitions for the future’ listed as, ‘I don’t care as long as I’m an author’, or something like that. Anyway, Brian said yes, and made that dream come true.

Sadly Brian died in May 2013, it was six months after his book was published. I feel thankful for having the opportunity to help put that record of his life together so people can see what a remarkable man he was, from his own words, and the testimonies of others. I do feel as though fate played a hand in us working together because that was a catalyst for my life changing.

 

PC: You must feel like ‘you are living the dream’ writing about your heroes and also ghost writing for some of the major football players of the past, do you have a favourite?

WB: I don’t have a favourite! I couldn’t. Every experience is rewarding in different ways. When I worked with Gordon Hill, he invited me out to where he was working, in Cleveland, Ohio. He had complained about having to drive to his house in Tampa, Florida, and I told him that he shouldn’t complain because that was a dream of mine – to do a drive like that across America. And so my wife and I went out there and we did that drive with Gordon, something like 1200 miles down through Kentucky and Georgia. It was incredible. To be able to do ‘bucket list’ things because of something I enjoy doing is just something I’m very, very thankful for.

So yeah, there’s living the dream and that statement is two fold really. To answer your question properly though, I’ve always enjoyed writing about the Tommy Docherty Man Utd team, partly because it was just before I was born and I am quite a nerd for things like that, but also because they were so well loved and it’s such a great feeling to share these previously untold stories and see the great reception they get. It’s almost like, everyone I’m working on at that moment in time is my favourite. I’m about to get started on a biography for Jimmy Murphy, which has been authorised by his family. That is scary because it’s a huge honour but also so exciting.

 

PC: Which of the current crop of Manchester United players do you admire and what is it about them that personifies being special?

WB: Haha, that’s a good question. There are probably others but the two really I can say are David De Gea and Bastian Schweinsteiger. De Gea is, for me, the best in the world, and Schweinsteiger has just done everything there is to do in the game. That’s not to say that others aren’t special. Wayne Rooney gets a lot of stick and he’s far from my favourite but he became the leading goalscorer for England. That’s got to be pretty special.

 

PC: Will there ever be another Sir Alex Ferguson and how do you rate the new manager Jose Mourinho?

WB: No, I just think it was a freak to see someone so successful for so long. It won’t happen again in my lifetime. All of these things are meant to be surpassed aren’t they, so I guess one day it has to, but there’s no obvious person and team right now, so that’s at least 26 years we’ll be waiting.

Jose is probably the best coach for me. I know it went… interesting… at Chelsea, but I still think tactically he’s the best around. Is he the man to bring entertaining football back to United, I don’t know, but he’s the best man around for the job and we probably hired him three years too late.

 

PC: I used to enjoy the pre-match mind-games between the two, do you think there is value in projecting negative comments to an arch rival?

WB: Not in the projection but in how they’re received, of course. In my most recently published football book, ‘You Can’t Win Anything With Kids’, I wrote about the 95/96 season which was probably the first time ‘mind games’ became a thing in football, or at least something the media picked up on. I was fourteen when it all happened and, like I said, an absorber of football. But looking back you pay more attention to other teams. Well, when you’re researching a book you have to. It was interesting to see that Kevin Keegan, from around Christmas, seemed to lack the belief that his team could win it. He was saying ‘I hope we at least finish second’ when his team were ten points in front. Then came the ‘I’d love it if we beat them’ epic in front of Sky cameras.

More recently there was that 2009 Rafael Benitez rant about facts. That was before a game against Stoke, and they didn’t win the game, I think Steven Gerrard said that the Liverpool players were upset that he’d done that. That was in response to some Fergie comment, too. Mourinho would normally ignore Fergie, he knew that was what was best, but other managers didn’t. That’s what I mean about the projection. Of course Fergie was going to do it, he did it for the best part of twenty years because it was a tool he could use. It’s up to the rival manager to deal with it. It goes to show just how important psychology is in top level sports and how it can make the difference. It’s absolutely fascinating.

 

PC: Best match you have ever witnessed from the stands?

