DAVE GORMAN A one-man innovative juggernaut going coast to coast
Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure is ostensibly the story of a comedian travelling the world trying to establish disparate pairings of words that return just one hit in the search engine. ‘Essentially a show about me having a breakdown’, is how Gorman describes it, but the project has had quite a legacy. Touring the show around the US in 2005, Gorman found himself staying in a soulless series of identikit chain hotels while everywhere he trekked, he was confronted by Corporate America. Resolving to stick it to The Man(tm), he returned Stateside to see if he could drive coast to coast using only independent gas stations, hotels and ‘Mom and Pop’ businesses.
The result was the book and documentary America Unchained. ‘It was
very much made on my terms,’ Gorman maintains. ‘I didn’t make a documentary, I had one made about me, with no research or meetings set up in advance. If you already know what’s going to happen then there’s no point fucking doing it!’ Unfortunately, with his car forever breaking down and his camera-person leaving, the vegetarian comic writer quickly found himself alone, gorging on McDonalds, Wendy’s and Burger King burgers in a Best Western Hotel. The challenge took a back seat, and despite having a gun pulled on him Mississippi, Gorman became enchanted with smalltown America. ‘They’re delighted someone from overseas has left the tourist trail with a
genuine civic pride that makes them really want a visitor to have a good time,’ he says. ‘I get an email once a week from an American thanking me because they’re grateful someone’s being positive about them. They know they’re public enemy number one in global politics, they know they’re maligned and a figure of fun, but they don’t quite understand why.’ At the end of August, Gorman returns to performing conventional stand-up without all the madcap, globetrotting caper storytelling by, er, cycling 1500 miles across the UK stopping off only to do a gig each night. He’ll be rolling into Glasgow in September, ‘assuming I get that far’. (Jay Richardson) ■ 16 Aug, 8pm, £9 (£7).
16 THE LIST FESTIVAL MAGAZINE 13–20 Aug 2009
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KATE SUMMERSCALE Hunting for clues and endings It can be a bit of a hunt to find The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. Some bookshops call it history, others true crime, while author Kate Summerscale has consciously used some of the techniques of detective novels to hook in her readers. The book looks at a slice of Victorian society, its new science of detection and the fascination of the general public with grisly murder mysteries, through the bloody killing of a small boy at Road Hill House. Mr Whicher is the archetypal early detective who apparently influenced authors such as Dickens and Wilkie Collins, and in turn crime fiction today.
‘I read about the case in an old Victorian anthology of celebrated 19th century crimes, and I was astonished that I had never heard about it as it seemed so distinctive,’ Summerscale says. ‘I found it much more creepy and interesting than most Victorian novels I had read, and it also felt strangely modern.’ The investigation and court case attracted scores of newspaper articles, letters, theories and fervid interest, largely because it opened up a normally-sealed space: the middle-class Victorian home. ‘The voyeurism and curiosity are very close to what we do when we watch Big Brother,’ she adds. ‘It’s being able to watch the relationships unfold, spying into other people’s houses when they were closed up.’ The device of the detective allows people to indulge, and then close the lid on this voyeurism: ‘It allows us to get close to dark stuff, but the detective restores order in the world like a priest who can find the truth and distinguish right from wrong. We want endings.’ (Seznay Boztas) ■ 19 Aug, 11.30am, £9 (£7).
DENISE MINA How real events inspired crime fiction Denise Mina has been busy. In the last couple of years she has shown real versatility by branching out into drama, with her plays Ida Tamson and A Drunk Woman Looks at the Thistle being successfully produced at Glasgow’s Oran Mor. She has also braved the macho world of graphic
novels, scripting a number of issues of Hellblazer for DC Comics. Mina has returned to novel writing with Still Midnight, the story of Glasgow cop DI Alex Morrow and her half-brother Danny. Both are on the rise, only Danny is making his living by breaking the law, not enforcing it. The start of this story was inspired
by a real-life home invasion and kidnap that happened in Glasgow, which adds an extra element of mystery compared to Mina’s previous work. ‘The ideal crime novel creates a total world as the events of the inciting incident are unpacked,’ she says. ‘The scenario of that crime seemed to me to have that depth without being a body in the woods.’ And it certainly works. But when dealing with true crimes, does she feel any duty to tell the story as it really happened? Her reply is defiant and honest. ‘I think almost all writers base their work on real life events, but we’re all so afraid of having our asses sued off that we admit it privately and have to fib in public. Novelisation doesn’t imply the truth. Readers are sophisticated enough to know that.’ (Rodge Glass) ■ 18 Aug (with Alex Gray), 6.45pm, £9 (£7).
IAN MCMILLAN Home truths from Yorkshire poet
‘Times are good,’ says Ian McMillan on the poet’s lot, with the articulate and enthusiastic Yorkshireman saying it in a voice that’s gently encouraging. ‘It’s easier than it used to be when I started. There are magazines, you can self-publish or publish on the net, and there are more creative writing courses, too. My son’s doing one at Lancaster University; he’s just about to have a pamphlet published. But writing’s sexy now, of course. Before, I’d give talks in libraries and half a dozen people would turn up.’
The Guardian’s Sue Arnold once said about McMillan: ‘if they made him Poet Laureate on Friday, a lot more people would be reading poetry by Monday’, and she wasn’t lying. A sometime journalist, playwright and regular guest on shows like Have I Got News for You, he’s even managed to tell his life story as a book of poems entitled Talking Myself Home. ‘The first poem in the book is about me mam’s death,’ he says. ‘And the last is about her funeral, which was a tragi-comic series of events with all these