Mine's a large Groping and Trauma: Simon Melber meets Guy Bellamy, whose best-selling comic novels chronicle the temptations that afflict the British abroad

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The Independent Culture
WHAT is the connection between a British Rail sandwich and a novel? No idea? Nor has Guy Bellamy, whose two new books are currently being advertised on one million Travellers Fare paper bags. It's an unusual gimmick, but Bellamy isn't convinced: 'People will probably hate the sandwich and say, 'I don't like the fucking bag either' '.

Guy Bellamy is the best-selling novelist whose books are compulsory holiday reading for those heading for the sun. His new novel The Comedy Hotel (Viking pounds 14.99) has recently been published, together with the paperback edition of A Village Called Sin (Penguin pounds 4.99). His success can be attributed in part to the British affection for Spain, in particular the Costa Del Sol. His novels adhere to a strict principle: 'show me a place where the sun shines all day, and I'll show you a bar full of miserable Brits'. But while the G & Ts flow freely in his books, they are not always of the alcoholic kind. Groping and Traumas tend to disrupt the drinking hours of those seeking solace in a popular paradise.

Spain has featured a lot in Bellamy's life too. The palm-tree growing in his garden in Surrey and a fridge full of San Miguel testify to his enthusiasm. His face is tanned from Spanish sunshine, and has that lived-in look. A cigarette is never more than a couple of minutes away from his lips. He is reticent about revealing his age, but admits to spending two years in the RAF on National Service, which only confirmed his desire to become a journalist, 'to write about just how bad the experience really was'. His best friend from National Service days wagered that he wouldn't make it in journalism. 'I won that bet.'

Betting is one of Guy Bellamy's hobbies. In one corner of his garden sits a barbecue. Nothing remarkable there, except that this one cost pounds 4,000 and was won in a bet. 'I have the most extraordinary bets, I have to keep lists of them.' He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a tiny notebook. 'I've got pounds 20 at 10-1 that the Number One record next Christmas will be sung by a vicar from South London. I bet no one else has got that bet.'

There are other vices too. 'I can't deny,' he says, 'that bars are places I am very familiar with'. Once a sub-editor on the Daily Express, he now finds much of his inspiration in the pubs of Parnham, his home town. Those familiar with his books will know that his characters do the same.

There are no spies on his pages. His creations are utterly human and fallible. It's this plausibility that allows his sense of humour to run riot. 'You could count his friends on the fingers of one mitten,' says a barman in one of the books. The characters are solid and witty in an off-handed sort of way. Not for him the elaborately engineered plot; he prefers one- liners, delivered deadpan.

Then there's the question of money, a subject close to Bellamy's heart and a common theme in his novels. The fortune that should have accompanied his fame has, he claims, eluded him. 'If the royalty cheques were as good as the reviews I'd be quite comfortably off.' He certainly doesn't enjoy the lifestyle of his more flamboyant characters. His car, a rust-brown Scirocco, is seven years old. 'I've written eight books and I've still got an overdraft.'

For Guy Bellamy, novel writing was a natural progression from journalism. 'I've got this subversive idea,' he says, 'that all journalists want to write novels.' But success was not easily won. He gave up his post on the Daily Express and went to Spain to write a book. It was rejected and he returned home and took a job on the Sun. The tabloid style is still evident in the upbeat tempo of his plots, although 'I have to concentrate on writing longer sentences than I used to'. Critical success eventually came with the publication of The Secret Lemonade Drinker, but it was his second book, The Nudists, which put him on the best-seller list.

That had been his aim all along. Like any good gambler, he had studied the form - in this case the top 30 best-sellers - to see if there was a common ingredient. There was. 'Size is important,' he says. 'It's often a question of don't mind the quality, feel the width.' And pay the money, presumably, although Bellamy is always hoping for more: 'I think the thing about writing books is that you make a lot of money, but you have to be dead.' When I take issue, his face brightens. 'Do you want to bet?'