Back in 1995, I was doing work experience in a little-known agency named Butler Lutos Sutton Wilkinson. I was 15 and attempting to "shadow" a jaded copywriter and his then art director in a pitch for a new product called Fat Binder. I am not making this up. Although it might sound like something from one of Matt Beaumont's novels, Fat Binder was a dubious diet pill that promised to rid the world of liposuction.
There were two things my teenage self had impressed upon her that year. One, the importance of not using Sun-In. The other, something the copywriter Matthew (as he answered to then) said on our way back from recording a voiceover: "Remember, you're only as good as your last campaign." For some reason, that's always stuck with me. So although Matthew was very inspiring about the ad industry, he was also no stranger to cynicism.
It's a cynicism that's made him famous. Five years after Fat Binder, Matthew went on to write e, the most talked-about novel about advertising. An e-mail-based satire, the book is so true to life that it's practically course literature at most ad schools.
Ten years on, Beaumont has penned a sequel. The book sees Miller Shanks replaced by Meerkat360, a new company ready for the "integrated age". The "thought collective" (not an ad agency) contains all your favourite deranged and deluded admen from the previous book, with a few new faces thrown in for good measure.
Fifteen years on from our first meeting, Beaumont agreed to meet me again so I could pick his brains on e2, on the crossover from ads to novels, and about the joys of marketing his tomes.
Famously, Beaumont wrote e when he was at McCann Erickson London. He said that e is reflective of his state of mind there. He hated it all back then. He would think harsh, irrational thoughts about the industry. Writing the book then was cathartic, a chance to vent his spleen.
But now, Beaumont claims, he's mellowed. He's got it out of his system and is not so cynical any more. He's working at M&C Saatchi, and he says he's happy and resolved.
Really? There's a pretty savage, Klein-esque speech that one character makes two-thirds into e2: "We're worse than the leeches that truly don't give a fuck. At least they're honest. We, on the other hand, are fraudulent hypocrites. We believe we can fool ourselves with the same lies we feed the world in our advertisements ..."
Beaumont's answer as to his thoughts behind speeches such as this is simple: it's not him talking. "Just because some of my characters seem to despise advertising, doesn't mean that I do," he says. Nice save.
Now Beaumont's working at M&C Saatchi, how does he find working with Graham Fink? Is he character fodder in any way? Beaumont swears not; but being at the agency certainly provides comedy fodder in other ways. For one, the creative department beach huts in the book are just like the ones in M&C Saatchi. There are other similarities too, but you'll just have to read the book to spot them all.
The new book charts so much new territory besides e-mail, though - eBay entries, SMS, blogs and so on. It's a different world now. But it was Beaumont's unique e-mail approach that made the first book so accessible, and a technique that's continued in the sequel.
Not bad for someone who claims he arrived at electronic conversation at a later stage than most. "Although I had a computer, I didn't know how to switch it on. When I finally figured it out, I found about 5,000 e-mails in my inbox and realised I'd been missing out on something. A couple of weeks after that, I had the idea for e - I'm a fast learner," he says.
It is a strange thing, crossing the line from copywriting into novels. Not least because you can't help wanting to stick your oar in when it comes to the advertising. How did he find that experience? He said for a while he put forward ideas to the publisher about how to market it, but it wasn't that receptive. Although, for this book, he did write the copy for www.meerkat360.co.uk - a spoof website created for the featured agency.
Beaumont ultimately wonders whether publishers really believe in marketing at all. "For the majority of books, the entire marketing effort consists of the front cover design and the back cover blurb. So any smart way to get them noticed has to be good," he says. "I think that book trailers, for instance, are a fantastic idea." Beaumont's never done a trailer himself, but Chamoun Issa shot one for his last-but-one book, Small World; you can see it on YouTube.
As someone who also attempts to do this, I have to ask how he manages to juggle the two worlds of copy and novels, day to day. I find one feeds off the other but, for him, it's much more black and white. They exist in totally different spheres. He spent ten years writing full-time at home. Now he's back doing ads. "Multi-task? Me? I can barely sip my tea and watch the telly at the same time. When I'm flat-out on ads, I can't write books, and vice versa. It's a problem," he says.
That said, he does find the two skills mutually beneficial: "Most likely, my advertising experience makes me focus on the primacy of the idea and the imperative of keeping it simple - as important in novels as in ads."
It's sometimes hard to decide what's more draining creatively - thinking up campaign ideas or ploughing through the long, long copy of a book. For Beaumont, writing ads wins out: "It's just so bloody incessant, isn't it? You come up with a clever idea, enjoy five smug seconds of self-congratulation, but then there's another brief right behind it demanding another really clever idea RIGHT NOW."
And then there's the relentless compromising: "When I write a book, I am not doing it to please a fuckwit art director, a fuckwit suit, a fuckwit planner, a fuckwit client, a fuckwit research group. I am simply doing it for me. Bliss." Ah, there's that cynicism we know and love.
- Lorelei Mathias is a copywriter at glue Isobar and author of the novels Step On It Cupid and Lost For Words. She is also a regular blogger for campaignlive.co.uk.