BEFORE THE BREAK
Already a highly respected poet and mountain writer, Andrew Greig is about to publish his lirst novel, Electric Brae. lie spoke to Sue Wilson about his ‘shutile-dosser’ existence.
“Mine is very much a small-town, rural background: childhood in Bannockbum, adolescence in Anstruther and my twenties in Edinburgh, which I thoughtlhen was the biggest, dirtiest, noisiest city in the world. Since l was about lilteen I’d been writing songs and playing them in bands; i suppose itl had an ambition, it was to become some kind of singer-songwriter. I kept doing it tor about ten years, but I gradually realised that I wasn’t pretty enough, or determined enough, ortalented enough - you need at least two out at those three to make it in music.
‘l’d tried going straight alterl lelt university, got a job copywriting, and it just scunnered me, so somewhere in my late twenties I resigned myselt to the lact that writing was what I was going to be doing. Since then, really, I’ve been what climbers call a shuttling dosser, the kind at person who dumps himselt on your lloor with a sleeping-bag and a whole bunch of ice-axes and smelly clothes, who will do the bare minimum necessaryto keep the money going, so that they can then go oh and do what really matters. 0r I’ve been a lull-time writer, it you i want to put it more pompously.
} ‘My lirst poems were pretty much
i song-lyrics that I'd never got round to doing anything musical with; both
. songs and poems tend to start all with a
! wee voice in the head when you’re
: brushing yourteeth, or lying in the
: bath, or staring out ot the window.
2 Prose is so utterly ditterent; you have to
1 make up a story, apart trom anything
i else, and I’ve always tound that very
l difficult. I think writing the climbing
; books turned me on to prose, and I
if think also as you get older your lite
: seems less like a series of short lyrics,
more like a multi-Iayered novel at a
', particularly contusing sort.
1 ‘The writing lite is high on lreedom,
, low on security-to keep the money
: coming in, I do writing workshops in
schools, poetry readings, a bit ol
reviewing, I rent out my house,
; sometimes in the summer I work on a
‘ larm. lshultle-doss by, and though it’s
‘ occasionally depressing to think that things probably won't be much better when I'm 60, I did choose this lite, and
it is right lor me - once you’ve linished
girning and worrying you keep coming back to that basic lact.’
[HEEL- MALICE AFORETHOUGHT
I A Philosophical investigation Philip Kerr (Chatto & Windus, £14.99) In this intelligent psychological crime-thriller, the year is 2013 and the woman in charge is Chief Inspector Isadora ‘Jake’ J akowicz, called in to catch a serial killer picking off men listed on a secret government computer file. The case involves mind-games of the highest order - calling himself ‘Wittgenstein‘, the murderer justifies his actions with high-flown disquisitions on life, death, meaning
and morality. It’s an engrossing plot device, though weakened by the fact that Jake, at the end, abruptly and inexplicably swaps her universal contempt towards the male of the species for a sympathetic fascination with her philosopher-killer, casting him as a kind of Hannibal Lecter manqué. On the plus side, the novel contains some intriguing speculations about the different ways men and women approach an investigation; the sci-ii aspects are thoughtfully done — extrapolations
from the present ratherthan . . '
futuristic fantasies — and the tension I level remains enjoyany high throughout. (Sue Wilson) i
I Bum Punch Elmore Leonard (Viking £14.99) Back on the streets after a four-year stretch for bank robbery, Louis hitches up with one-time partner Ordell, now running big guns to bad guys out of Palm Beach. But the Feds are onto Ordell, which is problematic for the greying villains as the next consignment of Uzis is intended to . bankroll a quiet retirement for them . both. I Leonard’s reputation is based on I his portrayal of American lowlife i and though this, his 3lst book, is : neither as psychedelically violent as ' Freaky Deaky nor as humorous as Maximum Bob, it is suitably gritty in a Miami-Vice-from-the-wrong-side- of-the-tracks sort of way. Laconic | and self-interested to the end, the characters are always plausible and satisfying. There’s a lot of meat, but no fat, on this plot, but as it sneaks
and twists towards the climax, you can’t help wondering ifit isn‘t a little too convoluted, and wishing the i formula allowed for a bit more body.
' (Thom Dibdin).
RITES 0F PASSAGE
I Sacred Country Rose Tremain § (Sinclair Stevenson, £14.99) Taking as her setting a bleak Suffolk landscape populated by miserable souls and fading dreams, Rose Tremain reveals that even a tiny corner of England can hold a complex of extraordinary people, unable to live by trite dictums. It is their inner selves — the sacred country — which ultimately provide the real location ofthis poignant, entirely absorbing novel.
It is 1952; George Vl’s death is being mourned across the nation.
