One week after graphic designer Matt posted on Facebook about life as a new dad, he was in the news – on tv and radio – around the world.
Matt Coyne is a funny guy.
Within minutes of walking in the door, we’re giggling like old mates, and I get the feeling this is just the way Matt is.
He’s the typical guy next door, with a bright, friendly smile and quick, self-deprecating humour. I like him instantly.
And while the man who told me I’d recognise him as the ‘tired, pasty-looking guy with snot on his shoulder’ comes across as pleasant and ordinary, the story he has to tell is rather extraordinary. It’s been 15 months since a post on his Facebook wall changed his life.
“It was a Thursday evening just before Christmas 2015,” Matt recalls with a nod.
“My partner, Lyndsay, and I had gone to Meadowhall with our three-month-old son, Charlie, for the first time. Charlie had fallen asleep, so I went to sit with him and have a coffee while Lyndsay finished off some Christmas shopping.
“I started writing a Facebook post on my phone, just to update family and friends on how we were finding parenthood so far. I got quite into it, writing about 1,000 words before Lyndsay returned, and as we stood to leave, I hit ‘post.’
“I didn’t think anything of it until I woke up the next morning and saw it had been shared 20 times and thought, ‘that’s nice’.
“Later that day I started getting Friend Requests, about 100, and thought something must be wrong with my account. I messaged one of the people to ask if I knew them, and she informed me she wanted to share my post, but couldn’t unless we were Facebook friends. I found and clicked a button to say that anybody could share it and, instantly – ping, ping, ping – my phone started going mad. Within a day it had been shared 10,000 times.”
In the next few days, the blog post – a funny and honest account of Matt’s adjustment to fatherhood – went viral, travelling all over the world.
“I was contacted by television shows in Australia, and radio shows in America; it was even on North Korea’s news agency website,” Matt says incredulously.
“Things started to get really crazy when Ashton Kutcher shared it, and then George Takei, from Star Trek.
“This Morning invited me on the show and, one week after I sat writing that post in Meadowhall, I was on the couch with Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby.”
Today, this original post has had more than 52,000 likes, 18,000 comments and has been shared nearly 36,000 times. It has had a global reach of more than 10 million. Phew.
The most incredible thing of all – the 42-year-old Yorkshireman, born and raised in Sheffield, is a graphic designer by trade, not a writer as many of his new fans quickly assumed.
“I’d always dreamed of being a writer, a journalist actually,” grins Matt, who now lives in Barnsley.
“When I was at school, all I wanted was to do well in my exams and write for The Star, it was my dream job.
“It was my careers teacher at All Saints School who crushed my writing ambitions. The day I told him I wanted to be a journalist, I’ll never forget his exact words were ‘well I wanted to be Burt Reynolds!’ Then he handed me an application form to apply to fix gas cookers for British Gas.
“I did go to college and then university, and did my English degree, but somewhere along the way, I slipped into graphic design.”
It took becoming a father to Charlie, now aged 18 months, to dust off some rather old literary ambitions.
“Charlie was the ultimate change,” he says simply.
“He was the trigger. My partner Lyndsay and I have been together over 20 years and we had a fantastic life together before we had Charlie, but there’s something about having a child that makes you feel like you’ve woken up. The highs are higher than anything you’ve known before, and the lows are lower too, but it really feels like living. There’s something really inspiring about that.”
So just what is it about this blog post that he thinks captured so many people’s imaginations?
“It’s very honest,” he says after thinking for a moment.
“It says – in no uncertain terms – what other parents all over the world already know: parenthood is incredibly tough. I mean as a really new parent, I used to stop for a quick snooze in the car before I did the shopping at Morrisons so regularly that the security guard started bringing me over a bacon sandwich!”
Some of the observations in his original blog post, entitled ‘things I’ve learnt so far,’ include: ‘Babies breathe in a jazz syncopated rhythm. There is no set pattern to it and they stop breathing roughly every 40 seconds. Just long enough for you to think they’ve died.
‘At 3am, a baby’s crying is like having the inside of your skull sandpapered by an angry Viking.
‘Every item of clothing has more press-studs than necessary just to make you look like a moron in front of your child. I’m thinking of launching a range of baby clothing that is all velcro, based on strippers’ trousers. You should be able to hold a baby in one hand, the clothes they’re wearing in the other, and separate the two with a satisfying rip.
‘Whether Lyns likes it or not holding the baby above your head when it’s naked, and singing The Circle of Life is always funny.’
And what does his partner Lyndsay make of the whirlwind that followed that now infamous blog post?
“She’s amazed by everything that’s happened since,” Matt confirms.
“For me too, there were moments, sat on the This Morning couch, or satellite linking through to breakfast TV in Australia, that were utterly surreal. But the thing about being a parent is that you’re no longer the starring role in your own life. I’d get a phone call about an amazing opportunity, something I never thought would be possible, and then I’d hang up and turn around to see Charlie clapping for the first time, and that would always be the one that got the most cheers and excitement.
“I think children are an amazing leveller in that respect. Everything that’s happening is so nice, but life with Charlie is the thing that’s monumental.”
And it’s life with Charlie that Matt has explored – in his usual, honest style – in his new book, Dummy, published by Headline Publishing Group, which hit stores across the country last week.
“It was Philip Schofield who started it all off,” Matt laughs.
“He commented that somebody needed to offer me a book deal and, the next thing I know, I have a brilliant new agent who is wheeling me around London, introducing me to lots of publishers.”
Dummy – a parenting guide for real people – focuses on the first year of Charlie’s life; dealing with everything from baby milestones and messy play, to weaning, car seats and pram wars.
“Writing it nearly killed me,” Matt says simply.
“I was working full time so I’d start writing on an evening once Charlie was in bed, work until 4am or 5am, drop into bed, then get up for work a few hours later and repeat the whole process. This went on for about six months; I was running totally on adrenaline.
“It’s thrilling and incredibly nerve-wracking now it’s done and out on the shelves for people to read.”
And Matt will be at Waterstones in Sheffield’s Orchard Square tomorrow evening, for An Evening with Matt Coyne, when he will be chatting to fellow-exhausted parents over a glass of wine and signing copies of his new book.
“Who knows, maybe Ashton Kutcher will show up in Sheffield to get his copy signed?” Matt suggests.
“That would be nice. Though to be honest, I’ll be really happy as long as somebody other than my mum shows up!”