Christopher Beanland is best known for his journalism; published in The Independent, The Guardian, Huffington Post and more. He is respected for his bon mots on music, travel and architecture. He has just penned his first novel ‘Spinning Out of Control’ – a tale of a young man’s quest to fabricate fame and publicity for a tramp from the streets of Birmingham in order to win back both his PR agency job and the heart of his University sweetheart. WSI Magazine was lucky enough catch up with him for a conspiratorial chat in an underground West End bar at lunchtime over a gin and tonic.
The plot is an acerbic poke at the UK’s media - set in the golden era of 2008, when (allegedly) expense accounts were plentiful, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll antics were rife and industry networking somewhat corrupt - but yet, the characters are humanistic, fallible, poignant… sometimes even loveable. Central to the tale is the anti-hero Tom Wroxham, whose raison d'être, following a dramatic discharge from his high flying job as a publicist, is to raise the career of homeless busker Keith to superstardom; for pride, professional recognition and also Emaline – the one true love whose Birmingham lifestyle is a simplistic aurora compared to Tom’s complicated (and often medicated) London existence.
WSI: How much of the book is autobiographical?
CB: Absolutely none at all, it's entirely fiction. Absolutely none of it was 'lightly inspired' by various 'encounters' I've had with assorted media organisations and personalities. (He laughs) Not one bit…
WSI: What made you decide to set the narrative in the media?
CB: Really good question. I was worried readers might feel it's a big 'in joke', which is why I ended up re-writing the entire end part to broaden out the story into the more universal areas. I think everyone is familiar with something media-y though - be it their daily paper or morning breakfast show on the radio, watching TV or whatever, and might have wondered what happens behind the scenes. There didn't seem to be a really good, recent satire of the media - something coruscating like ‘Kill Your Friends’ or even ‘Nathan Barley’ or ‘Brass Eye’, and I thought it's such a ridiculous world it deserved to be torn to shreds. Especially the world of PR- ha ha - I guess I wanted to shine a light on that, especially as it's so strange and hidden. I guess I also wanted to write about 'now'. Write a really funny book about what normal life is like in contemporary(ish) Britain, I think Vice magazine does that well…
WSI: Why did you set it in 2008?
CB: I wrote ‘Spinning Out Of Control’ mostly in 2009-10 and decided it to set it in the previous summer. It took rather longer than I imagined to finish it, I was still editing it this year. In fact, this idea dates back to 2001. The opening isn't much different to what I wrote in the 'computer lab' at Leeds University in 2000. I've sometimes thought about bringing it up to date, but actually I quite like the fact that it's just on the very edge of the digital revolution. It's a sort of artefact of the 'print media' days. I deliberately didn't put too much about social media in there because it's so boring - who wants to read about people Instagramming their pulled pork in a novel..?
WSI: You describe beautifully some of the UK’s urban landscapes and regenerated areas. What is your connection with the geographical locations of the book?
CB: This just lightly skirts around architecture and cityscapes... Really, I think this book is a love letter to Birmingham. I got my first job there and it's really an amazing place to write about - big, weird-looking; a bit sad but Brummies are so self-deprecating, funny and welcoming. If I hadn't read some amazing books by Brummies, like Catherine O'Flynn, Jonathan Coe, Clare Morrall and Lynsey Hanley, I wouldn't have had the bottle to set (most of) it in Brum. But, they showed me it could be done.
WSI: do you have a favourite character and is it based on a real person?
CB: I guess Keith, he's just a total flight of fancy and not in the London media at all. He's the nicest character, he's looking for a son I guess and Tom for a father, and that's why they get on as opposites, drawn to each other. He was also the first character I thought up back in 2000! Jesus, I really do drag things out… He's also the sort of 'soul' of Birmingham, along with Emaline, who really loves the city and believes in the power of journalism as a positive force. I also like Brod Newland, the public school-educated music magazine editor. It was fun to write about him…
WSI: Is the media 'doomed', in your opinion?
CB: It is. The future just seems to be community managers. Everything in journalism is PR-led or pegged on someone flogging something - or themselves. People only do interviews to sell their crappy book or whatever. Unbelievable, really. (He smiles, and finishes his drink.)
WSI: How would you sum up the book in a tweet?
CB: "Lots of LOLs about newspapers and the Midlands"? No wait, that sounds bloody awful...
WSI: What's next for you?
CB: I am very slowly writing something a lot more mature, a novel with far fewer jokes about breasts and dogging and drugs. It's about loss - of people you love and of brutalist buildings.
And leaving us with that thought, he exits, out into the sunshine of a Wednesday afternoon.
‘Spinning Out of Control’ by Christopher Beanland is available now via Amazon