Interview by Pat Black
Booksquawk speaks to Brendan Gisby, author of Lost Between The Bridges and founder of the short story site, McStorytellers.com.
Booksquawk: It would seem that Lost Between the Bridges has an element of autobiography to it – how much did you draw on real-life experience for the stories?
Brendan Gisby: That’s an easy one to begin with, Pat. All the stories in the collection are autobiographical. I think it was Hemingway who advised, “Write what you know.” For the most part, I try to follow that advice in my work, writing about real people and actual events from my life.
B: The stories revolve around bars and nightlife. How do you think nightlife has changed in Scotland over the years? Do you see any positive, more cosmopolitan habits emerging, or is it the same old pint-blootered-fight-chippie-taxi rigmarole?
BG: I hate to say it, but I’m probably too old now to answer that fully! However, having lived in both city centre and small town locations, I can say that Scottish city nightlife has become much more sophisticated in the last couple of decades. But I don’t think that’s as true of small-town Scotland, where there are still plenty of dimly lit, spit-and-sawdust pubs peopled by hard drinkers, local “characters” and wee hardmen.
B: You describe these as a depiction of “lost years” – and yet they're vital to your development. Do you ever think how things might have turned out differently for you in terms of the paths you took, either as a writer or in life?
BG: They were definitely formative years, Pat, during which I learnt lessons that stood me well in the years to come. So I wouldn’t go back and change one minute of them. But, yes, I do sometimes think that I could easily have taken a different path – studying Literature at Edinburgh University, for example, and going on to become a famous author and a member of the Scottish literati with an overblown ego. But then I don’t think I would have liked the person I had become. I’m happy I remained a working-class rebel!
B: Scotland is entering a time of change. In so far as it's possible to provide an answer that's not book-length, what's your feelings about possible independence and the artist north of the border?
BG: Pragmatism was one of the lessons I learnt during those formative years. When it comes to the question of Scottish independence, however, all pragmatism is blown out of the water and my heart rules. My mother was Irish, the daughter of a soldier in the Irish Republican Army in 1916 and beyond, so I was brought up on tales of the struggle for Irish independence, and I recognised from an early age the cruelty and utter arrogance of the Old Etonian-led English (sorry, British) Establishment; not the English people, I should stress, but their Establishment. My vision of an independent Scotland is of a nation rid forever of that Establishment, together with the English pound and the sycophancy that surrounds the English monarchy. Sadly, politics being politics, I know that vision won’t be achieved.
As for the impact of independence on Scottish artists, I’m not part of that elite and I don’t want to be (see “working-class rebel” above), so I couldn’t possibly comment.
B: Tell us a bit about McStorytellers, and the Edinburgh eBook Festival.
BG: McStorytellers is a website dedicated to showcasing the work of Scottish-connected short story writers. I set it up over a couple of years ago as a bit of a protest against other bigger sites where both the authors and the characters of the short stories they published seemed to occupy a sort of middle-class tweeland. Not surprisingly, therefore, the site is edgy and irreverent with a distinctly Scottish flavour. Since its launch in 2010, it has published over half a million words in more than three hundred short stories penned by some fifty authors, including regular contributors like yourself, Pat, and fellow-Booksquawker Bill Kirton. And it’s all for free! Currently the site receives in excess of ten thousand page views each month. Here’s the link.
McStorytellers has a residency at the Edinburgh eBook Festival. The Festival is the brainchild of Scots author and playwright Cally Phillips. Cally would be able to explain this much better than me, but it’s a virtual festival running in parallel with the official Edinburgh Book Festival. For authors and publishers, particularly those who support epublishing, it provides an alternative platform to the old, staid Festival that is dominated by the self-styled “cultural elite”, who are still struggling to grasp the whole epublishing thing. The eBook Festival was launched last year to much acclaim. The 2013 event promises to be bigger and even more successful. Here’s the link to the Festival site.
By the way, McStorytellers and the eBook Festival are jointly hosting a McCompetition this year called “Being Scots”. Any Scots-connected short story writers who read this might want to find out more here.
B: What are you working on at the moment?
BG: I seem to have been speaking about my latest work-in-progress for years now, but it is almost finished – honest, guv! It’s a novel, a fiction called “The Burrymen War”. As is the case with most of my work, it’s set in the Ferry, my hometown, and it’s characters are based on real people from there. While the story is about a fictional murder that’s committed during the Ferry’s ancient Burryman ceremony, the real aim of the novel is to demonstrate that religious bigotry and sectarianism in Scotland aren’t confined to football matches in Glasgow; they are alive and flourishing all over the country – and have been for hundreds of years. Anyway, if I was arrogant, I would say it’s a cross between “Trainspotting” and “The Wicker Man”. But I’m not. And it isn’t.
Read the book review here.