An excellent line up at the Glasgow to Saturn party, despite the absence of Alan Bissett, an outstanding writer and performer. Duncan Muir, Kirsty Logan and Anneliese Mackintosh are all graduates of the Creative Writing programme at Glasgow University, and all have very distinctive, confident voices. JoAnne McKay is a scream: fantastic, witty, sexy poetry delivered in a dizzying variety of characters – although she confesses to being unable to do a Glasgow accent.
For my own reading, this was the first time I’d rewritten a third person story as a first-person performance piece, and I’m pleased with how it went. Faced with the microphone, my head tends to go completely blank for a second, but then the adrenalin kicks in, and I got through it making minimal reference to my cue cards. A new technique discovered!
I had a really interesting conversation with a guest after the reading who, quite rightly, asked serious questions about the purpose of a story that reveals sexual abuse in such graphic detail; is it justifiable to portray such scenes for entertainment? The guest was a psychiatrist who sees people every day suffering from the kinds of events I described: there is a huge ethical question, then, about how my fiction relates to the horror of their fact.
I can’t begin to answer those questions in any kind of satisfactory way: I just do what I do. Perhaps I have a wider sense of what “entertainment” is: for me, it includes challenge, the capacity to make someone feel angry or uncomfortable or, basically, to make them think. I don’t do it for shock value – well, not only for shock value – but if such things are to be spoken of, then they should be spoken of in ways that convey the reality of it. Ugliness shouldn’t be sanitised, it shouldn’t be buffed up and given a 15 rating; it should be out there, in all its squirm-inducing glory, for all to see if they want to see it.
As I say, it’s what I do, it’s where I go in my head when I write. There is often confusion between me and the characters I write about. I remember after one reading many years ago, a member of the audience said to me, “You’re either a really good writer or a complete and total bastard”: I was young and not a little hurt that I’d made someone think that about me, but I wish I’d had the presence of mind to pull her leg a bit and say, “Actually, I’m both.” It’s not easy, psychologically, emotionally or socially, to go down those dark alleyways – but I can’t turn away at the entrance to them because what might be down there could offend others.
Of course, we’re talking about matters of taste, and many find much of what I write and how I write and perform it distasteful. I’ll defend to my last breath their right to feel that way. But thank goodness taste is such a moveable feast, because it makes the world so much more interesting a place. My thanks to the elderly lady who tugged my sleeve at the end of the reading and described my writing as “astonishing” and “brave”: I can’t think of two words I’d rather have used to describe my work.
Thanks again to Alan, Nick and Sheila, and to Louise Welsh for hosting the evening.
Am looking forward to reading at the first “From Glasgow to Saturn” reading party at the Museum of Anatomy on February 24th. A suitably grotesque setting, I’ll be performing a version of one of the most misanthropic stories I’ve ever written, “Gathering of the Clan”.
It popped out of my head in Bulgaria during the summer, and surprised me because I’ve being saying for ages that I don’t write “like that” any more. It has a lot in common with the stories in “Occasional Demons” and is miles away from the writing I’m doing for my new novel.
It’ll be good to be reading publicly again (first time in about 5 years), and to be sharing the stage with some excellent writers, including Alan Bissett.
Thanks to Alan, Nick and Sheila for inviting me to participate.
I’ve just had a small section from my novel published by the online magazine “From Glasgow to Saturn”. Find it here:
Nice to be included in anything associated with the late and phenomenally great Edwin Morgan.