The New Dark

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It’s been one year since the publication of The New Dark, a story that began with a one-line pitch: what happens if the world enters a new dark age? That simple, ten-word sentence gave rise to an epic tale of mutants and slaves, revolutions and war, love won, and friendship lost.

The New Dark explores a world where knowledge from the Before times has been lost. In the event of a massive catastrophe, such as nuclear war, this would happen within a generation. Without continual maintenance, buildings deteriorate, cars rot, and nature takes its course. We’ve all seen buildings in towns and cities with trees growing in gutters and shrubs rooting in wall cracks. It only takes one harsh winter to fissure a road. Imagine the change over fifty, one hundred or even two hundred years.

Now imagine a world where all the big animals have been wiped out and creatures once small have grown large. Badgers as big as bears, woodlice the size of lobsters, and you really don’t want to find yourself in the company of blood-sucking ticks. In this mutated world, even the plants can bite back.

Connectivity is gone, the strands of the web long-since snapped. Communities live in isolation, each with their own system of beliefs, but even in small villages, people are not always what they seem, and close friends make the bitterest of enemies.

Told over three books, The New Dark is a tale of betrayal, and vengeance and contains scenes of violence and bloodshed aplenty, but it is also about overcoming fear and challenging prejudice. Ultimately it is a story about the importance of friendship.

Published by Bastei Entertainment, The New Dark, The New Dawn and The New Day are available to download from Amazon.

 

 

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Above the Strandline

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I’ve always enjoyed going to islands. There’s something exhilarating about crossing a body of water and knowing that it separates you from the rest of the world, especially if the mobile signal is dodgy or, better still, non-existent, and then you get the feeling of being completely cut off from the rest of the world. Anything could be happening out there from a zombie apocalypse to Elvis being found alive and well in Saltcoats, and you wouldn’t know a thing about it.

I’ve been lucky enough to get to know a few islands fairly well, the most recent being Isle Martin, a community-owned island just a few miles north of my home in Ullapool. It’s fair to say I’ve fallen in love with the place, perhaps even become a little obsessed, my excuse for the obsession being that my current work-in-progress finds me immersed in the island’s history.

It’s not my first island-set book – Erosion is a stranded-on-an-island thriller – but it is my first engagement with historical fiction. I didn’t mean it to happen, but when I went on a walk on Isle Martin with local archaeologist, Cathy Dagg, and heard some of what took place there, I couldn’t help myself.

Though she may be small, Isle Martin is a gem that punches well above her weight. From the howling of wolves and the layering of bones, to the Jacobite rebellion, herring girls, and a mother who gave all for her son, hers is a rich and fascinating tale.

I’m currently in the year 1778 and, I think, almost a third of the way through the first draft. My book will probably end near the start of the 20th century so I won’t be writing about the rich eccentric with his flour mill and no wheat to grind. Not this time round at any rate.

For anyone in the area, I’ll be giving a guided walk around the island on 11 August 2018. The ferry will depart from Ardmair at 11am. More details can be found below.

If you’d like to experience staying on Isle Martin and trying some creative play, I’ll be running a writing retreat on the island 14-16 September, 2018. Details of Above the Strandline can be found here.  Or feel free to message me about either event via Facebook or Twitter.

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Literary Smorgasbord: Logan Murray

I met Logan Murray when I took part in one of his immersive comedy workshops. I haven’t stopped laughing since. 

Logan Murray

Big old, adult Logan is a friendly, confident guy, always ready to laugh, but what were you like at school?

I was a classic underachiever at school. If a subject didn’t interest me, I couldn’t see the point of it. I honestly think all my education came from watching BBC’s Horizon. 

I worked out pretty early that classes were training us to sit still and feign interest when we were bored. Luckily, we had a brilliant RE teacher at secondary school, Mr. Davies, who was not religious and who’s wife ran a bookies. He always got us talking about ethics and ancient history. I did the least possible amount of work to gain two ‘A’ levels, as I knew that this (and a foundation course at a local Art College) was all I needed for a degree course and a full grant. A FULL GRANT! The State would pay me to educate myself. What a lucky time to be young. I chose the Creative arts. It was the height of the Cold War and I didn’t plan on making it past 25, so I might as well take it easy. 

