Matt Cain interview: In bed with TV’s fluffiest culture editor

Matt Cain, formerly of Channel 4, talks novels, Nanas and Nelly the cat

It’s a sunny day in north London when Matt Cain lets me into his immaculately tidy flat and launches into his first big interview for his debut novel with an enthusiasm that would be familiar to anyone who watched him on Channel 4 News. “I’ve just been trying to think,” he says, wrestling his cat Nelly away from the open front door. “Have we ever met each other sober?”

He is referring, of course, to the many highbrow events at which a literary journalist and a television culture editor might socialise: press conferences; book launches; prizes… Cain became a popular presence on the cultural scene during seven years as an executive producer on the South Bank show, and three as Channel 4’s first Culture Editor, presenting subjects as diverse as ballet, opera, art, books and pop. When the 37-year-old left broadcasting a year ago to write a novel, what everyone wanted to know was: what sort of novel does a culture editor write? The answer, in his case, is the literary version of a Jennifer Aniston romcom. “Oh I’d take that in the right way,” he confirms when I say so. “That’s totally what I was aiming for, actually.”

Shot Through the Heart is set in LA, and features the Hollywood beauty Mia Sinclair, and her friend, and co-star, Billy Spencer. When Mia meets Leo, a British paparazzo, her love-life off the screen finally begins to heat up. But can their relationship work? And what about the personal secret that Billy fears will destroy his career?

“I was thinking about the Romeo and Juliet thing,” Cain explains. “What are the ultimate enemies that can fall in love and battle to make it work? Of course it’s not remotely autobiographical but there’s a lot of my personality in this book, and my sensibility and humour.” It is, in places, inappropriately, uproariously funny. That is, if you appreciate humour set in a gay bar called The Man Hole or a Chinese takeaway called Phat Phuck, or descriptions of characters including a “nicotine-blonde waitress with a face like a King Charles spaniel” and a self-conscious actress, post-exercise, who “knew her face must look like a chewed-up blood orange”.

I’m relieved when Cain is the first one to call the novel “slightly camp fun”. It’s not going to win the Man Booker Prize, he says, but he would love to be the first man to win the Romantic Novel of the Year Award. However, when he goes further, labelling his book a “camp, fluffy novel that’s a beach read”, he is rather doing it down. The character of Billy has a subtle but quite dark backstory involving “gay cure” therapy, and by putting issues of homophobia and race almost centre stage, I wonder if Cain is trying to make a more serious point.

“It’s funny, the gay thing,” he says, seriously. “Sometimes in the past I would try to write gay central characters and publishers would say, ‘Make it less gay, if it’s going to be mainstream.’ But the brilliant thing was, I got this great deal with Pan Macmillan and the editor said straight away, ‘I love that gay character. Why did you not bring him in till chapter four? Let’s have more of him!’ There’s something about being told that if you talk about [being gay] in public then people won’t like you that feeds into a self-loathing. But I didn’t want the gay character to be a tragedy figure so I wanted him to be funny and I wanted to give him an uplifting ending.”

In his second novel Nothing But Trouble, set in the pop world and published next April, he says that a contented gay couple plays a large role. Then, suddenly, he laughs out loud. “I mean, I’d be wary of including the mechanics of gay sex. I’d be wary about going into anatomical detail!” He can count himself out of the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, then.

Cain seems quite at home with the switch from reporting on culture to making it himself. “Working in documentaries and then news, and always being constrained by reality and having to be truthful,” he says, “having the freedom to just make stuff up is quite liberating, actually.” But it sounds as though he has always been making things up. Born in Bury and raised in Bolton with a brother and a sister, he spent much of his childhood in his bedroom, “painting pictures and writing stories”. His childhood and family are still clearly important – the novel is dedicated to his Nana, “who was brave enough to follow her heart”, and among his many shelves of books and the Emins and Taylor-Woods on his walls are photos of his six nieces and nephews, all of whom have characters named after them in this and the next novel.

He was the first person from his state school, in more than 20 years, to win a place at Cambridge, though he says he only applied to impress his dad. “And it was only when I got there I thought, ‘What the fuck am I doing here? Am I going to enjoy this? And I did, it was the most amazing experience of my life.” He studied French and Spanish, and wonders now if the mimicry involved in speaking a foreign language is similar to the novelist’s experience: pretending to be someone else.

Not that Cain in person is likely to pretend. He whispers a story from his early days in TV, when “they tried to make me a bit more authoritative, and got me wearing suits and tried to make me deepen my voice and stuff. It was like a red rag to a bull, I suddenly went all limp-wristed and mincing in every shot, camper and camper!” No Billy Spencer, he.

Nevertheless, I think it’s Cain’s enthusiasm and lack of cynicism or guile that made him perfect as an arts reporter, and I ask him whether there’s anything about television that he misses. There’s a long pause, before he bursts out laughing, again. Individual colleagues he stays in touch with, he says, though he does miss being around creative people and seeing them work. “But to be honest, it’s just such fun to sit at home, making up stories, with the cat, making myself laugh. I can’t think of a better way to make a living, it’s brilliant.”

Talking again of the book, he says, “I just want people to enjoy it. I’m not bothered about respectability or acclaim or prestige. I don’t think I’m going to get it!” Oh, somehow I think he might.

Shot through the Heart By Matt Cain (Macmillan £7.99)

Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral