We last spoke to Matteo Sedazzari back in 2016, about his book, ‘A Crafty Cigarette’, a fictionalised account of growing up Mod in Surrey. Now he’s back with ‘Tales Of Aggro’, a collection of short stories about “The Magnificent Six”, a group of friends who live in the Shepherds Bush area of London. We took the chance to ask Matteo about the book, its inspiration, and what’s next.
Matteo – we’ve really enjoyed ‘Tales Of Aggro’, as we did ‘A Crafty Cigarette’. The latter was inspired by your own teen years; what was your inspiration for ‘Tales Of Aggro’?
Many things inspired me to write ‘Tales of Aggro’, from pop culture to American comics, coupled with my passion for London and subcultures. The influences are vast, yet what got the ball rolling was when I bought on DVD, writer and producer GF Newman’s ‘Law and Order’ and LWT’s ‘Villains’, from the 1970s. ‘Villains’ was a TV series, about nine bank robbers, one being Bob Hoskins who escaped during their trial, and each episode would make one of the robbers the central character. ‘Law and Order’ is about an armed robbery, in which you experience it from four different angles, the villains, the police, the lawyers then the prison, all centering on the same plot but just from different points of view. I started to buy GF Newman’s novels, in particular ‘Crime and Punishment’, which was adapted for the radio, ‘The Corrupted’, the story of a crime family from London, spanning four decades, which included real-life events and people within the story, which is what I did with ‘Tales of Aggro’.
So GF Newman became one of the main influences in me penning ‘Tales of Aggro’, which wasn’t the title back then, as I like his engaging and realistic style of writing.
Then I went back to ‘Porridge’, ‘The Sweeney’, ‘Minder’, ‘Budgie’, ‘Bowler’, ‘Only Fools and Horses’, ‘Lucky Feller’, (starring a youthful per Del Boy Jason) and early ‘Grange Hill’. I enjoyed and was stimulated by the storylines of strong-minded and charismatic working-class outsiders taking on the system laced with humour and grit. So I had a solid visual concept, as well as an in-depth ideology from start to finish when I wrote ‘Tales of Aggro’.
I would like to add I enjoyed BBC’s ‘Clocking Off’, which was an anthology TV series about the lives of a group of workers set in a Manchester textile factory, each episode would feature one key character from this factory, about their lives and such like, and within that episode would be a supporting character, and the following week, the episode that supporting character would be the central character, proving everyone has a story to tell. So that was the basic format I was working on, for instance in the opening story, Oscar De Paul talks about his then-girlfriend Stephanie, and later on in the book, Stephanie has her own story.
Always been a fan of short stories especially mystery, horror and suspense like Alfred Hitchcock’s anthologies (he didn’t write them, but he endorsed a collection of great writers), Arthur Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes, as only he wrote four novels about Holmes, the rest are short stories, and Roald Dahl’s ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, With ‘Tales of Aggro’, the title itself is homage to the late and great Roald Dahl.
When I was writing ‘A Crafty Cigarette’, I started reading Joe R. Lansdale and Harlan Ellison, novelists and short story writers. I loved their fast-paced style and how they could pack in so much in a limited number of pages, true masters of pure pulp fiction. I knew for my next book; this was the style I wanted to emulate in a collection of short stories but all intertwined like the TV series’ I have just mentioned. A ZANI universe if you like.
Then I started to read the short stories of Alberto Moravia, Daphne du Maurier, Robert Bloch, Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O’Connor and John Mortimer with his ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’. All became points of reference when I was writing ‘Tales of Aggro’, as did the novels of Martina Cole, who not only knows how to pen a great crime story, but she gives all of the characters, such depth, so you understand them, you may not like them, but you get them. Again, that became a source of inspiration.
The subculture inspiration is pretty self-explanatory, as I either experienced it, witnessed it, heard about it or read about it. The moment I wanted to become a Mod, which was many moons ago, sub or youth cultures became a big passion of mine.
The list of films that inspired ‘Tales of Aggro’ is endless, as I watch a hella lot of them and have done from an early age. Yet films like ‘Rififi’, ‘Villains’, ‘Dr Terror’s House of Horrors’, ‘Quadrophenia’, ‘Scum’, ’11:14′, ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’, ‘The Firm’, the one with Gary Oldman that is, the film version of ‘Saturday Night Sunday Morning’, ‘Saturday Night Fever’, loads, and I mean loads.
Which character do you most identify with, and why?
I suppose Oscar De Paul, as he is loosely based on me, he’s a bit serious yet passionate about things, he means no harm, yet is prone to petty crime. Which I did, back in the day. The opening story with Oscar making hoax calls in his day job as a telemarketer for a local newspaper is based on something I have done many years ago. This was in the days before caller display, 1471 and itemised bills, so hoax calling was at its prime. I was working for a famous telephone directory, doing lead generation, my target was five leads a day to be passed onto the sales team, once I have done that, I would, along with a friend make hoax calls, I won’t go into details, as ‘Tales of Aggro’ covers it. Like to say, I am not proud of doing hoax calls, as they are wrong, so wrong. Yet one thing I lacked in my youth was empathy, which I have now in abundance.
And Stephanie, I used my experience about being in a band for her story, she lived and breathed it, yet didn’t get the support she deserved and needed. That is what happened to me in the late 90s, being in a band was my life, I was the main songwriter and rhythm guitar, but for the other members, it was a hobby in between work and going out. It all fell apart before my eyes, but now I am using that negative experience in a positive way, and I like that a lot. In fact, writing Stephanie’s story, certainly removed the demons.
