The Suede bassist, 53, talks book festivals, his brother’s love of mainstream TV and his debut novel The Ruins
by GABRIEL TATE
You’re discussing how to write a first novel at the Essex Book Festival. Any tips for Metro readers?
You have to recognise stories — what interests you and makes you think ‘what if?’ Then it’s like exercise — you have to do it every day. Write 500 words a day and you’ve got a first-draft novel in about seven months.
Do book festivals and music festivals have anything in common?
Book festivals serve full meals, not cheese sandwiches in graffitied dressing rooms! And they tend to be in cities, whereas music festivals tend to mean you’re stuck in some grim industrial estate on the outskirts of Dortmund for a couple of days.
Why did you decide to write The Ruins?
Being the bass player in Suede gives you a lot of free time. Lots of it was written in hotels, dressing rooms, planes or buses… I’d been writing short stories for a long time and one of them just stuck, so I expanded it to the point where it was 30,000 words and a novel stopped looking so terrifying. I love the band and I’m proud of the records but I wanted to do something that stood or fell on me alone.
Bestseller: Brother Richard PICTURES: SHUTTERSTOCK/GETTY
What’s it about?
Two very different twin brothers. Brandon is a failed musician, Adam is a geeky, shut-in model maker. One of them dies and the other has to find out what happened, and is faced with the option of taking over his brother’s life.
If I was being lazy, I might think you were Brandon and your brother Richard was Adam…
No, they’re both me. Brandon is the self-centred pretentious d***head I would have become if I was a lead singer. Adam is the side of me who wrote the book.
Richard’s whodunnit, The Thursday Murder Club, topped the bestseller charts. Did you compare notes while writing?
We did. There’s a lot of self-doubt in being a first-time writer, so having someone to commiserate with was great. I’d often get a text saying he’d wasted a day down some rabbit hole and I thought, thank God it’s not just me!
Your novels are very different. Do they reflect your different personalities?
I think so. I’m glad they are because it would have been tricky had we been competing for the same audience. Richard has a love of mainstream entertainment, Saturday night telly, pop music, detective novels. None of it is put on, he was that way as a kid. He had a column in a golf magazine when he was 15! I knew he’d write something that would connect with people and he’s a fantastic writer as well. You know you’re in safe hands from page one.
Lead singer: Brett Anderson
You and Brett Anderson are the only founder members still in Suede. How have you stuck it out?
We like the same things. We started the band because we both like theatrical, emotional, violent music and that hasn’t changed. We bicker and disagree but we want to be in the same kind of band and that’s bigger than anything else.
Did you think that was it when the band split up in 2003?
Absolutely. I didn’t want any part of the music business any more. I was convinced it was a money-grubbing, venal, backstabbing industry and it was only when I got real jobs that I realised that’s just work! Then, about halfway through our one-off gig for the Teenage Cancer Trust in 2010, we looked at each other and knew we had to do it again. I’d forgotten what it was like having 5,000 people singing your songs back to you.
Did your new workmates ask about Suede?
It was strange. When I was in an office people felt sorry for me, so no one talked about it, but it was good to do — part of the book is about changing your life entirely at 45.
Have you enjoyed success more second time around?
I treasure it more. First time around, you’re so young that you think it’ll last forever but now I’m aware these things are fragile and it could end tomorrow. It’s an amazing thing to do with your life.
How much of a relief will it be to tour again?
In November we’re doing the 25th anniversary shows for Coming Up and I cannot wait. It’s such a celebratory record. I don’t mind playing the old stuff at all, as long as that’s not all I’m doing. I won’t ever get tired of the feeling Trash or Beautiful Ones bring to people — that shared history is lovely. We also spent lockdown writing a new album, a gnarly, punky, fast record made to be played in sweaty little clubs. The writer in me has loved having all this time but the musician in me is champing at the bit.
■ Mat Osman is appearing at the Essex Book Festival on August 22. essexbookfestival.org.uk
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