Being the seventies, I caught the tail end of counter culture. At fifteen I grew my hair long, became vegetarian (cake- etarian, really as I didn’t like vegetables. I got very fat…) and generally became a humorless arse. I hoovered up any half-baked theory as fact and wrote terrible, self absorbed poetry. Quite rightly, most girls avoided me. I blossomed (a bit) by 18. 

How did you evolve into Logan Murray, stand-up comedian and comedy guru?

Totally by accident. I thought I’d be a fine artist, but signed up to the wrong degree (I found myself doing performing arts (dance, drama and music) instead of performance art (installations and stuff). But, I loved it. 

Then this thing called Alternative Cabaret in 1983 came along and loads of us started doing weird things to entertain audiences. I wrote some deliberately bad poetry and found that clubs paid me cold, hard cash to perform them. My intros became longer and longer until I found myself morphing into a stand up (this would be the early ‘nineties). 

Because comedy is a part time job that pays a full time wage, I had loads of time off and went back to college to do a part time MA. That got me interested in comedy theory. 

Meanwhile, I started picking up all sorts of weird TV and radio jobs because of my gigs. If people see you perform, they assume (quite rightly) you can write for other people, present game shows, appear on panel shows, be trusted with tiny parts in TV shows and possibly direct. Someone even asked me to be ‘the comedian in residence’ at a Uni – not as posh as it sounded – which is how the workshops began. 

Can you tell me something about the process of how you write a stand-up routine?

Almost all my writing comes out of mucking around. I’m a great believer of Wynicott’s aphorism that ‘all creativity comes out of play‘. 

My only constant ground rules are (1) don’t worry about being funny on the first draft – just mine the subject for information and (2) turn off your internal editor and create. Plenty of time to blue pencil ideas out once you’ve filled up a page. Also, the comedian should (in my opinion) always look for the wrong answer that still fits as a solution. 

How do you get a feel for what’s going to work?

You have to try it out. If it fills you with glee as you come up with the idea, you are probably on the right track, but until you’ve seen how several audiences take to the new stuff, you don’t really know if it will fly. 

As a practical tip ALWAYS audio record new stuff. Your back brain is much cleverer than your conscious brain and will always knock it into better shape during performance. It will also come up with extra bits which will be lost to the aether unless you have a record of them. 

Have you ever got it really badly wrong – as in tumbleweed moments?

Loads. And it is a sad fact that you learn far more from these moments than the times when the crowd ‘get’ you. Usually, the bits where I lose the audience boil down to me not being clear in my subject matter, or I am being emotionally vague. If they are thinking then they are not laughing and I need to sharpen it up. 

All comedians agree that this is pretty much the only job where you have to rehearse and refine in front of a live crowd. 

What’s it like to die on stage?

Some deaths are brilliant and worth talking about. Most are mundane and soul sapping. We talk about the memorable ones in dressing rooms. They are like badges of honour. But the everyday deaths can only be used for personal, educational purposes: how did that happen? What did I do wrong? How can I minimise the chances of that happening again? That sort of thing

Your book, Get Started in Stand-Up Comedy is one of the best books on writing I’ve read. It’s full of fantastic exercises which I’ve stolen adapted for my own workshops. Do you have any other major writing projects on the go?

I occasionally get asked to ‘gag up’ people’s work, which is great fun – but I’m not allowed to talk about individual people. 

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Your comedy workshops are hugely successful, and you’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the business. A new one might even emerge from the workshop I attended. I particularly enjoyed the exercise where we had to sit in a circle insulting each other – has that ever gone spectacularly wrong?

Not with that one, no. I think that’s because I ask them to compliment and insult something incredibly specific (like someone’s shoelace), so it seems quite ridiculous. I do love the way people tend to whisper afterwards that they didn’t mean it, to the person they’re insulting. Very sweet. 

