THE SHOCK OF THE NOVEL
Following the career-making success of The Cutting Room, LOUISE WELSH’s second novel confounds expectations, finds Allan Radcliffe.
ollowing up a succcssful first noycl is no casy task fora
young author. 'I‘hc dilcmma: do you simply rcpcat thc
triumphant formula that madc your dchut a must-rcad'.’ 01‘ throw caution to the wind and bring forth that cpic doorstcp of a non-lincar historical romancc that’s hccn hrcwing in your brain for scycral dccadcs'.’ Iiithcr way. to thc fang—toothcd and ycnomotts critics. you‘ll hc damncd if you opt for thc first and curscd if you plump for thc sccond.
[.ouisc Welsh. hcstsclling author of The ('ulting Room. faccd a particularly strcnuous uphill clitnh if shc was to conic anywhcrc ncar matching thc sttcccss of hcr dchut. Two ycars ago. thc ccric. atmosphcric talc of promiscuous gay auctionccr Rilkc — compcllcd into (ilasgow‘s murky undcrhclly on discoycring a scrics of \‘iolcnt pornographic photographs in a routinc housc clcarancc —- was mcrcly thc latcst hotly tippcd Scottish liction dchut. Sincc thcn. thc book has shiftcd from shop shclycs in haskctfuls. won a clutch of major awards. inspircd an imaginatiyc thcatrc adaptation. and is currcntly hcing lilmcd with Rohcrt (‘arlylc in thc ccntral rolc.
[)cspitc ongoing curiosity about thc richly imagincd Rilkc. his crcator has so far rcsistcd thc tcmptation to dash off a (7111ng Rmml 2. Ncithcr has shc spcwcd out a hloatcd. inacccssihlc tomc. Instcad. \Vclsh has optcd to follow thc monstcr hit with a slim. lictionaliscd account of lili/ahcthan playwright (‘hristophcr Marlowc’s final days. scnsationally cntitlcd loin/nutriin .llusl Div (‘.\'ot scnsational cnoughf laughs its author. ‘I think wc should hayc put an cxclamation mark at thc cnd. mayhc in thc shapc of a daggcrfl
'I‘hc 150 pagc noyclla starch lifc as a commission from \Vclsh’s puhlishcr. (‘anongatc ’l was askcd if I would likc to writc a hook with a dcad author at thc ccntrc.‘ shc rcycals oycr coffcc and 'l‘unnock‘s 'l'cacakcs in hcr hook-infcstcd flat in (ilasgow‘s Wcst find. ‘In a blink I kncw it would hc Marlowc. I had hccn intcrcstcd in thc lili/ahcthan agc and fclt thc contrasts and thc tcnsions would hc fascinating for a writcr to
try and imaginc. 'l’hc imagc l camc up with initially was of
linc yclyct dragging through thc mud. l fch you hayc this ycry culturcd socicty at thc timc with ama/ing art and thcatrc on onc sidc and harharism. hcads on spikcs. on thc othcr.~
\N'hilc it might sccm a dramatic dcpartttrc. Wclsh‘s attraction to thc notorious playwright is cntircly in kccping with the sclf—confcsscd fascination with socicty‘s murky fringcs that informcd ’I'lir' (ii/ting Rmml. An inspircd poct and playwright. whosc most famous crcation was thc ruthlcss Scythian handit and tisurping Pcrsian rulcr 'l‘amhurlainc. Marlowc was rccruitcd as a goycrnmcnt spy whilc at (‘amhridgc and spcnt much of his adult lifc cmhroilcd in scandal. including constant pcrsccution for hlasphcmy and homoscxuality. llc cycntually mct his cnd agcd 2‘). stahhcd to dcath in a l)cptford taycrn. ‘Marlowc to mc is likc a punk rockcr.‘ says \Vclsh. ‘I lc's Sid Vicious. .loc ()rton. Alfrcd .larrc.
