Simon Maginn – Putting the Tongue in Brighton’s Literary Cheek

A writer’s success is often defined by their notoriety, or at the very least, by their own unique footsteps which have left a mark of distinction upon a particular genre. Local author Peter James, for example, has achieved astounding levels of notoriety. As too has former Hove-resident Anthony Burgess who went on to define a whole age of dystopian satire.

Local novelist Simon Maginn, on the other hand, hasn’t achieved this same level of success. This is no bad thing at all. As those who are familiar with him will know, his literary career has already spanned eight books, under two names, and reaches the corners and ridges of just about every foreseeable, and unforeseeable, life event.

“I have written novels about sheep, saints, virgins, bikers, care in the community rats and government,” he tells me on a bright-yet fresh, April morning. Indeed the majority of Simon’s novels are sinister horror books; but he also writes comedy books under the name of Simon Nolan. “My most recent book is a comedy but this ranges all the way to a book I’m writing now which is a dark one about a fascist group in Brighton in 1937.”

His 2010 book ‘Whitehawk’ blended mad vulgarity with slingshot satire in an affectionate look at the residents who live in the East Brighton suburb. The novel didn’t garner international popularity but it did build upon his previous efforts.

In 1999 his title ‘As Good as it Gets’ generated small ripples of acclaim in The Observer, Time Out and the Sunday Times. Most of his books prove exceptional reads with well-organised wit and social commentary. His books are locally renowned for their personable and strongly edged characters. They are presented in a digestible and fast-paced style.

Despite this it is his debut novel ‘Sheep’ which initiates the majority of questions about his work. “This book got the attention of a freelance film producer in Los Angeles who optioned it” – Simon is quick to illuminate on the book’s tangled tale.

“Suddenly the option was bought by a new production company. Sean Bean and Maria Bello were ‘attached’; the budget ballooned correspondingly and the new script made barely any reference to the existing script, or indeed the novel.”

As the April sun starts to slowly dim behind the clouds in my garden, Simon hilariously and poignantly recounts: ‘Why did this happen? We simply don’t know but [as Tom Wolfe says] ‘bank the cheque, walk away.’”

It has always been a point of intrigue to me why Brighton is such a prolific destination for those in the arts -whether it is musicians, writers or painters. “It is simply a very easy place to be” Maginn maintains. “For me I’ve written about it in four novels now and I think I’m starting to like it.”

It was the smoky beaches of the Wirral where Maginn originally came from. The Wirral – famous for its degraded shipbuilding works and for its proximity to the River Mersey – has inspired countless authors.

It is the Mersey obsession with football which is one of his defining, although not necessarily pleasurable memories of his upbringing. “The assumption on Merseyside is that any possible human thought can, and should, be expressed in footballing terms. My mum had to have her eyes done a few years back: the consultant explained her macular degeneration in terms of wear round the goalmouths!”

Maginn is a humorous writer who plays homage to the daily concerns and pleasures of living in Brighton. What is clear for the future is that he is more suited than so many others to document the bizarre and interesting happenings which this city all too often displays.

Simon’s most recent novel, Whitehawk, is available from Waterstones and City Books and online at www.simonmaginn.com

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