Any favourite stand-up moments?

There is no better feeling than making a bunch of total strangers laugh, so it’s difficult to choose. 

One moment that stands out though, is thwarting a bunch of persistent hecklers by getting the whole audience to follow me to the theatre bar, where we continued the show. We left the four hecklers very confused and perplexed in a massive auditorium. 

What are you working on at the moment?

For someone never infected with the Protestant Work Ethic, I seem to be doing an awful lot this year. I’ve got three days off in the next two months – mostly workshops. But, I shouldn’t moan – just come back from a lovely, intensive comedy weekend in Leeds. And there are comedy writing weeks to look forward to France and Greece this Summer. 

In my down time (none! How did this happen?) I love to make chunky silver jewellery. 

None of the things that I’m known for (comedy and teaching) seem like work though. Occasionally, it might be hard. But, you don’t mind because it’s your craft and your passion. We could not do anything else. 

What advice would you give to the young Logan Murray?

Go vegan sooner. 

Who inspires you?

It sounds really cheesy, but whatever group I’m working with at the time. They always surprise and delight me. 

If you could spend a day hanging out with any one person, past or present, who would you choose and why? How would you spend the day?

Gosh. So many. I’d love to hang out with the Great great (times 3,000) Neanderthal Grandmother to see how her people thought and did stuff. 

Who would play Logan Murray in the film of your life?

I’m too old to play me, now. Could I get Studio Gibli to animate it, then get a Japanese actor to voice the part? I’d watch that with subtitles. 

A few short questions to finish. Favourite:

Book: Jerusalem by Alan Moore

Author: Geoffrey Ashe or Francis X King. 

Drink:  Water

Film: Kung Fu Hustle or Magnolia (please don’t make me choose). 

Music: Wardruna and most stuff by Jeremy Soule

Stand-Up: Spencer the Herbert, Tina T’urner Tea Lady, Fred Ferenzci George Carlin, Paul Foot and Anna Crilley & Katy Wix (when they are in a double Act). Loads more, too.

TV show: I’m quite enjoying ‘Preacher’. 

What are you reading right now?

Geoffrey Ashe’s ‘Merlin: The Prophet and his History

 Thanks Logan. It’s been a real pleasure having you on the Smorgasbord.

Find out more about Logan at his website. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. 

Books by LG Thomson are available from Amazon and from bookshops in Ullapool. Writing as Lorraine Thomson, the Dark Times dystopian trilogy, published by Bastei Entertainment, is available online.

Find out about the Isle Martin Writing Retreats 2018 here.

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Literary Smorgasbord: Lindsay Dunbar

Brimming with ideas and enthusiasm, and always questioning the status quo, Lindsay Dunbar is a creative force to be reckoned with. Artistic director of Play Pieces,  a company dedicated to supporting emerging theatre work in the Highlands, arts columnist for the Inverness Courier, and currently taking part in the Clore Fellowship, a programme of leadership tailored to the individual, she is also a thoroughly decent person.

 

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Hi Lindsay, thanks for agreeing to take part in the Smorgasbord. How did your involvement with Play Pieces come about?

When I moved back to the Highlands I became involved with rural arts promotion. Working with voluntary promoters is really inspiring because they have an excellent understanding of their audiences as well as what makes great theatre. Part of my work was to inform the promoters about work available to tour the Highlands and I began to wonder where the next Dogstar or Right Lines theatre company was coming from. I thought support was needed and explored a model based on A Play, A Pie and A Pint to make theatre more accessible to rural audiences and to support Highland theatre makers to create new work. It’s been a great success with sell-out performances, shows going on to tour around Scotland and perform at the Edinburgh Festival.

Would you describe theatre as your passion, or is it part of a bigger picture for you?

I’m passionate about stories. I like hearing them and sharing them. I think theatre is a great way to share stories whether they are political, funny, personal dramas or historical. It’s just storytelling and there is no end of amazing stories to share.

What difficulties have you faced and what is your proudest achievement?

