Mike Thomas is the author of Ugly Bus and Pocket Notebook. Originally hailing from Wales, and a policeman for the better part of two decades, here he tells us why Shadowlands makes him cry (lack of zombies, apparently), how he’d adjudicate the resultant punch-up at his dream dinner party and why an abandoned lorry looms large in the memories of his mis-spent youth.
Why do you write?
I’ve been a copper for twenty years. There’s a lot of insane shit to work through. Not least repairing my faulty moral compass. So in short: therapy.
What’s your inspiration for writing?
Life. People. Earning enough never to have to go back to work for the police. Ever.
What were you doing before you became a writer?
I was, and still am, Old Bill. Sorry ‘bout that. But I’ve been on a sabbatical for the last three years and can barely remember what it was like to be a plod. Thankfully.
Just the one? That’s too difficult, so here’s a few: Hangover Square, The Road, A Confederacy of Dunces, Crimes in Southern Indiana, anything by Dan Rhodes but especially Little Hands Clapping. Anything by David Vann. Denis Johnson rocks. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is a work of demented genius. I used to adore the energy and fuck-you vibe of early Chuck Palahniuk, but we’ve long since parted ways. Favourite book of the last ten years or so is Mailman by J. Robert Lennon. Superb and surreal story of a US postie that goes postal.
Again, too difficult to name just one. Shawshank. Raging Bull. Fight Club. The Pianist. Dead Man’s Shoes. Mulholland Drive. Fargo. Anchorman for the giggles and quotability factor. Lots more. And I’m a huge horror genre fan. Craven, Hooper, Cronenberg, Raimi, Argento et al. Love Romero’s zombie flicks. Any zombie pics actually, because they’re the only things that scare the bejesus out of me. Shadowlands makes me cry, too. Possibly because there are no zombies in it.
Favourite band/album/song (pick any, or all three)?
Depeche Mode have been a constant in my life. Totally uncool to admit it, but I love them. Quite partial to The National. Muse, too. And Burial’s music is just excellent. Scratchy, pulsing, haunting and frequently beautiful. Favourite song is a toss-up between Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit and Catatonia’s Bulimic Beats.
What have been the landmark moments in your life to date?
Marriage. Children. Being published. Losing my virginity under an abandoned lorry. The usual.
Where are you right now?
Sitting in my mezzanine bedroom, on a tatty wicker chair and shivering in the Portuguese cold, surrounded by forests of swaying Eucalyptus and perpetually barking dogs.
Your guiltiest pleasure?
Watching Diners Drive-Ins and Dives on Food Network. It’s utter tat, but brilliant. Guy Fieri has the best job in the world: being paid large amounts of money to travel the length and breadth of America while eating lard.
What do you do to relax?
This is rather embarrassing to admit, given my age and their dubious morality, but I do love the occasional blast on a first-person shooter. I’ve always been a gamer, since the days of the BBC Micro and Commodore 64. Shooty games keep me sane, to be frank. Better those than go on a real-life rampage, no?
Approximately how many books do you own?
Hundreds. And I’m yet to read half of them. There are far, far too many books in the world really, and I am doing nothing to alleviate the problem.
Where were you born?
The cradle of civilisation that is Wales.
Fantasy Dinner party. Who would be your four guests and why?
I’ve met a lot of celebrities via my ‘other job’ and, to be brutally honest, most of them have been tossers. Anyway: Noel Gallagher. Larry David. Mike Tyson. Norman Mailer. It would be a scream/punch-up over the trifle.
Tell us about a book you own that you’ve never read.
Catch 22. The shame.
Cats or dogs?
Dogs. I am allergic to cat hair. It makes me mewl like an infant.
Any bad habits?
I used to smoke miniature cigars. Ten a day minimum, until I was borderline emphysemic. But I quit last year and – hooray! – have been miserable as sin ever since. So, bad habits: I am incapable of waking earlier than seven thirty. Utterly incapable. It’s shameful, I know, especially with two young children who are fond of very early starts. Also: snacking on cheese or paté while watching Blu-ray box sets then going to bed very late and waking my wife at two in the morning and whining that I am having a coronary when in fact it’s just heartburn. That. And I’ve just realised there may be a connection between the two.
Hunter S. Thompson used to type out The Great Gatsby to know what it felt like to write it. What would be your choice?
Isn’t that just data entry?
How many places have you lived?
Wales, England, and now Portugal.
If you could be anywhere now, where would it be and who with?
I am where I want to be, with the three people who mean the most to me.
What are your writing habits?
Wake. Eat, drink hot, sweet tea. Pace. Moan to my wife that ‘the scene isn’t working’. Secretly play Clash of Clans in the toilet. Think about lunch. Cook and eat lunch. Reluctantly sit in front of laptop. Type. Get drawn into the scene. Really enjoy writing the scene. Realise you have to collect kids from school and wish you’d started writing a tad earlier. Feel depressed all evening. Repeat each day.
What are you reading now?
A lot of crime novels. It’s a bit Busman’s Holiday, and I’ve steered clear of them for most of my life, but they are research for my next effort. It’s been an eye-opener, especially with British authors. The police procedure and vernacular is mightily wrong in a lot of them, which surprised me.
What and where is your favourite bookshop?
St. David’s Bookshop near the cathedral in St David’s, Pembrokeshire. Tiny, idiosyncratic, wonderful.
Where is your favourite place to read?
In bed. Post-coitus.
Ugly Bus is available now in hardback.