Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord: Craig Brackenridge

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?

Benny Hill

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)




Takeaway Curry


Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush.

Televison programme…


Radio programme…

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.

Craig Brackenridge - School of Life.

Craig Brackenridge – School of Life.

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

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.

Row K, Seat 7 – Episode III, The Return


The lights had dimmed and now the audience settled as the Pearl and Dean theme faded and the screen was filled by a shot of a jumbo jet taking off, accompanied by the immortal voiceover, You don’t have to fly to India to enjoy a delicious Indian meal.  

The advert, for the Spice of Life restaurant in Abronhill, played at every single screening in the County Cinema in Cumbernauld, and every single time it played everyone in the audience snickered and muttered because the actor doing the voiceover managed to mispronounce Abronhill.

The Spice of Life was just around the corner from Abronhill High School, where Gregory’s Girl was set.  The showing I saw of Bill Forsyth’s heart-warming  film was riotous.  There was uproar every time a character in the film turned a corner and ended up five miles away.  There was even more of an uproar whenever anyone in the audience saw someone they knew in the film.  As all the extras were from the town, there was a lot of uproar.  It was a strange and exciting feeling being from somewhere as utterly ordinary as Cumbernauld and seeing people I knew in real life up on the silver screen.  Given the mayhem in the cinema, I guess we all felt the same.

Despite not appearing in the film, I still managed to receive some direction from Bill Forsyth.  This  when I inadvertently blundered into a scene.  I have since blocked the words he used from memory.  I sincerely wish I could do the same to the sound of the jeering crowd.  I had wondered why they were all standing there, but I somehow managed to miss the camera.  And the boom.  And the actors…

The scene of my humiliation took place outside the Spice of Life where I tasted my first curry, and just around the corner from my friend Kevin’s house.  My favourite scene in the  film is the one in which his bedroom window makes an appearance.

It would be several years before I would fly to India and enjoy many delicious meals, but in the meantime there was the County Cinema and the Spice of Life.

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

Row K, Seat 7 – The Sequel


The only way the County Bingo Clubs chain was going to get permission to build a bingo hall in Cumbernauld was if they agreed to build a cinema beside it.   Without much in the way of enthusiasm, they duly agreed.  Built in the bowels of the Town Centre, the County Cinema was basically a bricked-off corner of car park.  It may not have had the panache of a classic art deco picture house, but it had 350 plush red seats and was a ten minute walk from my house.

The doors opened in 1978.  I was fourteen and would have sat through almost anything, but indiscriminate though I was, even I had my limits.  I passed on Abba: The Movie.  Thirty years later I likewise successfully swerved Mamma Mia!  though I was eventually suckered into watching it on DVD.  One hundred and eight minutes of cinematic misery duly ensued.

Abba aside, the only movies out of bounds were X-certs.  In the meantime I made do with U, A and AA classifications.  Many of these films were, or became, cinematic classics – Star Wars, Snow White, Jaws.  It was from films like these I began to learn about story telling, character development, and structure.  Others were classic in their own special way.  The trashfest double bill of The Savage Bees and The Incredible Melting Man will forever have a place in my heart.  You can’t help but feel for Steve when his ear slides right off the side of his head and ends up dripping down the shrubbery.

A scant year later, armed with age-transforming green eye shadow, and enough maths skills to figure out which year I should have been born in to pass for 18, a whole new world of cinema opened up.

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

Row K, Seat 7 – The Beginning


I fell in love with the cinema when I was four years old, a passion which has endured.  I loved everything about it.  The adventure of the bus ride from Cumbernauld to Glasgow.  Walking through busy city streets to the Odeon, ABC, Lyceum, or La Scala.  Choosing my sweets from the shop next to the picture house because my parents said it was cheaper than buying them in the cinema.  Chocolate forbidden because it made you thirsty.  Liquorice comfits chosen because you got a lot in a quarter and could make them last by sucking on the sugar shell.

There was the commissionaire in his uniform and peaked cap.  The usherette guiding you to your seat with her little torch. The ice-cream sellers, with their lit-up trays.  The ticket booth with its tiny window.  I even enjoyed sneaking covetous glances at the sweet concession, though the heart-shaped chocolate boxes on its shelves were forever destined to be a treat too far.  And, of course, there were the films themselves.

Those were the days of continuous shows.  Main feature, support feature, adverts, trailers, an occasional additional short, all on a never-ending loop.  If you missed the start you stayed until the bit where you came in and suddenly the film you’d begun watching two and a half hours earlier made sense.

I grew up on a cinematic diet of Disney, sci-fi, and creature features.  The Jungle Book, King Kong Versus Godzilla, Dr Who and the Daleks, The Land That Time Forgot, Sleeping Beauty, Battle For the Planet of The Apes, Mary Poppins… all watched through a blue haze of cigarette smoke.

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