Matt Beaumont has built up a reputation over the past decade as one of Britain’s finest, and funniest, contemporary novelists. As he returns to the book that first put him on the map with e2, a sequel to his quite outstanding debut e, he spared us some time for a chat…
What inspired you to return to the world of e now? You’ve seemed to be someone who leaves old projects in the past usually?
I think ten years after is a perfect time to set a sequel. You should leave your characters to stew in their own mire for a decade, before exhuming them, older, no wiser, but considerably more jaded, embittered and cynical.
And what inspired you to write a book of e-mails in the first place?
Real life. I wasn’t looking to write a novel (I didn’t think I was capable, to be honest), but it seemed a natural step to fictionalize the daily soap opera of office inboxes; so obvious that, when I’d finished it and found a publisher, I couldn’t quite believe no one had got there before me.
How tricky were writing the first 50 pages or so? With the first e, you had to work hard just to get across the concept of a book written in e-mails, and here you’ve had to put across a series of existing characters for those who didn’t pick up book one?
No trickier than any other book I’ve written. It’s just storytelling. The complexity isn’t in the form, but in the number of characters that have to be established more or less simultaneously. The writers of TV soap face the same problem. Of course, the Corrie and Enders mobs have literal armies of writers and script editors to deal with the challenge. I, on the other hand, do it on my own. I guess this makes me special. Or a mug. I should delegate more, shouldn’t I? Did you know John Grisham doesn’t write his own books these days? He has ‘people’ do it for him. Actually, I don’t know if that’s true. It could just have been made up by someone envious of his success. Maybe I made it up.
Have you ever worked for a David Crutton figure? And given that a few real life names appear in the book – your publicist seemed quite pleased to be a synchronised swimmer, for instance – how many of the characters have real-life equivalents?
The only real people in the book are the guys at my publisher, the Big Brother producer and a couple of advertising names that are obliquely referred to. Only the guys at my publisher get e-mails made up on their behalf – they couldn’t say no, could they? I have never worked for anyone as spectacularly twattish as Crutton. I’ve worked for a few who’ve tried to be and one that came close. But no cigar.
By including the likes of instant messenger chats in the book, you’re able this time to relay events in the present tense. Did that complicate the writing of the story in any way? Especially when you start juggling blog posts, eBay listings and such like too?
As I said before, it’s all just storytelling. Slipping from IM to text to e-mail to eBay actually expanded the possibilities. I felt with this book that I had a far bigger canvas. When I was writing e I was restricted by the fact that the story could progress only via people writing emails from desk-bound computers. It’s difficult to remember how primitive the internet was just ten years ago.
Who taught you to swear so spectacularly well? Some of the cussing rants in the new e book are simply majestic.
No one taught me. I believe it’s a natural gift, like Lionel Messi’s way with a football. My daughter complains that I swear too much. I showed her your tribute. ‘Read it and fucking weep, kiddo,’ I told her. That fucking shut her up.
(By the way, my daughter wants me to tell your readers that she provided the excellent illustration in e2. ‘And I’m only nine,’ she adds.)
Given the fact that the book touches on Big Brother, YouTube hits and strange blogs, is it fair to say that the modern world bemuses you?
No bemusement. The internet – blogs, YouTube, facebook, all of that limitless, unedited, self-aggrandising shite – holds up a perfect mirror to our insanity. The modern world is fucked, innit? Thank the lord, because that’s where all the comedy is.
Out of interest, what did you think of the book Who Moved My BlackBerry? It seemed influenced by e… (and, of course, it gets a namecheck in e2)
Honestly, I have no axe to grind with anyone who chooses to tell a story with emails. Epistolary novels have been around for centuries, and there have been a few e-mail novels since e. I hold no monopoly any more than Jilly Cooper has the copyright on books about posh people having laughable sex. However, I don’t have much regard for writers who do the email thing and are crap at it. Conclude from that what you will.
How is the NBC adaptation of e coming along? How involved have you been with it? What are your thoughts on it?
It’s coming along nicely, thanks. Slowly but nicely. I’ve seen a first draft for episode one and it definitely has its moments. I’ve been involved in only a minimal way: they ask me what I think, I tell them, they ignore me. My thoughts on it? Doesn’t every author, aside from JD Salinger, long to see his name preceded by the words ‘Adapted from a novel by’?
Of which of your books are you the proudest?
Always the latest one.
Do you have an e3 in mind? What are you working on next?
I might start e3 in 2019. My God, Crutton will be sixty! That’s frightening. I’m not working on anything at the moment. Don’t mention this to my publisher. I’m safe discussing it here. He doesn’t know how to work the internet.
Can you recommend three books not written by you or anyone you live with?!
James Elroy’s LA Trilogy. Count them as one, if you like. Then add Smiley’s People by John Le Carré and Kill Your Friends by John Niven. I love Kill Your Friends.
e2 is on sale now, and you can find our review here…