- The car: 2011 Jaguar XJ
- Profession: Author
- Age: 50
- Hometown: Birmingham, England
- His series of crime novels featuring London detective Tom Thorne includes Sleepyhead, Scaredy Cat, Lazybones, The Burning Girl, Lifeless, Buried, Death Message, Bloodline, From the Dead
- The TV series based on the Thorne novels had more than 2.9 million viewers in the U.K.
- Good As Dead comes out April 3
- Later this year, he comes to Canada to film Good As Dead
- His second standalone thriller, Rush of Blood, comes out in August
Mark Billingham went from writing jokes as a stand-up comedian to penning his first mega-selling crime novel, Sleepyhead, in 2001. Since then, the mastermind behind the Thorne series, has written 11 best-selling crime fiction novels.
The latest Thorne thriller, Good As Dead, comes out next month. When he’s not touring the world or writing his next best seller, The U.K. author is driving around town in 2011 Jaguar XJ.
Why did you buy a Jag?
I had a Jag before. I had the old Jaguar S-Type, which I really loved.
I got rid of it because my wife said that’s a bank manager’s car. I thought, I don’t want to be driving a bank manager’s car. I foolishly, in retrospect, got rid of it.
I ended up swapping it for a stupid sports car. I fell in love with this pretty car, a Lexus SC430. But it was hugely impractical. I’m nearly 6-foot-3, I have two kids and two dogs. I could barely get one kid in the back. That would be one child sitting sideways feet up on the seats.
Because it’s a sports car with sports suspension and hard tires you felt every single bump in the road. I knew within a week of buying it that it was a big mistake. Finally, when I saw these new Jaguar XJs – I thought I’ll go back to a big grown up car and stop pretending I’m driving around in a sports car.
It was the shortest mid-life crisis in history.
Do you know what’s under the hood?
No. Absolutely not. I’m sure it’s a 4.8 or something.
I’m really ignorant about horsepower and anything mechanical. For me, it’s all about looks and practicality.
I’m a car salesman’s dream because they start telling me about the engine and fuel consumption – yeah, yeah, yeah. But tell me about the toys?
As long as it’s the colour I want I don’t need to test drive it. I know its going to feel nice. I just want it to have all the gizmos and gadgets.
It has a TV in it, which is a bit stupid. But sometimes when I’m sitting in it and waiting for my son to get out of school, I’ll watch the TV. It has all the voice stuff, but I haven’t mastered it yet.
I get angry and I shout at it! I press a button and I’m telling it to ring a particular number and this calm voice is going number 3. No! Number 1! This happens all the time.
I like having the stupid little extras like a heated steering wheel and the seats can give you a massage. None of this stuff is going to change the world, but it makes driving that much more pleasurable. I love just getting into it, putting the music on, and driving around.
What’s in the iPod now?
I like putting a particular artist on shuffle. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been on a massive Beatles kick. I have every single Beatles album and every Beatles single on shuffle, which is hours and hours of great joy. Once I finish on the Beatles, it’s Elvis Costello on shuffle.
Do you sing behind the wheel, too?
Oh God yes! At nausea.
I’m one of the singers of the world – not one of the good singers of the world.
Does your driving time inspire you to write?
Absolutely. All the time. The book you’re writing is in your head all the time.
I could be going to pick up some groceries and I’ll solve the problem – the answer to something or a line of dialogue or outline for a scene. That’s great when that happens.
It’s just as likely to happen when I’m in my car as when I’m sitting staring at my computer.
What does a Jag say about you?
It’s an odd thing – my dad had Jags. He was a salesman who sold kitchens. He always loved Jags.
The first-ever prestige vehicles I drove around in were my dad’s Jags. I didn’t see much of my dad – my mom and dad were divorced. When I did see my dad he’d always have this nice Jag. I don’t know what deep psychological message that gives out. But there’s something really solid and comforting about a Jag.
They do have a slight association with a wide boy – a kind of chancer – someone who is trying to look impressive. Maybe it’s a bit wide-boyish.
What was your first car?
My first car was a red VW Beetle – a car I loved, but the most unreliable car in history.
It was just a looker – such a great iconic car. But it just kept letting me down. The number of times it broke down on motorways when I was working as a stand-up comedian.
I was forever travelling up and down the country and forever missing shows and being abandoned on the shoulder way because this thing would let me down. The umpteenth time it was in the garage I rang to see if it was ready to collect and the garage owner said, ‘Yeah, it’s all done.’
As I pulled up to the garage I could see flames from his garage. Literally 30 seconds after I put the phone down something had burst into flames and it literally burned to a crisp in the garage. That was the end of my little affair with the Beetle.
If I can bring you the keys to any car what would it be?
An Aston Martin.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Aston Martin, which is because I saw Goldfinger at an impressionable age. I’ve always been a James Bond fan and the ultimate Bond car was the Aston Martin.
A Jag is not a cheap car. But an Aston Martin is a stupidly expensive car.
This interview has been edited and condensed.