SCOTTISH SHORT STORIES
In her latest collection of short stories. Glasgow-based author
A. L. Kennedy tackles the rocky terrain of relationships and sex. She speaks to Deirdre Molloy.
Fiction grants trs sotrre mighty liberties —- total subtnersion in someone else's private world is one of them. And just like lloatariurrr treatment. you can feel a little unsteady on your pins afterwards. Looking twice at yourself. and others. is a commonly felt side- effect of this pursuit.
If an ()lyrrrpian dose of such quantum-leap imagining takes your fancy. you should read Scottish author Alison Kennedy's latest collection ofstories ()riginal Bliss.
Kennedy makes no bones about her entirely believable char'actcrs' sctr//.y atrd urrguessable dimensions -- she has rrrade them melting pots of conflicting thoughts and emotions.
‘Nobotly‘s thinking is neat. tidy. entirely sane. completely asexual and polite.‘ she says of her unflinching first person narratives. ‘l’eople just think .l‘llfll'. About every three minutes it's sex. And even the nicest people think: "I will now walk out of the shop withorrt paying." It's not that you‘re going to do it. but when you're writingthat close to a character yotr will get his or her odd ideas.‘
The novella-story which lends its title to the collection is awash with such protean detail. ()rigina/
A. L. Kennedy: tough lyricism
lr’liss charts the life-altering \oyage of middle-aged housewife llclerr Brindle away from a loveless marriage. Spurred on by disillusionment with (lod and a spiky curiosity about therapeutic pop- psychology. she encounters the inscrutable Edward E. (duck and finds that passion and self-disgust are not neatly drawn categories.
The 30-year-old Dundee-lmrn Kennedy. now comfortably settled in Glasgow. runs the gamut of viewpoints in this collection. An astronaut anticipates the cornedown from his final space assigrurrent; a
Scottish emigre in Oregon is bemused by her husband's unthinking contentment; an actor takes leave of a TV soap set.
The concept of boundaries in the fictional process strikes Kennedy as absurd — her last novel So [Am (ilml saw Cyrano l)e Bergerac dropping from French history into 1990s ('ilasgow. ‘lt's not tip to me.‘ Kennedy explains. ‘lf an idea arrives and it's obviously got life in it. I have to start thinking about it. It‘s half and half between choosing the subject matter and the subject matter choosing you.‘
An invitation last year to contribute to l’a/len .-lngels. a tribute by Scottish writers and critics to Edinburgh artist Jack Vettriano. resulted in the story "The .-\drninistiation ()flustice' - one of the nrost powerful narratives in Original Bliss. The paitrtirrg she chose depicted a crisply attired man in a judge's wig with a reclining naked female. ‘It looks as ifthe gtry is the boss — classically exploitative A - but it‘s not.‘ says Kennedy. like a lot ofJack's work. you bring to it what you have. so I looked at it and worked away front that.‘
Already the owner of a clutch of literary awards. Kennedy is busy mastering the art of producing original film scripts. She has already written Stella Does 'li'it‘ks. to be released this year starring Kelly Macdonald and a second screenplay. described as a cryptic thriller. is in the works. Meanwhile. So l/lm (ilml is being adapted by Amer Films. All that. and her next novel is 'praetically linished.‘
Perhaps it is her stor'ics' tough lyricism that hits home with readers and film directors alike. Happy or sad. her characters move through solitary passageways - something she defends with feeling. ‘llltirnately everybody is alone." she says. "l‘here are decisions and moments where however much yotr feel close to somebody. you‘re not them. liven if yotr are married. you are actually one person. and it's very rarely lll my experience that another person can solve evcrything.‘
()rigina/ Bliss by A. 1.. Kennedy is published ("I 'I'lnirs .i’t) Jan by Jonathan ('a/n' at £74.99. lllt’ (lIlI/HH‘ rear/s at the lz'rlinlnnjg/i Festival 'l'liean'e on Well 2‘) ./an. 7pm. Sec Him/r lirents. page 82.
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based author thinks they could even be described as social comic novels. ‘It’s still very much part of that tradition, i suppose, even though it looks like I’m writing this hideously filthy magical stuff,’ he says. Whatever the label, the truth is
class novels‘, Magrs’s fictional universe is one where transformation is a possibility.
The result is a ‘queer’ (in both senses of the word) insight into the issues of sex and gender and a sly satire on the recurring political
You can imagine some book shops having trouble knowing where to stock the books of Paul Magrs. They could fit into the gay section, the regional novel section, or even the magic realism section ~ if your local Waterstones stretches to such esoteric lengths.
The problem for bemused booksellers is that Magrs’s two novels, including the latest, Does It 8how?, fit easily into all of these categories and more besides. A fan of Ann Tyler, Angela Carter and John Irving, the 27-year-old Edinburgh-
Paul Magrs: writer of ‘hideously filthy magical stuff’
Magrs is operating ina little world of his own. His books explore the social fabric of the council estates of Newton Accliffe, the north-eastern English new town in which he grew up, with more than a hint of prefab surrealism.
Does It Show? examines the life and loves of the people of Phoenix Court. When Liz and her daughter Penny move in, l.iz is immediately embroiled in the domestic affairs of her neighbours, while Penny is privy to her English teacher’s sex life, in a world where transvestism and telekinesis are mixed with tea and gossip. And unlike so many ‘working-
debate over ‘family values’. Magrs’s parents divorced when he was young and the notion of ‘invented families’ is drawn from personal experience.
‘With my background and the kind of estranged parts of my family, we would accept that an inverted family is all there ever is, it’s all kind of improvised to some extent.’
What Does It Show? shows, then, is that such improvisation can be fun if you put your mind to it. Maybe you should check for it in your local book shop’s self-help section. (Teddy Jamieson)
Does It Show? is published by Bhaffo and Windus 3! £9. 99.
BO The List 24 Jan-6 Feb I‘)‘)7