"When we read, we start at the beginning and continue until we reach the end. When we write, we start in the middle and fight our way out." - Vickie Karp
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
Author Visit: Alan Bissett
Alan, thank you so much for taking the time to answer a couple of questions for us, I know that you're a very busy guy. Welcome!
If a person hadn't heard about you [how very rude indeed!] how would you sum yourself up as a writer?
My writing is kind of funny-serious. And, no two ways about it, it’s very Scottish. That said, the last one, Death of a Ladies’ Man, wasn’t about Scotland it was about sex, which meant more people in England read it. I write novels and plays in both Scots and English. Some of my books – especially the earlier books such as Boyracers and The Incredible Adam Spark, where barely a moment will go by without a Star Wars quote or Queen lyric – have pop-culture tourettes. But that’s getting better. My work, I think it’s fair to say, has a certain verbal element to it, and sometimes I perform it. Sometimes I perform it as a woman. Nae kiddin.
Speaking of being busy, you seem to be doing a bit of everything right now. Books, readings, writing plays, doing a one man [well, woman] show, films, teaching...you put all of us to shame. How the heck do you find time to write new material?
Things are happening at breakneck speed just now, right enough, which isn’t always what the life of a writer feels like. Basically, I’m going with ‘write what wants out that day’, and the results just happen to be taking all sorts of different forms. I’m saying yes to virtually any creative project that excites me at the moment, just to see what happens. You tend not to get a chance to do just crazy and try stuff very often. But it does feel like a lot of intense, short-distance sprinting, instead of the big, langorous, roomy feeling of working on one novel.
What is your favourite writing form? Or does it change all the time? How do you decide what form you're going to write in next?
I’m really enjoying writing plays at the moment, more than anything else. It means I can strip everything down to dialogue and I like the naked pulse of that. Film means thinking in images a bit more, which is perhaps harder for me, as my work is very talky. Novels are an amazing thing to have written, but they are exhausting beasts to actually write. Plays have just the right amount of zip for me just now. As for deciding which to write in, the ideas just appear in a certain narrative shape, which will dictate the form. If there isn’t much fat on the bone I’ll make it a script. If I can feel all sorts of psychological red meat in the character then it becomes a novel.
Your first novel was 'Boyracers' in 2001, can you tell us your story of writing to publication?
Well it was pretty clear to me from a young age that I wanted to be a writer; it was always the thing I felt happiest doing and I was encouraged by my teachers and my parents. As I got older that feeling intensified to the point where it became what I was determined to organise the rest of my life around. Which is not to say that it isn’t sometimes dispiriting work – especially as the rejections pile-up – but I never felt discouraged enough to give up. I started taking my writing very seriously from about the age of 22, when I found a fantastic writers’ group with an inspirational tutor, the poet, Magi Gibson, who was the first person who really helped me understand the craft. I started having some success with short story competitions, and by 25 I felt confident enough to complete my first novel, Boyracers. In 2001, it was picked up by Polygon, a small independent Scottish publisher, and found an appreciative readership (in Scotland, anyway!). Now that I’d proven to myself it could be done I saw no reason to stop. But that’s when the hard work really started, as I developed my first ever crisis of writing confidence, starting my second novel. But I got past that eventually. You start realise that your creative life just goes through stages.
You've said “I tend to think that a novel is like conducting an orchestra, fixing a car engine and talking to a psychotherapist all at the same time... it takes stamina as much as technique.” How do you personally go about writing a novel? How much do you plan ahead? Where do you start? How long does it take you?
Writing a novel is mental chaos. There’s no ‘method’. Sometimes I plan, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I can work on them quickly, other times they lie there half dead for weeks. Sometimes you junk six months’ of work. Sometimes a blinding flash of revelation will appear before your eyes. And this chaos usually goes on, for me, for about four years. That’s what I mean about stamina.
I've heard that your fantastic 'The Moira Monologues' [Alan's one man show, where he plays a woman, a cleaner, called Moira] is now being adapted for film, congratulations! Is it easy to set your 'baby' free like that for others to adapt?
It’s not difficult if you get the feeling that the creative team understand it and you repsect their vision for it. Although, I’m sure, with the best will in the world, I’ll have as many horrendous experiences as I’ll have good ones. But for many of these projects – including Moira, who has been bought by the BBC, I’m in there as a writer. So at least I’ll be able to influence and protect it in some way. That’s the theory anyway.
