Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Saturday, 30 May 2009 11:59 UK

Damned Utd author surprise at row

David Peace Photo: Naoya Sanuki
David Peace said he never thought writing about a football manager would cause controversy

Novelist David Peace admits he was surprised at the reaction to his book, The Damned United, which was turned into a hit film.

He told the audience at the Hay Festival that he had not meant to distress Brian Clough's family, who said they were "deeply upset" by the depiction of the colourful, late football manager, set in his short period in charge of Leeds United in 1974.

"Firstly, the legal trouble from Johnny Giles, that was a surprise. Whilst that was going on there was the reaction from the Clough family. They were worried by the film and they didn't like the book. The last thing I wanted to do was upset them.

"Perhaps it was even naivety or arrogance, I just thought I was describing these scenes which were out there in books and newspapers.

"When I wrote GB84 (about the miners' strike) we were more worried about causing controversy - I never thought writing about a football manager would cause this controversy."

The inspiration for the book came from his Yorkshire boyhood.

"I'm a Huddersfield Town fan and the first match I was taken to was Huddersfield v Leeds in a pre-season friendly, which by chance was Brian Clough's first match in charge. Then his last match in his 44 days was Huddersfield, a cup game.

Michael Sheen as Brian Clough in The Damned United film
Michael Sheen played Brian Clough in the 2009 film version of The Damned United

"I was interested in the mystery elements - why did he take the job? Why was he sacked? No-one seemed to know. I had an idea of writing a novel of the occult history of Leeds United, going back to the 1900s, all the shenanigans."

But Peace said when he introduced Clough as a character "he just took over the book".

"When I started writing, Brian Clough was still alive and 80% of it was finished before he died.

"When I came to writing it, I read all the books written about him and a couple of books he'd written. I took a decision not to identify members of his family by name - while he was a public figure, they were private people."

Peace said he had still not seen the film properly, as he was living in Tokyo at the time.

No-one's written the great Jimmy Saville novel - and it won't be me
David Peace on Yorkshire icons

"I've seen a very, very rough cut on DVD on an old laptop. That's no way to judge it. By the time I got here, it had closed. There was talk they'd fly us home for the premiere in Leicester Square, but due to the credit crunch, I never did. My sister went, she was really pleased she was sitting right next to Michael Parkinson!"

However, he said he felt "humbled" with the Channel 4 adaption of his Red Riding novels, which he thought "fantastic".

This includes the film version of 1974, with Peace self-critical of his novel, which he now considers "represents some of things I don't like about crime writing - violent, voyeuristic, over-done."

He has "high hopes" a film version will be made of GB84, as well as a stand-alone drama of the outstanding Red Riding novel not brought to the screen.

Peace said he would stop writing novels when he's finished his 12th - he's reached his eighth - which he put partly down to the rhythmic style of his writing.

"I prefer poetry to novels. I think novels impose an artifice of structure. I'm quite specific about line endings, there's quite a specific look within the text."

Writing with distractions

"It sounds like something Gary Numan might say, about retiring. I'll carry on writing. But you can outstay your welcome. It gets harder and you're trying not to repeat yourself."

He has an idea of a book about the Yorkshire Ripper "kind of" - it was originally going to be set around the hoax tape in the murder inquiry, although that has changed since the culprit was found and jailed.

At the moment "it's more about Geoffrey Boycott," and he mused about strong Yorkshire personalities of his boyhood, such as Harvey Smith and Jimmy Savile. "No-one's written the great Jimmy Savile novel - and it won't be me."

He read from his forthcoming novel Occupied City, the second in a trilogy set in post-war Tokyo, and is working on the third book back in the UK - a new experience.

Peace has recently moved back to Yorkshire, with his family, after living and working in Japan since 1992.

Britain's "better than I remembered it on a day to day level. When I left, I'd been living in Manchester, people now seem more friendly, chatty."

But he now faces the challenge of writing with distractions.

"I was teaching English from 1pm until 9pm and I'd have all morning to write. For 17 years, I never watched the TV and now I seem to be watching it all the time."

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