Author Q&A: Steven McLaughlin

Mclaughlin is a former member of the Royal Green Jackets and his first novel, Squaddie, dealt with his time on military operations in Iraq and Northern Ireland. His latest book deals with the trials and tribulations of working as a doorman in Blackpool in the early 1990s.

Hero image

Clubland UK

(Mainstream Publishing, £7.99)

Did you find that the process of writing Squaddie helped you get into the mindset of your younger self, whereas if this was your first book you may have been tempted to gloss over a few harsh truths?

When I began writing Squaddie I’d never written a book before and didn’t have a clue where to start, so I decided to simply start from the very beginning of my life, and work steadily through ‘til I reached my military years. Well pretty quickly I got to my nightclub years, wrote a couple of meaty chapters covering that period, stopped, scratched my head, and kind of went ‘hang on a minute there’s a whole other book there’. The great dilemma was that I was supposed to be writing a military memoir and not a true-crime one, so straightaway those clubbing chapters had to go. But the crucial thing is a light went on in my head and I realised that I was psychologically ready to write a second memoir about my nightclub years.

You seem to acknowledge your need for approval from authority figures but then you also enjoyed the power afford by being a doorman. Would you agree and have you reconciled this now?

I agree completely and I still enjoy – but crucially don’t ‘need’ – that approval today. No I haven’t reconciled it and I never will, although I’m a lot more accepting of myself and who I am today. Let me tell you something I have learnt: you don’t achieve anything in life by taking it easy and dwelling on the misfortunes and mistakes of the past. When I was growing up every day of my life I was told that I was rubbish and would be a failure. That belief was ground into me like sandpaper on wood. I still hear that voice today but I choose to prove it wrong. I welcome it because it drives me to work harder and achieve more – so bring it on and let’s fight till we’re dead in the ground.

The lifestyle you witnessed as a doorman sounds both intoxicating and destructive, were you concerned about portraying people who may recognise themselves in your work?

Not really because of these two factors: I have been truthful and I have been fair. I’m also my own severest critic and if anybody comes out the book badly then it’s me. It comes down to this really: I’m a writer; I’ve lived a life and I have a tale to tell. And all’s I can do is tell that tale – warts and all – as honestly and fairly as I can. Because if you dilute too much of it away to save peoples’ egos then there’s nothing left.

You say there are ticking time bombs of steroid abusing, pumped up young men with a lack of self-restraint who are attracted to the role of doorman or even working within frontline police…why do you think they’re allowed to get away with it?

Because all of the focus of the so-called ‘war on drugs’ has been on the softer drugs that give short-term highs, like cannabis, and the harder drugs like heroin. But sometimes a growing  problem is staring you in the face. You open your eyes and it’s all around you and the effects that it has on some users psyches are massive. In recent years I’ve noticed that whenever there’s a high profile murder or crime the culprits are always on steroids and that fact gets overlooked by the media as they prattle on about their ‘spliff use’ etc. but at the same time ignore the obvious staring them in the face. Want some extreme examples? The Rettendon Range Rover murders in Essex; Raul Moat, Dale Cregan, and many more, right down to the usual Saturday night brawl suspects. Steroids are massive factors in crime now – every bit as much as cocaine or cannabis.

How do you feel about the fact that many members of the armed forces are returning from Afghanistan with PTSD?  There seems to be a generation of people in their late 20s who are deeply affected by it and are just left to drift and often get themselves into trouble (homelessness/violence) when they’re back home?

I think it’s incredibly sad and it makes my blood boil. What rubs salt into the wound for me – and what I think is a major part of the problem – is that these lads and lasses, who gave their all and saw their mates blown up, feel like they’ve sacrificed the best of themselves for a dishonourable and unworthy cause. That’s what makes it worse. The Americans had the same problem post-Vietnam; a whole generation of men who felt like they’d given their all for nothing. You didn’t get the same degree of PTSD in WW2 – not because it wasn’t recognised – because the guys fighting felt they were bleeding and dying for a noble cause. But with the toxic soup that is the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, wounded veterans don’t have that psychological compensation. A lot of them are coming back and are asking themselves why did this happen and was it worth it?  And the answers that they get back are causing them tremendous pain. The ‘blowback effect’ is always worst when soldiers don’t know what they’re fighting for and don’t believe in the cause.

Blackpool has now become the place for hen and stag dos and not necessarily somewhere you’d go for a quiet night out, does this reputation worry you?

I worry more that the town is losing its edge. I think that the rot set in about 10yrs ago and it’s been going steadily downhill since. The 90s were the last great decade in Blackpool. When I was working in the clubs there were about four national ‘superclubs’ such as The Palace and literally scores of other clubs too, both large and small. I remember ticketing punters on weekends and the pavements would be heaving for miles around, from the pleasure beach to the tower and beyond. It was a massive blow when the town lost the casino bid because that would have transformed it into the Las Vegas of Britain. That loss was catastrophic to the town and the club scene has been in steep decline ever since. I’d say there’s only about a quarter of what we had in the 90s now – and that includes the Stag & Hen parties too.

What projects are you working on now?

I’m still coming down off writing Clubland UK because it took a lot out of me and I feel all ‘written out’ for now. Next year I’m going to have a serious bash at writing fiction, which I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I don’t know if I’ll be any good at it but I’ll try and I’m looking forward to finding out. Can I just say that I feel incredibly honoured and proud to be appearing in the Big Issue magazine? I think it’s an amazing thing that you’re doing with this magazine and what it represents is remarkable – the generosity of the human spirit and the willingness to give people a second chance. Anyone of us – no matter how high or mighty we think we are – can be struck down by homelessness or misfortune at any time. People never think it will happen to them but all’s it can take is a few wrong turns, a bit of bad luck, and then you’re there. I always try to remind myself of that fact. So thanks for the good work you do.

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to Author Q&A: Steven McLaughlin

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.