So many difficulties – starting a new organisation from scratch is hard. I’ve learned so much but there have been many heartbreaking moments of disappointment which are hard not to take personally. It’s taken me a long time to come back from some setbacks. I continue to feel proud about Play Pieces when I see how well artists we have supported are doing – Nicholas Ralph performed in the first ever Play Pieces Shorts as well as 3 lunchtime performances and he has just performed a critically-acclaimed run at the Citizens Theatre. It reminds me why I feel so passionate about supporting emerging work by Highland theatre-makers, we have real talent up here and creating a supportive theatre sector is essential.

When writing your weekly arts column for the Inverness Courier, Arty Ness, how organised are you?

Sometimes I can be very organised and start the column very early on in the week. Usually, though it’s a Sunday evening task, a nice chance to reflect on the week. I know it’s a good column when I can write most of it fairly quickly, if it flows. If I’m struggling to get past the first paragraph then I start a new idea. Sometimes it takes three attempts to get a column that works but I always save the first attempts. You never know when they will come in useful.

Are you ever stuck for ideas?

It’s an opinion piece so sometimes I feel I’ve exhausted all my opinions, I don’t want to bore people. A good column is one I can imagine ranting to someone about. Usually, I rein that rant in a bit after a few drafts.

Is there anything you’ve wanted to write about for the column but couldn’t, because of politics or artistic sensitivities?

There are some subjects I’d like to explore more around gender inequality in the arts or the lack of support for arts and cultural organisations because they fall outside the creative industries sector. Public authorities don’t seem to see the social and economic impact of some art forms. I’d love to name names more but the Highlands is such a small place.

What were you like at school?

Probably a nightmare. I suspect I was quite frustrating because I didn’t really try as hard as I could have. I talked too much, far more interested in the social aspect of school than the education. That’s what happens when you are from a small village with not many other children around you.

You are the current Clore Leadership Programme Fellow. What impact has that had on your life?

It’s challenged the way I think about my work, myself and what I want from my future. It’s given me space to explore new ideas and given me support to work through issues. I’m currently in the middle of a sticky, muddy, difficult part of my journey but I’ll get through it. I don’t think I’m going to see the full impact for many years, I hope I have many Clore moments to come but right now it’s where I need to be.

What advice would you give to the young Lindsay Dunbar?

Whatever you are thinking of doing…just don’t.

Who inspires you?

My daughter Millie is by far my biggest source of inspiration. She is the most authentic person I know and I hope she never loses that. She has a clear sense of what matters to her and she is sensitive to others too. She has no shame, there is a real sense of freedom about her and she loves being outside. She has never been a great sleeper and yet she has boundless energy and enthusiasm for life. She questions everything and never accepts the first answer. She makes me demented but god I wish I could be more like her.

If you could spend a day hanging out with any one person, past or present, who would you choose and why? How would you spend the day?

I would want to spend it with the teachers who have made an impression on my life. I don’t think we take the time to tell them how much we appreciate everything they have done for us. I would some time of the day with Al Fraser from Achiltibuie Primary school and berate him for encouraging us to down tools on sunny days and get outside. I now spend a lot of time staring out of windows longing to be up a hill when I should be working. I would sing in a choir with Val Bryan from Ullapool High School who gave me many opportunities to perform and taught me that anyone can sing. It’s not just singing, everyone has the ability to be creative if you let them. I would take the time to sit and thank Mrs Askew, my modern studies teacher in Edinburgh who spent her free-time to take coach me through the coursework to take me from a failed exam to an A pass. She was a kind, dedicated teacher who knew I was capable of better, she believed in me more than I believed in myself. Sadly I never got the chance to thank her properly for profoundly impacting my future. Finally, I’d like to ask my University Professor about the world today. Prof Cathal Ó Dochartaigh was the smartest man I’ve ever met and like Mrs Askew, he saw something in me which I didn’t – he encouraged me to speak up and to ask questions. He made me realise that it’s ok to thinking something completely different to everyone else in the room and it’s good to speak up and challenge perceptions.  When you find someone who changes you I think we need to take the time to thank them and maybe take the time to help support others. I get very emotional at the end of The History Boys because of the profound effect the teachers have on their lives; “Pass the parcel. That’s sometimes all you can do. Take it, feel it and pass it on. Not for me, not for you, but for someone, somewhere, one day. Pass it on, boys. That’s the game I want you to learn. Pass it on.