Kurt (‘ohain cdgy. unafraid. passionatc. \Vc hayc accounts of
him hcing im'olycd in a murdcr trial. on thc wrong sidc of thc _ dock for othcr crimcs and in onc sourcc somconc says. “(‘onstahlcs go in fcar of him." I didn‘t want to glorify a young dcztth in thc hook. but to conycy Marlowc's passion. his wrong-hcadcdncss and thc cnormous scnsc of loss you gct whcn somconc brilliant dics young.~
’limzbur/umv instantly plungcs thc rcadcr into Marloch
pcrilous linal thrcc days. as thc tragic playwright attcmpts to fcnd off his many cncmics whilc dcspcratcly tracking thc murdcrous thrcat from a rcal lifc "lamhurlainc' (‘I wanch thc charactcr to hc running. moying. in jcopardy almost from pagc fiyc.’ cxplains \\'clsh.l \\'hilc thc author dahhlcs with thc languagc and phrascs of thc titnc (onc charactcr is dcscrihcd as looking ‘as plcascd as a dog in a douhlct‘l thc rockct- propcllcd noyclla also fcaturcs thc uncasy intriguc of a Raymond (‘handlcr or l)ashicl llammctt thrillcr. And. far from hcing thc hair—tcaring cxpcricncc that a sccond now] is rcputcd to hc. \‘y'clsh confcsscs that rcsponding to (‘anongatc's original challcngc. winding hcr imagination around hcr historical rcscarch. was actually cnormous fun.
:\s to hcr lcclings rcgarding thc ongoing succcss of Thy (lining Room. \Vclsh dcscrihcs thc hook‘s popularity as hcing ‘likc a drcam totally uncxpcctcd‘. Shc admits to haying hccn particularly plcasantly surpriscd at how warmly shc has hccn rccciycd hy thc 'crimc community". particularly as shc didn’t spccilically sct out to writc a crimc noycl. This acccptancc hrought hcr thc prcstigc of winning thc .lohn (‘rcascy .\lcmorial Dili—‘i—‘cr from thc ('rimc \\'ritcrs~ Association. as wcll as thc indignity of hcing photographcd for a maga/inc articlc mcnacingly wiclding just such a daggcr. Somcthing of a douhlc—cdgcd hodkin. surcly‘.’ ‘I hadn't lcarncd how to say "no" to \‘cry much at that point.‘ is hcr cxctisc. :\s to hcr transition from unccrtain crcatiyc writing studcnt at (ilasgow l'niycrsity to populist author whosc dchut iioycl hcars thc coyctcd 'hcstsclling‘ caption. wcll. of coursc. shc’s not complaining. And any way. pcrsonal politics would always hayc prcycntcd hcr from hcing onc of thosc lofty. iyory towcr writcrs whosc itigcniously craftcd work :Jocs totally unrcad. ‘You can't call yoursclf a socialist and not want your work to hc t'cad by as many pcoplc as possihlc.‘ shc shrugs. 'l‘hc rclcasc of this sccond noycl comcs at thc cnd of an industrious ycat' for \Vclsh. which has sccn thc lidinhurgh—horn author crcating two short radio plays and a couplc of scrics. including onc Rilkc- cstjuc inycstigation into thc roots of (iothic liction. \Vhilc shc
jokingly admits that onc of thc plcasurcs of writing is that ‘you
gct to go to work in your jammics‘. thc formcr dcalcr in sccond-hand rarc and antiquarian hooks wclcomcs thc opportunity to gct out and ahout.
'l loyc doing collahoratiyc stuff hccatIsc for so long I was in thc bookshop and thc door would hc opcn and anyonc could walk in and thcy did. 'l'hcrc would always hc somconc thcrc and it would hc a carry on and a laugh so doing thc radio and plays. mccting and intcryicwing pcoplc has hccn a rcal joy and a bonus for mc.’
\Vltilc \\'clsli is currcntly hack in hcrjammics. working on a ncw full—Icngth ttoycl. hcr hurgconing fan hasc will hc rclicycd to lcarn that shc has not rulcd out a rcturn to hcr much loycd carly crcation. 'I think I will writc ahout Rilkc again. ('anongatc hayc ncycr put any prcssurc to follow up ’l‘ln' (ii/ling Room straight away. but I do hayc idcas and a 'Rilkc Notchook’. .-\s onc puhlishcr poinch out to mc rcccntly. I‘ll probably writc a sctjucl just whcn it‘s commcrcially ttsclcssf‘ Tamburlaine Must Die is published by Canongate on Tue 3 Aug. Louise Welsh appears at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Fri 20 Aug, 8.30pm.
It»: ,‘ -'- THE LIST 21