Thursday, 27 December 2012

Dead Man Talking # 11 - McDroll

Strachan McQuade (deceased) interviews McDroll


While dipping my writing toes into the dangerous, oil slicked waters of the underground flash fiction Noir scene this year, one name kept cropping up time and time again. That name was McDroll. The style was uniquely Scottish and I discovered McDroll’s work didn’t restrict itself to the Noir scene but crossed over into tales of colourful slice-of-life drama seamed with sharp barbs of satire and substance-abuse soiled pathos. McDroll’s stories can be found on web sites like Shotgun Honey, All Due Respect, and Near to the Knuckle. Other stories can be found in the anthologies – Off the Record, The Lost Children, Burning Bridges, and True Brit Grit. McDroll is also the author of the crime novella The Wrong Delivery and the short story collections Kick It Together and Kick It With Conviction. McQuade looked quite scared before undertaking this interview. After reading the transcript I can’t say I blame him.
Strachan McQuade R.I.P.
McTroll
McQuade: This week's action on Dead Man Talking takes place beneath the crumbling and mildewed arch of an old stone bridge somewhere near Lochgilpead.. So why here in this dank, cavernous spot where the only entertainment to be found is reading the semi-literate sexual boasting on the graffiti stained walls or counting dead, bloated rats as they float past in the turgid surge of dirty water under the bridge? The answer to this question will become only too obvious when my latest guest arrives. Hang about....... Who's that trip-trapping over my bridge? Yes, of course, it's none other than the celebrated McTroll!

McDroll: Sorry to disappoint you Rev but McTroll, as I’m sure you actually know, is my Scandinavian noir writing cousin. I’m McDroll. Being Scandinavian, McTroll is far too popular now to stand beneath a dank, leaky bridge being interviewed by the likes of you. My back may be bent and you may see hair sprouting from my chin in an unfavourable light, I may be considered Trollesque by some, but my lack of personal grooming comes from being slumped over my trusty laptop for many years, sitting in the dark of my damp cave with nothing but the lapping water on the shore of the loch for company as I write my unique blend of comic noir and crime stories from the glorious West of Scotland. I am a very poor relation who has to log-on to the local Laird’s Wi-Fi incognito. Thank goodness he went digital when he ran out of local virgin daughters to ravish up there in his castle. He now spends most of his evenings on-line searching for young Eastern European virgins to invite over to his estate. Yes, living in Argyll sure has changed and I am doing my best to fit in with all the modern trends. 


McQuade
: What? You're not an actual Troll? By Jove! You mean to say I've been shivering under this foul smelling old bridge catching my death of cold for nothing? The research team will be hearing about this and no mistake. Anyway, McDroll - despite not eating people alive or for that matter bearing no resemblance to Shrek although your skin does have an unusual green pallor, you do have a habit of setting your stories in the social gutter where poor people with questionable IQs get up to all sorts of lo-jinks. Why write this type of tale? Surely it only encourages these underprivileged benefit-scroungers to stay rooted in their own reeking swill instead of aspiring to improve their lives by seeking gainful employment in the Civil Service - or at
least to shop somewhere other than Pound Land.



McDroll: Listen Rev, you’re hardly going to catch your death of cold out here; I can come up with far more interesting ways to do you in, if you weren’t already dead. All you have to do is ask. Have you no imagination? Being a man of the cloth, I thought you would have been more au fait with ‘the social gutter’ than me. Perhaps your taste is more for the landed gentry, the huntin’ and shootin’ brigade, ee gads, there’s enough of them around in Argyll. Would you really have me write about pheasant shoots and government subsidised hydroelectric schemes? You see, I’m not a native of Argyll but a citizen of Kilmarnock, the Ayrshire town that makes Ayr look posh; the land of the Killie pie and the florescent tracksuit. These people have a message that must be heard; a passion to be shared and a unique creativity that is employed to fill their empty days with utter garbage.




McQuade: Kilmarnock? By Jove, that explains much. I seem to remember one Christmas Eve carol service where I had a few too many sherrys and instead of using my impressive baritone to lead the choir in a stirring rendition of Hark the Herald Angels Sing, I got confused and sang My Big Kilmarnock Bunnet by mistake. I believe I still remember the words. (Clears throat)
Wae ma big Kilmarnock Bunnet As I ran to catch the train.
I'll never forget the trick that was played on me by Sandy Laing
He said "Mind Jock when ye get tae the toon speir ye for Katie Bain,
Ma Loon, she bides at number eichty street in Glesca.

Magnificent wasn’t I? I have to say the acoustics are very clear under this bridge.





A Big Kilmarnock Bunnet
 McDroll: So Rev, is it true, as I remember reading in the Sunday Post a few years back, that you then travelled to Glasgow wearing the Kilmarnock Bunnet that was presented to you on that night, and you were left only wi’ your drawers and shirt, and your big Kilmarnock bunnet smeared wi' dirt, as you ‘visited’ your favourite Glasgow haunts, or was that street corners?

McQuade: Lies! Lies! Lies! If you must know all I did was ask a prostitute if she had the time as my watch had stopped. And I’ll thank you for never mentioning that incident again. Now, McDroll, you recently contributed a story for the charity anthology 'A Night at the Movies' where all the stories were named after famous film titles. I did submit a smashing story to that same collection called ‘Memento’ but the editors turned me down flat probably due to my age or lack of a pulse. My version of Memento is however available for perusal on the McStorytellers Web site and here on Watson’s badly written blog page. Your choice of movie title, was Gregory's Girl. Any specific reason why you chose this title? Perhaps the usage of the name Gregory combined with the central theme of the movie focussing on a teenage date - a juxtaposition which in my mind conjures up an allegory of the Gregorian calendar. Am I close?




McDroll: Not even in the ballpark Rev. I think you are still showing some of the signs of borderline Alzheimer’s disease that you described so eloquently in your autobiographical tale, Memento. My, my, you did come to a sad end but it does explain a lot about your constant confusion. No, I fight against the pretentious twats that chose to base their contributions in the anthology on arty films that nobody’s even heard of, never mind seen. My crusade is to promote the ordinary Irn Bru swilling Scot, the plooky teenager and underage mother. Japanese 12th Century Samurai Gamera pseudo comedies do nothing for the cockles of my heart. Give me a gawky love story from Cumbernauld any day. That’s real life, that’s what Scottish people understand. Bella, bella.



