After success as a short story writer and play- wright, Glasgow-born author is ready to publish his first novel, Ascension Day.
Words: Brian Donaldson
IF YOU WERE TO GLANCE AT THE PART OF YOUR local bookstore which housed the work of Chris Dolan, you might get the wrong impression. At the moment, his short story collection Poor Angels And Other Stories stands alone, but it’s soon to have his debut novel, Ascension Day, for company. Theological tracts? Religious readings? Spiritual stories? The books could be all or any of those things, but the author himself would probably be happier to plump for the third description.
’My ambition is to write something that hasn't got some religious aspect to it in the title,’ confesses the 40-year-old Glasgow-born and based writer. ’lt’s all completely accidental and, to be honest with you, if Poor Ange/s was ever to be republished I’d change the title. It seemed right at the time, but not any more. But I was brought up into a Catholic background, 'and it has informed my life in weird and differing ways. I suppose my stories are about people who have a strong religious background or are still looking for the miraculous leap in other ways. Ascension Day is about the little moments of miraculousness in those people's lives; the transformative moments.’
Ascension Day, which comes four years after Poor Ange/s, tells of community and collective memory, through the stories of four very different people. William Grant, set to return to his native Glasgow having left to make a new life for himself in southern Africa
10 THE usr 22 Jul—5 Aug 1999
.My ambition is to write something that hasn't got some religious aspecttoit in the title.’
a quarter of a century previously, when he fell in love with someone he shouldn’t have fallen in love with; the delinquent, potential arsonist Cannibal, so named after falsely claiming to have bitten a chunk from his mother’s face; cancer sufferer Paris McFarlane; and Morag Simms, Paris's carer and the woman who makes the crucial contact with William Grant.
Given his writing career to date, there's nothing too surprising in Dolan’s debut novel feeling like a quartet of separate stories whose links and ties pull everything tighter as each segment experiences its own moment of revelation. ’What I’ve found is that the relationship between the short story and the novel in terms of writing is almost non-existent,’ Dolan believes. 'This novel is about four interlinking stories, but it's still a novel in that it begins and ends in roughly the same place. The main difference is the practicality of handling the massive amount of information and the amount of words which need to go into a bigger work.’
Practice not only makes perfect, but forms good habits. It shouldn't be seen as a particularly grave problem, but perhaps Chris Dolan’s career diversification makes writing novels seem harder. He has written for children programmes on Channel 4; penned the stageplay to one of his Poor Ange/s stories, ’The Mystery Of Sabina Vasiliev’,.and saw great success bestowed upon its theatrical incarnation, Sabina; won the Macallan Short Story Award in 1995 for ’Sleet And Snow’; done the whole writer-in-residence thing; and worked on educational projects in Namibia for UNESCO.
But his biggest task may be in attempting to convince the casual browser that he is not an ecclesiastical essayist. And what better way to do that than with his next work. ’My new play, which Borderline are putting on next year, is called The Angel Share.’ That sounds a bit Biblical. 'But it's not religious at all, it’s a term for the part of whisky which is lost into the atmosphere during maturation. But it’s yet another angel.’ Heavens above.
Ascension Day is published by Review on Thu 5 Aug priced £9.99.