As author James Hawes' debut novel is given the ll'ainspotting treatment, his follow-up Rancid Aluminium is about to storm the bookshelves. Words: Teddy Jamieson
Forget about the Wild West. when it comes to selecting a locale for an on-the-button contemporary thriller. the extreme east is the choice of the discerning wordsmith.
Just ask James Hawes. whose second novel Rancid Aluminium follows a fat. balding 35-year-old business bloke from a traffic jam on the M25 to a cruise down the ' Volga in the company of some very unsavoury characters.
‘In many ways.‘ Hawes suggests. ‘Russia is very similar to America in the 1870s. completely lawless. gunmen everywhere.’
He should know. The genesis of Rancid Aluminium can be found in a recent trip the writer made to mother Russia.
‘I was actually invited to accompany an old friend of mine on this mad journey to take some EEC subsidy to the Lada place in Samara.‘ he explains. ‘He said: “Look. we’re going down in the old train with $8000 in cash. Do you fancy an adventure at the risk of being gassed?” ’
It appears Russian bandits have acquired a new trick of gassing everybody on board trains allowing them ease of robbery from the dead bodies. Saves on the bullets. presumably.
Fortunately. there were no such C02 moments. but Hawes has woven his eastern experiences into Rancid Aluminium.
‘Almost the entire Russian stuff was verbatim.‘ he says of his picture of pretty crime. endemic corruption and copious drinking. though the gangland execution. he admits. isjust fiction.
Rancid Aluminium starts with the aforementioned businessman Peter. head of commercial video company BlZVlD. worrying about his sperm count. the prospect of infidelity and impending bankruptcy. Before long though. he‘s up to his neck in Russian money Iaunderers and government agents. and though his sex life improves dramatically the question is how long will he be around to enjoy it.
‘His nice pension-padded life in the south east of England is confronted with a wild eccentric reality which in a way makes him more alive. though it may end up killing him.‘ is Hawes’s take on the story.
Anyone who has read the Swansea-based writer‘s smart. zeitgeist-happy debut White Marc Wit/z Fins — soon to be a major motion picture with a script by
90 THE UN 30 May-12 Jun 1997
‘When I wrote White Merc in 94 l was still referring back to my bachelor heaven and l was feeling like a fat old tosser. But now I feel like a young novelist.’
James Hawes: growing up after White Merc With Fins
John Hodge of .S'ltallmt' Grave and Trainspotting
notoriety — will know that two-thirds of the fun of
Hawes‘s work is not in the wound-tight plot. but in the caustic asides that pick at the scabs of our contemporary culture. Here. road rage. the morality of masturbation and the use of photocopiers as sexual aids all come under the microscope.
But before you write it off as just another cynical pop culture sneer. llawes is happy to argue that the book has an uplifting message for those of us on the dark side of 30.
"l‘he book is about a shifting of perspectives — from the perspective of the eternal adolescent to a perspective of a mature man. The implicit suggestion is you will feel stupid and old and fat as long as you are comparing yourself with you at 25. but if you start looking at all the big things you have to do. then you suddenly think: “Great. I‘m only 35. I‘m at the height of my powers.
‘And in a sense that‘s autobiographical with me. because when i wrote ll'liite .lIen' in 0-1 I was still referring back to my bachelor heaven and l was feeling like a fat old tosser. But now I feel like a young novelist.‘
‘l‘m much younger at so than I was at 34.’ he concludes with some relish. Roll on the next mad adventure.
Rancid Aluminium by James Hawes is published by Jonathan Cape at £9.99. See Scotland The Movie feature for news of White Merc With Fins.
The Write Stuff
Former writer for soft porn magazines Fiesta and Razzle, Nicholas Whittaker has written a book about his stint in the top shelf trade.
NAME: Nicholas Whittaker AGE: 44
PREVIOUS JOBS: At home in Burton- on-Trent it was all factory work. I moved to London in 1975 and was a civil servant for five years. Then I spent a few years trying to write a novel, unsuccessfully. In 1981 I thought, 'l've got to get a job.’ Looking through The Guardian one day I noticed an advert for assistant editor in men's glamour magazines, applied for it and got it. I was such an unlikely candidate but it gave a fascinating insight into this underworld of British sexuality.
ROUTE TO BECOMING A WRITER: A combination of reasons made me leave the girlie magazines — wanting to leave London, get out of the business and look after my son. I started as a copywriter and did a couple of stints on the Burton Daily Mail. Then I went to Derby University. While I was there I got the contract for my first book.
DAILY ROUTINE: I sort of please myself really, that's the good thing about being a freelance writer. Most days I go down to my mum’s for dinner.
INFLUENCES: George Orwell was always like a godfather figure to me, not because I think he's technically brilliant, but I like the spirit of the man. Nowadays I'm into a wide range of stuff: Will Self, Bill Bryson. I like French films and I'm a big fan of the Ealing comedies.
AMBITION: To write a novel. My third non-fiction book is going to be about sweets and ice-cream. While I'm doing that I've got a novel I'm hoping to finish. It should come out in 1999.
FEARS: Not being taken seriously is my biggest fear. I'm a bit conscious of being a late starter.
INCOME: I’m leading a decent but modest life. For the sweets book I've been offered £8000. I'm still in a position where I have to write off begging for freelance work, but having had the book sales, it's a lot easier to convince people that you're professional. (Deirdre Molloy)
I Blue Period: Notes From A Life In The Titi/lation Trade by Nicholas Whittaker is published by Gol/ancz at £9. 99.