‘A Crafty Cigarette’ revolved around the music, but with this one, you’ve not mentioned music so much, although the main characters are involved in music subculture groups. Why is that?
Great question, I haven’t really looked like that before, so it certainly wasn’t a conscious decision, I suppose the reason is that ‘A Crafty Cigarette’ is a coming of age book, where the key character, discovers his voice via music, in the case of Crafty it’s The Jam. I wanted to write about the power and the impact music has on us.
‘Tales of Aggro’, I suppose to a degree, is more about the antics of subcultures, yet throughout the book, I derive from the youth, fashion and music aspect from subcultures, focus more about the deviant and outsider aspect. Throughout ‘Tales’, there is an undercurrent of the miscarriage of justice, and police corruption, the on and off relationship of Oscar and Stephanie, Eddie the Casual becoming a millionaire and leaving London, Honest Ron spiralling into drugs. Also, ‘Tales spans over four decades, where music to some, becomes background noise, whilst ‘Crafty’ is set over a four-year period, 1977 to 1981, where music to some teenagers and young adults is everything, as it was for me, music and fashion.
Like I said it was not a conscious decision, they are different books, Crafty’ is my rites of passage novel, and it was easy to write. Whilst ‘Tales of Aggro’ I suppose is a story about London and her inhabitants, everyday people, and was harder to write. But to be honest, I really don’t know, I just enjoyed writing both.
You’ve released an EP to accompany the release of ‘Tales Of Aggro’, comprising two songs named for your books. Is this a direction Zani hopes to pursue further (please do)?
Yes, as mentioned in this interview, I had a bad, real bad experience with a band, so the guitar was under the bed for years. Then a then-girlfriend got me playing the guitar again, which I enjoyed. But I didn’t want to join or form a band, but I knew I had songs I wanted to record. So, I decided to use some old riffs, with new words, entitled ‘A Crafty Cigarette’ and ‘Tales of Aggro’. It was good to be back in music, I was planning to record more this year, yet any surplus cash will be used to promote ‘Tales of Aggro’ and the music, but I will go back into the studio early next year.
In ‘Tales Of Aggro’ you have chapters which speak in the first person, and others which are written in a more narrative style. Do you find it difficult to switch between the two styles? When you write in the first person, the character becomes very relatable, it’s as if they’re talking to us as a friend. Is it difficult to write as different people? Do they ever talk to each other in your head?
No, I don’t, I know that sounds arrogant, but I am usually reading a few books at a time, of course not at the same time, so I can absorb different writing styles from the first person to the third person.
I like to write how people speak, and a few people have mistaken this style as poor writing skills. That is why I put a disclaimer at the front of ‘A Crafty Cigarette’, stating that the story is being told from the mouth of a 13-year-old boy. Yes, the characters do talk to each other in my head, I will write a draft, and think about it after in depth, and I mean in depth.
I draw on real-life conversations, I have been part of or listened to, I am great listener, you have to be, if someone has a good story to tell, I will always in a manner of speaking, pull up a pew and listen.
We can see ‘A Crafty Cigarette’ and ‘Tales Of Aggro’ being released as films – is this something you hope to pursue?
Yes and yes, I haven’t pushed it yet, however, both books are in the hands of a well-known screenwriter and director, and both friends. I plan to push for this towards the end of the year and next year, I have to sell them a dream. I could see ‘A Crafty Cigarette’ as a film, and ‘Tales Of Aggro’, as a web series on Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC 3, YouTube or such like. ‘A Crafty Cigarette’ would certainly have a great soundtrack, even ‘Tales’ would.
Did you plot out all the story ahead of time, and know exactly what was going to happen, or did it just flow?
‘Tales of Aggro’ took time, as I changed the stories many times, I am not a stubborn or insecure perfectionist, but I knew they were not right, even close friends and one family member were not impressed, which is good to have a close circle that is honest with you, as they know I listen. They after about a year to eighteen months, every just fell into place. I rewrote the opening story, about Oscar De Paul and his hoax calls, bang, then it was all systems go.
I planned ‘Tales of Aggro’ on an excel spreadsheet along with my writing days booked on my Outlook calendar, followed both, as well as reading and watching as much as I could that would inspire me. ‘Tales of Aggro’ went from being an ordeal to a joy. I now know, planning ahead is key, have deadlines, have days off, and enjoy it.
The original title was ‘The Adventures of Oscar De Paul and his Friends’, then a young banker at my local bank, when I was there about a financial matter, asked me what my next book was called, I told him the title, he said, “Too long”, straight away I replied, “What about ‘Tales of Aggro’ “, he smiled and said ‘Nice’. So that’s how I got the title from a meeting with my bank.
Do you have an idea in mind for your next book already, and if so, when will it be released?
My third novel has been planned and I have already written the first two chapters. It’s a big homage to ‘Wind in The Willows’, a break away from writing about subcultures, yet it will have that underbelly element to it. I am aiming for Christmas, if not, then certainly early next year. I love the whole element of writing, from creation to promotion.
‘Tales Of Aggro’, by Matteo Sedazzari, is available from Amazon, Waterstones, and ZANI, an independent online magazine for readers interested in contemporary culture. Check out the accompanying EP on Spotify: