P m'c 's'on
Belfast writer Glen Patterson has
taken ﬂight from Ireland in his
latest novel, discovering a
fascination for EuroDisney and its
cartoon landscape. He speaks to Deirdre Molloy.
lrish wn'ter Glen Patterson is taking it easy after a night of quafﬁng melon vodka like it was lemonade. The sitting room window in his rented house looks out onto a narrow Belfast street. it is all a million miles from the global panorama that unfolds in his latest novel. Black Night At Big Thunder illaunlain.
Dreamed up as a selling point fora EuroDisney cartoon landscape. the fantasy-reality of Big Thunder Mountain has been plundered by Patterson. In this. his third novel. a Disney spin doctor gone AWOL takes two people — llse. a German cook in the staff canteen. and Raymond. a construction worker from Belfast — hostage on the mountain amid the mud and mayhem of a half-built EuroDisney. sparking a bizarre seige. The scenario is as fabulous as its location. but Patterson’s writing makes it appear true to life.
Reluctant to begin the interview. the 33-year-old writer rolls his eyes. swings his legs over the side of his chair and insists we have some more tea from the big pot he has brewed up. He bemoans the alarming rise in house prices since the ceasefire and giggles at
the Joyce-debunking antics he and fellow lrish writer
the Berlin Wall and the war on drugs in Manchester and Los Angeles all feature in the book — a substantial leap from the Belfast backdrops of his
Glen Patterson: from Belfast to EuroDisney
lioin McNamee got up to as speakers at a Turin film
Patterson. ‘When i was writing Fat Lad. I did
i detailed research on the history of Belfast. The idea
ofthe city as something constantly in process seemed like a route out of enclosed ways ofthinking about Northern lreland and Belfast in particular.‘
Patterson discovered 600 people from Northern lreiand were working on the EuroDisney site and that
: Walt Disney himself had been interested in urban
theory. He went to see the construction site, making a second visit when EuroDisney opened. Despite himself. there was something there that he responded to.
‘l went with a view to disliking the place enormously. but I saw all these people who were working there and they loved Disney.‘ he explains. ‘l
i thought about my Dad who worked in the [Belfast] shipyards. While he would have lots of complaints . about employment practices there. he helped build
the Canberra and took a real pride in that. So it
, seemed no different. Something that interested me
was bringing people together who were in certain
ways very displaced.‘
True to the spirit of his previous work. Patterson’s characters are not the playthings of their
: environment. but rebels. artists, and refugees. ‘l'm
suspicious of revolutions but I am very interested in the idea of rebellion as a kind of permanent state,’ he
festival last month.
If talking to Patterson is like meandering off on the scenic route to somewhere-you-forgot-the-name—of. b’lai'k Night A: Big Thunder lllauntain attempts to bring together the disparate motifs of late 20th century life. The destruction of Vukovar. the fall of
‘I sound like a Presbyterian preacher here, but I have this idea of kaleidoscopic responsibility.’
‘l just got interested in the idea ofthe city.‘ explains
says. ‘l‘m drawn to the idea of constantly
: challenging things.‘ ‘ Laughing. g preacher here. but I have this idea of kaleidoscopic
' responsibility. Camus's tenet was that every action re-creates itself. You could say that every action re- creates the society as well and that‘s an enormously positive thing. As a citizen of any particular place. and ultimately of the world. you do have the ability to inﬂuence things.’
Having said all that. Patterson still regards Black Night At Big Thunder Mountain as a Northern Irish novel: ‘lt‘s filled with all the kind of preoccupations l have as someone who grew up here.‘
Black Night At Big Thunder Mountain is published by Charm & Windus on Thursday 6 July at f I 3.99.
he adds: ‘1 sound like a Presbyterian
bucking and diving ‘
For someone who avowedly Ioathes i Glasgow, Barry Graham makes his fictional characters spend a lot of their time there. In his latest novel, The Book of Man, MaryhiIl-born writer and performer Kevin Previn returns to research a documentary on his friend and mentor Mike lllingworth, a bisexual novelist, junkie and literary motivator who has recently died of I AIDS. But instead of a sense of awe, i the homecoming leaves Previn feeling at best Indifferent, at worst disdainful, i as he embarks on a meandering odyssey around his own troubled past.
Graham claims the setting is a matter of convenience rather than catharsis. ‘For me, place isn’t important,’ he
Barry Graham: driven by rootlessness says. ‘lt’s not a case of writing out of a deep sense of where I am, it’s just
that wherever I happen to he provides a few place-names; it saves having to make up names of other streets. So if :
living in an arty/bohemian area, it
3 the story calls for the characters to be; or a realist like Kelman: anything that
doesn’t advance the narrative is
makes more sense to set it in the west thrown out.’
end of Glasgow rather than find out about the bohemian quarter of New
Nevertheless, The Book of Man
contains such specific references to the city - mostly pejorative - that it’s
difficult to accept the disclaimer. ‘l’m
not saying there’s something wrong
with Glasgow, just that I hate it,’ says
Graham. ‘I’m sure people with good
experiences of the place love it.’ Knowing him to be a former
. bantamweight boxer, I’m prepared to duck and weave when proffering some
criticisms of the novel, which, I
suggest, has little subtlety or feel for
language, but Graham confesses limited interest in stylistic concerns. ‘I start everything I write with a one- sentence paragraph which I later take out: ‘This is what happened.’ It’s to
remind myself what I’m doing. I can’t
be a lyrical writer like Angela Carter
That’s not a wholly accurate 3 description of The Book of Man, which ‘ gathers momentum only when the bogus boho lllingworth fades into the background of Previn’s reminiscences. Just as Previn escapes his suffocating past life and achieves some kind of self-realisation, Graham himself is set to emigrate to the States shortly. ‘l’ve never felt that I belonged anywhere, and my characters don’t have any community,’ he says. Such rootlessness sets him apart from most of Scotland’s literary lions, a position he seems to relish: ‘I think Scotland’s a horribly small-minded place. Once I’m gone it could sink into the sea for all I care.’ Some might say Graham’s antipathy is a little below the belt, but no one could accuse him of pulling his punches. (David Harris) The Book of Man by Barry Gram ls
puhllshed by Serpents Tall at £8.99.