Crouch End novelist on writing a biopic of Smiths star Morrissey

William Thacker

William Thacker - Credit: Archant

Bridget Galton talks to a Crouch End novelist who has also co-written Morrissey biopic Steven.


Morrissey - Credit: Archant

William Thacker is all too aware that he shares a name with Hugh Grant’s bookshop owner in the movie Notting Hill.

In fact a Google search, that digital barometer of modern celebrity, turns up the fictional Thacker before the real one.

That could all change as the 29-year-old has just published his second novel and wrapped his co-written biopic of The Smiths frontman Morrissey.

Starring War and Peace’s Jack Lowden and Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay, the much-anticipated Steven focuses on Morrissey’s working class teenage years in 70s Manchester and the frustrating dead end jobs he endured before hooking up with guitarist Johnny Marr.

“I was on set which is not typical but they wanted me to have another pair of eyes on the story,” says Thacker. “Not to be a diva just if I thought certain lines weren’t truthful to the meaning of the piece. It was a very collaborative cast and amazing to work with so many talented people. Jack Lowden is going to be great.”

Thacker had already worked on a short film with director Mark Gill, and says the Morrissey project has been “many years in the making.

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“I am definitely a Smiths fan, I used to love the humour of Morrissey’s lyrics and Mark is from the same streets as Morrissey so it’s a very personal story for him.

“As a north Londoner and a music fan I was able to bring a certain objectivity. We complemented each other really well.”

Filmed in Stretford where Morrissey grew up, the movie, which comes out “early next year” did not have the co-operation of its subject and was mostly written before Morrissey’s famously turgid 2013 autobiography.

“We did lots of research about Morrissey before his book came out. We wanted to focus on his adolescence, a particular moment in his life. Many music biopics commit hagiography and re-write history but we wanted to write something a bit different and real.”

Just as Morrissey worked in a tax office by day while attending punk gigs by night, Thacker toiled as an advertising copywriter to “pay the bills” while writing his novel on his Thameslink commute.

“Any story is about a character who wants something and the environment is stopping them from achieving that. Anyone who’s a creative person wants to have the freedom to create. I can relate to the process of wanting to be an artist and being in the 9-5 environment writing 25 articles a day about all sorts of nonsense.”

Having grown up in Onslow Gardens Muswell Hill, Thacker now lives in Crouch End and follows up his 2014 debut novel Charm Offensive with Lingua Franca (Legend Press £8.99) which he describes as a “black comedy and a satirical take on the marketing and advertising industry”.

It follows Miles Platting, head of naming rights agency Lingua Franca which aims to rebrand every town name with a corporate sponsor. Surviving a shipwreck he emerges in a world where no-one will speak to him and his attempts to reunite with colleagues and his true love force him to reconsider his deepest held convictions.

“The story looks at language, identity, location, and meaning. As an author, I try and remain ambivalent - I don’t like fiction to force the reader to think something - but I started from the perspective of an erosion and undermining of language. There is a perverse logic to renaming those towns, a city is bankrupt, a sponsor comes along to pay for street sweepers and health workers in exchange for the name of the town.

“I find it disturbing but interesting to try and poke at that space see the reaction.”

Thacker, who studied creative writing in Manchester under Professor Martin Amis, says Miles can’t understand why everyone is silent.

“Language has disappeared because the townspeople have decided to commit themselves to silence as a means of protesting the emergence of the Lingua Franca Agency. If you can monetise language in every conceivable respect what do you have other than silence to combat that?”

The novel comments on the privatisation of public spaces and emergence of the “neoliberal urban realm” where once free areas like Granary Square in King’s Cross are subject to “a set of rules determined by sponsors” who have funded their regeneration.

“It taps into that zeitgeist. The promise they are sold is the money would be used to get sophisticated coffee shops and fix the pavements in places where Councils are forced to cut their expenditure what could they do if money were no object?”

While he compares writing a film to doing a jigsaw “remove one of the pieces and everything can collapse” he says that the discipline of thinking about structure and dialogue can be applied to writing a novel.

“Writing fiction can be solitary so it’s been nice to share this (film) experience with actors and a director. It’s much more of a high five team effort and a potentially life changing experience.”