I’m happy to be mummy’s boy

Si­monRound speaks to a nov­el­ist con­cerned to cel­e­brate an im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&books -

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.”


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