BEFORE THE BREAK
Boxer-turned-novelist Barry Graham, whose third book has just been published, talks to Sue Wilson.
‘I was still an amateur boxer when I got kicked out of school, but I turned professional at seventeen. l was never very good, though - l was allergic to being punched, and alter one light where I’d got beaten into the ground I just decided on the spot to quit. I enjoyed boxing, I’ve got to admit; I still miss it. The excitement was the main thing— I’ve a terrible imagination, and in the lew days before a light, thinking about all the people who’d been killed or blinded in lights, I’d be terrilied, but it was like being on acid or something: I’d notice things in incredible detail, everything seemed really heightened — I‘d be high as a kite, basically.
‘I was on the dole for a bit alter i gave it up, then worked in an oil-licence, and eventually stumbled into doing bits ol journalism, I honestly don’t know how — I’d been barely literate when l lelt school. One ol the editors I worked with — my lirst book’s dedicated to him — was always on at me to do some iictlon, so I wrote one novel, which I hope neversees the light ol day, belorel wrote Of Darkness and Light.
‘I sent it to Penguin lot a reaction, and they rejected it saying it was really sick and disgusting. The lact that they’d turned It down so venomously, rather than just sending a rejection slip, was actually really encouraging, so I sent it to Bloomsbury, who accepted it that same week. I remember when l gotthe letter like it was yesterday-when I read it I decided there and then that this was what I was going to do lrom now on. Forthe first time in my lilel realised there was something specilically that I wanted to do, and an hour later I sat down and started writing the next book.
‘I do enjoy annoying people, I like rocking the boat. I can't stand the way the literati in Scotland behave, all the back-slapping, and “aren’twe good, and of course it's much better being us than being the English.” I suppose it’s partly because the best things I've done in my life have all been because somebody provoked me into it, somebody got me angry. When I’m dead, ratherthan being remembered tor a lew books, l’d honestly preler to be remembered by a lot or people whose noses I got up.’
PLAYING WITH FIRE
I Augustus Rex Clive Sinclair (Andre
l i l i
Deutsch, £13.99). Great playwrights i
never die, they just, well, come back as priapic megalomaniacs. Sliding towards death’s door, Augustus Strindberg is accosted by the soul-searching Beelzebub. A deal is struck and Sinclair catapults the real-life Swedish playwright into 1961 Stockholm. What follows is a
i l i
ribald Faust for the 905. Time and again, the wily Beelzebub cajoles his arrogant charge towards the sin that will earmark his soul for the underworld. Written with pace and panache. the book rollicks along with devilish glee, coughing up anti-semitic postmen and shoplifting nurses with bullseye timing. Even the on-duty Beelzebub finds himself distracted by the diversions of the hapless Augustus. Salty, page-turning stuff. (Carl Honoré)
MEEK AND MAD
I Last Orders James Meek (Polygon, £7.95) There is a rare, ifdisturbing. wit to this collection of short stories from journalistJames Meek. Negotiating their bleak and hallucinatory landscapes, the reader is like the quadriplegic in ‘Push Mc‘. alone and guided by an unseen hand towards an unknown destination. However hard they might wish for a happy ending, the only guarantee is that one will not occur.
Scotland is the setting whenever one is identified, but it is not a land any romanticising reader of tourist brochures could identify. Particularly chilling is the desperation of a personnel officer as he interviews for State Torturer in an alternative Scotland, where the Bureau fights against the anarchy of the English Liberation Army; Meek
is at his strongest when dealing with the madness of betrayal. He rarely slips into cliche, and even when he does, briefly, in ‘What Is It With You and Those Mirrors’, the image is immediately cracked to reveal a new and often painful aSpect. (Thom Dibdin)
I Underworld Peter Conrad (Chatto & Windus, £14.99) Borrowing from recent art-house cinema and science fiction. this first novel by a literary academic centres on characters from two disparate worlds: the ambitious, fearful city peOple and the dropouts and drifters who inhabit the uderdeveloped. motorway-enclosed valley. The city dreams of transforming the underworld, which in turn seeks to extend its nightmare into the glass-and-steel confines of
While the plot meanders. the characters are beautifully drawn, with darkly comic quirks of behaviour skilfully sketched through nuance and detail, and the broken-down urban setting is effectively conjured by the novel‘s bleak, heavy imagery. But while the novel builds sufficient momentum to carry the reader through to the end, you can‘t help feeling that some fine directors and trashy authors have done it all before, and done it rather better. (Douglas McCabe)
Science ﬁction is the chameleon of fiction: pick a genre, any genre, stick it on an outer world and, hey presto: sci-fi. Kathlene Kerrbhooses the cop-thriller mode for Polar City Blues (Grafton, £3.99), featuring Lacey, an information merchant on Hagar, where the sun is too hot to go out by day, and her no-hope, baseball-hunk psychic sidekick Mulligan, who provides her link into the police when staff from two alien embassies start gunning for each other. The psychic bits are irritating at ﬁrst but on the whole, it’s suitably thrilling stuff. Kim Stanley’s Pacillc Edge (Grafton £3.99), a utopian dream set in the ecologically-sound California of 2065, is a sci-fi travel book, the whole thing exquisitely described (especially a hedonistic tequila party to celebrate the ﬁrst Mars landing), but suffers from a distinct lack of tension. The same cannot be said for Garﬁeld Reeves-Stevens’ Dark Matter (Pan SF, £4.99), a suspense-thriller where the only person who can stop a Nobel Prize-winning physicist in his relentless search for the ‘ﬁnal’ truth is Kate Duval from the Los Angeles PD. Sexy and scary, this only just fails to hold to the ﬁnal chapter.
