As Harper Lee, The Stone Roses, or Sam Raimi will tell you (and that’s a dinner-party I’d like to attend), it’s not easy following up a cultural touchstone. When your debut strikes a chord with a wider public and becomes higher profile than anyone expected then there’s bound to be added pressure to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. Chris McQueer’s short story collection Hings was just such a debut, one which found its way into the hands of people who don’t normally bother with literary fiction.
As with lain Banks’ The Wasp Factory, Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, and Alan Bissett’s Boyracers, Hings is a book with a reputation which spread in no small part by word of mouth, praised and quoted in the workplace and passed around the playground. It received mainly glowing reviews on sites such as this one, and in print, but so do many other books which don’t manage to achieve the profile Hings did.
In the age of social media such a reach can be more readily measured, with people posting pictures holding their copy on a variety of social media, often accompanied by messages professing that it’s the first book they’ve read in ages, a claim also made for those mentioned above. It feels as if Chris McQueer is reaching an audience outside of the usual Scottish literary scene in a manner not witnessed since Allan Wilson’s Wasted In Love received similar attention in 2011. But now we get to find out if McQueer can follow Hings. That’s the question which inevitably arises with the publication of his latest collection, HWFG. Continue reading
For SWH! podcast 101 Ali speaks to the writer Chris McQueer about his latest collection of short stories, HWFG. If you haven’t heard of or read Chris’ work, where have you been? His previous book Hings took the world of Scottish writing by storm announcing a fresh and exciting new voice. HWFG, (Here We Fucking Go, if you haven’t worked it out yet,), sees him build on the success of Hings introducing readers to new characters as well as bringing back firm fan favourites.
It was fascinating to hear what inspired Chris to write, his influences, the difficulty in following a hit, the highs and lows of being reviewed, the importance of writing not only what but who you know, the crucial relationship between writer and editor, how vital a great cover is (see right), and his plans to branch out from writing fiction. He also kindly reads ‘Brexit’, one of his new stories, which gives the uninitiated a great introduction to Chris McQueer and his work.
For those of a sensitive nature, I should say, the podcast contains the sort of language you might expect when discussing a collection with the full name Here We Fucking Go, for once fully earning the ‘Explicit’ tag iTunes often gives us, seemingly randomly. Continue reading
For the latest podcast Ali met up with Helen McClory (below) at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery to talk about her life as a writer to date – and a very interesting story it proved to be.
From studying literature and creative writing in St Andrews, Sydney and Glasgow, to winning awards for her debut short story collection On The Edges Of Vision, walking Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson’s dog, the difficult publication of her novel Flesh Of The Peach, writing about Jeff Goldblum, to her latest collection of short fiction Mayhem & Death, it is a fascinating tale, and one which will be of interest to anyone who loves reading and writing.
If you haven’t yet read Helen McClory, this is the podcast to persuade you to do just that, and you can find out more about her latest publications at 404 Ink. Continue reading
One of Scots Whay Hae!’s Best Books of 2017 was Helen McClory’s novel Flesh Of The Peach, which should have reached a much wider readership but it became a casualty of the sudden demise of Freight Books, being published but with little or no publicity. I urge you to get a copy, if you still can, and treasure it. Thankfully, 404 Ink are publishing her latest collection of short fiction, Mayhem & Death – an apt title, taken from the powerful opening story ‘Souterrain’, as there proves to be plenty of both between its covers.
McClory’s stories share DNA with those of Kirsty Logan, particularly those in The Rental Heart and A Portable Shelter, and Ever Dundas’ excellent novel Goblin, but they are also reminiscent of Angela Carter and Alison Lurie, often looking to the natural world and animal kingdom, and the accompanying mythology, fantasy and fables, to examine themes of grief, alienation and loneliness. In fact Mayhem & Death has a dedication which reads ‘For The Lonely’, and it’s a subject which McClory returns to and examines throughout these tales. Continue reading
For 10 days in March (15th – 25th) Glasgow’s Book Festival Aye Write! is the only show in town for lovers of fact, fiction, food, poetry, prose, biography, comics, and any other form of writing that takes your fancy. While the majority of events remain at the festival’s spiritual home of The Mitchell Library there is also plenty occuring at the CCA, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Tramway, City Halls, GFT and Glasgow University Chapel. But it is only right that Glasgow’s most famous library is the focus point for a book festival which is international in scope, but has its roots firmly planted in the city.
Here are SWH!’s carefully selected daily highlights to give you something to think about, but you can peruse the full programme at your leisure here.
You can also keep up to date with events as they unfold by following on Twitter or on Facebook. Tickets can be bought here and you can click the links below for further details on the individual events.
Thursday 15th – Stuart David, 7.45 – 8.45pm, University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel
Ex-Belle & Sebastian and current Looper, Stuart David is arguably better known as a musician than a writer, but his debut novel Nalda Said is one of the most-underrated Scottish novels of the last 20 years, and his memoir about his time in Belle & Sebastian, In The All Night Cafe is a must for any Scottish pop music fan. Now his latest novel, Peacock’s Alibi, is being published by Polygon, and SWH!’s very own Ali Braidwood will be in conversation with Stuart on the 15th to discuss the new book, the true story of Peacock Johnson, the Ian Rankin connection, and so much more. If you have a burning question you’ve always wanted to ask Stuart please come along as this is your chance to do so.