McQuade
: Bella, bella indeed. In truth I only watched the film for the cameo appearance of Chic Murray who gave true meaning to the word 'Droll'. If anyone deserved to take the name McDroll it should have been him. You’re a poor second choice but you've got the name now. So take good care of it please.



McDroll Ah yes, my dear old grandpa. He played the headmaster in Gregory’s Girl and since then has been a role model for many a misguided head teacher.




McQuade: Back to business. One unnamed reviewer (Editor – It was McQuade!!!) described your work as an alternative version of the Sunday Post aimed at the psychotic and criminal underbelly of Scottish culture. Did you read the Sunday Post as a child and perhaps still harbour a grievance over its parochial and twee style of news coverage? Please note that I refuse to hear a single harsh word said against The Broons. By the way you have what appears to be a used condom stuck to your shoe.



McDroll: At last Rev, you have hit pure gold; you are now in a rich cultural seam, the life-blood of Scottish literary heritage. This bridge that we now stand under is the very place where Oor Wullie took his life. This is not a generally known fact, the Dundee mafia have covered it up for years but Wullie eventually grew up. His wee black dungarees didn’t fit him anymore and his galvanised bucket was beyond repair. One dark night, he threw the pail over the bridge and watched it sink to the bottom of the river. He then slowly cocked his leg and climbed over the sandstone parapet and for the last time, he made sure his hair was sticking up in perfect spikes before he slowly wiggled over the edge and fell to his doom. He’d turned to a wee fly puff on the crack pipe and he just couldn’t look his mammie in the eye anymore. It’s for Wullie’s memory and the other wee boys like him that never managed to get a step up in the ladder of life that I want to tell the world about their hardships and pain.



McQuade: What a sad tale. Pity it's a load of unadulterated rubbish which I suspect you made up on the way to this interview. However, here is a true tale which also features a galvanised bucket. When I was a young lad, the older ruffians would sometimes tie me to a tree with a bucket stuck over my head and then proceed to play Cowboys and Indians. They of course pretended to be Red Indians while I was…… Pail Face.


McDroll: Was that a joke Rev McQuade? My goodness, you must have been at the sherry!


McQuade: I’ll have you know that thigh-slapping anecdote went down very well at the Young Mothers Association and was the cause of many a damp gusset, especially among those who hadn’t been sticking to their pelvic floor exercise regime. What are you doing McDroll? Are you actually eating sandwiches down here in this disgusting hell-hole? While you masticate upon your fish-paste budget-priced high-starch bread sandwich please ponder upon this question. Which writers in particular made you want to vent your own stories of crime and social decay upon the world?



 

McDroll: Other than Oor Wullie, I’d have to say it would be that master of Cumbrae literary fiction Douglas Lindsay, the posh boy from Ayr, Tony Black and the Godfather of Orkney, Allan Guthrie. But I’ve got a couple of things they haven’t got and I have no qualms when it comes to using my huge advantage.


Tony Black ...erm we think












McQuade: Hmmmm. Not too huge an advantage I hope. (Editor – Behave, McQuade) Good heavens, it's uncomfortably cold even for a dead man standing here under this draughty bridge. Let's wrap things up so I can return to my centrally heated coal bunker. You, I imagine will head for the nearest public house. So tell me McDroll, what's your next book about? A change of style hopefully? Why not write about a country vet who gets into hilarious scrapes with rabid animals and their rich owners? It worked for James Herriot, you know.




McDroll
: I see you have a predilection for the tweed jacket set. But no, I cannot be tempted and anyway, I prefer to kill dogs in my stories not fix them up. My current WIP is set fair and square in the heartland of Kilmarnock with a little foray up the road to Irvine. It begins, as a lot of my stories do with a dead dog, this one being used as target practice by the hapless Beeny, a typical Killie lad who only washes his hair when the sun can be seen in the sky. This gormless youth and his mental superior Jango, scrape by on petty crimes in between the odd tin of extra strong value lager. As the story progresses, the demon duo become sucked into a world of crime way beyond their understanding and I see it as my challenge to record their bumbling antics as they swim with the sharks.



McQuade: Yes, indeed I do enjoy wearing my tweed jacket. I feel it elevates one above the common throng. I do remember my late wife Edith requesting Tweed for her birthday and she looked most disappointed on the big day when I presented her with a herringbone patterned tweed hat instead of perfume.

McDroll: At least you didn’t give her the Kilmarnock Bunnet that got you into all that trouble. Did your wife ever forgive you for that little escapade?

McQuade: Never, if you must know. But she's long dead so who cares. Anyway, good luck with the new book. Just remember to have Beeny and Jango sing a few verses of 'My Big Kilmarnock Bunnet' when they've finished shooting holes in dead dogs. Such an addition I'm sure would add a touch of poignancy to the proceedings. You'll be very glad to know this interview is now finished and you can return to whatever wretched Argyll hamlet you call home and have your weekly bath.

McDroll: I think, in your honour, I’ll have both of them wear Kilmarnock bunnets and I think I’ll search through the archives of the Sunday Post just to refresh my memory of just what exactly you did get up to that night in Glasgow. How long was it before the police released you from that lamppost?

McQuade: That was no lamppost, McDroll. That was my… (Editor – That’s quite enough, McQuade) For your time and trouble I would like to present you with this ivory handled Potato-Peeler, which may have been used by Scottish actor Alec Guinness in the Star Wars movie. I hope it assists you in the peeling of raw potatoes before you spoil them by turning them into fat-laden chips or fritters.

McDroll: I hope it’s a left-handed one…

McQuade: And do be careful, McDroll, about that loose paving stone at the edge of................................

SPLASH!

McQuade: Ah well. No need to take that weekly bath after all, McDroll. I'll bid you goodnight.