Use at Weapons (Orbit, £5.99) is another space opera by Iain M. Banks about The Culture. The author surpasses himself with the build-up of tension and his customary horrific revelation in the closing pages, but the whole thing seems somewhat skeletal — what’s there is good, it just needs more ﬂesh. Time for a new subject, perhaps. As for Marc Okrand, who has exploited the lexicon genre for The Klingon Dictionary (Simon and Schuster, £6.99), the official guide to Klingon words and phrases, basically it’s time for a new life. Trekkies, no doubt, will already have this, and they can keep it. (Thorn Dibdin)
I Woodside Writers Room l.Woodside llalls. (‘larendon Street. 3390174. Mondays. 7—9pm. £1. Weekly group for anyone interested in writing poetry. prose or drama. All welcome.
I Open World Poetics Scotia Bar. 1 12—I 14 Stockwell Street. 552 8681. Tue 28. 8.30pm. Free. Informal readingand discussion with the local poetry group.
I William Mcllvanney and Alan Spence Arches Theatre. 30 Midland Street. 221 9736. Sat 2. 1pm. £4 (cones £2.50). An afternoon of readings from the last two winners of the People's Prize. chosen by readers of The Herald.
I Words and Music Samuel Dow‘s. 68 Nithsdale Road. l’ollokshields. info 946 6043424 3764. Mon 4. 7.30pm. 50p. Monthly informal reading and music session. tonight featuring Sideways writers' group and Pamela Duncan. with Jim King providing the sounds.
I Robert Crawford Waterstone's. 132
Union Street. 221 0890. Tue 5.630pm. Free. The much-praised Scottish poet will be reading from his new collection Talkies (Hogarth Press. [5. 99).
I Jim Ferguson, Margaret Fulton Cookand Dorothy Clarke Cottiers. llyndland Road. 357 5827. Thurs 7. 8pm. Free. An evening of poetry readings by local writers. plus Scottish and ragtime music.
I Newington Churches BooktairChurch llalls'. West Mayfield. info 667 8871/667 4685. Fri 24 7.30—9pm. Sat 25 l0am—12.30pm. Massive annual sale. with plants. bric-a-brac and home bakingas well as books. in aid of ‘Feed the Minds'.a charity funding literacy. printing and publishing ventures in eastern Europe.
I Tatyana Tolstaya Waterstone‘s. 83 George Street. 225 3436. Sun 3. 11.30am. A branch date with the author ofthe widely-acclaimed ()n the Golden Porch who will be reading from her newshort story collection .S‘leepis'alker in a Fog (Virago. £13.99).
I Sophie Grigson (‘hapter One
Restaurant. Edinburgh Bookshop. 57 George Street. 225 4495. Mon 4. 5.30pm. Free. A demonstration and talk about some of the delicacies described in Sophie '5 Kitchen (Penguin. £8.99).
I Howard Jacobson James Thin . 53—59 South Bridge. 556 6743. Wed 6. 7pm. Free. The author of Peeping Tom. Coming From Behind and others will read from and sign copies of his sixth novel The Very Modelofa Man (Viking. £14.99).
I Women in Publishing in Scotland Filmhouse. Lothian Road. info 3321300. Thurs 7. 7.30pm. Non-members“ .50. Discussion with Maggie Lennon from Waterstone‘s and Sigrid Neilsen from West and Wilde on ‘Women Behind the Tills and Between the Covers‘.
I Launch of Rebel Inc The Edinburgh Bookshop, 57 George Street. info 334 5271. Mon 4, 6.30pm. Free. Readings and drinks to christen a new quarterly magazine devoted to ‘sharpasfuckfiction’ from Edinburgh. The first issue contains work from Alan Spence. Gordon Legge, Duncan McLean, Alison Kermack, Elizabeth Burns, Barry Graham and many more.
64 The List 24 April — 7 May 1992