Matt Thorne was born in Bristol in 1974 and is the co-founder of the literary movement The New Puritans, whose manifesto ditched flashbacks and authorial asides, and called for simplicity and contemporary relevance in British fiction. He is the author of a critical study of Prince (Faber & Faber, £12.99) and six novels, including the semi-autobiographical 8 Minutes Idle (Phoenix, 2001), which has just been made into a film. The dark, romantic comedy, directed by Mark Simon Hewis, is set in a Bristol call centre, inspired by Matt’s stint manning the phones on the night shift; unlike the film’s hero Dan, Matt didn’t take up residence in the office stationary cupboard. Eithne Farry
I find it quite hard to identify with characters in most Hollywood films, as they tend to be men of action rather than procrastination. This runs in my family. I remember my father being disgusted when Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing smashed a car window to get to the keys inside, rather than fashioning a noose with a coat-hanger, hooking it through the window and trying to pull up the lock, no matter how much screen time this might have taken.
But there are a few characters I connect with. They tend to be the protagonists of noir films or screwball comedies; people who end up in trouble largely through no fault of their own. There were a few of these characters in the early 80s, like Tom Hulce’s C.C. Drood in Slamdance. I identified with Graham Dalton in Sex, Lies and Videotape, because he carries only one key as he doesn’t want to complicate his life, but I can’t choose him because I don’t go around videotaping women talking about their sex life.
So it has to be Paul Hackett (played by Griffin Dunne) from Martin Scorsese’s After Hours. A ‘word processor’ in New York, he has a certain impatience with life (when a temp starts telling him about his literary magazine, he just gets up and walks away), but it’s hard to blame him when every reassuring thing around him turns out to be scary. [SPOILER] He meets a waitress in a café who shares his taste in literature, but when they go home together she tells him distressing stories about her ex and commits suicide. He meets a nice guy in a bar who offers to help him, but he turns out to be the boyfriend of the waitress. [END OF SPOILER] I’m not saying my life is quite that dramatic, but I identify with the regular guy using his wits to get out of a trap.
It was because of After Hours that I sought out an office job when I started to write, and my own experiences as a temp influenced 8 Minutes Idle. But whereas Paul Hackett was just trying to get home, Dan Thomas is homeless and forced to live in his office, and the experiences he goes through are even more comically extreme than those experienced by Hackett. I suppose I identify with characters who do nothing more daring than stay up late looking for love on the wrong side of town, only to discover that’s a far more daring adventure than anything Indiana Jones ever experienced.