Check out McDrolls Stuff on Amazon.co.uk

Check out McDrolls Stuff on Amazon.com

Go visit McDroll’s Blog

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Dead Man Talking # 10 - Mark Billingham

Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews  Mark Billingham



My first introduction to Mark Billingham's books came back in 2002 when I was travelling back from Paris on a slow moving bus and panicked when I finished the book I was reading (Boris Starling's 'Messiah') before we'd even reached Birmingham. Thankfully the drive stopped at a service station, and desperate for fresh reading material to wile away the long hours of motorway travel ahead, I emerged with a paperback called ‘Sleepyhead’ by a then unknown (to me anyway) author. Sometimes you just strike lucky. I've been a huge fan of Mark Billingham's books ever since. Now with his fictional detective, Tom Thorne, a household name, Mark has been every bit as successful with a couple of standalone novels - the latest being the highly addictive 'A Rush of Blood'. I really did feel forlorn each time I had to lay it aside to do rubbish stuff like sleeping and going to the toilet. I had this great idea of interviewing Mark in a morgue with Phil Hendricks cutting up a body in the background but Strachan McQuade had a more theatrical  idea...........

Strachan McQuade R.I.P.

Mark Billingham


McQuade: By Jove! There's no expense spared on Dead Man Talking this week. We've recreated an exact replica of the famous Glasgow Empire variety theatre and filled it with thousands of taciturn Glaswegians smoking fags, guzzling Indian Pale Ale and munching on fish suppers. You join me just as so-called stand-up comedian, Mark Billingham, is being soundly booed off stage in time honoured fashion for having the cheek to imagine these poorly dressed social misfits will understand his English sense of humour, or even his accent come to that. Oh dear, someone has just thrown a turnip. Ha! Missed by a mile. Hang on. Did someone just yell Tosser from the front stalls? How the hell did Stephen Leather get in here? Security! Eject that man immediately. And don't forget to shoot the three rows of sock-puppets sitting directly behind him.

Hello and welcome to Dead Man Talking, Billingham. I shouldn't worry too much about the partisan audience response. I've seen all the comedy greats die a miserable death in this graveyard for entertainers. Morecambe and Wise, Roy Hudd, Arthur Askey, and even Harold Wilson. So, stop shaking in your shoes and answer this three part question. Firstly, what gives you a bigger adrenaline rush - performing live on stage or having a new book hit the best seller charts? Secondly, what's the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you while treading the boards? And thirdly - can I have that turnip?


Billingham: I’ve died many times, so I’m not scared! Should I be? (Editor - You have no fear of turnips? I’m impressed.) The two adrenaline rushes are very different. It took me a while to get used to how different they are. With stand-up, it’s an instant thing. You know straight away if a joke has worked and believe me, you know very quickly when it hasn’t! It could not be more different with a book. You write it, you deliver it then it might be a year before it comes out. You get a few reviews, some reader feedback, but you’ve no idea how it’s being received by the vast majority of your readers. It’s still a buzz though. I still get excited seeing the books in shops or being read. The day that stops being exciting is the day to quit. Stand-up in the clubs is something I’ve stopped doing now. I miss it, but still get my performing jollies at book festivals when the audience will be subjected to some cheap and cheerful gags before I read anything.


McQuade: I've only died once and that quite enough for me. Especially when my life flashed before me and I had to sit through thousands of my own boring Sunday sermons. Not to mention that unfortunate incident with the cobbler's flirtatious niece. Ahem............ maybe best if I don't elaborate.

While writing my best-selling novel, 'Invergallus' - any time I wanted to change the location to somewhere more swanky, like Stranraer or Girvan, I had to steal glossy brochures from our local travel agent to obtain useful research material. These days writers simply hop on a Lear jet and swan off to all sorts of glamorous places. Your latest book, the excellent 'Rush of Blood' was partly set in Florida. Was the location really necessary to the plot? Or did you just fancy a cheap, tax-deductible holiday in the sun?



Billingham: It’s a fair assumption, but the truth is that I’ve had a house out there for a few years, so it’s a part of the world I’ve come to know fairly well. It seemed the perfect place to set that part of the book; somewhere that seems like paradise but with a dark side.


McQuade: What? You own property in Florida? Ha! Bet you fell victim to one of those Time-share scoundrels who were doing the rounds some years ago. I too neglected to read the small print and found myself paying two thousand pounds per annum to sleep in a converted septic tank in Ullapool. I'll wager it still smelled better than Florida.

Now, in your educated opinion, who was the greatest ever Country and Western singer? Slim Whitman, Hank Williams, or Ted Rodgers (without or without Dolly Parton).



Billingham: Do you really need me to tell you? Hank was the daddy. All those great songs and dead in the back of a Cadillac at 29. An absolute legend and an artist I never tire of listening to. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m partial to a bit of Slim too…






McQuade: I do quite enjoy Scotland's very own King of Country and Western, Sydney Devine, when in the mood for songs about dead dogs and faithless women. Sometimes just to mix things up I also listen to Kenneth McKellar singing about dead women and faithless dogs. 



There was much laughter and derision when tiny-teeny little Tom Cruise was cast as Lee Child's huge Jack Reacher character. However, not too much was said when Tom Thorne, a bit of a short-arse like myself was played on-screen by that veritable twelve foot giant, David Morrissey. Do you think producers and casting agents actually read  books before filming? Oh look! The Bag-Pipe Playing Horse is on stage! It’s amazing what performing animals can be trained to do. Oh sorry, you’re waiting to answer the question, aren’t you.


Billingham
: Well, I think the difference in stature between Cruise and Reacher is rather greater than that between Morrissey and Thorne! In all seriousness, I don’t think it matters a toss. When your character has a screen incarnation, all you really want – the best you can wish for – is a good actor, and with David I had one of the best in the business. I loved what he did with Thorne. The truth is that no actor will ever live up to a reader’s expectations. Every reader will have a different picture in their head. That’s what makes reading such a unique experience; such a different experience from watching a film or a TV show. Bloody hell, that horse is seriously talented…

McQuade: Steady on,
Billingham, it's not that talented. I did notice a few flat notes during the intro to Amazing Grace.

Now, although a great admirer of your Tom Thorne novels, I am somewhat dismayed by the amount of time he spends gambling and playing on-line poker. Wouldn't Thorne be a more upstanding role model for today's younger generation if instead of poker you had him playing cribbage or internet Bingo? Here, you waffle into to this Dictaphone while I stand on my head. Ever since I expired my circulation has been a bit sluggish. The only way to keep the blood moving from head to feet is to behave like a human sand clock and turn myself upside down every now and then. It can be inconvenient, especially while queuing at the butcher's but on the plus side I can now make the perfect boiled egg without investing in an egg timer.




