ALAN WARNER FEATURE
‘A lot of the things post-modern literature threw out I actually feel quite happy about: the undeniable curve of tragedy. plot. deep characterisation — that‘s all titre by me. But I feel we‘re missing books with symbolism in them. books you can sit down and yak about. which is why I wanted to make Morvern dense. I‘m all for straight talkers but it’s just not for me.‘
At the age of sixteen Warner had two passions — literattrre and music. The musical obsession is reflected in the book‘s detailed track listings. which provide a soundtrack for Morvern's life and give her the power to flick the switch on her emotions, from Miles Davis to Can to PM Dawn.
The teenage Warner must have stood out dramatically in the small port community where he grew tip. Penguin Classic tucked into his back pocket as he headed off on one of his unannounced forays into the snowy hills for a couple of nights in a tent. ‘I wasn‘t a sad Simon.‘ he grins. ‘l was a popular guy. There was an active drug and drinking scene but I did feel isolated there ~—just writing. writing. writing and never showing it to anyone.‘ This ‘outsider’ role was demonstrated by a decision to write the now l8()t)-page experimental environmental poem ‘I thought only pygrnies wrote little lyrics' -— called The Unlimited ("anipaign (selected highlights to be published in a forthcoming Rebel Inc). Enlisting his pals. Warner set to work on ten square miles of the Argyll countryside carving lines in trees and cliffs. or burying passages in bottles.
Morvern Gallar by Alan Warner
In this extract, ll'lt)l‘l'(‘l‘ll isjbund in the Kit/e ()niim Hotel (at The Caledonia/z Hotel. "but the 'l)’ fell ()jfthe big sign ") having aferr' pints with Red Hanna, her step-
dad. and his drinking pals. l
Lanna swarmed in with the Bakery M
Girls, When I gave her a bug I goes in
her ear. Let me get yous a drink. l'm ‘ deep pocketed so just sponge offof me ' all night. dont get into a rounds thing. '
When I brought back the rounds Red Hanna was telling about The Commander who'd been next to me while I was getting served. The Bakery Girls kept going into hyster'ics. Red Hanna says. On Christmas Eve the police found him down on the shore by the north pier. He was ﬂashing a torch out into the Sound and when the sergeant asks what he's doing. The Commander went and goes that he was signalling to enemy submarines to try and confuse them. All round the table burst out laughing and some looked over at the poor old soul.
The Panatine breenged in and over to the bar. He had his right hand circled in dirty bandage and the pinkie was just a blob of cotton wool: he was spilling the pint in his left hand that always twitched anyway from the time he sliced a nerve in his arm when he was the butcher. He stood in the Glory Hole shaking a bit and says. See this port. I love it. I just love it. best crack on earth. I could never leave here or I’d just burn up on re-entry. That was some session folks. some session. He
Somewhere between these alterations to the Ordnance Survey map and writing Morvem Callar, Warner packed in a humanities course at Ealing College. postgraduate studies at Glasgow University. stints on the West Coast railways and a host of ‘crappy jobs in hotels and dry cleaners’. ln conversation with Warner. as he oscillates between articulate intensity and a series of off- the-wall anecdotes. there‘s the distinct
impression that this man has seen his fair share of
life’s nutty side. Commenting on the book‘s character Panantine. whose idea of entertainment is dropping liquid LSD onto his eyeballs. Warner says: ‘Oh yeah. l saw colours until five in the morning.‘ On London: ‘I had myself a good time. but it all went a bit sour and got a bit heavy.’ And on a two-year stint working in lbiza‘s club scene: ‘lt all got a bit scary with the drugs. the indulgence and the casualties.‘
Throughout this time Alan Warner continued writing. without actually believing he would ever
be published due to a misplaced sense of
inadequacy. ‘I had all this mythology swirling about in my head.‘ he remembers. ‘I thought to be a writer you had to go to Cambridge or Oxford. speak six languages and go and live in Paris. I thought writers were someone else. nothing to do with me.’
The pivotal moment came when he picked up Duncan McLean‘s short story collection Bucket ()_/”lbngues in which be recognised the common ground of rural experience. rather than the urban stories that dominated Scottish literature at the
I crack me and Mockit injected whisky
time. ‘It was a revolution to me.’ he says. ‘I was this rural Scot from Duffsville that had no indigenous culture and l was somehow trying to connect with this thing called literature.‘
On the evidence of this first novel. the connection has been made and the ideas are ﬂowing. A sequel to Morr'ern called The Aircrash Investigator is scheduled for publication early next year. closely followed by Far Places. Also in the pipeline are The Oscillator — ‘the first page has a sexual abuse scene with Siamese twins that I might have to rethink!’ — and an epic romance called The Outlying Station. Beyond that his ambition is to retire to a cottage in Argyll to create his own literary universe.