WB: I am going to go the other way on this one, because there are too many good games I’ve seen, but the most enjoyable a time I’ve had is at one of the worst games ever. The 2008 Community Shield with Man Utd and Portsmouth, it finished 0-0, but it was great because my girlfriend at the time lived in London and I lived up North. She came to the game with me – I’m pretty sure it was the first game we went to together. I went back on the train the next day, but unbeknown to her, her entire family knew I’d be coming down the very next day to surprise her with proposing. So I enjoyed that entire day only because of how oblivious she was. Thankfully we won on penalties. If we’d have lost, it might not be such a fond memory!

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PC: In your personal opinion who has scored the most outstanding goal or at least your top 3?

WB: This is subjective and it’s always changing. It will change tomorrow and the next day. Today, it’s Ryan Giggs against Arsenal in 1999, Roberto Carlos’ free kick against France in 1997 and Eric Cantona’s volley against Wimbledon in 1994.

 

PC: As an author, you have enjoyed much success with your books; tell me briefly about the actual process from the ideas stage to your book being published?

WB: Ah, thank you, that’s very kind. I don’t think there’s a defined path or structure. It’s been different for everything I’ve written so far, assuming we’re talking about fiction.

For non-fiction, let’s say an autobiography, I pitch, it either gets accepted or rejected, I brainstorm with the person I’ll be working with and get the ball rolling. Quite early on I’ll be on the lookout for publishers, sometimes publishers ask me and that’s how it starts. You interview, for a long time, then you write, for an even longer time, then you revise and edit, for an even longer time than that. I’ve been very fortunate to have editorial control over most things I’ve worked on, so once the draft is done, it’s pretty much that which ends up being the final copy. Of course publishers have their own editing teams which make everything as perfect as can be, and their help and experience is so crucial. Nothing beats that feeling when the book arrives at your house in its box.

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PC: You have released a number of books; including your debut novel Coal House, was this a story you have always wanted to write or was it a lightbulb moment that inspired you, to finally put pen to paper?

WB: Maybe two years ago I had an idea that I wanted to try something new within the big world of writing, to keep it fresh. It does still feel like a great dream, but even dreams need freshening up to keep the mind active. I wanted to satisfy that 13 year old kid who wanted to be an author.

We flew to America the day after my first book with Brian Greenhoff was published and at customs in arrivals they ask you what you do for a living. I was a little too shy to say I was an author as I still didn’t feel like one. I do now, but for a long time I flitted between author and writer. I felt fiction writers were really the authors. I don’t know why, it’s just the way my brain computes it. So I wanted to write a fiction book, and I’m such a geek for horror films that it was always going to be a horror that I wrote first of all. I wrote it just as a story with no expectations because, after all, I wrote non-fiction.

I knew Rudling House because they published the autobiography for Ally Begg, the former MUTV presenter, and we ran a feature on it for the website. So I sent Rudling House the story I had, and it was probably three months later I got a phone call from Karen, the owner, to say she wanted to publish it. It was the scariest and best phone call ever.

MABLETHORPE-FRONT-COVER

PC: You recently had your latest novel Mablethorpe published; did you draw on your own experience of holidays in caravan parks? I really want you to say yes, throughout my childhood we spent many summer holidays in either chalets or caravans, it was a lot of fun, at a time when going abroad was still a dream.

WB: Yes! It was, completely. Coal House is set in North Wales and one thing that helped me write it was the isolation and the transformation of a place that is peaceful and welcoming into a menacing prospect. If you have enough quiet, and enough dark spaces, you can make that happen, and to be honest, growing up watching horror films, we always had scary ideas of what happens on those caravan sites. You know, the things you tell each other as kids. So I thought I’d take those stories and put them in a book.

 

PC: Mablethorpe has been well received, described as a thriller: Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire.  Halloween 1983. When eight year old local boy Aidan Truscott goes missing, without a trace, a search for him begins. As it continues, the once tight-knit community begins to reveal its suspicions and point fingers, unraveling hurtful secrets and accusations. The truth, however, is far worse than anyone could have imagined… Are all the characters in the book completely fictional or do you base any of them on someone you may have stumbled across at one time?