Billingham: Actually, Thorne only really went through that in one book. I went through it myself for rather longer and in fact, I still play poker every week. Only with friends, though. Thorne tends to take up my habits at one time or another. He shares my musical tastes and is a football fan like I am. He doesn’t share my passion for Victorian taxidermy and spooky doll’s heads though. Have I said too much?

McQuade: Most definitely, sir. Victorian taxidermy is viewed as very much a girly hobby up here in Scotland. Not sure about spooky doll's heads. that might simply be looked upon as weird.

Your TV credits as an actor included Dempsey and Makepeace, The Bill, Juliet Bravo and Boon. In each of these shows you were always cast as a drunkard, a drug pusher or some other dastardly villain. Why was that? Did they mistakenly think you were from Glasgow?
Billingham: Well I tended to play villains or coppers. Mind you, even the coppers were all bent. It’s strange, because in my head I thought I looked cute and friendly, yet on screen I was always clobbering someone. Actually, my first job involved getting blasted across the bonnet of a car with a sawn-off shotgun. I shouldn’t knock the acting. If I hadn’t got the part in Maid Marian And Her Merry Men it’s arguable that I would not be a writer. It was through that show that I became a TV writer in the first place. Not that I enjoyed it a great deal. I never really felt like I was home until I started writing the books…


 McQuade: To be honest I never even recognised you in that Maid Marian dress. Perhaps you should have demanded a role as one of the Merry Men. (Editor - He played a henchman called Gary, you fool!) It's very strange, my secretary, Allan Watson, also enjoyed a spot of cross dressing while he was writing his rubbish novels. (Editor - I did not! And I'm not your frigging secretary!)

And now, Billingham, for the inevitable question about your next book. Will it be another Thorne book, a standalone novel like ‘Rush of Blood’, or will we see you perhaps venturing into the field of comedy fiction like erm....... James Herbert?


Billingham: Well, the publisher turned down my slim volume of poetry, the recipe book and the bodice-ripper, so I’ve had no choice but to bang out another Thorne caper. It’s called The Dying Hours and sees Thorne living with the ramifications of what he did at the end of Good As Dead. Oh, and some people die. And there’s mention of a country singer or two. And Thorne and Hendricks eat at the Bengal Lancer. You get the picture, right? I’ve already started planning out the next novel and that will also be a Thorne book. After that? Maybe another standalone or maybe readers will have grown heartily sick of me and I’ll go back to telling jokes to drunks at the Comedy Store. We’ll have to see…

McQuade: I sincerely hope it's a huge success as it might not be turnips they throw next time. Anyway, for your plucky attitude and snappy answers I'd like to present you with a packet of Tunnocks Caramel Wafers. I'd be careful chewing on these bad boys as they're lethal on loose dental fillings. Maybe you should have Thorne improve his rough-diamond image by munching on a few of these tough-guy biscuits during his tea breaks. Now off you go. The Glasgow Empire thanks you for your time and trouble. Don't call us, we'll call you etc etc. And watch you don't step on that faulty stage trapdoor...........

Billingham: Aaaaaaargh!

McQuade: Help! Help! Is there a Victorian taxidermist in the house?


Buy Mark's latest bestseller 'A Rush of Blood'

Visit Mark's web site at http://www.markbillingham.com/

Visit Mark's Crime Vault page at http://www.thecrimevault.com/authors/mark-billingham/

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Dead Man Talking # 9 - Graham Joyce

 Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews Graham Joyce

Graham Joyce first appeared on my books-to-read radar way back in 1995 when a friend of mine, Sheila Holligon, shared the same publisher and editor. However, I carelessly let him slip past on my blind side and missed the chance to boast I was there at ground zero when his career took off. Over the years Graham's name has cropped up time and time again, always spoken with a hushed sense of reverence, and friends threw me looks of sorrowful pity when I admitted I still hadn't made the effort to seek out his work. It pains me to say that I waited until 2010 before I finally took the plunge with his metaphysical thriller 'Indigo' which possibly saved my sanity while stuck in a grotty Cambridge Travel Lodge in the middle of winter for a whole week. Since then I've devoured many of Graham Joyce’s books whole without even chewing them properly before swallowing. The aforementioned 'Indigo', 'The Tooth Fairy', 'Dark Sister', 'Dreamside', 'The Silent Lands', and the brilliant and almost incomparable 'The Facts of Life', are just a few examples of what can be achieved when a writer has complete faith in the power of his own imagination and the courage to shrug off the confining restrictions of genre fiction. 

 Despite winning more fantasy awards than I've had spam fritters for lunch, I've never classed his work as Fantasy. What Graham Joyce does is write between the cracks in reality, deep down in those shadowy, hard to reach spaces where anything is possible. His latest novel, 'Some Kind of Fairy Tale' has already racked up a mountain of critical acclaim while his first novel 'Dreamside' has recently been republished on Kindle. If you haven't yet read any of Graham Joyce’s books, go buy/steal/borrow anything you lay your hands on. If you have read his work, just go read them again. Okay, McQuade - get to work.



Strachan McQuade (R.I.P.)

Graham Joyce



                       







McQuade: If I was to describe a much admired British writer as blunt, feisty, outspoken, tender, earthy, passionate, mystical, and almost universally adored by his peers, you’d guess right away whom I was talking about. But enough about me. Today I’m chatting with Graham Joyce, another much beloved writer. Normally, as a matter of form, I refer to guests strictly by their surname which I feel imparts a sense of gravity to these proceeding. However, calling him Joyce would make me feel more than a little uncomfortable so we’ll stick with Graham. 

So then, Graham, before we commence with the business at hand I’d like to say I do feel a sense of kinship with you as we’re both goalkeepers. I of course was once a famous international shinty goalkeeper, while you played between the sticks for the England (Writers) team in the World Cup. Obviously there’s more skill involved in shinty goal-keeping as the ball is much smaller and you have to fend off burly, bearded men waving sticks, but I applaud your lesser efforts all the same. My very first question to you shamelessly continues to indulge upon the thinly-veiled goal-keeping analogy – SO – how would you sum up your life philosophy? Catch or Punch? Or is it more a case of simply allowing the ball to trundle through your legs and into the net?