Who would play Lindsay Dunbar in the film of your life?

I’d like a Studio Ghibli animation film please as someone growing up stuck between the real world and her imaginary one.

What’s next?

This could be written on my grave stone. I’ve always been a ‘what’s next?’ person. I am never content in the moment. Never. I tried mindfulness and couldn’t do it. I have accepted that I am never ‘in the moment’ because I’m always thinking ‘what’s next?’. I don’t think it’s a bad way to be. I like space and time to myself but only because I know I need to recharge for what’s next.

A few short questions to finish. Favourite:

Book: I read Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon when I was young and living in Edinburgh. I was missing the Highlands and everything I knew. The seasons, the land, the music and a young girl growing up all resonated with me. It’s just a beautiful book which I still quote and still has the power to make me cry.

Author: Frank Fraser Darling – although I’ve never actually read his books I collect them and I would love to develop a play around his work on Tanera Mor, near Achiltibuie. Fascinating man.

Drink: Black coffee in the morning, wine in the evening.

Food: I could eat pizza forever.

Film: Brazil by Terry Gilliam, I mean can you imagine a society driven by a pointless, ineffective, bureaucratic system dependent on technology, where the gap between rich and poor is growing, people become blasé to acts of terror around the world and women are stretching their faces unrecognisably in the name of beauty…

Music: I’m rediscovering Tori Amos and I’m delighted that the 14-year-old in me stills remembers all the words.

TV show: Oh so many, I love TV and we are in a golden age of box sets but Dr Who has been with me most of my life. I get quite emotional knowing that my daughter will have a female Doctor as her role model. Not many TV shows can make you feel like that.

What are you reading right now?

I’ve just finished Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman which made me sad because I didn’t want to leave her world. I can’t find another book yet as good as that to start reading so recommendations very welcomed.

Thanks, Lindsay. It’s been a real pleasure having you on the Smorgasbord.

Find out more at the following Twitter accounts: Play Pieces, Arty Ness, and Lindsay Dunbar; and at the Play Pieces website.

Books by LG Thomson are available from Amazon and from bookshops in Ullapool. Writing as Lorraine Thomson, the Dark Times dystopian trilogy, published by Bastei Entertainment, is available online.

Find out about the Isle Martin Writing Retreats 2018 here.

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Do The Right Thing

On June 12 2018, Ullapool High School tweeted the photograph below.

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It’s a decent message containing one very powerful line:

Be the kid who does the right thing.

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy; it takes guts and a stout heart to stand up for what you believe in. Sometimes it means speaking out when all around you are silent, but it can just as easily mean giving someone a fair hearing.
In some countries, doing the right thing can lead to persecution and death. Of course, that kind of thing doesn’t happen here. We are lucky to live in a democracy where we vote to decide who represents us in the House of Commons.
My Member of Parliament is Ian Blackford. I don’t know him personally, but I have met him and when I had cause to contact him in his role as my MP, his office responded quickly and offered practical help and advice. Maybe I’m naïve, but Ian Blackford seems like a decent sort, the kind of person who would strive to do the right thing.
In the House of Commons on 12 June 2018, when Ian Blackford asked the speaker what options were available to Scottish MPs re the lack of debate on a Westminster power grab on Scottish devolution, Ian Liddell-Grainger, a Conservative MP, shouted “suicide”.
It is possible that Ian Liddell-Grainger thought he was doing the right thing by inviting colleagues to contemplate killing themselves. Then again, he has a track record of offensive and bullying behaviour just as Westminster has a track record of contempt for the people of Scotland. Perhaps Ian Liddell-Grainger has done us a favour by illustrating that contempt so very clearly.
Time to wake up, Scotland, and do the right thing.