Peacock’s Alibi is published by Polygon Books, and you can hear Stuart and Karn David talking to the SWH! Podcast back in 2015. Continue reading
For the first podcast of 2018 Ali went to Edinburgh to talk to Heather McDaid and Laura Jones who are behind the innovative and acclaimed independent publishers 404 Ink. If you aren’t yet familiar with the name then where the hell have you been?
As well as their unmissable periodical literary magazine, they have published the phenomenal Nasty Women, introduced us to Chris McQueer through his debut collection of short stories Hings, collaborated with rock band Creeper on The Last Days Of James Scythe, and are due to publish SWH! favourite Helen McClory‘s new collection of short fiction Mayhem & Death as well as republishing her award winning On The Edges Of Vision (one of the best books of recent years), and that’s really only scratching the surface. Continue reading
You may have had your fill of ‘Books Of The Year’ lists, but we like to think that Scots Whay Hae!’s selection is small, beautifully formed, and well worthy of your attention.
These are the books which stood out against stiff competition in 2017. The list could easily have been longer but we like to stick to a traditional Top Ten. Consisting of five novels, two short story collections, a musical/historical biography, a collection of journalism, and a peerless book of essays, they take you to Memphis, Airdrie, Springboig and the Alsace, with detours to Firhill, London during the Blitz, New Mexico and Millport along the way. Taken as a whole they are a testament to the breadth of artistic and cultural imagination at large in Scotland today. Need further convincing? Here’s what we thought at the time:
David Keenan – This Is Memorial Device
This Is Memorial Device is spot on in terms of time and place, but it’s so much more than that. It’s rare for a writer to capture both in a manner which avoids nostalgia and feels relevant, but Keenan manages to do so. This is a novel which is about what it means to be young, about the hows and whys – the when and where is less relevant. It’s about youth. Real youth, not the sort of arrested development that is all too common these days. I’ve read it twice and will do so again before too long. At the age of 46 it’s had a palpable effect on me. If I had read it when I was 15, (as happened with The Busconductor Hines and The Wasp Factory), there’s every chance it would have changed my life. That’s your definition of a cult novel right there.
You can hear David Keenan talking about This Is Memorial Device on the SWH! podcast. Continue reading
Being funny on the page is notoriously difficult to pull off. There are good reasons most comedians don’t write comedy novels, or at least good ones. If they do write fiction it’s often to show their serious side (Rob Newman, Alexei Sayle and Stephen Fry being three of the best), or they are just not funny (Ben Elton). The most successful books by comedians are nearly always autobiographical, which says much on many levels. The writers which make me laugh the most are all writers first – Hunter S Thompson, Joseph Heller, Douglas Adams and Chris Brookmyre, to name just a few.
Although Chris McQueer made a name for himself on the spoken word circuit, he is undoubtedly a writer first and foremost. Hings is his first collection of short stories and before we go any further I can report it is funny. Properly, laugh-out-loud, funny. However, as you read you realise there is more going on.
As Ewan Denny suggests on the cover (see above), the influence of Limmy and Irvine Welsh is apparent in Hings, but more the former’s Daft Wee Stories and TV show than Trainspotting, and it is all the better for it. There are many who have tried in vain to recapture the lightning in a bottle which was Trainspotting, including Welsh himself, but it’s so much better for any writer to go their own way, and that’s what McQueer has done in some style. Continue reading
404 Ink’s collection of essays, Nasty Women, is unlike any other you’ll read this year, and probably for the foreseeable future. That in itself is a reason for its existence and its importance. Collecting accounts from various contributors, it comments not only on “what it is to be a woman in the 21st century”, but, when taken as whole, it asks any reader to consider their own attitudes and beliefs on a range of subjects, both specific and general. It’s also a reminder that the written word is the most nuanced, complex and complete way to tell stories and relay truths.
The importance of Punk is visited throughout. The ideas and ideals of the movement – (which have always been more important than the music itself) often mask a reality where individual and collective sexist and often abusive behaviour betray those professed principles. This is nothing new, and I recommend Cosey Fanni Tutti’s biography Art Sex Music and particularly Viv Albertine’s memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys as evidence of this. In the latter Albertine describes how she and her fellow Slits were patronised and attacked, from inside as well as out. What they refused to be was ignored. Continue reading
For 10 days in March there is only one place to be as Glasgow’s Aye Write! takes up its annual residency in the Mitchell Library between 9th-19th to cement its reputation as one of the best book festivals around. Pedants will point out that there are also events at the CCA, Kelvin Hall and Royal Concert Hall, but it is only right that Glasgow’s most famous library is the focus point for a book festival which is international in scope, but has its roots firmly planted in this city.
Here are a few selected highlights to give you something to think about, but you can peruse the full programme at your leisure here. They are all at the Mitchell unless stated otherwise. Continue reading