Joyce: You know McQuade, as one gets older, life has a habit of delivering the curving ball. It's as if God or Nature were a kind of meddling FIFA, endlessly piddling about with the stitching on the ball, so that some guttersnipe can make it spin and dip and rise right in front of your face, whereas in the old days the thing would come at you straight and heavy and nicely waterlogged. So in my more mature years I'm much more likely to punch them. I mean punch the ball. As it were. Before it gets up to its tricks. And may I say what a delight it is to encounter a fellow who appreciates an extended metaphor. What was I saying?


McQuade: I've no idea, I was fiddling with my hearing aid while you were talking. History is strewn with the names of famous builders. Noah, who built the Ark is one. Phidias the Greek sculptor who oversaw the construction of the Parthenon is another. Christopher Wren. Isambard Brunel. George Stephenson, and last but not least - Hamish Scott & Sons, who did a more than adequate job of repairing my old church steeple at a very reasonable cost. (Editor - Stop bloody advertising, McQuade!) Great builders one and all. Even God himself is often referred to as the Great Architect. From this rather long winded statement a burning question arises. As a lad, Graham, what did you prefer - Lego or Meccano? Personally I was a Meccano man myself as the little screwdriver provided was not only useful for fixing my spectacles, but could also be used to toast small pieces of turnip over an open fire. Obviously this was before marshmallows were invented.



Joyce: Meccano, man. We're clearly of the same ilk, you and I. As a lad I was fortunate to inherit my cousin John's somewhat rusted but extensive set. I mean there were a lot of bits rusted all to hell and it's a bad joke on a young boy to give him a spanner with no purchase. Plus a lot of those long thin green rods were completely bent out of shape. I daren't speculate what was happening in Douglas's room just before the onset of puberty. Whatever it was he became depressed later in life. Took his own life. I feel sure the corroded nuts had much to do with it.

McQuade: My nuts corroded very quickly after my demise, but a nifty spray of WD40 never fails to restore them to normal working order. I'm terribly sorry to hear your cousin took his own life, but the mental and physical rigours of Meccano aren't for everyone. Those of a fragile disposition would always be well advised to stick with Lego.

Now, back when I still proudly sported the clerical collar I used to enjoy spicing up my Sunday sermons by inserting characters from Grimm's fairy tales into the readings. The look of consternation on my parishioners faces when I'd read a passage from Rumpelstiltskin's letter to the Corinthians was a joy to behold. And renaming the Book of Revelations to Snow White and the Seven Vials always raised a muted chortle or two. This harmless piece of tomfoolery rebounded when I slipped up at the Church of Scotland Synod and referred to the Calvary Cross as the Singing Ringing Tree. This resulted in me having a soft cushion placed on my hard wooden pew as a punishment. The mixing of these mystical metaphors does however pose the pertinent question - would it be true to say that Folklore and Mythology provide a more accurate blueprint for human morality than their more stuffy counterpart, Organised Religion?



Joyce: Sans doute, McQaude, sans doute.  And if I tell you that the gypsies stole my tricycle - which at the tender age of five I'd foolishly left at the end of the lane one twilight of an evening - you will understand that I've been waiting for them to return it ever since, as they do in stories. It hasn't' turned up. Forgive me if I'm politically correct here but I know in my heart this tricycle will be returned. It won't look like a tricycle. Because those gypsies - you see - they were not gypsies at all. No. Though the priest and the parson may hate me for saying so.



McQuade: By Jove! What a co-incidence! Gypsies once stole my wheelbarrow. Unlike yourself I wasted no time in alerting the village Bobby who raided the campsite and recovered my wheelbarrow which was being employed by a one-legged gypsy as a make-shift wheelchair. The dishonest fellow was sentenced to six months hard labour you’ll be glad to hear.

I have to remark you’re a difficult sort of bloke to pin labels on as your books don’t so much jump from genre to genre as tear down the walls between them. Is this a deliberate ploy to keep your readers on their toes – expect the unexpected sort of approach? Or do you simply lack the concentration to buckle down and chart a more narrow ‘genre defined’ course like everyone else?


Joyce: Look here. When I was a youth I got into trouble for staring out of the window (or in at the window) at inopportune moments. There's a real temptation in publishing to do the same thing over and over, especially if you have some success. If a writer hits a pleasing note, then the audience wants more of the same. It's understandable. But then writing becomes a performance rather than an exploration. I think there's a huge difference between those two things.  I'm not trying to surprise people by tearing down genre walls. I always want to be looking out of the window to see new things. Does that answer your question?



 
McQuade: Not in the slightest but it did sound interesting in a vague, esoteric fashion. Probably didn’t help that I was reading the Sunday Post during your answer. 'The Broons' are thigh-slappingly funny this week.

A reoccurring theme to your work is the inclusion of underlying anarchy. Free thinking radicals appear in many shapes and guises, spreading a credo of alternative life-management and sexual promiscuity. I did once get involved in a similar experiment of ungoverned communal-living when I attended Theological college. All we did most days was wander around aimlessly wearing frocks and occasionally read a book or two. It does have to be said there wasn’t much in the way of wild sexual frolics unless you count the Reverend Adolf Luther (now a Kirk Session Moderator in Düsseldorf) getting his penis stuck in the opening of a half empty milk bottle. What I’d like to know is – does Graham Joyce still retain an active streak of smouldering working class subversion?



Joyce: Again when I was a youth I was recruited into selling a radical journal which my have been called The Black Mole. Or maybe The Red Mole. Or was it The Little Red Struggler? O I forget. Time does that to you, McQuade.  But I was always ready to smash the cistern. When you've been born down a mine shaft it's no surprise to find that the toffs can smell coal-dust on you from a mile away, and they can't help mentioning it, or wincing, or both, can they? And if they want a bit of ferret and fisticuffs well I'm their boy. It's an angry pride and it doesn't go away easily. I must say I have been seen to drink red wine instead of the old frothy amber WMC Federation Ale and that has improved my temper.