‘I envisage all my books as part of a cycle —- a cycle about a geographical area. Dostoevsky’s Moscow. Camus‘s Algeria and Kelman‘s Glasgow. they‘re all metaphysical universes. They’re these incredible vibrant worlds and I want to be able create something as good as these. I think literary ambition is a good thing. It’s not enough for me to write my novel about Oban or a wee novel on Mull. I don‘t want to be small-minded. l want to be [sighs]. . .big.’ Ll
Morvern (‘allar is published by Jonathan Cape at £9.99. Alan Warner is reading as part of the Paisley Writers Festival at Paisley Arts Centre on Sat I 8 Feb at 2pm. See Book events panel for more details.
and it's the surgeon from the hospital.
took a big swallow of his pint then goes. I‘ve just discharged myself from the hospital. they were trying to keep Hogrnanay sanatorium'.’ No chance.
Look at the state of you man. went
in the old
The Panatine gtrlped back more lager then says. See that taxi driver. The Skiabhanach or whatever he‘s called. that guy is claimed. I‘m going to jump on the guy's chest and gallop right through his guts.
Whats up? Lanna went. guy’s Human torture. nran! Night before last I got yon trawlerman. Mockit. the one who always misses his sailing and has to race round the country trying to catch it at the next port. no mind the
()h aye. that berserker. he's some space cadet. says SPD. More like a Starship Captain. goes Panatine. Then he says. Anyway. for a
into each other"s temples. Macallan
twelve-year-old of course. I love the
subtle smokiness of the Macallan. We
were steaming out the mind totally mortal within ten seconds. I scratched Mockit all over his face with the hypodermic trying to scoosh that malt right in his brain box. After that we put liquid LSD onto our pupils using the eyedropper. lt enters the blood stream through your eyes and theres these amazing visual and retinal images. We could only see colours till five in the morning and by that time I was thinking about getting a few beers. The singular place I could think of to get a drink was on the ferry so I came down here and bought four return tickets to the island; one for every sailing. I went back and forth all day till the captain had are carried down the gangplank. By the time I found The Complex I'd lost my keys and I couldnt remember the wife's name. swear to christ it’d gone clean otrt my head so [just started battering in the front door. The wife thought it was Strathclyde‘s Finest busting us again so buckets of hot water were coming down from the bathroom window. I took a runner and the door smashed right in. came swinging back. and all I felt was it konking me in the face btrt I woke up in the hospital. just the-now. What hapened was the wife had come down the stair and jets of blood were sprayed all up the wallpaper in the hall and l was out-the-gamc on the doormat so she runs and actually calls Strathclyde's Finest thinking I've been stabbed cause there‘s so much blood. The house is just dripping with heesh as well and the pigs arrive with an ambulance. They cart me straight off and twenty minutes later the phone goes in the house. The wife picks it up
asking politely if she can perhaps find my pinkie by the door and strre enough: there it is down the side ofthe mat. The door had swung back and severed it when l clbowed my way in. Now the surgeon. he expresses the urgency that exists in the wife getting round to the hospital with my elusive digit so it can be sewn back on. So what does she do? Skins up and phones a taxi then when it arrives she pops my pinkie in an empty packet of crisps. Now this Skiabhanach is driving the taxi and can you believe this? He starts haggling over the taxi fare to the hospital! Stuff about it being against hygiene laws. My wife explains it‘s at Mercy Mission. So eventually he chucks the crisp packet in the glove compartment and drives off. Thing is on the way over to the hospital he was seen by reliable witnesses picking up a fare over to the Back Settlement. Took three quarters an hour to get the ﬁnger to the operating theatre and it was too late to sew it on. Then Strathclyde‘s Finest came back to the house when they knew I was comatose in hospital. bust the wife and took away all the plants.
You must be devastated. says Coll.
What. about the plants? goes Panatine.
No man. about your finger.
The Panatine held up both hands with the fingers spread out and shouted. One down; nine to go! He took two big gulps and drained his pint.
Just one thing. Red Hanna says. What ﬂavour was the crisp packet? Everyone started laughing at this. especially Panatine waving the bandaged hand about lz'xtraeted from Morvern Callar by Alan Warner. published by Jonathan Cape on 16111 February at f 9. 99
The List 10-23 Feb 199511