I haven’t as yet read A Decent Ride, Irvine Welsh’s new novel, but it was more than decent listening to him read, or more appropriately perform, several scenes at the Aye Write festival on Friday night. We all know Irvine Welsh is a phenomenal talent. And not just as a writer. During the referendum he regularly appeared on television, succinctly delivering a political message that was measured and passionate. I shouldn’t, therefore, have been so surprised at his all encompassing, deeply passionate, incredibly funny reading performance at the event, beautifully hosted by Kevin Williamson.
Irvine owned the stage; absolutely in character, all three of them, holding the audience, pulling us backwards and forwards as he commanded the heights from which his voice bellowed, owning the space, his narrative, and most importantly the characters he was compelling us to believe in.
Fabulous, utterly fabulous. A huge man, not just in height but in demeanour and delivery.
Interestingly, Kevin Williamson mentioned in the course of the conversation that Irvine has never won a literary award. Nothing. Not a single gong. One shortlist, many many years ago, an almost victory seemingly forgotten by the writer (who incidentally refuses to see being judged to be the ‘winner’ in such an event as actually winning anything as he’s not in competition with other writers, it’s not a race, or a football match…).
And yet here he is, his books not only best-selling but optioned for film with his audience baying like cats miaowing for his attention. It says something about who we are as readers, writers and publishers.
What we want as readers isn’t necessarily product perceived to be brilliant by the elite who garnish the reputation of writers. Irvine writes beautifully within the skin and tongue of the character, something the prolific, talented Scottish writer Chris Dolan also does with an equally committed passion.
Novelist, playwright and drama script editor Chris was sharing the stage with Ann Cleeves in a session hosted by Cargo Publishing’s Mark Buckland. Ann spoke passionately about her concern that the publishing industry doesn’t give writers the opportunity to grow and develop their skills and talent. Prior to her current success, she published a novel a year for twenty years, each story allowing her to build her technique and confidence. By the time Shetland became best-selling she had matured into her writing. This she argues, can’t happen now as publishers are unlikely to stick with a writer for more than two books, if you are lucky enough to have made it to a second.
Chris spoke about the transition from his literary writing to his crime writing. Storytelling, not labelling, he argued was important. Should we be categorising and suggesting that literary writing can’t be packaged in the so-called crime structure? He cited Dostoevsky, reminding us that Crime and Punishment is a beautiful work of literary brilliance, whilst at the same time, a work of crime writing. An interesting point indeed.
It was a fantastic discussion, the conversation moving from the lack of drama produced in Scotland, to Dolan’s suggestion that it was a mistake to weaken the “Glasgowness” of soap River City as it consequently narrowed its opportunity to appeal to a broad, non-Scottish audience in the way the incredibly successful Taggart has done; to Ann Cleeves’ informing us that when it comes to drama adaptations you have to be able to walk away and let the TV producers do their job. Not such an easy thing to do I suspect, given the very nature of writing is so individualistic and television writing often collectivist.
The conversation turned to creativity and Ann made a brilliant point that stayed with me, and I think always will. As writers we should never forget that our readers bring so much creativity to the process. We write the narrative but it is the readers who bring their own imagination to the story, seeing the characters, feeling each and every scene you are unfurling for them. As writers, we don’t do this alone, the end process is shared and may well become something outside your own thinking.
Interestingly, both writers spoke about their beginnings and offered advice for any of us wishing to make the transition to writing professionally. Chris cited one poet who spoke frankly at a writing event he was participating in. The poet simply stated, “embrace poverty”, a stark reminder that we write for the love of it, and the need to do it, not for the financial plaudits.
Ann offered some key advice. Simple but effective. “Get to the end”. And here I am at the end of this post but not yet at the end of my latest manuscript!
Have you been to any memorable author events lately?