 


McQuade: Strange you should mention a ‘Mine Shaft’. That's exactly what the Reverend Adolf Luther screamed when he got his penis trapped in the milk bottle. Just to end this interview on a more light-hearted note please tell me this. Whether inscribed by chisel upon the cold granite of a headstone or by permanent marker on a small ceramic pot holding ashes and chips of charred bone – what would you have as your epitaph?


Joyce: It was all too brief.


McQuade: My late wife, Edith used to say the same thing about our marital coupling. Still, she got planted in the ground long before me so I had the last laugh. Many thanks to you Graham for your spirited answers. As a token of my everlasting thanks I'd like you accept this tin of pilchards. I tried passing them off to the church fete committee for their Tombola stall a few years back, but as luck would have it I won them back. I was hoping for the bottle of sherry, too. Anyway, I'm sure you can see your own way out. Just be careful not to use my enchanted fire exit or you'll discover twenty have passed in the real world when you...... Ah, too late. I really must get that thing boarded up. Join me next week when I’ll be interviewing Mark Billingham in the famous Glasgow Empire theatre.

Buy Graham's latest novel 'Some Kind of Fairy Tale'

Buy Graham's Kindle version of 'Dreamside'.

Visit Graham's web site http://www.grahamjoyce.co.uk/ 

Friday, 23 November 2012

Dead Man Talking # 8 - Rebecca Lang

Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews Rebecca Lang

Former journalist Rebecca Lang is an Australian writer with a specialist interest in strange phenomena, earth mysteries and cryptozoology. Along with her partner, Mike Williams, she has published the excellent book 'Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers'. Rebecca also writes Fortean themed horror stories and can sometimes be found trailblazing her way across strange terrain hunting for rare, exotic animals that might give the rest of us nightmares.










Rebecca Lang

Strachan McQuade R.I.P.













McQuade: This week I’m hanging around the Sydney Opera House, a magnificent structure named after Scotland’s No 1 opera singer and line-dancing icon, Sydney Devine, which is as flimsy a connection as any to introduce another divine vision in the shape of Australian writer, Rebecca Lang. (Editor – Stop it, McQuade. You’re just embarrassing yourself) Now, Ms Lang, correct me if I’m wrong, but your name does have very strong Scottish connotations. It even appears in a famous Scottish saying, ‘Lang May Your Lum Reek.’ For the benefit of non Scots I should point out that the English translation of this is literally, ‘Long May Your Chimney Smoke.’ No idea how this ties in with my preliminary rambling. I should probably have quit after my clever and complimentary Devine/Divine allusion. But tell us anyway, do you have Scottish blood in you? And if so, please do spill the beans if you have any notorious Celtic ancestors in your family tree such as cannibals, grave robbers, or erm….. witches. That’s a prompt you know.



Lang: Yes Strachan, I do! My Dad’s side of the family comes from Scotland – they emigrated in the 1800s during the gold rush, and liked it so much they stayed here.
We do seem to have a few characters in the family tree – c
olourful folklorist Andrew Lang, colonial novelist John Lang, newspaper editor, republican and Presbyterian Reverend John Dunmore Lang, and a wrongly tried, hung and burnt ‘witch’, Margaret Lang, whose only crime was being a midwife. Of course she is slightly notorious for admitting to a little tryst with the Devil as she stood on the scaffold with the noose about her neck, but she did maintain her (overall) innocence. Sadly she ran out of time and didn’t quite get to squeeze in a good curse before the hangman’s dance!

McQuade: Sounds like most women I’ve known. Blethering on for ages about all sorts of inconsequential rubbish and then run out of time when it comes to the important bit. You and Mike Willams published a book called ‘Australian
Big Cats’- a subject, which being honest, isn’t half as exotic as my book on the Fulvous Whistling Duck. Big cats are probably very common in Australia with well-meaning owners overfeeding their feline pets too many tins of Whiskas I expect. So what’s special about these Big Cats? Can they levitate? By Jove, that would a useful talent for an overweight cat. It would save all sorts of wear and tear on their overburdened joints. But, despite saying all that, I’ll suspend my judgement and let you explain what the book was about. Commence, while I nibble on this delicious Vegemite sandwich.


Lang: Don’t choke on that sandwich Strachan! In my neck of the woods we only use Vegemite for extra-strength curries and axle grease.

Now, to the cats. Well I guess you could say they’re special because they’re not supposed to be in Australia and yet they have been seen all over Australia for decades. Most intriguingly, people aren’t just seeing black leopards or jaguars (black cats generically referred to as ‘panthers’) they’re also seeing sandy-coloured North American cougars!

Mike and I published Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers in 2010, which was the first time anyone had seriously reviewed in-depth all of the cases on record. We even tracked down and investigated a few of our own, and in the process of writing the book over an eight-year period, amassed a huge library of photographs, video clips and witness testimonies, as well as 150 years’ worth of newspaper clippings!


Strachan, you can read an extract of Australian Big Cats here (leave your tenner at the door): http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/big-cats-prowl-the-bush/story-e6frg8h6-1225883808451

So, convinced yet?

McQuade: Nope. And please don’t ask me questions while I’m eating. It gives me terrible heartburn not to mention a burning anal itch.



Lang: Ironically, in the past 30 years there has been something like four government enquiries in different states in Australia into the existence of big cats, all with a similar outcome – and yet people keep reporting credible sightings, some highly reputable including vets, academics, zoologists, big game hunters, zoo workers, farmers, and Dept of Agriculture employees. Mind-boggling!

We have since re-published the 1970s classic Savage Shadow: The Search for the Australian Cougar by David O’Reilly in 2011, writing the foreword for the book. That story is eerily similar to our own experiences.

We’re now working on a couple of other cat-related projects, so clearly we are now completely obsessed with the whole thing!





McQuade: Well, I’d say you put your case forward most convincingly. Cougars, eh? Reminds me of when our church manse was over-run by very big rats. The Kirk beadle commented they were so enormous we’d need a mad-cap crazy cougar with a spectacularly large appetite to take care of them. Not realising he was speaking figuratively, I placed a small ad in my butcher’s shop window requesting the services of a mad-for-it, insatiable cougar. My late wife was furious when a mature lady with a very short skirt and a cleavage appeared at our front door demanding sex. Which brings me to my next question. Why, at a recent Fortean Times Conference in London, were you lecturing the audience about the disgusting adult pastime of having sex in an outdoor car-park with complete strangers. I have ears everywhere, you know. It’s because I keep leaving them on buses and trains.


