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.
Thrillers With Attitude is on a mission to find out what makes these weirdly-shaped and strangely-flavoured writers tick.
My guest this week is psychobilly author, Craig Brackenridge.
Hi Craig, thanks for agreeing to take part in the Literary Smorgasbord. A little background colour to begin with – what were you like at school?
A total shadow… if my name had not been on the register nobody would have known I had even been there. I kept a very low profile until I was about 15 /16 and really started to get into music.
If you met the young Brackenridge now, what would you make of him?
Too shy, a bit unsure of himself and a bit too worried about getting knockbacks from girls. Nice head of hair though.
And how would the young Brackenridge react to the more mature model?
He’d think ‘that bloke looks like me but baldy and a bit fatter.’
You are the author of fiction and non-fiction books, at least one film script, and I think there may be a few songs in the mix from your days with Scottish Psychobilly band, The Rednecks – how did you get started with this writing lark?
I always wanted to write and songwriting was my first real step. I was too lazy though and most of the songs only stretched to a chorus and a couple of verses which were then just repeated. In the 1990’s I used to work nights in Tower Records in Glasgow and I started creating a fanzine called The Encyclopedia of Cinematic Trash using their paper and photocopier. That did quite well and I was asked to appear on a few TV shows talking about cult movies. The next step was a music fanzine The Encyclopedia of Psychobilly & Trash (see the connection!!).
After that I waited for a few years for someone to write a book about the underground music genre Psychobilly, nobody did so I started my own and that was Let’s Wreck. Since then each book has directly led to the next one alongside writing for magazines and writing sleevenotes for record companies.
Getting started is the hardest bit but as long as you keep rolling one thing leads to another. The big mistake I made in the past was writing something then sitting back with a rosy glow and admiring it. Since then I have learned that the only way forward is to finish something, get it out there and get on with the next project.
You write about your own life experiences in Let’s Wreck: Psychobilly Flashbacks from the Eighties and Beyond – how much of a confessional was it?
In retrospect it’s an odd book – 50% history of Psychobilly / 50% memoirs of my time in a Psychobilly band. I tried to be honest and just present it as my experiences of the scene. If anything it was not confessional enough but the next book unleashed a tsunami of smut and I was pleased with that.
Any unexpected consequences about putting yourself out there?
A few folks featured in the book were a bit pissed off but nothing more (as far as I know). My novel Psychobilly was much more confessional but I changed all the names and places to protect the guilty.
In Let’s Wreck, you credit a certain person with introducing you to The Cramps and The Meteors. I got a kick when I read about the small part I played in your evolution from fresh-faced Smiths fan to fully-fledged psychobilly and I am fascinated by your continued devotion to the subculture of your youth. Can you tell me something about the influences psychobilly culture has had on you? (For anyone not familiar with psychobilly, I describe it as being the bastard offspring of punk and rockabilly – LG.)
It was indeed all your fault!! People forget that in the pre-internet times it was a lot harder to get any info about underground music genres. I relied on listening to John Peel, reading the music papers every week and getting recommendations from friends. I had an idea something was brewing down in London but it was very vague. In the Glasgow area Rockabillies knew that Psychobilly was happening but I was more into Punk / Indie at the time.
I saw King Kurt on Top of the Pops on a Thursday night and thought ‘this looks wild.’ I went up to your flat that weekend and we must have been talking about it. You were a lot more switched on musically and gave me a tape of the Wreckin’ Crew album by The Meteors. On the way home on Sunday I had a listen to it and bam!!! I remember it clearly – National Express coach, Sony Walkman plugged in, tape on and whoosh…. things were literally never the same again.
Psychobilly has been a huge part of my life since then and, apart from a few dark years in the mid 1990s, everything I do and almost everyone I know has some kind of Psychobilly connection. If you’re not part of some kind of movement (I try not to use the word scene) it is hard to explain but it is far more than just something you were into ‘as a teenager’. I’ve probably got closer friends in Finland, France, Germany and Sweden than I have in my home town. So thanks for that Lorraine… thank fuck you didn’t pass me a Depeche Mode tape.
Your book, Apache Gold, is a pulp western. That’s an interesting choice of genre for someone who grew up in the middle of Scotland’s central belt – how did it come about?
I’m a big fan of the mammoth 1960’s / 1970’s UK pulp publisher New English Library and that led to reading a lot of their westerns like the Edge series. I always felt that these books had a similar bloodthirsty style as a lot of Spaghetti westerns (one of my favourite film genres) and then I moved on to reading other pulp westerns like the Jubal Cade and Crow series. Apache Gold was my attempt to write a bleak, brutal western in that style and I thought there was still a market for that type of book.
Once it was completed though I found out that all the remaining publishers of western novels only knocked out the most basic ‘good guy’ bloodless books for old geezers borrowing from libraries. One of them sent me a fantastic knockback which claimed that the book was little more than ‘a catalogue of killing and brutality.’ I thought that was a selling point!!! Heh, heh.
I really believe that in the wake of great, gritty TV shows like Deadwood and Hell On Wheels and a rash of recent blood-splattered Western films there is a place for this kind of fiction. I’m still waiting though for the book to go beyond the e-book format but I’m hopeful it will find a publisher and I’ve got a sequel called Sixty Eight Guns heating up on the campfire.
You’ve just struck a couple of book deals – what’s the story behind those – any danger of Craig Brackenridge going mainstream?
I don’t know about mainstream but I’m trying to stretch a bit. I have worked on a new book with another author about Mods in London in 1979. It is fiction and will be released by Caffeine Nights Publishing under a pen name. I have another novel about Glasgow Mods on the go now which will come out alongside an extended version of my novel Psychobilly through Countdown Books. All the books should appear late 2015 / Early 2016. I’m looking forward to working with both publishers and excited to see how things work out with their support. Apart from my reference book Hell’s Bent On Rockin, all my other books have been self-published through my own imprint Stormscreen Productions so it will be nice to see how it should be done.
What are you reading right now?
Boot Boys by Richard Allen.
Is there any book you would like to have written?
Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush by Hunter Davies.
Who would play Craig Brackenridge in a film adaptation of your life?
It’s been a real blast catching up with you Craig. Just a few quick questions to finish. Favourite author…
Christopher Wood (AKA Timothy Lea / Frank Clegg)
Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush.
Stuart Maconie’s Freakier Zone (6 Music)
Ooft! Too much to list but mainly Psychobilly, Garage Punk, Ska and anything that Rock ‘n’ Rolls.
Where can readers find out more about you?
Facebook is the only place that I air my dirty laundry so… Stormscreen.
[See also Craig’s author page on Amazon – LG.]
Thanks for taking part in the Literary Smorgasbord, Craig.