William Sutcliffe: Don't call me one of the lads

BEER-guzzling, single, self-centred and tabloid-reading – that's the mental image one might have of an author acclaimed for his "Lad Lit".

William Sutcliffe's work has been flung into a literary genre defined as focusing on young, male characters, particularly those who are selfish, insensitive and afraid of commitment.

But that preconception is soon dispelled as it emerges Will's typical day involves dropping his son at nursery, listening to classical music and enjoying a long walk in the Pentlands.

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Indeed the Cambridge graduate, who is married to fellow novelist Maggie O'Farrell, looks slightly hurt when I mention the "LL" term.

"I've no idea where the term comes from," he says thoughtfully, "If anything I couldn't be more the antithesis of that.

"If there's one thing ties my books together it's that they're all a critique of men and masculinity. My books are all about feelings and emotions and much more in the territory of what's normally thought of as women's fiction."

Will's latest book, "Whatever Makes You Happy", deals with three single thirty-something men, one of whom works for fictional lads' magazine Balls!

But the underlying theme of the book is the importance of the men's relationships with their mothers, who come to stay with them unexpectedly.

"The feedback I've got for this book is that it's of interest to men of my generation and women of my mother's generation," says the writer.

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"It's a book about the relationship between adult men and their mothers. It's a very important relationship, but it's never talked about and you never see it on screen."

So much has the topic caught the imagination of an older female audience that he's been on BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour and been interviewed on radio by Vanessa Feltz, who told him she loved the book.

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Best known for his gap year second novel "Are You Experienced?", Will says he was surprised by the extent of that book's success.

It did so well he was able to give up his day jobs as a tour guide and TV researcher to devote himself entirely to writing.

"Sometimes it seems like my dream job, sometimes it's a bit harder than that," he admits, "What's great about it is no-one tells you what to do but that can also be the hardest thing, that you have to work everything out yourself."

He and Maggie moved to Edinburgh from London three years ago with their son Saul, four.

His wife was raised in North Berwick so they have lots of family nearby.

Their first home in Edinburgh was so small that the two writers had to share a study, which caused a few tensions.

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"It's not very good for a marriage," Will laughs, "That's when I had to work in the library. I usually work with music on and Maggie likes dead silence."

The couple, who met at university though they only got together when they were both working in London, particularly enjoy Edinburgh's green spaces. They now live near the Meadows.

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"All through the summer what I really love is how you can have dinner with your family, put the child to bed and take yourself off to the Pentlands."

His novels display a keen sense of humour, which he honed as part of the famous comedy drama club, Cambridge Footlights.

He once did a sketch with Sacha Baron Cohen, better known for his portrayal of Kazakh TV presenter Borat.

"He did the odd sketch and he was brilliant," Will recalls, "I did one thing with him and he acted me off the stage.

"It was a stupid sketch set in a clothes shop.

"He was coming in to buy clothes but wasn't interested in the ones in the shop, he wanted the ones I was wearing.

"We had a huge argument and he would go on and on, eventually trying to buy my body parts, my ears, my nose and so on.

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"It was pretty stupid but he was so good it made it funny. You can guess which body part he was trying to buy at the end," he recalls, with a grin, "The ending was quite lewd."

Footlights took Will to the Edinburgh Fringe, where he performed sketches with five other students at Southside Community Centre in 1992 and 1993, in a show called "And Don't Come Back".

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He didn't really enjoy performing but believes it was good training for writing. "You learn how just one word in a different place can change something from unfunny to funny.

"All my novels are comic novels but dead serious. They are trying to say something meaningful about life."

He and Maggie read each other's first drafts, but there was someone else he thoughtfully let read "Whatever Makes You Happy" before it hit the shelves.

"My mother was a bit worried when I told her what I was writing about but I showed her an early draft and she was fine about it.

"There's three mothers in the book and they are all quite different from her. If there had been just one, even if she had not been like her, everyone would have assumed it was her."

Will got the idea for the book when he became a father himself. "When you have a baby you begin to imagine yourself in your mother's shoes.

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"It's a bit of a one way street. The child becomes more independent and eventually walks away. Especially men in their 20s, they're off and they don't look back.

"I thought that seems so sad. Having left that part of my life myself I thought it seemed like an interesting thing to write about."

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Will claims he has only once read a copy of Nuts!, which gave him the idea for Balls! "I bought one once for research for the book, but I think those magazines are so despicable."

If there had been any niggling doubt that William Sutcliffe had any lad tendencies they vanish at the end of our interview.

His bike is tied to a lamppost and true to the image that's emerged of him as a sensitive family man – there's a little child's cart dragging along behind it.

• Whatever Makes You Happy by William Sutcliffe is published by Bloomsbury, 10.99.