On our Book Forum, we have a Book Tree, where members choose their favourite book and post them round in a circle, so everyone reads each one and writes comments in them as they go. If you were to take part in our Book Tree, what book would you choose and why?
My favourite book of all time is American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, but that’s also not one I’d like to inflict upon people indiscriminately, which I think is so scathing in its political attack and so original in form that it really woke me up as a young writer. I read it the same year as I discovered Trainspotting so it was like discovering punk. A kinder choice to the Book Tree would be The Trick is To Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway, which is a great Scottish novel not known enough outside its own land. It’s a book quivering with truth, which articulates acute depression with more insight, wit and deftness than any other I can think of.
And, finally, what projects are you working on at the moment? Are you allowed to tell us?
I’m finishing my next novel, Pack Men, which is about three Glasgow Rangers fans’ disastrous trip to Manchester in 2008 to attend the UEFA Cup Final. I’m also writing the radio adaptation of The Moira Monologues and preparing the original playscript as e-book download with a live recording of me performing it, due in the new year on Cargo Crate, an innovate, young Scottish publishing company. I’m developing a potential TV adapation of Death of a Ladies’ Man. My first BBC Radio comedy script, The Crazy One, will be on just before Christmas. I’ve written the film treatments for a modern drama and a Horror film and a script for the stage version of The Incredible Adam Spark. There will be more new plays also. I just have to write them.
Alan Bissett was born and raised in Falkirk and now lives in Glasgow. He is the author of the novels Boyracers (Polygon, 2001), The Incredible Adam Spark (Headline, 2005), and Death of a Ladies’ Man (Hachette, July 2009).
Alan’s first play, The Ching Room, was commissioned by Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh and was shown at Oran Mor and Traverse in March 2009 to great critical acclaim. In the same month, Alan performed his own ‘one woman show,’ Times When I Bite, monologues from the perspective of ‘Falkirk’s hardest woman’ at the Aye Write! Festival in Glasgow. Times When I Bite is being adapted for film, and Alan has also collaborated with award-winning director Sacha Kyle on The Library (Arches/ Traverse, April 2009). He is a regular performer at Discombobulate, a monthly literature/comedy night which runs at the Arches in Glasgow.
He lectured in Creative Writing at the Universities of Leeds (2002-04) and Glasgow (2004-07), before becoming a full-time writer. He writes intermittent academic criticism, and a blog for The Guardian. In 2008 he was named Falkirk Personality of the Year, and the Daily Record voted him the 46th Hottest Man in Scotland, a title he takes very seriously indeed.
Boyracers is currently being adapted for film, having received funding from Scottish Screen. Alan is writing the sequel to the novel, to be published in 2010, set in Manchester on the day of Glasgow Rangers’ UEFA Cup Final appearance.
By day, Charlie Bain is the school's most inspiring teacher. By night he prowls the stylish bars of Glasgow seducing women. Fuelled by art, drugs and fantasies of being an indie star, Charlie journeys further into hedonism, unable to see the destruction his desires are leading everyone towards...
'Bissett's third novel is delivered with invention and flair'
'Hilarious, disturbing and hugely entertaining... Bain is a remarkable creation'
(Big Issue )
'He has pulled the sheets back on Lothario men and shown them lying there wriggling, pathetic, and bare-bummed...Bissett proves himself to be a fresh, compelling and distinctly Scottish literary talent'
(Scotland on Sunday )
'A high-speed, coke-fuelled rollercoaster ride through bars, classrooms and bedrooms'
Jen Campbell is the author of the best-selling 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' series, and her new book 'The Bookshop Book' is out now. She's also an award-winning poet and short story writer. Her poetry collection 'The Hungry Ghost Festival' is published by The Rialto, and she lives in London, where she works at an antiquarian bookshop. She is currently writing her first novel and she runs a Booktube channel over at youtube.com/jenvcampbell
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From the oldest bookshop in the world, to the smallest you could imagine, The Bookshop Book examines the history of books, talks to authors about their favourite places, and looks at over three hundred weirdly wonderful bookshops across six continents (sadly, we’ve yet to build a bookshop down in the South Pole). The Bookshop Book is a love letter to bookshops all around the world.