For the past six weeks I have been interviewing a variety of flavoursome writers for my Literary Smorgasbord. The Smorgasbord began as a vague idea one Friday evening. By the following Thursday the first interview had been posted and it has rolled from there.
The only thing I decided on from the start was that I wanted to feature a really great mix of writers. So far, I’d say that’s a mission accomplished. But before moving on to the next set of interviews, I thought I’d have a bit of fun looking back at what has become Chapter One of the Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord.
My first guest was poet, Stephen Keeler. I met Stephen when I attended one of his classes here in Ullapool – The Thrill of the Thriller. I don’t think we ever really got to the nub of what that class was about but it was a lot of fun. In his interview, I asked Stephen at what moment he had first defined himself as a writer.
One sunny school day in 1958, in Mrs Butterwick’s class when she asked us all to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up. I wrote, “I want to be a writer.” and could think of nothing else to write.
The ritual humiliation of the young Stephen Keeler by Mrs Butterwick duly followed.
You know that saying about school being the happiest days of your life? I think whoever said it couldn’t have gone to school. Either that, or they went on to have one truly miserable life.
Stephen introduced me to the local writing group, which was where I met YA author, Cyan Brodie. Cyan, or Phil as I know him, has become a good friend over the years and can always be relied on when I need an honest crit.
I also met Alison Napier through the writing group. We only met a couple of times before she moved to Perth but our friendship has blossomed through the medium of Facebook. Alison’s interview had me howling with laughter, though I had to decline when she offered a photograph of a fish supper as her portrait.
Alison owned up to a chaotic approach to her writing. At the other end of the scale, with a much more measured and defined way of working is Drew Hipson. As Drew works within a framework of deadlines and publishing dates for his magazine, All Mod Icon, that’s hardly surprising, but I would hazard a guess that when he is working on his memoir, Le Depart, he does so in the same disciplined way.
I take a similarly disciplined approach, mainly because it’s the only way I can be sure of writing anything. As it turned out, Drew and I have a few other things in common, including a love of great graphic design, Charles Bukowski’s writing, and the music of The Jam.
You know how it is when you really get something? When you know it, understand it, feel it? It was like that for me from the moment I first listened to The Jam’s third album, All Mod Cons. The profound anger at the heart of the lyrics resonated with me. There was plenty to be angry about back in 1978. Problem is, while a few things have changed for the better, there is still a lot to be angry about in 2015. All Mod Cons plays as fresh today as it did then, and it resonates still.
I was a fan of film noir long before I even knew there was a name for the kind of movies I liked. The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, Ace In The Hole – I couldn’t get enough of them. Everything about them, from the moral ambiguity, existential struggle, and cynicism, to the cracking dialogue and often stylised delivery, sang to me, and of course I eventually graduated onto noir books. It was no surprise then that when I came across the term neo-noir, I immediately wanted to know more.
Neo-noir author, Richard Thomas, does a great job of explaining what it’s all about in his Smorgasbord interview, but for a real taste of it I recommend reading his book, Disintegration. It blew me away.
If ever a person blew me away, it was Orla Broderick. The woman is a force of nature. The kind you meet and then think, what just happened? Earlier this year, an impassioned call for action from Orla resulted in previously empty bookshelves in Women’s Aid shelters across the country groaning under the weight of books sent in by authors and publishers. Way to go, Orla. She also has a good line in nun stories.
In 2014, Orla won a Scottish Book Trust New Writer Award. When she performed onstage for the Award Showcase in January, the recipients of the 2015 Awards were in the audience. Stephen Keeler was one of those recipients. And so it comes full circle.
I can’t wait for Chapter Two of the Literary Smorgasbord, which is going to kick off with a very different flavour of writer – a stand-up comedian.