BLACK COMEDY Barcelona Plates

Alexei Sayle (Sceptre £12)

It’s all his fault you know; he started it. In 1984, Alexei Sayle had his first novel Train To Hell published. Then all his mates got the idea. All well and good you might say, but now it seems anyone who’s graced a stage for ten minutes of stand-up feels compelled to treat us to 300 pages of their finest prose. Sayle is quick

5 to defend himself though: 'I was

Plates, is an anthology of darkly

certainly the first comedian of my kind to write a novel; an unsung trendsetter, as always.’

After a graphic novel and a collection of his newspaper columns, his latest book, Barcelona

humorous short stories, his trademark acerbic wit still firmly on display. ‘The books I had written before were, essentially, an extension of my comic oeuvre,’ explains Sayle. 'This is a different kind of writing. I hadn't ever really found a voice before, but when I started writing these stories it just kind of came together. It's a big jump forward for me as a writer.’

The stories in Barcelona Plates feature a variety of people and places, and his characters are often underdogs who go out and do something for themselves. They survive a myriad of often unpleasant situations, but there is one underlying feeling throughout: horror.

Scouse of horror: Alexei Sayle

This is something that fascinates Sayle. Not the horror of ghost trains or haunted houses but the terror of the real world. 'You don't need Freddy Krueger when you’ve got MS,’ he declares. 'That's real and is infinitely more scary than, say, The Exorcist. I wanted to write about the everyday things that can spiral out of control. Like not getting your dry cleaning back.’

He refers to a story in the book called 'Back In Ten Minutes' where a woman ends up in trouble with the law after the shop doing her laundry closes. ‘Near where I live there was this dry cleaning place called

‘Duds And Suds'. One day it shut and there was all this clothing just left hanging there and I thought, "what happens now?" The place has been closed for a year and it was like, "how the fuck do you get it back?" ' It is these peculiar sort of situations that Sayle illustrates so well in his stories.

As far as the future goes, Sayle claims he is grumpily contented with his lot as a writer. 'From the outside, being a writer looks pretty good but it is a fucking nightmare really.’ (Mark Robertson)

I Barcelona Plates is published on Thu 17 Feb.

A simple plan: Nicola Barker

COMING-OF-AGE FICTION Five Miles From Outer Hope

Nicola Barker (Faber £9.99)

It's a condition of being a teenager that your life is hellish. Of course, some people have a worse time than others, and sixteen-year-old Medve, the narrator of Nicola Barker's fourth novel, is beset by problems which may make your own pale in comparison. It’s 1981 and she is living in a derelict Dorset hotel with her family, a group which could be the dictionary definition of dysfunctional. When a boy named La Roux comes to stay, the strangeness in her already surreal life merely increases.

So, were Barker's teenage years anything like Medve’s? 'I wish they were,’ she laughs. ’I was a very serious,

political teenager. I was more likely to be found leafleting than anything else and spending a lot of time at gigs, wearing dark clothes and being aloof.’ This is a rather surprising revelation, as her narrative sparkles with both wit and imagination. Barker insists that simplicity is the key. ’I like complicated ideas expressed very simply, that’s my ultimate aim.’ But do her ambitions stretch to her work being compared to Catcher /n The Rye and Absolute Beginners, as has happened here? ’I don’t think it's fair to compare it to Catcher In The Rye, which is one of the greatest novels ever written,’ she protests. ’The comparison is more to pinpornt where it’s coming from. Otherwise, that would be huge arrogance.’ (Kirsty Knaggs) I Five Miles From Outer Hope is published on Mon 7 Feb.

preview BOOKS

First writes

Putting debut novelists under the microscope. This issue: Niall Griffiths Who he? Niall Griffiths was born in Liverpool in 1966 Hating spent time in many Cities across the UK doing Jobs ‘of varying degrees of dullness’, he now lives in Wales His debut novel took four years to complete

His debut It's called Grits and tells the tale of a grOup of young cliifters liVing in the small town of Aberystwyth, on the Welsh west coast Each character's story is told in their own rich and V|\’I(i dialect as they explore the agony and the ecstasy of the diurnal existence, aspiring to the spiritual through drugs, sex and alcohol, but generally condemned to the squalid. There is much in the way of 'blood, brine, piss, spunk, tears, sineg, spew and snot’ Not quite a cheery little bedtime read.

Basically . Basically, it reads like a supreme beast entirely of its own making, one which is immersed in tne Sights, sounds, emotions and drug- addled fumblings of a substantial proportion of the current British population,

First line test 'They are rnovrng through these green and desolate hills, stumbling blearily through a landscape smeared in rain, trampling the sheep-

shitted earth down above the bones of

tatterdemalion armies who once stood here, determined, bekilted and still'

Grand claims corner ’Grits is an

astonishing feat - pulsing on every page With the unmistakable brilliance, authenticin and spirit of a magnificently gifted writer haying the courage to write uncompromisineg from wrthin his own culture. It’s the book that land many other people hung in Britain and further afield have been waiting a long time for, a work which both challenges

and reaffirms the power of the novel'

(Irvine Welsh).

To whom the book is dedicated '10 My Grandparents,’

What's next? Niall Griffiths is Currently

- working on his second novel, the

wonderfully-titled Sheepshagger. (Catherine Bromley)

I Grits is published by Cape on Thu 77 Feb priced [ 70.


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