Suicide heckle in House of Commons.

Literary Smorgasbord: Anthony Neil Smith

I hate almost everything in my Twitter feed. I mostly go there just to annoy myself when there’s not enough anger in my day already, but every so often a wee gem crops up in the form of a particularly amusing tweet, a great pic of a shark, or an interesting new connection. Anthony Neil Smith was one such connection. We share a publisher in Bastei Entertainment and, as I discovered in the course of this interview, we have the same scalpel-sharp editor, Allan Guthrie. I know most of my Smorgasbord guests in real life and I look forward to meeting Neil the next time he comes to the Highlands.

NerdyNeil

Hi Neil, after I invited you to take part in the Smorgasbord, I discovered that you are the author of Sin-crazed Psycho Killer! Dive, Dive, Dive! I couldn’t resist a title like that and downloaded it to my Kindle straight away. Was it as fun to write as it was to read?

Yes, incredibly fun to write. I think I stole a lot from Event Horizon, but that was the fun of it. War is Hell, after all. The title was inspired by men’s magazines of the 50s and 60s, before Playboy. Most of them had tough guy war stories in them. The only real issue is that I wrote it so fast and loose that it has a major error in it (I won’t tell you what it is) and lots of smaller ones. True pulp.

I picked up on a couple but it was such a fast and entertaining read that it didn’t matter. Let’s get serious for a moment. Tell me about the evolution of the author, Anthony Neil Smith.

It started with the Hardy Boys in second grade. The librarian let me read it because I wanted to check it out so badly, even though I was a bit young. Then I discovered The Three Investigators series, even better than the Hardy Boys, and I knew I wanted to write. Between then and college, I swerved between wanting to be a lawyer, a computer geek, a comic book artist and writer, a rock star…but I eventually came back to my first love, sending out my first short stories when I was 19. Then I read James Ellroy’s White Jazz and was blown away. I didn’t realize you could do that in a crime novel. So I focused on creative writing classes, then grad school, where I received a PhD in creative writing, and now I’m a professor and a cult crime writer.

Having written noir crime, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, and now, unexpectedly, historical fiction, I’m all over the book shelf. I think I’m correct in saying that you have specialised in dark crime books, but have you ever been tempted to cross genres? Is there a romantic comedy lurking in the heart of ANS?

I don’t think there’s a romantic comedy in me, no. Mainly, I think plotting is my weak spot, so it helps to have the crime or investigation aspect to centre on. I am interested in making sure each book feels different from the last, even if they are all dark crime. I also don’t think I’ll ever write fantasy or sci-fi.

Your latest book, The Cyclist, features a Scottish character. What’s your connection to Scotland?

I love Scotland, have been there twice, and I want to go again. I’ve long admired Scottish writers, made friends with quite a few crime writers of there, and I love the land and history as well. The beer, the haddock, the Highlands, the accents, all of it has had a big impact on me. I had a Scotsman, Allan Guthrie, as my agent, who then became my publisher for five books, and is now my editor at BE. He’s been my anchor in this business for a long time.

How would you describe your writing style?

Broken. One professor once said it felt like my sentences had been splintered apart and then nailed back together in a weird way. I just want it to be as “voicey” as possible, so that it flows in someone’s mind better than it does on the page.

What’s the hardest thing about writing?

For me, it’s the fact that it takes a long time. I get impatient. I always do the math and think, I should be able to write a book in three or four months. But it always takes eight to ten.

And the easiest?

Not “easy” easy, but I think first chapters are not as hard as some people make them out to be. I love writing first chapters. It’s a new world, new characters, new possibilities, and I’m ready to let them all live in my head for a long time. I like the challenge of coming up with a great first line and last line for that first impression. All The Young Warriors is my best first chapter, I think. Everything worked, and it was a great hook for the story.

What were you like at school?

Like, middle school and high school? Awkward. Never comfortable in my own skin. College was a little better. It wasn’t until grad school that I felt I’d found my place.