A Cougar
Lang: That was an honest cultural misunderstanding!

There are two occupations in Australia that bear the name ‘dogger’ – people who hunt, shoot and poison feral/wild dogs on farms, and the ‘dogsbodies’ who clamber over dangerous scaffolding at great height on construction sites.

I was trying to recount the experiences of an Australian dogger in the bush who saw a giant pussy, which cause much hilarity among the British audience. (Editor – You don’t say?) I didn’t have the faintest idea what they were on about, and for their part they must have wondered what recreational sex had to do with big cat sightings! Well they bought some books anyway, so it wasn’t all a bust.
(Editor – Take note, Rebecca - Bust is another sexually provocative word in this country)

McQuade: I’m so glad it was all a misunderstanding. Saves me the trouble of making a citizen’s arrest and reporting you to the authorities. In this case, probably the Kennel Club. But staying with the Fortean connection, you do have a special interest in all things Fortean. In fact I hear that recently you got involved in hunting down that almost mythical beast, the Black-Widowed-Koala-Bear. Long suspected to be the progeny of an accidental mating between a black widow spider and a koala, resulting in a cute-looking bear with eight legs and a lethal bite. I imagine it would be a popular replacement for turkey on holiday occasions as everyone would get a leg. Did you manage to track one down, spinning its web in a eucalyptus tree?

Black Widowed Koala

Lang: Oh, er…do you mean the Orang Pendek? I don't do marsupial spiders.

McQuade: Orang Pendeck, Black-Widowed-Koala, all that stuff sounds alike to me. Carry on, it’s bound to be codswallop anyway.


Lang: I joined an expedition to Sumatra in late 2011 to go searching for evidence of the fabled ‘short man of the forest’, the Orang pendek, literally ‘short man’ in Indonesian, which prompted some amusing exchanges in a country which is full of rather short people.

McQuade: Amusing exchanges are what I do. Never come across a decent Indonesian stand-up comic in my life. Or death, come to that.


Lang: People have been seeing the shy primate since Dutch colonisation, and it’s one cryptozoological mystery that many believe has a good chance of turning out to be the real deal! The Orang Pendek is described as having dark grey to red fur, broad shoulders, a huge chest and powerful arms.

You can read all about the beastie and our expedition in The Guardian here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2011/sep/09/orang-pendek-quest-sumatra



Sadly we didn’t find one, but we did take home some interesting plaster casts – but nothing absolutely definitive. We also caught up with some farmers who had seen the Orang pendek on their land – along with some hungry-looking leopards, tigers and giant pigs roaming among the tobacco plants and cinnamon trees. It’s not an easy life earning a quid in Indonesia as a farmer!



McQuade: By Jove. That’s amazing. Little monkey people. Who’d have thought? Actually there was this one time when our church steeple got an infestation of monkeys. The Kirk beadle said it would take a crate full of big fat bananas to tempt them out. If that oaf thought he could fool me twice and have me rushing off to the greengrocers to buy bananas, he was sadly mistaken. I simply hired a gamekeeper and had them all shot. Anyway, time is getting short and I’ve a bus to catch home, so tell me, Ms Lang. What’s the next big project for you?


Lang: I’m actually hard at work on a couple of fiction and non-fiction projects – some more cryptozoology themed books, a few short horror stories and a women’s fiction novel.

At the encouragement of my good friend Richard Freeman I have written some Fortean-themed horror stories for inclusion in a forthcoming anthology he is editing for the CFZ Press. I also have another title coming out with Strange Nation Publishing in 2013 and a couple of other joint publishing projects. It’s all systems go!


McQuade: By Jingo! Or should that be, By Dingo! It’s a fair dinkum cobber and any other similarly strangulated expressions of enthusiastic approval you Australians like to use. Many thanks to you, Ms Lang for taking time out from hunting strange creatures to speak with me. In return I’d like to present you with this rubber bath plug to stop the water swirling the wrong way down your drain. Widdershins, that’s anti-clockwise to you, is a certain sign of the devil and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to end up sharing the same fate as your wicked Satan-fixated ancestor, Margaret Lang. If your bath tub does eventually require emptying, simply use a bucket to bail out the excess water and pour it out the window. Right, here’s my bus. G’day to you Madam.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Dead Man Talking # 7 - John Mason

Strachan McQuade Interviews John Mason


Readers of Phil Rickman’s ‘Merrily Watkins’ novels never fail to be blown away by the  disquietingly Gothic undertones of John Mason’s cover art. John’s trademark style of tinted infrared photography is now almost as instantly recognisable as the characters inside the books. Over the years he has built up an impressive portfolio of stunning work that includes his eerie Haunted Realm series of photographs, as well as working with Phil Rickman to produce ‘Merrily’s Borders’ – a beautifully illustrated guide to the locations and historical background against which the Merrily Watkins novels are placed. John has also recently published a new book of photographs ‘King Arthur’s Britain’ published by Mansion House Books. 
Fresh from a successful art exhibition in Glastonbury, the man normally found lurking behind the lens granted us an exclusive interview. As usual Strachan was off like a shot to meet him.




Strachan McQuade R.I.P.
John Mason










McQuade: Here I am at the top of Glastonbury Tor, the supposed site of the fabled Isle of Avalon, its misty glamour once perfectly captured in a dreary sonnet by folk rockers Roxy Music. This is the very spot where on the fourteenth of November 1539, Abbot Richard Whiting was dragged by a horse all the way up the hill. Why he couldn’t simply have walked, I’ve no idea. Poor old Whiting was then hung, drawn and quartered, with chunks of him displayed all over the town – I’ve been known for the same thing myself after a few too many drinks down the pub, it’s easily done you know. 
Glastonbury Tor is also home to Gwyn ap Nupp, King of the Fairies, rumoured to appear riding a big, black horse every second Wednesday, except in February when he visits his sister-in-law in Swansea. Why am I telling you all this? Because I’m still waiting for John Mason to arrive. I passed him ages ago on my scooter as he trudged up the hill. Ah, here he is now. By Jove, the poor bloke looks puffed out.
So tell me, Mason, this new book of yours, ‘King Arthur’s Britain’ published by Mansion House Books. What’s it all about? Is it a cutting-edge reworking of the traditional Arthurian legends? A stirring adventure story about Merlin and the gallant Knights of the Round Table? You know the ones, Lancelot, Gawain and the other fellow….what’s his name, Friar Tuck?