WB: They are all fictional, as are all the businesses and parks in the book. There are some place names which are real; Queens Park, and the High Street. It’s a fictionalised version of a place but I think if anyone tries really hard they could probably map it out.

I think you are always influenced by what you know so there inevitability has to be some degree of reality in there, but, it’s a very bleak story for the most part and thankfully nothing like that has happened to me. There is an element of the book which discusses small towns and reputations. And I guess we all know or have been in situations like that.

 

PC: Who is your core audience, what sort of age group is Mablethorpe most suitable for and what I mean by that is, would it appeal to a young teenager or is it very much defined as an adult book?

WB: I would probably say mid-teenage upwards. Like I said, it is bleak and quite dark in places.

 

PC: If you were offered the opportunity to turn any of your books into a TV series or film would you embrace the chance to do so?

WB: Definitely, and it feels surreal that there has actually been interest on this front. I don’t know what it will amount to but watch this space.

 

PC: Your next publication will be a fiction book with the title Peach, an epic tale of loss, love, and emptiness with plenty of twists and turns, set on both sides of the Atlantic. The story revolves around Freddie Ward a travelling musician …. Tell us more?

WB: Funnily enough, this is the story I’ve had longer than any other. Around eight or nine years ago I submitted a script, my first professional creative writing work, to the BBC. The core of that story is what became Peach and I was inspired to write it as a book for two reasons. Firstly, the feedback for Coal House, and secondly, the recent work I’d done as a ghost writer around that time – it had been so rewarding and enlightening that I wanted to try and put down all these ideas I had about life, our place in the modern world, and the value of all these relationships that we make.

 

PC: How did you decide on the title and how does it fit into the theme of the story?

WB: I had a few ideas but nothing was sounding perfect. We were out at dinner with my nephew and I remember clearly feeling very frustrated about not having a title that reflected it. So, the title of the original script that went to the BBC was ‘Limerence’. And then I looked on Amazon and someone had literally just released a book with that name… I think it was self-published, but still, it’s on there and recent and anyway, the core of the story had changed so much.

Around the time I had been interested in colour psychology – I go through periods where I get interested, fascinated with odd stuff like that. So I thought, you know, that could be a goer… And I’d seen a very, very intriguing book cover for a book called Quiet! by Susan Cain. I didn’t buy it, but it was basically, the word ‘Quiet’ embossed on a pure white cover. It was beautiful. It made me think of the Beatles White Album; how something so plain can be so bold. I think it’s a book on psychology. It all seemed to be fitting into an idea.

So, I was out at dinner reading up the connotations associated with Peach on my phone, and had a Eureka! moment. It fits for the rest of the series as well, and other colours that will serve as titles. Peach is conversational, it’s also associated with introspection on almost an existential level. I thought it was perfect for the story as, like I say, it’s all about those connections and relationships we have. The original idea was to have a drenched Peach cover with the word embossed but I have fallen in love with a different idea now. How much say I’ll have in how the cover turns out, I can never know, but I think it helps that I have a strong visual idea. People totally do judge a book by its cover.

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PC: The actor Charles Baker who is probably most well known for his role as ‘Skinny Pete’ in the TV series Breaking Bad is making his solo musical debut by performing the original soundtrack accompaniment. I don’t think I have ever read a book that has a soundtrack before, am I late to the party or is this a fairly new idea?

WB: When I had the idea it felt fresh and new. I was thinking of what could be innovative and offer something different to be immersive for readers, and as the story is about a musician, it just seemed very obvious.

The idea has been around for a while, though. Michael Nesmith of the Monkees wrote the book The Prison in 1974 and released that with a soundtrack. Goodreads has a list of ‘books with soundtracks’ and there are a fair few on there. I discovered all of this after I had the idea, after the idea was in motion.

 

PC: How did you get Charles Baker involved in this project?

WB: I was working with him on his autobiography. The manuscript is completed and we’re just waiting to share further information on the release of it when it’s appropriate. So we keep in touch. When you are writing someone’s life story you have to make it your duty to get to know them completely, that means consuming as much available information you have. Of course, everyone knows about him from Breaking Bad at that piano scene. But there are a bunch of YouTube clips of him doing other stuff, this cover of ‘Longing to Belong’ but especially the Israel Kamakawiwo’ole style version of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ on ukulele.

