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Ben Hatch on What it Takes to be a Writer

Novelist Ben Hatch is a firm believer that "anyone can write". His first novelwas loosely based on his time working at McDonalds and his second bookdetails the trials and tribulations of a hapless backpacker.

Novelist Ben Hatch and his two children Photograph: Simon Hudson

When I was 13 I wrote my first novel. It was about a teenage girl who had a very special super power. She was born without the fear gene. By day she was the most popular girl in school but by night she nobly protected the streets of New York City, ferociously fighting crime in the name of righteousness.

I admit I have always had a very vivid imagination and if my first attempts at fiction are anything to go by I was never going to win the Booker Prize. But most people if they are honest will confess that they have, even for a millisecond, thought about writing a book. After all 'everyone has a novel inside them'.

Novelist Ben Hatch is a firm believer that "anyone can write". His first novel The Lawnmower Celebrity was loosely based on his time working at McDonalds and his second book The International Gooseberry details the trials and tribulations of a hapless backpacker. Hatch's latest offering, Are We Nearly There Yet, was recently chosen by Simon Mayo's Book Club as one of the picks of 2011.

But Hatch's journey into literature was not an easy one. "I got sacked from every job I did and ended up as a journalist on a local paper when I was about 30," he said.

"When my mum died I decided I wanted to do something to make her proud so I took a year out and wrote my first novel."

He thinks writing is not an "innate talent" but a learned skill that takes practice and a lot of reading. Comparing the process of writing to leaving food out overnight he said: "Sometimes what you think is brilliant is crap and when you come back to it, it's like it's gone off in the night."

In Are We Nearly There Yet Hatch has done what most writers would be petrified to do. He has written about a family trip, five months travelling across Britain, with his two children Charlie and Phoebe, who were one and three at the time. They visited 1000 attractions and slept in a different bed every night, and once in a car.

"One night we were meant to be staying in a cottage but we hadn't bothered to check where it was, so we drove to this town where we thought we might find the place and never found it. In the end we had to sleep in the car. That was hard".

"During the trip my little daughter started treating her cardigan like it was a dolly, because she didn't have any toys with her. She made this cardigan sit in the highchair at restaurants over dinner and Charlie, our son, couldn't go in the buggy but Ella [the cardigan] had to go in instead," Hatch joked.

He found it is hard writing a book that was so personal because he was scared people would think he was an "absolute git".

The hardest thing about writing a travelogue for Hatch was getting all the information about prices across without making it sound "like a list" - condensing lots of information and giving detail, but also making things interesting.

The book details Hatch's journey across the UK which coincided with the author's father falling ill, and the book, in part explores their relationship. Hatch said: "With my dad being ill I can't shake off some of those memories."

However, he also remembers a lot of great things about the trip: "On a sunny day setting off in the car with the kids in the back we would always have a little sing-along. Most of the time we stank because the hotel laundry service was too expensive but on the rare occasion I would have a clean shirt on and with the windows down setting off in the car it was a lovely feeling having the family all together."

For budding writers Hatch does offer one top tip: "Cheese, lots of cheese. Oh and going to different places that spark your imagination, seeing things for the first time is good for anyone. Travel and cheese," he said. Who could argue with that?

Hatch concluded that young writers should: "Carry on. I always dreamed of being a writer and it is important to keep going. Eventually if you write enough you will find a voice. Keeping a diary is a fantastic way to keep writing, stylise your own diary, and create a character and experiment."

Inspired by Are We Nearly There Yet Hatch is working on another book about a 10,000 miles drive around France. And he says his children still like to ask "are we nearly there yet" although now they are "trying to be ironic" when they do it.