1. Where are you? Describe your surroundings.
I am in my office. It is one of the bedrooms of my house in Edinburgh. I am seated at my desk – a very basic trestle table bought in London back in the 1980s. I remember hauling it home on the tube from Tottenham Court Road to Tottenham Hale. I am typing this on a really old, coal-fired laptop.
2. My three year old son’s current motto is ‘Every day is a skirt day’ usually delivered from beneath a Spider-Man mask, a foam sword swishing through the air for supplementary emphasis. Do you have a motto? Something that sums up your philosophy of life?
A motto? Never thought of one. A philosophy of life? Punk taught me: just get on with it. No musical ability? – get in a band; want to be a writer? – just give it a go.
3. I met Richard Brautigan’s daughter, Ianthe, a few of weeks ago at the Dinefwr Literary Festival. With a couple of friends I performed a suite of songs influenced by her father’s book ‘The Abortion (A 1966 Historical Romance’). She told me “My dad would’ve loved tonight but he would have totally ruined it”. Have you ever innocently harshed an evening through drunkenness? Like, oh I don’t know, calling a member of Big Star a ‘bellend’ or sticking two gold discs up your jumper in one of Duran Duran’s house and running off with them?
Oh, drink has been my downfall many a time. It makes me loud and obnoxious – not all the time, but sometimes. I always feel guilty the next day. Mind you, I’ve often made an ass of myself without the need for drink. It’s a character fault. Many writers - and many Scots - can turn quickly from Jekyll into Hyde.
4. “Complexities annoy me; they irritate me; then this progressive feeling presently warms into anger. I cannot get far in the reading of the commonest and simplest contract—with its “parties of the first part,” and “parties of the second part,” and “parties of the third part,”—before my temper is all gone.” Wrote Mark Twain in his ‘Chapters From My Autobiography’. What irritates you?
All sorts of things, dependent on mood. The slow traffic on the A9 between Perth and Inverness (having just done that drive); people who drive through red traffic lights as I’m trying to cross; people who use umbrellas as weapons in the rain; loud people in restaurants; mobile phones on trains… Really, best not to get me started.
5. I didn’t watch the Olympic opening ceremony last night. I spent the evening on a moonlit Cornish shore collecting shells and listening to the whisper of the tide as it crept up the beach. Are you Interested in the Olympics? Did you feel yourself represented in any way during the opening ceremony?
I watched the Olympic opening ceremony on a mate’s mobile phone. There were three of us huddled round it, in a house without TV. It was bizarre but highly watchable. Did I relate to any of it? Sure, the NHS stuff. It hit home because we seem to be living through the dismantling of that amazing project.
6. I’m sitting on the platform at Truro. Opposite are two young men, obviously tripping. One of them clutches at his face, as if trying to rip the webs of hallucagen from his eyes. The other points at a seagull, parading nonchalantly before them and says “Who’s that?” over and over. A train pulls in and they disappear. Once the last carriage has pulled out the platform is full of passengers heading for the exit. I watch them, struck by the different walks on display. The old lady with the straight legged march like a toy soldier, the fat man with the hurry gurdy limp, the majority of people appear to have at least a minor uneveness of gait, the young man with the headphones who strolls like a bear, the skinny girl in big sunglasses who swings her free arm like it’s a metronome, measuring her steps as she strides towards death and the pissed guy, with the sneer, the sandals and the giddy legs. How would you describe your walk?
Ah me, a touchy subject. I used to think of myself as a power-walker, passing everyone else as I strode purposefully towards my destination. But recently I’ve noticed that my 20-year old son walks faster than me. I’m 52 and have trouble keeping up. Sometimes I ask if we can pause for a moment. The horror of the journey towards old age, encapsulated right there. I had a friend at school called Jock; he didn’t so much walk as bounce, as though gravity were fighting to keep him earthbound. I want to meet him again, to check how he walks these days.
7. I’m watching ‘Thunder Rumble ’ an episode from the original Spider-Man cartoons. It’s ace, the painted backgrounds are beautiful and the music, from the glorious vaults of KPM, is a riot of firework horns and dancing strings. The plots are silly and far fetched, even for the genre but it’s much better than the nineties cartoon with the awful Joe Perry penned theme tune, a vocoder dirge devoid of, well, just about everything that made the original theme so great. When you get The Call, in the chill of night when the good and gentle are safely asleep in their beds, what is your costume, what are your powers?
My costume and powers? As a writer, I crave invisibility. Novelists are voyeurs at heart. We relish the chance to study our fellow human beings, stealing bits and pieces of their lives - vocal tics; mannerisms; foibles. This would be easier if I were invisible. I could sit in the corner of a living-room or bedroom, studying and filing away for future use. But I’m guessing I’d have to be naked, otherwise my costume would be visible. And that’s probably creeping towards perversity if not vaulting over it, so best leave it there.
8. Favourite album sleeve?
Favourite album sleeve – maybe Let It Bleed by the Rolling Stones. As a kid I was fascinated by it, all those layers (pizza; film can; bicycle wheel), then when you flip it over the cake has been half-demolished. And that’s before I knew it was made (the cake) by Delia Smith. Pretty decent album, too, though I hated it when I was eleven.
9. When I was twenty my friends and I wrote to John Peel asking him to play an album that we hadn’t even made yet. We kept it up until we recorded it and then sent it to him. One night I was in my flat at 58 Huskisson Street in Liverpool 8 listening to his show. He said “I’ve had a lot of letters about this next album, I strongly suspect they were sent by the band themselves..” He then played a track from the album and while I was jumping up and down on my bed the phone in the hall started to ring, I ignored it but it was picked up by somebody else in the house who shouted through the door that it was for me. It was John Peel, asking if we wanted a session. Describe the best two minutes of your life.
Well, I nearly had the same experience as you. Handed a slip of paper to Peel at one of his roadshows. He then read it out on air. Alas all it said was ‘Good luck to the as-yet unnamed punk band from Cowdenbeath’. He never played the demo tape we eventually sent (as the Dancing Pigs), and we split up not long after. So instead of that I’ll opt for the first two minutes after my name was read out as winner of the Gold Dagger Award for my novel ‘Black and Blue’. After years of grafting, those 2 minutes represented validation, and provided the realisation that maybe I could make a go of this writing lark after all.
10. Favourite room in the house?
I am sitting in my favourite room: computer, chair, sofa, hi-fi system and thousands of albums , plus a framed photo on the wall of me making Keith Richards laugh.