Given that it was working with Charles that helped to breathe life into Peach, in so much that I was able to articulate things in a way I hadn’t been previously, he was just the natural person for the role. He’s so perfect. But I’m the master procrastinator and I thought about it for nearly two months before I dared ask because I was like, there’s just no way he’ll be into this, it’s just… fantasy. But I did, and he was totally into it. I don’t know why I worried, because he’s so awesome. He loved the idea. And I’m so glad because without him, I don’t think it’d work quite the same way. I mean, I know some musicians, some talented people, but… it had to be Charles.

 

PC: He is such a lovely man, I interviewed him earlier in the year and we talked about him having previously been in a band, but having had the privilege of hearing a couple of the songs that will be on the Peach soundtrack I have to say he has a gorgeous singing voice, it has almost a vulnerability feel to it which fits the lyrics and the music very well. You wrote the lyrics, and he composed the music is that correct?

WB: Yeah, that’s what I mean about it having to be Charles. There are some of the songs are anchored with heartbreak and all of the emotion that he brings to the table. That and the obvious stardust. And the others, are just… Some of the songs had been around for Limerence. I dabble, and I guess I can write a pretty good song, I guess many people can. I’d written some more for the story when it became Peach and then I was inspired to write more and more since hearing how fantastic Charles’ interpretations are. I wrote the lyrics, mostly, but Charles has been creative with the arrangements to make them perfect, and I wrote out the basic music but again Charles has taken it and enhanced it like someone of his capability can. He is so talented, unfairly and ridiculously so, and I’m just so excited for everyone to hear it.

 

PC: When can we look forward to the book coming out?

WB: I don’t know, is the honest answer. I would say you can expect it in 2017 but don’t be surprised to be hearing things before then.

 

PC: Are you already thinking about the next book after Peach, do you start straight away researching the next one or do you take a break from writing?

WB: Away from fiction, it’s probably the busiest spell for me in terms of sports writing. I have three open projects, the Jimmy Murphy one I mentioned earlier and two others.

I have already started writing the second in the series after Peach, hopefully there will be a few to follow, and more soundtracks to accompany. My breaks are vacations, but even then, I tend to be doing something like having a meeting or something like that!

 

Moving on to the music questions now.

 

PC: Manchester or Madchester as its better remembered on the music scene, has long been recognised as one of the most important areas outside of London to produce great musicians, were you big on music as a teenager?

WB: Yeah, I’ve always loved my music. We were brought up on ELO and The Beatles, I was reading one of your recent interviews, actually, where it was said we rebel against what we were forced to listen to as kids. That’s true and it went full circle, I love both now. In my teenage years it was all about Britpop and I was team Oasis for that one. Then I got into more obscure stuff. The New Radicals had that one hit wonder ‘You only get what you give’ but their record shaped my late teens. Gregg Alexander is a songwriting genius. He actually wrote the soundtrack for the film ‘Begin Again’. I think that may be what planted the seed for Peach. We watched that film and my wife suggested I contact Gregg to do his autobiography (she does this whenever I wax lyrical about an idol). I thought, no, but, soundtracks are a good idea, and then eventually it morphed… I digress.

 

PC: What was the first record you ever bought? And what would be the last?

WB: Oh, God, physically it might have been Come on You Reds by Man Utd and Status Quo, the 1994 FA Cup song… no, wait. I might be able to redeem some cool points here. We got a CD player for Christmas in 1992 or 1993. And I was given the Meatloaf Bat out of Hell 2 CD. And I went and bought the original Bat out of Hell single, on CD, from Andy’s Records.

The last was Pete Yorn ‘Arranging Time’, Pete’s the best and this for me is record of the year.

 

PC: In the old days of the late 80’s early 90’s the 12” single was what I bought most, on which format do you like to listen to music now?

