BEFORE THE BREAK
John McGill, whose first novel Giraffes, the follow-up to his highly- pralsed short-story collection That Rubens Guy, is published by Mainstream in early May, talks to Sue Wilson about digging up his long-held desire to write.
i l i I
] ‘l was born and brought up in Glasgow, : went to university there from 1963-67, ; studying English, just before the 60s
3 really happened in Scotland - people were still wearing tweeds in my time, the long hair and the bells came just as I was leaving. I did teacher-training at Moray House, though I didn’t just drift into teaching - I think my own experience of school had been so awful that I had a genuine desire to see if it could be done better.
‘My first job was at Stromness in Orkney, which was super, a nice introduction to it all. We moved to Shetland in 1973, where l was head of English in Lerwick until 1980, when we went to Germany for a couple of years - after twelve years in the islands, we decided to see Europe while the kids were at a reasonably portable age. We’re still on the way home, really, on the way back to Orkney; we iust really got stuck for a bit, the kids get to the age where it’s difficult to move them, but basically this is us on our way north again.
‘I always felt I was a writer, though it remained a bit buried for a long time. I had a couple of stories published in anthologies during the 80s, but the real spur was Glasgow being City of Culture; I thought there would probably be a market for Glasgow stories —- about the only commercial decision I’ve ever made in my life. There was never any dramatic career of scribbling away in attics, papering the walls with rejection slips — generally speaking, what I’ve written, people have taken.
‘I don’t really combine teaching and writing, I have to separate the two things, so I only write during the holidays. We’re lucky in that we have a little place in Orkney where I can retreat for a week or two’s completely uninterrupted work, just me, the dog and a bottle of whisky.
‘The first thing I’d really like to do with the writing is to earn enough from it to tell my headmaster where to go. Beyond that, I’d like to write something that was read by the people I’m writing about, my own class of folk, working-class folk. The stories surprised me by getting a very good reception from the critlcs, but I’d like more people to have read them - there’s this split between literary writing and popular writing, and mine is definitely literary at the moment, but if I could bridge that gap . . . ’
78 The List 23 April—<6 May 1993
DARKNESS ANO 1.161"
I The Museum of Love Steve Weiner (Bloomsbury. £15.99) Life's a bitch and then you die; employing the aitnless life ofJean Michel Verhaeren. a French-Canadian boy living in a small. oppressive Catholic community with a sadistic father. a religious- lunatic mother. a disabled brother and a parade of bizarre. mostly homosexual friends. this novel tells us so in graphic. surreal detail. Weiner's fractured narrative leads his protagonist through a nightmarish terrain populated by
freaks and casualties as he experiments with sex. witnesses or carries out sickening acts of violence and struggles to make sense of a life coming apart at the seams. Every page is designed to shock: nothing in life or death is sacred as Jean. physically corrupt and spiritually blind. sinks and decays.
For all its creepy nihilism and macabre subject—matter. Weiner's writing possesses a strangely light and poetic quality; the hallucinatory results are something like the queasiness of Genet crossed with the oppressiveness of liraserhead. If you think that’s a weird and wonderful combination. you’re right. (Cathy Boylan)
I Poet and Dancer Ruth l’rawer Jhabvala (John Murray. £14.99) The first novel in six years by the Booker- winning author of Heat and Dust. also i‘vlerchant-lvory‘s favourite screenwriter. is an odd. disquieting but ultimately unilluminating tale about the destructive nature of total. self-denying love. Two cousins share artistic aspirations as children. meet again as adults in Manhattan and form a relationship in which meek. plain. Angel is entirely in thrall to beautiful. mercurial Lara. who progresses steadily from instability to psychosis as the narrative unfolds. Angel refuses to seek help. concentrating her energies instead on pandering to her love-object's every whim. with — surprise. surprise — ultimately tragic consequences. Though the setting is sketchy. the style is seemingly naturalistic. which makes the absence of explanation as to
motivation (Angel isn't stupid. and Lara doesn‘t come across as that hypnotic) first bemusing. then irritating. Okay. so devoting yourself utterly and exclusively to another and/or ignoring your muse is a bad idea. but neither point is a) particularly original or b) much foundation for a novel. (Sue Wilson)
I Awakening From a Deep Sleep Robert Pasick (HarperCollins. £6.99) Hallelujah brothers! 1 have seen the light and awoken from the deep sleep that is the vileness of manhood; actually. 1 was only napping. A rather self-righteous volume on the foibles of masculinity which is. unfortunately. unlikely to be read by those who would benefit tnost.
I Forgotten Fatherland Ben Macintyre (Picador. £6.99) Satisfying blend of biography and travel-writing. describing the life of Elisabeth Nietzsche. the famous philosopher’s megalomaniac sister. Includes an in-depth account of her ill- fated Aryan colony. Nueva Gertnania. in the Paraguayan wilderness and her eventual return to Germany. where she subsequently reworked and distorted her brother's writings according to her own views and those of the rising Third Reich. I The Crow Road Iain Banks (Abacus. £6.99) The opening expltxling-granny line of this family saga/murder-mystery/love- story is famous by now — presumably the intention. The plot. as Prentice McHoan's growing pains and increasingly strained relationships unravel along with healthy chunks of trauma and suffering. is more predictable. though Banks‘ fans will keep reading for the occasional flashes of hilarious wit and gothic brilliance.
I Understanding the Present Bryan Appleyard (Picador. £6.99) Provoking the wrath of almost the entire scientific establishment when first published. this intelligent. accessible book charts the rise of science over the last four centuries. A systematic demolition of scientific rationalism. showing how science is at last beginning to be revitalised and assigned its proper place in the world. as a useful form of mysticism and not. as many scientists would have it. the ‘()ne’ truth.