But earlier, I at least think I was funny. I was always drawing, which impressed a lot of other students, but I never had a lot of friends. Always shy, with a close circle of them. And now I teach in front of full classrooms and read in auditoriums just fine, but I still hate calling people on the phone.

What are you working on right now?

I took a long time off after The Cyclist (five or six months) but finally rediscovered a story, based on true events, of someone I knew back in my church days – a guy who seemed like he’d turned his life around for good, but who later killed a man and chopped him into little pieces to get rid of the evidence. I found a way to get into that story as a novel (because I just can’t do it as true crime. That’s not me), and it’s coming along well, I think.

That sounds interesting. What has been your best writing moment so far?

The entire process of writing All The Young Warriors was a blast. From the outlines to the final product, everything was right. I really had high hopes for that one as far as finding a larger publisher, but we had a couple of close calls only. One editor originally wanted it, then changed his mind three weeks later (which was the WORST moment of my writing career). So instead, Allan began a digital publisher called Blasted Heath, and I decided to take a chance with them.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Don’t do it. There are already too many of us.

Kidding, kidding. The best advice is to read a lot of stuff you love to read, then try some literary fiction from the last fifty years, then read Chekov’s short stories. Find people who will give you a good read, usually other writers. Grow a very thick skin so that criticism doesn’t get to you as much (because it will always get to you a little bit), and be prepared to wait.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to the young ANS?

That’s a tough question. Probably to not get so anxious about the future. Take things a little easier.

Who would play ANS in the film of your life?

He’s older than me, but I’d still go with Sam Rockwell. He is also who I would want to play my series character Billy Lafitte (with Johnny Knoxville a close second).

If there was one person – contemporary, historical or fictional – you could spend a day with, who would you choose and why?  How would you spend the day?

My dad. He died when I was ten, and he was larger than life. Always smiling, always laughing. He missed out on the path I took in life, and if he had lived, I think I would’ve gone a different direction. I would like to hear what he thinks of me now – a professor and writer. We’d spend the day cruising the coast in his old Chevy van, listening to seventies rock bands.

Nice. A few short questions to finish. Favourite book:

White Jazz by James Ellroy. Wouldn’t be here without it.

Author:

Very tough one. But this week, it’s Walter Mosley.

Food:

Mexican. Tacos and burritos. Very spicy.

Drink:

Mexican beer.

Film:

Pulp Fiction. I saw it the same year I read White Jazz, and together, those cemented my choice to be a crime writer.

TV show:

The Shield.

Music:

Sammy Hagar.

What are you reading right now?

The Cuckoo Wood by M. Sean Coleman, and The Room of White Fire by T. Jefferson Parker.

Thanks Neil, it’s been a blast.

Follow Anthony Neil Smith on Twitter.

The Cyclist by Anthony Neil Smith was published by Bastei Entertainment on 8 May 2018.

Books by LG Thomson are available from Amazon and from bookshops in Ullapool. Writing as Lorraine Thomson, the Dark Times dystopian trilogy, published by Bastei Entertainment, is available online.

Find out about the Isle Martin Writing Retreats 2018 here.

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Literary Smorgasbord: Calum Colvin

The Literary Smorgasbord is primarily about writers, but there’s more than one way to tell a story and for this most recent set of interviews I have invited a handful of visual artists to take part. I met Calum Colvin when we were students at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art. Though he’s long since become a well-established artist, I still get a kick every time I see one of his creations hanging in a gallery.

CalumColvin

Your work has a strong narrative feel, with images layered upon images, and stories hidden within stories. How does that process begin? 

I suppose there is an element of storytelling in there. I begin with an image, or an idea gleaned from a book, or simply a title. Then there are the ‘objects’ or props which inhabit the set and provide a framework for the picture. It kind of spirals from there!