WB: I most often listen to mp3 through the iPod, I have to admit. But, last year, I was given an old school record player for my birthday, and I only have a small collection. There’s just something good about listening to music as it once was, even if it’s not exactly as ‘vintage’ as it used to be. I remember that my Mum had the ELO record which was red. I suppose those kind of things are reproduced now. So it’s great but just not the same.

 

PC: Is there a certain song or lyric(s) that always moves you emotionally?

WB: Oh yeah, going back to that Pete Yorn record. There is a song on there, Shopping Mall. It’s so sad and desperately heartbreaking and utterly utterly brilliant. ‘I can’t tell you anything you didn’t already know / I can’t give you anything you don’t already have / I can’t tell you anything’.

And I was listening to Bruce’s 41 Shots at the weekend. It’s always a pretty powerful song, but I find it crazy how something recorded a generation ago can still speak so powerfully today. I always love the sax solo in Jungleland.

 

PC: Music therapy is being hailed as being a benefit to a wide range of people; tell me an album that soothes your mind or heart in troubled times?

WB: I can’t say there is any one song or album. I have go-to music when I’m in a certain mood but it’s more like the style of song. So, I don’t know, So Alive by Ryan Adams or In Transit by Albert Hammond Jr. Just two melody heavy feel good songs. It would be true but probably too sycophantic to say Pete Yorn again, to be honest.

 

PC: Best gig you have ever been to?

WB: And we’re still with Pete Yorn. Wow. His side project, The Olms, in the Gramercy in New York in 2013. That was just a very awesome show. I also saw the Counting Crows in Manchester and we got to hang out with them which was very cool. Adam Duritz is an experience in himself.

 

PC: Do you dance? Do you have a signature dance move?

WB: I can’t dance, no way, but I’ll tell you this, I did the David Brent dance to my little nephew once. It was to stop him crying, but he loved it, he now has his own little dance. He’s not even two. Literally, the coolest kid.

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PC: Three genres of music you have a tendency to be drawn to?

WB: Acoustic folky stuff, indie rock, and although my wife will kill me for admitting it, I have a bit of a weakness for the new style of pop at the moment, things like Churches. I think it’s the melody and the effects. Like ‘A Real Hero’ from the Drive soundtrack, anything that sounds like it could have been made in the 80s.

 

PC: You have travelled a lot, are you open to new music and are there any songs you can share with us?

WB: I don’t really think my taste is that eclectic, but I tend to follow the musicians from bands I like and their side projects that aren’t always that well known. Paul Doucette from Matchbox Twenty did a record called ‘Milk The Bee’ with his project The Break and Repair Method and that thing is a masterpiece. It may be about eight or nine years old now. I like a lot of soundtracks. Let me have a quick look on my iPod and see if there’s anything different… Okay, if you ever saw the movie Almost Famous – which has an amazing soundtrack by the way – there’s an instrumental acoustic song from the movie, that isn’t on the OST. It’s called ‘Cabin in the Air’ by the Uncool. That’s on my iPod. And lately I’ve been enjoying discovering a few ‘unknown’ artists on YouTube for myself. I hope to maybe work with one or two for future projects.

 

PC: Can you write and listen to music at the same time or do you need silence?

WB: I have found that I can do both but I work better in silence. My attention span needs sharpening.

 

PC: What would be your most frequently worn band t-shirt?

WB: You know, I don’t think I’ve got one. I should fix that.

 

PC: Is there a particular movie soundtrack you never tire of?

WB: Lost in Translation is awesome, and Rocky IV is a guilty pleasure. You’ve reminded me, Charles told me about Jesse Plemons, who he was in Breaking Bad with, who did some original songs for the soundtrack to Flutter. I need to check that out.

 

Last two questions I ask everyone.

PC: How would you describe your perfect day?

WB: I have two, can I cheat? The first, staying at the Boardwalk Resort in Walt Disney World and doing little else. That’s my lazy day. My productive one would be doing some writing and then going out for a leisurely stroll on Sunset Boulevard.

 

PC: I cannot possibly live without……

WB: My wife, my nephew and my three incredible sisters in law!

You can follow Wayne on Twitter

waynebartonbooks.com

 

 

 

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