Keith Elliott at Large: The long-haired lover of Liverpool: The strong addiction of a lifetime dominates the days of a famous writer at home with horror and glory

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The Independent Online
WATCH OUT for the long- haired loony in the sponsor's executive box if you're at Anfield tomorrow, or watching Liverpool v Oldham on Match of the Day. Hairies in tinted glasses wearing a Liverpool shirt and scarf are unusual sights in the directors' seats - especially when they express their opinions about the refereeing, the other team and the boys in red as volubly as Shaun Hutson undoubtedly will.

But Hutson is no gatecrasher or renegade son of a VIP. In fact, Hutson is the VIP. Thanks to the sponsors Carlsberg, he is destined for the full red-carpet treatment (pre-match radio interview, director's lunch, executive seats, picture in the programme, choosing the man of the match, meeting the players afterwards). And Hutson just can't believe it.

''I thought going on tour with Iron Maiden and singing on stage was the high point of my life. But even that doesn't compare. I shall probably have to kill myself afterwards because nothing could be better than this.'

If Hutson did choose to top himself after meeting Rush, Grobbelaar and the rest of the lads, it wouldn't be a pretty sight. His skill at conveying in anatomical detail the nastier ways of dying have made him the third best-selling horror author, after Stephen King and James Herbert. His first book, Slugs, has now sold more than 500,000 and you can even buy his works in Japan, Poland and Russia (surprisingly, the first horror stories to be translated into Russian, unless you count their history books). Films, videos and other lucrative deals are in the offing. He must be worth a fortune. But Hutson is truly terrified at the thought of meeting his footballing heroes.

'I'm just an ordinary fan. I can't describe how I feel about the chance to stand next to guys I admire so much. I travelled in a lift with Steve Nicol once and just stared at him. He must have thought I was a right prat. I'm really worried that I will say something mindless when I meet the players like 'Good game, wasn't it?'.'

On television chat shows, Hutson comes over as assured, amusing and refreshingly unpretentious. He's like that in real life, a star writer without any of the pretensions that seem to accompany literary achievement. But mention the word 'Liverpool' and he turns into a pitiful, quivering creature who could be a character in one of the 43 novels he's written.

His allegiance to Merseyside started as a kid in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, and has developed into fanatical proportions. Now there is a dedication to his heroes in every book, and he refuses any interviews on days when Liverpool are playing.

'Since 1991, I've only missed four home games and I've seen every single game this season. When Belinda and I have children, we'll have to plan it so they are born in the close-season. I have interrupted publicity tours and flown back from New York just to see a match. I've become more and more fanatical. I feel animosity towards any team that beats mine.'

When he left school, Hutson really wanted to be an undertaker, 'but they wouldn't take me because I didn't have O-level woodwork'. He tried unsuccessfully to get into journalism, and instead got an evening job at a cinema (where he fell in love with the 15-year-old usherette who is now his wife), writing during the day.

His most famous effort was rejected by 40 publishers, but one liked a chapter about slugs and suggested it could make a book. 'I couldn't see how slugs could be menacing, until I did some research and found there were three carnivorous species.' The rest, as they say, is history. Hutson's formula of creeping horror, lovingly detailed nastiness and dark, unsympathetic heroes or heroines (he is the master of the unhappy ending) in such epics as Death Day, Spawn, Nemesis and Breeding Ground have given him a fan club, a thatched house outside Milton Keynes and the cash to buy a Liverpool season ticket for himself and Belinda. 'I'd prefer to stand, but we're so short that we'd never see anything.'

It takes Hutson, aged 35, between two weeks and a month to write a book. 'I type at 90 words a minute, and work Monday to Friday. Once I was doing about 6,000 words a day, but now it's down to about 3,000 because I don't want to duplicate a plot.'

One of the few things to slow his prolific output is injuries. 'I get so het up. When Manchester United beat us 3-1, I was watching on television. I ran out to punch a wall, missed and put my fist through a plate-glass window. I broke two of my toes kicking a chair when we played Chelsea. I get a lot of injuries.'

Where do his strange ideas come from? 'I write for myself, and think what I would like - though I hate creepy- crawlies. I guess I'm lucky to be blessed with a very sick mind. But I'm naturally a pessimist.'

Despite his grisly subject matter, Hutson has only ever had two nightmares. 'All my nightmares now would be about Liverpool losing,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)

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