I Any Old Iron. Mozart and the Hull Gang and tiothing Like the Sun, Anthony Burgess (ail Vintage £6.99, £5.99. £5.99). Anthony Burgess is almost universally lauded by his fellow critics, none daring to point out that the Emperor‘s clothes, if not entirely absent, sometimes get a little shabby. That said. Any Old Iron is a marvellous book, dealing in vivid and exhilarating language with just about every crucial development of the 20th century (and quite a few from preceding centuries as well . . .).
Mozart and the Wolf Gang, however, gives the impression of having been penned during a couple of wet Wednesday afternoons to cash in on the bicentenary. The Burgess wit is unmistakably present, but the whole premise (a book structured
5 in the same way as Mozart‘s 40th
Symphony) and some of the onanistic dialogue (like the lengthy interchange between two critics called Burgess and Anthony) really start to grate.
Nothing Like the Sun, a fictional life of
Shakespeare (with the Bard as camp as
Julian Clary and Anne as a bed-hopping harlot) again displays imagination and wit, but this time it‘s stiltcd prose which proves
: problematic; the attempt at a kind of
. down-market pseudo-Shakespearean
For six-year-oid Mary, however, it is the beginning of her liberation, her transformation from girl to boy. As . her metamorphosis proceeds, a catalogue of epoch-making ey ents flickers by, generating a sense of inexorable change. The narrative
5 focus shifts from character to character, allowing parallel tales to 7 develop alongside Mary’s, each a
vindication ofthe individual’s struggle for identity. Marked neither
. by success nor failure, Mary forges a ' new, happier life, while for others
the past, imagined or real, carries a greater resonance than the lived-in present. (Aaron Hicklin)
7 ends up irritating rather than illuminating. I The Hanging Tree and The Sin: olthe
Father Allan Massic (Sceptre £5 .99,
Mandarin £5.99) Though little more, in
essence, than an all-action romance, Massie‘s historical novel is inﬁnitely more satisfying than Burgess‘s; rich and lush rather than dustily dry, thanks to the author‘s grasp ofdialogue and eloquent descriptive powers. The Sins of the Fathers
f was the book which, by its omission from
the shortlist, provoked resignations from the Booker panel. The daughter ofa death-camp survivor and a Nazi‘s son,
meet. fall in love and gradually learn the
truth about each other’s heritage. An excellent and deeply affecting love story, pervaded throughout by the tragedy of Auschwitz. (Philip Parr)
with the ex-Scotland rugby captain, promoting his autobiography Heartand
I John Mortimer Dillons, 174—176 Argyll Street, 248 4814. Fri 25, 6.30pm. Free. Rumpole’s creator reading from and signing copies of his new non-fiction work Victorian Villainies (Oxford University Press, £16.95).
I Jeanette Winterson Waterstone’s, 45/50 Princes Square, 221 9650. Fri 25 , 7pm. Free. ‘The leading writer ofher generation', according to the Guardian , will be reading from and signing copies of her new novel Written on the Body (Jonathan Cape, £14.99).
I David Solo John Smith & Son, 57 Vincent Street, 221 7472. Thurs l,
6.30pm. Free. Reading/signing session
I Terry Jones Waterstone‘s, 45/50 Princes Square, 221 9650. Thurs 8, 7pm. Free. The
former Monty Python man will be reading ‘ Wed 7, 7.45pm. Tickets £2 from
and signing his new children's book Fantastic Stories (Pavilion, £12.99).
Street, 225 4495. Mon 5, 6.30pm. Free.
The elder stateswoman of Scottish letters
will be reading from two of her best-loved books Another Time, Another Place andA White Bird Passes (both Virago, £5.99).
I Douglas Adams George Square Theatre,
Waterstone’s, 13 Princes Street, 556 3034.
, The galactical hitch-hiker‘s friend will be
I David Sole Waterstone‘s, 83 George Street, 225 3436. Sat 26, 11am. Free. Signing session with the ex-Scotland rugby captain, promoting his autobiography Heart and Sole (Mainstream, £12.95).
I Aileen Paterson James Thin, 57 George Street, 225 4495. Mon 28, 6.30pm. Free. Launch of the children‘s author‘s new book Pigs of Puddledub (Amazing Publishing House, £3.95).
I Jessie Kosson James Thin, 57 George
reading from the fifth instalment of his hugely popular guide, Mostly Harmless. £1 of the ticket price is redeemable against a copy of the book on the night or afterwards from the Princes Street branch. I Carmina Gadellca James Thin, 53—59 South Bridge, 556 6743. Thur 8, 7pm. Reading from John McInnes‘s new single-volume translation (Floris Books, £11.99) ofthe Gaelic poems and prayers collected in the 19th century by Alexander Carmichael, previously available only as a six-volume bilingual edition.
68 The List 25 September — 8 October 1992