Novelists don't go out of their way to spurn the largest possible readership. So when the popular press lauds a writer as ''the male Bridget Jones'' and furthermore characterises his work as ''Bridget Jones for boys'', the novelist in question can't help

but rejoice.

Because there's plainly a rich commercial harvest in being seen to follow in the mega-successful wake of the angst-ridden fictional female archetype created by ex-journalist Helen Fielding.

Ex-journalist Mike Gayle is the author whose first three novels have prompted the lucrative Bridget comparison and propelled him into publishing's mainstream - but he'd rather avoid charges of having set out to keep up with the Joneses.

''People do go on about Bridget Jones,'' Gayle tells me with genial resignation. ''I'd be lying if I said the comparison didn't help the marketing of the books and thus help sales, but if you read my books, they're nothing to do with Bridget Jones.

''I see Bridget Jones as a female take on Adrian Mole, whereas as my biggest

literary influence was Douglas Coupland's Generation X, and all my books' popular culture references come from TV shows like Seinfeld, as well as the indie bands I liked at the start of the nineties when I was a student running a fanzine.''

In other words, Gayle admits that his mass-market fiction echoes that of Fielding in being chattily accessible and humorous in its depiction of the turbulent and uncertain emotional inner-lives of many contemporary urban singletons. He's pleased that he's successfully tapped the zeitgeist without having shown off his degree in sociology by using pompous quasi-sociological terms

like ''zeitgeist''.

But he'd also like you to know that there's a more knowing and hip left-field sensibility at work within his novels, too, ta very much.

Indeed, Gayle's debut novel, My Legendary Girlfriend, takes its title from an early

non-hit by those erstwhile icons of indie awkwardness, Pulp.

The book also subtly proffers a reference to Alcoholiday from Bandwagonesque, the quintessential album expressly crafted for every disaffected indie romantic by Bellshill's finest disaffected indie romantics, Teenage Fanclub.

''People have assumed I wrote the book to order, having spotted a gap in the market, but to my mind I was simply writing the novel I wanted to, about a miserable guy in a miserable bedsit in a nowhere part of

London - and I quite deliberately planned it, Seinfeld-style, for nothing to really happen,'' says Gayle.

''I'd gone into fiction-writing with the knowledge that it was badly paid, and thinking that I'd probably have to pay to get my first book published. I wrote the book over a year and sent it to friends, and then re-wrote and re-wrote it again with their suggestions in mind. I sent it off to five agents. Two got back.

''I worked on the book for another summer. It then went to the Frankfurt Book Festival, whereafter it wound up being sent to five or six publishers on the same Friday afternoon.

''By Monday we had three offers on the table. An auction started . . . an auction that started at six figures - and for a book that I was sure wasn't the kind of book that would do that. From the get-go, I was lucky enough to be a full-time novelist.''

That was in November, 1997, and marked the end of Gayle's freelance career in teenage magazines. Launched the following August, My Legendary Girlfriend went on to sell 250,000 copies.

Its successor, Mr Commitment, began its retail life by topping the sales charts for

five weeks.

Mike Gayle's life provides other instances of the occasional functioning of what might be termed the Benign Theory of the Happy Accident. ''Writing about music on an undergraduate fanzine, Incredibly Inedible, got me into journalism,'' says Gayle, a student at Salford University.

''It was great fun, plus we were fortunate in getting interviews with bands on their way to being huge: Smashing Pumpkins on their first British tour, Blur, the Cranberries.'' Jobs on listings magazines swiftly ensued, first in Salford's neighbour, Manchester, and then in Gayle's home town, Birmingham.

As the centre of the national magazine market, London naturally beckoned. Typically, Gayle's first attempt at gaining a writer's job on a London teen weekly resulted in him securing the lofty position of launch editor of a brand-new magazine, one which would have followed the blueprint Gayle casually outlined during his interview.

''I'd done a post-graduate journalism course. Its advice on CVs was 'Always state your ultimate ambition.' Mine was to edit my own teenage weekly magazine. So I'd given the interviewers some of my thoughts on publishing a new magazine. They were impressed because it was something that they were already planning to do, unbeknown

to me.''

The nascent mag didn't actually reach newsstands, but after Gayle's eight-month spell as its editor-midwife, he was established anyway. He became an agony uncle, first with Bliss and then Just 17, rising to become Just 17's features editor.

''But the weeklies are filled with stress, the pressure of deadlines, the pressure of sales in a market where you gain new competitors all the time. I'd also accelerated up the ladder to become managerial very soon, too. I loved writing, and I wasn't doing it anymore.''

