Life on the outside
Murderer HUGH COLLINS's motives for writing his autobiography have been under scrutiny since its publication. He speaks about life under the spotlight. Words: Kathleen Morgan
Writer Hugh Collins will always be seen as a murderer. He has served a life sentence of sixteen years for killing a rival Glasgow gang member, but the label lasts longer than the punishment. 'Murderer is in the present tense,’ says the 46-year-old, sitting in a smart cafe bar in Edinburgh’s High Street. ’You can’t come back from it.’
His book Autobiography Of A Murderer, published last February, is reputed to be Glasgow’s most shoplifted book. A disturbing portrayal of male violence on the streets and in Scotland’s prisons, it has catapulted him from being just another ex-con into hot media property.
Until his release in 1993, life to Collins meant being shifted between Scottish prisons, including Barlinnie
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Hugh Collins: 'You can try and justify violence but when you strip it down it’s just violence.‘
Special Unit, now closed. It was there he met murderer-turned-sculptor Jimmy Boyle, whose autobiography A Sense Of Freedom was made into a film. Boyle is portrayed as a mentor in Autobiography Of A Murderer. Collins is more reticent now.
’Boyle pointed me in the right direction, but he wanted to save the Unit and his own position,’ he says. ’If I had stabbed a screw or something, they would have closed the Unit.’
Collins had already spent ten years in and out of prison when he knifed William Mooney in a Sauchiehall Street pub. It was the end of a fatal feud that began in Barlinnie years earlier, when Mooney beat him with a steel bar. Collins has conflicting feelings about the murder. He says he is haunted by the thought of what Mooney might have been doing now, but refuses to apologise for the killing.
’lt’s not going to bring William Mooney back if I apologise,’ he says, adding: ’I don’t think [the murder] ruins my life, but it causes me real problems.’
One of those problems is raising sponsorship for and selling his sculptures. He accuses Glasgow Museums of ’bottling out’ of buying his sculpture of Christ, completed while in prison. Collins thinks the reason is obvious: ’The minute my name's stuck on it, it’s "the murderer’s sculpture".’
It would be easy for someone with Collins's past to make money. Before his release from prison, he was offered £30,000 by Glasgow gangster Arthur Thompson Jr to shoot Paul Ferris. 'I had
no money,’ remembers Collins. 'I said: “What are you talking about, in the legs?" They said the head. It was too fuckin’ much.’
Collins insists violent crime is no longer an option: ’If I see danger, I get right out of the road of it.’ He is working on a second book Seven Days, exploring the reasons for male violence, and has so far refused to sell the film rights to his autobiography. He is discussing writing his own screenplay with Kevin Williamson, editor of publishing imprint Rebel Inc. ’If I handed the film rights over to someone I would be the hero and William Mooney would be the arsehole,’ explains Collins. 'The two of us were arseholes.’
Life for Collins in 1997 means living in Edinburgh with his wife, artist Caroline McNairn, and mixing with a small set of friends. He no longer sees
'If I handed the film rights over to someone I would be the hero and William Mooney would be the arsehole. The two of us were arseholes.’ Hugh Collins
his family, or Jimmy Boyle. He says McNairn has been the catalyst for his new existence: 'l’m not a women’s libber, I fuckin' hate all that stuff, but Caroline’s taught me a lot.’
His last word on Hugh Collins's past? 'There's only one kind of violence. You can try and justify it but when you strip it down it’s just violence.’
Hugh Collins (Book Festival) ESPC Studio Theatre, 220 3990, 11am, £4 (£3). Autobiography Of A Murderer by Hugh Collins is published by HarperCoIIins at £15.99.
Question time Gordon Legge
Cult Scottish writer; pop aﬁcionado and Rebel Inc veteran Gordon Legge, has a life apart from chronicling the dope fuelled antics of the twentysomething generation with comic flair.
WHAT KIND OF WRITER ARE YOU? Young and Scottish.
MOST FREQUENTLY READ BOOK: The NME Encyclopedia Of Rock 1976 - it’s always within arms’ reach in my flat in Edinburgh.
THREE THINGS THAT MAKE LIFE WORTH LIVING: Records, fags and Snickers Hungerbusters.
MOST TREASURED POSSESSION: My Specialised Sportsrock mountainbike.
BEST THING ABOUT YOUR HOMETOWN, GRANGEMOUTH: It's got an exceptionally good library.
HOW MANY RECORDS DO YOU OWN? My collection of CDs, records and cassettes comes to about 2000 albums and 1000 singles. I went shopping in town the other day, as I needed some new clothes like, and I came home with seven albums and two vinyl 12in from Fopp instead.
BEST SONG SUNG IN A SCOTTISH ACCENT: ’T he First Big Weekend' by Arab Strap.
POP HEROES: Kevin Rowland, Sly Stone, George Clinton, Lee ‘Scratch' Perry, David Bowie in the 705, Marc Bolan, Aretha Franklin in the 605 and 705, Morrissey in the 805 (and sometimes the 905).
WORST THING ABOUT BEING A MAN, APART FROM SHAVING: Being physically bigger than women, especially when you are sober and they are drunk.
GREATEST SPORTING MOMENT: When Neil Oliver scored for Falkirk in the 1997 Scottish Football Cup Final.
WORST SPORTING MOMENT: Ten seconds later when I realised the referee had disallowed the goal.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO DIE? Last. (Deirdre Molloy)
I The Shoe and In Between Talking About The Football by Gordon Legge are published by Polygon. Gordon Legge and Laura Hird read at the Rebel Inc Children Of Albion Rovers event, ESPC Studio Theatre, 77 Aug, 228 5444, 7.30pm (£3/f2).