Mason: I’m only out of breath because I took the time to throw your excuse for a scooter over the hedge and into a rather large muddy pit! Maybe next time you won’t try to run me over on the damn thing you heathen lunatic!
Anyway, enough about you and on to the REAL reason why we’re here on top of Glastonbury Tor. Stop looking about for your scooter McQuade, you won’t find it because the damn thing sank! Right, where was I? The book, yes, I decided to do a book on most of the accessible locations in England, Scotland and Wales that are associated with King Arthur and because I couldn’t find anyone who would work for free I ended up writing the damn thing as well!
Needless to say, I did the whole book in my trademark Infrared black and white photography style and also because I had NO editorial interference, I was able to select the pictures myself AND didn’t end up having to argue about the cover shot either! Greg at Mansion House Books has a good eye for a cover shot and his first choice was the same as mine!




McQuade:
Ha ha. A skinny bloke like you lifting and tossing my scooter? Pull the other one. You’re probably best known for your striking, atmospheric book covers used for Phil Rickman’s ‘Merrily Watkins’ novels, but I hear you’re a dab hand with a paintbrush too, and have just held an exhibition of your work in Glastonbury town. Nothing like an art exhibition to bring out the weirdoes, that’s what I’ve always said. So how did that come about? And how did the exhibition go?






 


Mason: Well, the exhibition was at Glastonbury Galleries in the High Street and I decided to do a combination of both my infrared black and white photographic prints AND some of my oil and acrylic paintings as well!
The reason I paint is because I get bored easily and when I can’t go out and play with my camera, I tend to spend the day and the occasional night slapping paint on a canvas!
The exhibition went well and the local weirdoes and nutters were quite mild compared to a certain Scottish personage I’ve just met!




McQuade: You met another Scotsman on the way here? What a coincidence. Look, it’s getting a bit windy up here. Best if we nip inside this crumbling old tower so I can get my pipe going. You’d think they’d knock this old ruin down and build a proper bus shelter. Must be really crowded in the tower when they stage the music festival. And how they get that fat bloke, the Big Bopper, up here I can’t imagine. Now, another project I’m supposed to ask you about is the long awaited DVD of Merrily’s Borders, a supplementary cinematic version of the book of the same name you produced a few years ago with that Rickman fellow. I heard the rough footage even contained shots of the Hazey Jane II gig at Kentchurch Court – waste of film if you ask me. But why has the DVD taken so long to materialise? I expect half the time was spend photo-shopping out Watson’s bald patch, or was it delayed because Rickman continually kept fluffing his lines? Tell you what, you keep talking into this microphone while I nip out to the scooter to get my flask of oxtail soup. 



Mason: Good luck with finding the scooter! Anyway about the DVD. At the moment, all the filming has been done and Phil has written the script and done the voice-overs for it. The whole project is now in the post production phase and is being edited as we speak and the aim is to have in ready before Christmas. IF for whatever reason, we blow that deadline then it will be out in January. I’m also hoping to film a little bit of a teaser to include the next Merrily as an ‘extra’! 










McQuade: By Jove! My scooter really has gone. I was looking forward to that oxtail soup, you black-hearted pagan scunner. I knew we should have stuck to interviewing proper writers. You arty types are far too unpredictable. But tell me this, Mason. Wearing a bandanna on your head has become something of a trademark look. Is there some practical reason for this form of head-wear? Like adhering to a strict hygienic code of practise while working in McDonalds? Or is it out of consideration to faint-hearted members of the public? Perhaps to conceal ginger hair?


Mason: The bandana originally was to stop sweat getting in my eyes while I was filming and also to keep the sun off my head when I was on location abroad and after awhile, as you say, it became something of a trademark and then just an everyday item of clothing! I quit McDonalds because they wouldn’t let me wear it!




McQuade: Quite right too. I wouldn’t want a hippie artist doodling beside the deep fat fryer while my chips burned. Let’s get this finished off as I’m freezing.
Standing up here at this sacred spot overlooking the magnificent Glastonbury Zodiac embedded into the landscape around us lets me segue neatly into my last question, which is - what does the future hold for John Mason? No, I’m not interested in your horoscope or whether or not your lucky piece of kitchen cutlery is a dessert spoon. I wish to know what your next project will be? More books? Paintings? Films? Or do you plan on resting upon your laurels and go for a good piss-up with your mates?



Mason: Well, the future is still unclear at the moment. Sure I’m working on more books, this includes ‘Myths and Legends of England’, ‘Myths and Legends of Wales’ and ‘Myths and Legends of Scotland’, I may do an Ireland book, but that will depend on how I get on with these ones!
Also, the ‘Myths and Legends’ dvd  that I’ve been working on is in post production as well and could end up being several volumes!
I’ve also got video projects I’m working on with some Spanish pagan friends to shoot as well. These include such subjects as ‘Druidry’ and ‘Labyrinths’!
I’m still evolving with the painting and that will also lead to more exhibitions next year as well.
AND I’m also threatening to sort out a few web sites to showcase both my infrared work and my paintings. The sites I’ve already got are really out of date and need a complete revamp.
Oh, and there is not a chance in hell I’m helping you get that scooter out of the muddy pit even if you do find it, but I will point you in the direction of the bus stop if you like!


McQuade: No need for that, Mason. I’ve already arranged for Gwyn ap Nupp to give me a ride back to town on his big black horse. The scooter was to have been a gift to you. Feel free to drink the oxtail soup if you do manage to recover it from that muddy pit. Bet you’re wishing you’d left well alone now. (sound of approaching galloping hooves) Ah, here comes old Gwyn now. Now, now, Mason. No need to get so vexed, and I wouldn't kick that crumbling old tower so hard if I were you, it might.............. (thundering crash of tons of rock collapsing) erm, fall down. Ah, looks like they might have to build that bus stop after all. Over here, Gwyn, there's a good lad.



Buy John Mason's New Book 'King Arthur's Britain'

Visit John Mason's Haunted Realm

View John Mason's Artwork