 My work tries to evoke the worlds of the painter, the sculptor and the photographer. The combination of ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ are what interests me and (I believe) constructed photography is a particularly apt way of exploring this. The objects in the photographs are ‘real’, they have their own history which interacts with the narrative of the painted element, which often has it’s own historical resonance (given that it is often a re-interpretation of an existing artwork/painting). I pursue themes and ideas in my photographs that very often relate directly to issues of ‘identity’, fine art practice, popular culture, crypto-political connections, and every variety of arcane symbolism meet in a collision of ideas and associations such that a kind of kaleidoscopic’ vision is created.

Do you have a clear image of how the finished piece will look, or does the picture emerge as you work?

I think the final image is a kind of accommodation between myself and the camera – we reach an impasse, or maybe a truce! The camera lens does not see the world in the same way as the human eye does. I try to make what I have in my mind fit what the camera sees, and we usually meet somewhere in the middle.

Themes of Scottish history and identity run through your work. Was that a conscious decision or natural evolution?

See above. I lived in London for a decade or so from the mid 80s during the Thatcher years, and this certainly made me aware of a growing political gulf in the UK. However I was reminded on a fairly regular basis of my linguistic ‘otherness’. There is a sense of an evolution in these concerns in my work specifically: simply because, like most people, my opinions and views have been shaped by experience of the political climate and by an increasing engagement with Scottish culture over the decades.

How much of yourself do you expose in your work?

Often artists both reveal themselves and hide within their work. In that respect I am no different from the rest, except sometimes I am physically present in the work – although always in the shadows and sometimes in disguise!

Have you ever been deeply into a piece only to realise that it isn’t working?

Not that I’ve been prepared to admit! I am nothing if not persistent!

How do you know when a piece is finished?

When I decide I can’t make it any better, or I run out of time, or puff.

Is there any piece you are particularly happy with?

No. I think the next one might be better.

We first met as art students in Dundee. I have a particularly vivid memory of you, me and Andy Crummy huddled around the fire in Andy’s basement flat, eating slices of cheese from a block of cheap cheddar. Oh, the glamour. I think it was the only thing any of us had to eat that day. You are now a Professor of Fine Art Photography at Dundee University and Andy has created the Great Tapestry of Scotland – changed days indeed. Looking back, what does the journey from student to professor look like?

I don’t think about life journeys and such too much. I tend to be too busy dreaming up the next wheeze. I’m still partial to a bit of cheddar.

What, if any, are the differences between art students then and now?

I think it is all a bit more professional now. Teaching is much more sober and structured, for better or for worse. Interdisciplinarity is encouraged in a way that was never before, and I would like to think I have been a part of that change. Students work very hard, and I am very proud of their achievements at Duncan of Jordanstone, which is now part of the University of Dundee. I went to the same institution at the age of seventeen and see the similarities and transformations most days.

What are you working on at the moment?

As ever, I’m juggling half a dozen or so short term and long term projects. Some of them will go by the wayside, and some will evolve. We’ll see.

I’m definitely making a commission for the British Academy in London. A group portrait of eight Honorary Academicians, past and present. A big job.

What advice would you give the young Calum Colvin?

None. I wouldn’t have listened.

If you could spend a day hanging out with any one person, past or present, who would you choose and why? How would you spend the day?

Robert Burns. A walk in the country, a meal, a drink.

Who would play Calum Colvin in the film of your life?

I’ve no idea. I wouldn’t watch it. Maybe Jacques Tati?

A few short questions to finish. Favourite book:

Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, by Robert Burns 1786.

Author:

Philip Roth

Drink:

Malt Whisky – any. I’ll play the field.

Food:

Cheese. Unless it’s Andy’s Cheddar.

Film:

It’s a Wonderful Life

TV show:

Mad Men

Music:

Elvis Costello

Artist:

Diego Velasquez

Work of art:

Las Meninas

Thanks, Calum. It’s been a real pleasure having you on the Smorgasbord.

BurnsCountry2
Burns Country by Calum Colvin

You can find out more about Calum Colvin at his website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Books by LG Thomson are available from Amazon and from bookshops in Ullapool. Writing as Lorraine Thomson, the Dark Times dystopian trilogy, published by Bastei Lübbe, is available online.

Find out about the Isle Martin Writing Retreats 2018 here.

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