I Creative Writing Workshops Wishaw Library. Kenilworth Avenue. Wishaw. info .‘vlark Cox. 0698 266166 x2549. .‘vlons. 6.30 8.30pm. Free. Weekly meeting for would-be scribes incorporating critical discussion and themed poetry and prose assignments. I John McCarthy and Jill Morrell John Smith & Son. 57 Vincent Street. 221 7472. Fri 23. 6.30pm. Free. Britain's most popular couple since Charles and Di (in happier times) talking about their experiences during McCarthy‘s long incarceration and signing copies of their book Some Other Rainbow (Bantam £14.99). I Robert Harris Watcrstone's. 132 Union Street. 221 0890. Wed 5. 1pm. Free. Signing session with the author of the controversial bestseller Fatherland (Arrow £4.99). I Sara Schulman Waterstone's. 45/50 Princes Square. 221 9650. Wed 5. 7pm. Free. The cult New York writer and AIDS activist reading from and signing copies of her latest novel Empathy (Sheba £6.99). I Rupert Thompson & Will Self Waterstone‘s. 132 Union Street. 221 0890. Thurs 6. 6.30pm. Free. Two thrusting young men of linglish letters reading from their latest work - Thompson's Air and Fire (Bloomsbury £15.99) and Self‘s Cock and Bull (Bloomsbury £9.99).
I John McCarthy and Jill Morrell
\V'aterstone’s. l3 Princes Street. 556 3034.
Sat 24. 1pm. Free. Britain‘s most popular couple since Charles and Di (in happier times) talking about their experiences during McCarthy's long incarceration and
signing copies of their book Some Other Rainbow (Bantam £14.99).
I Discover the Secret of the Tarot James Thin. 53—59 South Bridge. 556 6743. Sat 24. 2pm. Free. Talk and demonstration by Pamela Melkin. with numerous related books on display.
I Donald Spoto Filmhouse Bar. l.othian Road. 228 2688. Sun 25. 3.30pm. Free. Waterstone‘s l3 Princes Street branch present the renowned biographer in conversation with Filmhouse director Jim Hickey about his latest revelatory opus Marilyn Monroe (Chatto & Windus £17.99).
I Barbara Erskine Coffee House. James Thin. 57 George Street. 225 4495. Mon 26. 7pm. Free. The popular novelist. whose latest book is Child of the Phoenix (HarperCoIlins £5.99). talks about the art of researching and writing historical fiction. I Tom Paulin, Harry Smart & Don Paterson Waterstone's. 128 Princes Street. 226 2666. Tue 27. 7pm. Free. An evening with three contemporary poets. featuring Paulin's Selected Poems 1972—1990 (Faber & Faber £12.99 lib/£5.99 pb) and his essays illinotaur: Poetry and the Nation State (Faber & Faber £5.99): Smart's Shoo/t (Faber & Faber £5.99) and Paterson's Nil Nil (Faber & Faber £5.99). I luke Goss Waterstone's. l3 Princes Street. 556 3034. Wed 28. 1pm. Free. The embittered ex-half of Bros signing copies of his cautionary tale for anyone dreaming of becoming a pop star. I One You Nothing (Grafton £4.99 ). I Sophie Grlgson Waterstone's. l3 Princes Street. 556 3034. Wed 28. 7.30pm. Free. The re-opening of Waterstone‘s ‘famous smoky basement' with a demonstration by the cookery writer and TV presenter. talking about her new book Eat Your Greens (Channel
4/BB(‘ £15.99). I Ellen Galford & Sara Maitland
Waterstone's. 83 George Street. 225 3436. Thurs 29. 7.30pm. Free. A Virago new fiction night. with Edinburgh's Galford reading from her hilarious new novel The I).vl<e and the Dyhbuk (£5.99). Maitland from her latest short-story collection ll’onten Fly ll'hen Men xll't’ll '1 Matching (£5.99).
I Country and Eastern The Netherbow. High Street. 556 9579. Fri 30. 7.30pm. £3 (£2). International poetry and music from Aonghas MacNeacail. Sudeep Sen. Hugh ()uston. Harry Laing and Nancy Nicholson.
I Terry Brooks Waterstone's. l3 Princes Street. 556 3034. Sat 1. 1pm and Forbidden Planet. 2/3 Teviot Place. 225 8613. Sat 1. 3.30-4.30pm. Both free. The world-bestselling American fantasy writer signing copies of his latest novel 'Ialismans ofShannara (Legend £14.99). I Privileged Shopping Evening Waterstone's. 83 George Street. 225 3436. Tue 4. 7.30pm. Free tickets from branch. liscape the crowds and enjoy some music. prizes and competitions as Waterstone's launch their Spring Catalogue.
I Ellen Galford James Thin. 53-59 South Bridge. 556 6743. Wed 5. 7pm. Free. The popular Edinburgh-based author of Moll ('utparse.‘ Her True Story reading from and signing copies of her hilarious new novel The Dyke and the l)_vhlmk (Virago £5.99).
I Robert Harris Waterstone's. 128 Princes Street. 226 2666. Wed 5. 7pm. Free. Reading and signing session with the author of the controversial bestseller l-‘atherland (Arrow £4.99 ).
I Allan Massle Waterstone‘s. 83 George Street. 225 3436. Thurs 6. 7.30pm. Free. Launch of the leading Scottish author's latest novel Caesar ( Hodder & Stoughton £14.99).