Awaydays: Interview with writer Kevin Sampson

Awaydays is a movie adaptation of a cult-classic book by Kevin Sampson, who was kind enough to give an exclusive interview to The story is set in 70’s Birkenhead, following the life of a 19 year old who gets caught up in football gangs and drugs.

The film has obviously been a long time coming, but are you pleased with the way everything worked out in the end?
I’m pretty superstitious and I have a vague belief that everything happens for a reason. All those little details that bring the gang and the film to life – the right training shoes, great soundtrack, taking risks with unknown cast… these were decisions we were ultimately able to make ourselves, and for the better, I’m sure.

Was it important for the film to stay true to the book?
Awaydays the film is pretty faithful to Awaydays the book, yeah – but strange as it may sound, that’s not something I’m particularly obsessive about. Making a film is a completely different discipline and you take your audience on a different kind of ride – it’s much more condensed, so you quickly have to accept that not everything from the book can make it into the final cut of the film. Having said that, I was gutted that we couldn’t have the scene where Elvis ‘interacts’ with a troupe of Morris Dancers. I feel that British cinema lost a wonderful moment when financial reality ruled that we couldn’t afford to shoot the scene where he takes liberties with their cudgels!

What was the hardest thing about bringing characters that had previously just been in your imagination onto the screen?
The whole process is pretty weird to be honest. Up until the moment that actors walk into the casting suite and start interpreting the characters, delivering their lines, these characters have only ever lived inside my head, and inside the heads of anyone who’s read the book. Carty, Elvis, Godden, Baby – they’re all inventions, and everyone will imagine them differently. Suddenly though, there’s Liam Boyle saying Elvis’s lines exactly how I would have pictured him saying them…. that little glint of malicious humour, the world-weary delivery. It’s a bit trippy. Then again, other actors will come in and just get it wrong – which is even trippier.

A lot of the cast are very young – was it easy for the actors to relate to characters from an era before they were even born?
Forget the Rat Pack – these boys are the Pack Pack! Even though they were bringing a scene to life that happened before some of them were born, they related to the universality of the film’s overall themes – teenagers’ search for identity and belonging and, above all, that visceral need for excitement. Awaydays is ‘Teenage Kicks’ writ large.

You’ve said that the book isn’t autobiographical, but do you see yourself in any of the characters now?
Probably even less so than I did in the book! I mean, there are things that all teenage lads have in common – there’s a general insecurity behind the mask, and that’s one of Awaydays’ themes, the person that lurks behind the bravado. So to that extent I could arguably see the teenage version of myself in any of the main characters. Except for Godden. I would never, under any circumstances, sport a moustache.

Do you think the film glamorises the scene?
I definitely don’t think the film glamorises gang culture or football violence. It’s horribly realistic in parts, whereas to glamorise something you have to idealise it and make it perhaps artificially appealing. That final scene with Carty says it all.

Any reason why you chose to base the film around Tranmere Rovers rather than Liverpool FC?
Well, it wasn’t quite like that… it would never have been right for a cultish tale like Awaydays to be driven by a massive global entity like Liverpool. A huge club like LFC with all the folklore and 24-7 imagery doesn’t leave much to the imagination, so I didn’t really choose Tranmere over them or any other team. Awaydays is set against the backdrop of the late 70s depression and it’s far more fitting to travel the Northern wastelands – Crewe, Doncaster, Halifax, Bury – than the somewhat romanticised and world-renowned settings of Anfield and Old Trafford. Remember this is all fiction, it’s storytelling, but it’s hard to fictionalise something that’s pumped into the world’s front rooms and back pages every single day of the week. You mentioned glamourising that whole scene, but if there’s anything glamorous about Crewe I’ve yet to stumble across it!

People have made comparisons to everything from Quadrophenia, Control and Trainspotting to Stand By Me, Catcher In The Rye and Green Streets. How does that make you feel?
Anything but Green Street, please! Seriously though – Control, Stand By Me, A Clockwork Orange… those are some of the best teen and pop culture films of all time. To stand alongside movies like those and Quadrophenia or Trainspotting would be the ultimate – and I’d be made up, of course.

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