Natters With TheChels – Walter Otton

In a new monthly feature, TheChels.Net are going to be talking to familiar names and faces among not only the Chelsea support, but trying to shine a light on those behind the news off the pitch in SW6. In the run up to the end of the season we’ll be talking to CPO director Charles Rose, and Chair of the Chelsea Supporters Trust Working Group, Tim Rolls, but we kick off by having a natter with CFCUK scribe and embryonic literary lion, Walter Otton, whose first novel, The Red Hand Gang, had a very successful launch party at The Star & Garter in Putney last week, attended by over 100 people, including many Chelsea fans.

The Chels: How did The Red Hand Gang come to be published?

Walter Otton: Well I wrote it in 2005 and I did it self-publishing on a site called Lulu but it never really took off. The publishers weren’t interested so I just let it hang, really. And then last year after meeting Mark Worrall – I’ve known him for a few years through Chelsea and through the fanzine – I re-wrote it cos I was off work for a bit. So I re-wrote big sections of it cos I probably felt that like I’d matured as a writer a bit. He read it and said ‘we’re doing this’, so he did it.

TC: And the book swings quite vividly from the poverty of South London and Kenya to the almost pastoral feel of ‘Three Men In A Boat’. Was that intentional?

WO: No, not intentional at all. In fact I’ve never even seen ‘Three Men In A Boat’, but I’ve heard about it! So that that kind of thing – I did choose to swing from the underground and the overground themes quite drastically. My intention was that the underground themes at times represented Hell on earth – poverty and injustice and abuse, and then when the main character gets off, the claustrophobia, or the prison feeling of the tube train, goes out of the tube station and out into fresh air, which represents Heaven, so different colours, justice, no poverty, no war and all the kinds of things that are the opposite to evil, really.

TC: And what, or who, has inspired you as a writer?

WO: I suppose I’d say I love Peter Benchley’s book, the guy who wrote Jaws, and I love Ben Elton’s stuff, especially his early stuff, and I think what triggered it for me was when I first read ‘The Football Factory’ by John King. It’s so easy to say ‘this is a book about hooliganism’ or ‘this is a book about football’ or ‘this is a book about violence’. It’s so much more than that and the themes that run through it – you know, political, stuff to do with war, and also his third book in that trilogy, which is ‘England Away’ – some very incredible things coming through there and so when I read that stuff, especially two of his later books, called ‘The Prison House’ and ‘White Trash’, I went and thought ‘this is the kind of groove that I want to get in’. And latterly I’ve been reading some Irvine Welch stuff – I saw ‘Trainspotting’ many years ago as everyone did, but predominantly one of his books called ‘Ecstasy’. And ‘Marabou Stork Nightmares’. Real genius, and I kind of want to mirror that style really.  Mario Puzo & Roald Dahl are also favourite authors and I’m also a big Michael Connolly fan.

(At this point, a certain well-known fanzine seller who is standing nearby, chips in ‘John King, Football Factory writer, Prison House and all that, he said of me I’m the best punk rock DJ in the West End of London! Trust me! It’s a famous quote from John King!’

Now back to the interview…)

TC: And have you always had very a vivid imagination?

WO: My mum says yes. My mum says that, you know, writing was – well, I knew this from a very young age, actually. I loved to write. My little girl’s now six. She just loves to sit down and write – letters, stories, pictures – and so my mum says it’s kind of been a lot like that. But I suppose some of the dream sequences in the book – I have been a bit of a semi-professional insomniac so I suppose some of that is probably reflected in the chapters where I’m in bed in the book.

TC: And as a writer, do you find it difficult to meet deadlines?

WO: Actually I don’t. If I’ve got a deadline, I meet it. If someone says to me ‘your next book has got to be finished in two months’, I’d finish it. I told myself I’d finish it by Christmas, it’s now 15th March, and I’ve only written one chapter!

TC: Can you tell us something about your next novel?

WO: Yeah – the next novel is called ‘Tales From The Clockhouse’. The Clockhouse Bar is my local and what I’ve done, there’s a character called Robert, who’s a barber and he’s a bit twisted and so that’s going to be one of the dark themes of the book. It begins a few years ago, and when Facebook comes into fruition he creates a pseudonym and hunts down the bullies who tortured him at school. So there’s going to be a bit of a dark side – linked with my CFCUK articles which I wrote about Barcelona, Munich and Monaco, so I’m going to adapt those and create a character called Henry, who is a bit of a nutter, a bit of a Class A drug taker, big boozer, big womaniser, and the book’s going to come to a head when Robert gets to cut Henry’s hair!

TC: You’ve developed a cult following this season following the epic away days at Brentford and Manchester Utd. How do you feel about that?

WO: I feel a bit embarrassed really! The thing about Brentford is that it was 19 years since the Shed terrace was knocked down at Chelsea and this was the first time I’d been on the terracing since, for the Brentford away game. Now one of the things that captured me when I was a kid, when I was going to the football on the Shed, was when the whole Shed would get down to sing ‘Ten Men Went To Mow’, and I just loved watching the crowd get up and sing. So at Brentford I got on Smiffy’s shoulders, and there was always a Choirmaster in the Shed who’d go ‘Down! Down!’ and everyone would get down for the song, and I wanted to do that, so I got on his shoulders,started ‘One Man Went To Mow’, was trying to get everyone to go down and no-one did! And then of course with YouTube, people put it on there and then the thing about Man U, I was trying to sell some ‘Rafa Out!’ badges so I get up on Smiffy’s shoulders to try and shout ‘There’s these badges, they’re three pounds’ and ended up singing the Demba Ba song, and Ivanovic, so yeah, it’s been coincidental, not planned. It’s a bit of a shambles really!

TC: And what do you think the rest of the season holds for Chelsea?

WO: We were talking about this on the way to Old Trafford on Sunday. We were on the coach, having a drink and no-one thought we’d win. People were saying ‘3-0’, ‘4-0’, ‘we might get a goal’. Obviously I’m not behind the manager, I’m not behind the board with the decisions that they’ve made, and so it’s a little bit like old school Chelsea. You go all the way to Old Trafford expecting to get a tonking, and then we come back and draw two all for a replay. I think that we’ve been lucky to get through against Prague, lucky against Bucharest, who knows what’s going to happen in the next round as far as Europe is concerned. I wouldn’t be surprised if we finished sixth, I wouldn’t be surprised if we finished third in the league. As for the FA Cup, you know I think Chelsea are unique in that we’ve always loved it. We’ve always put out a strong team. We’ve always taken big numbers to FA Cup games away. It’s part of our tradition, it’s part of our culture, so I’m more excited about the FA Cup than I am anything else.

TC: And finally, one question that we’re going to be asking everyone this season – how do you plan to celebrate the anniversary of the European Cup win on 19th May?

WO: Good question! I’m probably going to see if a few of the lads are going to come round. I absolutely loved the food when I was in Munich, and I’ve perfected my own currywurst, so I’m probably going to get Big Chris, Tall Paul, Smiffy, and a couple of others round, and I’ll cook a curry for all the boys.

TC: Excellent, many thanks Walter.

WO: Thank you. Up the Chels!

Walter Otton’s novel, The Red Hand Gang is available for Kindle through Amazon. There is now a limited paperback print run and if you’re looking for a copy your best bet might be the CFCUK stall opposite Fulham Broadway tube on matchdays. You can follow Walter on Twitter @WalterOtton and, as always, you can find me @BlueBaby67