Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord: Chapter One

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.

All Mod Cons by The Jam.

All Mod Cons by 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.

Humphrey Bogart in a publicity shot for The Maltese Falcon.

Humphrey Bogart in a publicity shot for The Maltese Falcon.

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.

Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord: Drew Hipson

If you have ever been anywhere near a writing group or book festival of any kind, you will know that writers come in all shapes and sizes, from big, robust circles, to tiny, stabby stars. They come in different flavours too, from cool, classic vanilla, to eyeball-exploding, triple-hot chilli sauce. Some of the nicest people around are writers, but some of them truly are mad, bad and dangerous to know.

Thrillers With Attitude has undertaken to meet up with a few of these weirdly-shaped and strangely flavoured writers, some well-established, others emerging, so that you, dear reader, can find out more about them without endangering body or soul.

Welcome then, to the Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord.

My guest this week is writer, Drew Hipson.

What were you like at school, Drew?

My report card from Primary school states that I was easily distracted and distracted others around me. I read lots of books from a very young age. I read and still have a two volume American encyclopaedia from the 1950s given to me by my grandfather which I think gave me my first love of actual words and how they appear printed on paper. At playtime in Primary School I used to recount the stories that I had read to some of my classmates, for example Daphne du Maurier short stories. I was rebellious at High School but obsessed with music and books – my English teacher gave me Susannah of the Mounties to read and I refused to even open the book – I was then grudgingly given Alan Sillitoe to read. I then read the works of Orwell, Steinbeck, Ken Kesey, Huxley and Evelyn Waugh all borrowed from the school library. My next English teacher was a dope smoking hippy Socialist who loved the messages in Steinbeck’s books, especially the brilliant The Grapes of Wrath. He would read passages from the book stoned in class and it made the whole experience more interesting!

What has been the evolution of Drew Hipson, writer, designer, and publisher?

I was always obsessed with how words appeared on a printed page and became obsessed with books and magazines from a very young age. I always wanted to create my own magazine and when I was a screen printer at age 17 I published my own fanzine, which was a mix of politics, poetry and pop art. After spending time travelling around Europe and staying in London for several years I returned to Glasgow and studied Graphic Design at College. I was blown away by the work of Graphic Designer Neville Brody, who completely revolutionised the world of typography: suddenly there was a visual aesthetic of words and the design of words combined. He was, and still is, a huge influence in terms of design and the utilisation of space within design. I am immensely proud of my Paul Weller publication All Mod Icon in terms of the standard of writing and the contemporary Modernist design of the mag. The feedback from Paul Weller and indeed many other musicians and writers has been incredible. Martin Freeman is a big fan of All Mod Icon and has written several pieces for the mag.

Have you ever written, or considered writing, fiction in any of its forms?

Yes I have written various things including a monologue that I’d envisaged actor Ray Winston reciting; a musical and political stream of consciousness thing that I’d written after drinking red wine one night and forgotten about. I found it by chance and was surprised that I’d actually written it – it is brilliant and it is a project which is on the backburner.

How deep do you dig when you are writing – how much of yourself do you expose?

I think that even if you don’t intend to, your personality and view of the world can be visible in your writing and I like that: my favourite writers’ unique visions shine through in their work George Orwell, Henry Miller, Hunter S Thompson, Alan Sillitoe, Charles Bukowski…

Are you inspired by any writers in particular?

I have always been inspired by the brilliance of George Orwell’s writing and his brave and lucid intellectual thought, also Hunter S Thompson and the extraordinarily gifted Colin MacInnes. Joseph Heller is incredible and Michael Herr’s Dispatches is profoundly inspiring.

What has been your best writing moment so far?

I have written several pieces for my magazine All Mod Icon which I’m particularly proud of for the flow, individual style and use of specific words. I also wrote a piece which was published in a book about the first Dexys Midnight Runners album Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, which I was pleased with.

What are you working on right now?

I began writing my first memoir in January called Le Depart, which is about my time jumping freight trains across France and of being Down and Out in London when I was 18.

What are your ambitions, writing wise?

To get Le Depart published. I envisage it to be a sort of Down And Out In Paris And London for the 21st Century. I have no real interest in what critics think – the urge is to see the beautiful assemblage of words on the printed page and for the story to ring true.

What inspires you to write?

Other writers always inspire and the actual love of words and the formation of them I find exhilarating.

What is your writing routine?

The routine is that there is no routine. Some days I find it hard to formulate words and even write a paragraph, then there are those days when it flows brilliantly and you have to keep writing, you have to forget about eating and sleeping and let it pour out of you.

Do you have a favourite time of day for writing?

I have to write early or during the day as the intensity of writing means that by evening I am mentally exhausted.

How do you manage working to deadlines – are you ultra-organised, or do you take it to the wire?

A bit of both really – after I am almost happy with what I’ve written I will print off and sit in a café with a new pencil and a coffee and apple pie and slowly go over it all and make revisions – the writing always looks different from the laptop to printed on paper. I usually like to be organised as taking it to the wire means errors and being a perfectionist that abhors me.

How do you write – longhand, laptop, typewriter, parchment?

I write on the laptop but sometimes scribble ideas down on paper when they come to me, usually after drinking red wine!

Any particular writing habits? (I wouldn’t ask most guests on the Smorgasbord this, but I really want to know what you wear when you write – are you always smartly attired, or do you have a pair of skanky trackies you wear for writing?)

I have always liked the idea of Alfred Hitchcock sitting at his desk at the precise hour in the morning wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie looking over scripts with writers, but the muse sometimes dictates and I can sometimes find myself sitting writing quickly in a t-shirt, boxer shorts and dressing gown and still be wearing the same by night time! I invariably though like to have a clean white shirt on and maybe a jumper, suit trousers and brogues, as the feeling of discipline connects with the writing.

What advice would you give to the young Drew Hipson?

The young Drew Hipson would not listen to advice from me, which is a good thing as I like the tunnel vision, idealism and arrogance that is the preserve of the young. I think a key piece of advice would be to always be organised and disciplined and when the writing comes run with it and don’t stop.

 You have already met and spent time with your All Mod Icon, Paul Weller – are there any other icons you would like to meet?

There are not many people that are alive that I’d particularly like to meet, but Icons from the past would be Alfred Hitchcock, George Orwell, John Lennon, Salvador Dali, Francois Truffaut, Steve McQueen, Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, Frances Farmer and Natalie Wood.

A few short questions to finish with.  Favourite book…

Keep The Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell.

Author…

George Orwell

Food…

Steak and beer.

Drink…

Red wine and Single Malt Whisky.

Film…

North by Northwest

Television programme…

The Sweeney

Radio programme

I don’t listen to radio.

Music…

Paul Weller

What are you reading right now?

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence.

It’s been a pleasure having you here on the Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord, Drew.  The Smorgasbord interviews are all about the interviewee, but on this occasion I can’t resist chipping in to say that All Mod Cons by The Jam is in fact one of the best albums ever recorded.

You have evidently got good taste Lorraine! It is one of my favourite albums of all time – Weller’s Play For Today-like lyrics and urban street poetry were very inspiring to me as a teenager and of course the songs are extraordinary.

Drew Hipson

Drew Hipson

You can follow Drew on Twitter and Facebook.

LG Thomson is the author of Boyle’s Law, Each New Morn, and Erosion.