Jim Bob: When the music stops ...

The former Carter USM singer talks to Paul Bignell about the life of a pop star-turned-novelist

Two things can be said for the list of musicians turned writers. One is that it is small. The other is that great lyricists don't always make for good authors.

For every brilliant musician-penned novel – think Nick Cave's second, The Death of Bunny Munro – there's the indulgent and nonsensical free association of Bob Dylan's Tarantula or the absurdist whimsy of John Lennon's In His Own Write.

But in recent years, a slew of singers have successfully put pen to paper for more than just a song lyric. Last year's I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive by Steve Earle received rave reviews, as did the fantastical Wildwood, the debut by Colin Meloy, lead singer of Oregon's The Decemberists, while the alt-country singer Ryan Adams is already on his third collection of poetry and short stories.

Now, adding to the small but growing cult list is Jim Bob, formerly of the indie-dance group Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, whose decade-long career during the Nineties peaked when they headlined the main stage at Glastonbury in 1992, and whose power-pop songs such as "Sheriff Fatman" and "The Only Living Boy in New Cross", with their loaded wordplay and offbeat lyrics, made them staples of the student union indie disco and, for a couple of years, Top of the Pops.

Next month sees the publication of his second novel Driving Jarvis Ham. (His first, Storage Stories, was self-published).

We sit in the front room of his home in south London, which he shares with his "I still call her my girlfriend" of 30 years. I had invited myself round mainly to be nosy, as it turns out we're almost neighbours. The 51-year-old Jim Bob (he changed his name from Jim Morrison because he didn't want to be associated with a "fat, dead, crap poet") is charmingly unassuming and self-deprecating for someone who has had a No 1 album and a successful first novel. He sits close to my tape recorder as he says he has a "tendency to mumble", and I start by asking him whether he thinks musicians who turn to writing are perhaps more liable to fall foul of the literary snob.

"I don't really know what happens behind closed doors. Sometimes I feel like maybe I'm taken less seriously as an author because I've been a musician – it's possible that might put people off. But I think it boils down to whether the work is any good. It probably would have annoyed me in the past when people off the television decided to be in a band. But if the band was amazing, I probably would have forgiven them."

Driving Jarvis Ham is a darkly comic novel, hilarious in parts, with lists and crude drawings. "I've done pictures again in the new book," he says (he's working on his third novel). "But I'm sure a lot of people hate that. The very idea that there should be pictures in a novel ...."

Its central character, Jarvis Ham – a Princess Diana fanatic, secret alcoholic and fame seeker – is a monstrous creation, contrived from bits of people we've all known at some point in our lives. "You know those people who are not necessarily your friend," he explains, "but there's something a bit strange about them and you always think that one day they're going to be exposed on the news as a paedophile or something? That was the original idea for the book. There are bits of my friends and people I knew and still know in the Jarvis Ham character. But not quite as bad as him though."

His first novel took him six years to write, on and off, and when I ask him how easy he finds writing novels compared with songs, he admits that it's a bit of a challenge, albeit one that actually comes easier to him now, than writing lyrics. "I've tried locking myself in a room – I love the idea of that – but it doesn't work. When you hear a writer who's asked 'how do you write?', they always say, 'I get up at 5am, take the dog for a walk, drop the kids off at school and then do four hours' work.' Someone must be lying. Surely you would write a lot more if you did 1,000 words a day? Is a lot of it rubbish?

"I find it almost impossible to write songs now – not ones that are good. I could write the music quite easily, but I have to sort of wait for the lyrics to happen."

Years spent honing his stage craft in front of beery students in the early Nineties has at least prepared him for the nerve-wracking experience of giving book readings. But unfortunately for Jim Bob, some of those now former students, no less beery, have come with him on his new journey. Admittedly, he initially softened his transition from musician to novelist by bringing his guitar along and playing songs after giving readings. But even that has its pitfalls.

"I find it hard to separate the two things," he says. "I have had some horrific experiences when I've been reading – people shouting for songs. And you think: 'I'm holding a book ... and there's a guitar there, so I'm probably going to play songs at some point.' Occasionally you'll get people who shout out for the hit songs while I'm reading." So, he still finds the process daunting, and recalls one particular reading in Bristol with a wry chuckle: "That was horrible ... if you've got three people in the audience when you're reading a book, and they're all shouting at you ... then that's all you can focus on really."

His Wikipedia page now refers to him as being a writer first, and then a musician. So does he now see himself as a doyen of the literary set? "I was out the other night," he says in reply, "and the only other person who hadn't written a book was my girlfriend. But we're hardly going to be the new Bloomsbury set. Having said that, I don't think I went to rock-star parties either."

Drive Jarvis Ham, By Jim Bob
The Friday Project, £12.99

"... Me and my girlfriend argued last night. She said I'd spent way too much of my life worrying about Jarvis. 'Tell me about it,' I said. Which was a schoolboy error because she then told me about it for fifteen minutes. She said Jarvis had treated me like his unpaid chauffeur for years. 'I know,' I said. 'Why doesn't he drive himself?'

'He can't.'"

Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
books50 Shakespeare phrases still in use, to mark the bard's 450th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio (left) could team up with British director Danny Boyle for the Steve Jobs (right) biopic
film
Arts & Entertainment
The next wig thing: 'Drag Queens of London'
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Bear Grylls’ latest television show has been labelled sexist by female survival experts

TV
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams as Arya and Rory McCann as The Hound
TV
VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Rush hour: shoppers go sale crazy in Barkers, Kensington
film
Arts & Entertainment
Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes play Catherine and Heathcliff in Pete Kosminsky's 1992 movie adaptation of Wuthering Heights
booksGoogle Doodle celebrates Charlotte Brontë's 198th birthday
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Robin Thicke with his Official Number 1 Award for 'Blurred Lines', the most downloaded track in UK music history
Music
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello
Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

Arts & Entertainment
Tom Baker who played the Doctor longer than any other actor
tv
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival

film
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

    It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

    Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
    Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

    Migrants in Britain a decade on

    They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
    Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

    Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

    The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
    Why musicians play into their old age

    Why musicians play into their old age

    Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
    How can you tell a gentleman?

    How can you tell a gentleman?

    A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
    Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

    Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

    The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
    Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

    Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

    Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
    Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

    Sam Wallace

    Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
    Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

    Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

    Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
    Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

    Through the screen

    British Pathé opens its archives
    The man behind the papier mâché mask

    Frank Sidebottom

    The man behind the papier mâché mask
    Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

    Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

    Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
    Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

    Boston runs again

    Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
    40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

    40 years of fostering and holding the babies

    In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents