William Sutcliffe is a novelist concerned to celebrate an important relationship
William Sutcliffe is not anticipating a call from the compilers of the Man Booker Prize shortlist for his new novel, Whatever Makes You Happy (Bloomsbury £10.99). “If you are writing about young people, you are disqualified from every literary prize,” Sutcliffe claims. “You are also disqualified if you are funny, use lots of dialogue, or write about contemporary Britain — everything I tend to do.”
But Sutcliffe, 37, the fresh-faced author of cult success Are You Experienced?, says he is not unduly bothered — “some writers are poisoned by setting literary prizes as a goal”. But he adds somewhat acidly: “In fiction, being a bit boring can help you to appear a better writer.”
His new book addresses a theme Sutcliffe believes is taboo — the relationship between men and their mothers. “You’ll never see an A-list actor — George Clooney, Tom Cruise or Harrison Ford — have a relationship with his mother. If you did, the reaction would be: ‘Look at this guy, he is such as loser.’ A lot of men are quite close to their mothers. Why be ashamed?”
Sutcliffe is indeed close to his mother, although he is keen to point out that none of the relationships in the book resembles theirs. “There is a Jewish mother in the book but she is quite reticent. I resent that Maureen Lipman BT-ad stereotype.”
The other important female in Sutcliffe’s life is his wife, the novelist Maggie O’Farrell. “She reads my manuscripts and gives me advice and support, and I do the same for her,” Sutcliffe says. “Being published can be such a terrible experience that it helps to be with someone who understands it.”
It is also handy for childcare. As Sutcliffe and O’Farrell both work from home (currently Edinburgh, but they intend to return to London this year), their four-year-old son Saul has always been looked after by his parents.
Sometimes, though, Sutcliffe pines for something other than sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day. He tries to mix his novel writing with journalism and screen-writing, but realises his life is always going to lack the glamour of his lifelong friend, Sacha Baron Cohen: “He is a genuine A-list guy. I don’t get to see him much because he lives in LA now, but we are still good mates.” A novelist’s life is different: “Sometimes having a letter to post is really exciting because it gets me out of the house.”