Gayle thus returned to his native Birmingham determined to be a novelist, and having secured freelance writing work with magazines like FHM, More and Top Of The Pops. But London's streets did have one final piece of golden good fortune for him.

''Everything in my career has been unplanned, and one day I accidentally became a photographic model for Benetton. I was walking down a road in Notting Hill Gate when this beautiful Swedish woman came up and asked if she could take my photo for an

ad agency.

''A week later I was being cast for a one-off European campaign for Benetton. I never thought much of it, but six months later a pal in Birmingham rang and told me to get down to the shops. There was my face plastered everywhere on four-foot square posters. Pals subsequently saw me in Benetton shops everywhere from Stuttgart to Madrid.''

In contrast, My Legendary Girlfriend had no such basis in global glitz. ''It was based in the mundane reality of being lonely, and moping, and having an ex-girlfriend you can't get over. It's autobiographical, but there's no one specific woman. I've had my heart broken a number of times. As the book's cover says, My Legendary Girlfriend is for anyone who's been dumped, or who's dumped someone, or who lives in a dump.''

Gayle ceased being a moping dumpee himself in late 1996, when he committed himself maritally to Claire. This is ironic in view of the title of his second novel. Mr Commitment examines the troubled life of young man with an all-too-common social ailment, fear of marriage.

Like its forerunner, Mr Commitment specialises in ambling knowledgeably around the hills and dales of a rarely-seen emotional terrain - Inner Blokescape. And unlike the one first charted by Nick Hornby, Gayle's Inner Blokescape avoids being mapped out just in terms of allegiances to football teams.

''It's a stereotype to say that men don't have an inner life,'' Gayle feels with a passion. ''They're not generally as expressive as women, maybe, but that doesn't mean it's not happening inside them. Statistics show it - young men are the ones committing suicide. There is turmoil in guys. Men have always been emotional, and they've always expressed emotion. All the great love songs were written by men. In fact, what I had in mind with My Legendary Girlfriend was a song Scott Walker sings, Stay With Me, Baby.

''There's something about this plea from a man with no self-respect left, begging a woman to stay, that's both great and very funny, too. I'm big on angst, though, having learnt from The Smiths that angst need not necessarily be depressing - it can be uplifting and very funny. At the same time, though, I'm a big fan of happy endings. They often get pooh-poohed because they're not cool, which is stupid. Everyone wants a satisfactory resolution. It's not as though not having one in a novel is more grown-up.''

Nevertheless, it must be noted that Turning Thirty reaches less of a conclusive resolution than either of its predecessors. Then again, the novel's central theme is life's increasingly painful messiness as folk hurtle out of their innocent twenties. The book still flows with a pleasing conversational ease, however.

''In real life, conversations can be mundane or they can, if you stick with them, be revealing and funny,'' says Gayle of his literary style. ''The dialogue in many novels doesn't ring true to me. My characters are slightly more witty than real life, but they hold recognisable conversations. Meeting your mates. Going to the pub. Sitting down and chatting. That's life for me and most of my mates.

''My biggest compliment came from a woman who wrote: 'You never fail to make the reader feel like a personal friend'.''

Paradoxically, Gayle doesn't feel a similar sense of easeful familiarity with every aspect of his success to date. It's currently causing him problems with novel No 4. ''Because they're easy to read, people think my books are easy to write - and they aren't. In the same way, people see them as throwaway because of their marketing success.

''But I don't want to write homogenised nonsense for a mass market. So far I've written a book a year for three years. The next one won't be ready until this time next year at the earliest.''

Before then, Gayle will have sorted out his imminent US literary debut with Mr Commitment, recently optioned by Hollywood. Prior to jetting to London for an early-morning appointment with the sofa on Channel 4's Big Breakfast, Gayle bids a regretful farewell to Glasgow, having seen nothing of it for a second time.

''As a student, I'd have said I was an honorary Glaswegian. All my favourite

bands then were from Glasgow: Teenage Fanclub, Eugenius, BMX Bandits, the Boy Hairdressers. I interviewed them all, and they were such a nice bunch of guys. I've always wanted to see the city that formed their songs of love and loss.''

Gayle's previous fleeting Glasgow visit was on teeny mag duty, covering pop tarts East 17 at a sell-out SECC gig. Perhaps there's an instructive metaphor there for Mike Gayle's writing career.

Something arty-farty about mass-market success depriving a chap of time to savour

the singular joys of marginal excellence. For your next book, laddie, avoid thundering cash-registers and opt for delicate indie jingle-jangle.

Mike Gayle's novels are published in paperback by Flame. My Legendary Girlfriend (#6.99) and Mr Commitment (#10) are now joined by Turning Thirty (#6.99).