What does Middlesbrough mean to you?
Middlesbrough is home. I was always a home bird and never thought I would leave the town. I moved to London in 1998 when my then girlfriend went to study for a Masters down there. I ended up living there for three years and I loved it. It broadened my horizons and got me started in my career. It also made me realise that there really was a Middlesbrough accent, and that Northerners really arefriendlier than those daaahn sarf (a topic of conversation when I bumped into northern treasure Jarvis Cocker one day in Islington during my lunch break). I always knew I’d move back here as I wanted to bring my children up at home around my family.
How did you get into writing?
How I got into writing was quite strange really. My life had gone through some major changes following divorce and I was at a point where a number of things seemed to hit me all at once. I was away with work and was in my hotel room when I felt what I can only describe as a compulsion to write. I wanted to articulate how I was feeling and what I was going through. I don’t know why I should have felt that way; I’d always been a big reader but I’d never written anything other than when I’d had to for school, university, work etc. I wrote a short piece of around 700 words, downloaded a blogging app and sent it out into the world. I had no idea what to expect but it was received very well and once I started writing I didn’t stop. I was given a number of opportunities to write for different websites and, after two years, I published my first book, Something Changed: Stumbling Through Divorce, Dating and Depression.
What would your advice to any person in Middlesbrough/Teesside who wants to get into writing ?
My advice to anybody that wants to get into writing is, first and foremost, to write! That may sound so obvious as to not be any kind of advice at all, but in my experience lots of people say they want to write a book but, for whatever reason – fear of failure and self-doubt for instance – don’t get round to doing anything about it. Just write. Write because you have something you need to say, write because you can’t not write, write because you love to write, regardless of whether or not anybody else will read it. Everything else is secondary.
Why do you think Teesside has such a negative image in the national media ,with the rest of the UK ?
Growing up, I loved Middlesbrough. It was only as I got older and travelled about a bit, meeting people from around the country, that I realised many people had no idea where Middlesbrough even was. To me Middlesbrough wasStewart’s Park, Romer Parrish, Clairville, the Odeon. Teesside University. Blaise’s. Many, many happy memories. In recent years I’ve seen and heard a lot of bad press about Middlesbrough but it really doesn’t correspond with the town that I know. Of course there are a number of social problems here, but there are so many good things and good people too. I think a lot of the negativity comes from people that see the statistics about deprivation and suicide but who don’t really know the town, who don’t see the other side of Middlesbrough, and don’t see the reasons for those social issues.
What it’s like as write/author living on Teesside?
’m proud of where I’m from and have often referred to it in my writing and in my vlogs. Somewhat surprisingly I’ve also had many compliments on my accent from people that follow me from around the world! I think that the internet and social media has led to a democratization of the arts and has enabled voices to be heard that otherwise wouldn’t have been. It’s still amazing to me that people from all over the world have read my books. Of course, the internet has brought its issues too – the ease of access to written mediaand music, for instance, has made it difficult to make a decent income from creative pursuits. But, going back to my earlier point, that’s where loving what you do is so important. If you can make money out of it then that’s fantastic. But it’s a bonus. For me, as a writer living in Teesside, the most important thing is to write, and through that to connect with – and hopefully help – others through our common experiences.
I have a brilliant local publisher, Sixth Element and I’ve had fantastic support from my family and friends in Middlesbrough. I’m proud of the opportunities my writing has given me to make my own little difference here. I have been fortunate to be able to share my story of my struggles with mental health in The Gazette, on BBC Radio Tees and via the brilliant BoroManCan public health campaign. I’ve also given talks to youth groups, charities, and schools, to help raise mental health awareness and I hope to do more of this in future. Mental health a big issue that affects many people and I’m looking forward to being able to do more to help others that are struggling in Teesside.
Matthew’s books, Something Changed: Stumbling ThroughDivorce, Dating and Depression, and A Familiar Stranger, are available from amazon in paperback and eBook formats