Rewind all the way back to 2010. I’m lost. I’m angry, a result of what I witnessed one dark night in 1998. That kind of violence changes a person, makes them cold and distant. Somehow, along the way, I’ve become a troll long before the term was invented. Ask me, however, and I’ll tell you I’m a pop culture arsonist, doing good work to help save people with bad taste from their own choices. Really, I’m just at a PC trying to impress people on fora with my wit and cutting comments. How mortifying. I spend my days moaning online about popstars and singers, finding fault with everything except Girls Aloud, who are sacred in their prefab perfection. Years before, I trained as a journalist, but I don’t want to be a journalist. Honestly, I can barely work my Nokia never mind hack into other people’s phones. What will I do? What can I do?
Salvation comes through writing and telling stories to live crowds. At last. This feels like something I can do forever. So I put on live shows. I start touring Scotland. Slowly, I become a compelling live performer. Sometimes I sell tickets, other times I don’t. But it teaches me a lot about telling stories. But the lesson I’ve learned go ignored in my attempts at non-linear fiction writing. I decide I want to finally put out a book. What sort of book though? And how? Going to the moon seemed more realistic. I write for punk ‘zines under different names. Underground ‘zines like Bubblegum Slut and No, I’m A Veronica. Whatever I do, I want to be cult like my heroes.
In 2013 a book I cobbled together is published. I’m approached by a publisher who wants to meet me in Glasgow to discuss the book. It’s called Conjuring The Infinite and is a cross between Tracy Beaker and The Blair Witch Project. This is it, I think. Cult fame at last! It’s a book for teenagers, the Young Adult audience already gaining power and scale thanks to Edward and Bella. In the end I sign my contract in a branch of Costa. I leave wondering if that’s what happens normally. Conjuring The Infinite proves to be a hit even though the cover looks a bit strange, not what I wanted, but it doesn’t matter because I’m still learning my way into the Scottish publishing industry.
Conjuring The Infinite does well enough for my publisher to ask for another book. “You can do whatever you want,” I’m told. I do what I want. I write something unreadable. It’s non-linear and at times like a drug trip even though I don’t do drugs, never have, never will. Endless Empress should have been called High School Massacre: The Musical, but we chicken out of it. It features a trans character, but in the story she’s forced to stay as a he. I hint more than outright say, because I’m worried librarians won’t allow me access onto their school shelves. By this point, I’ve learned compromise. Yet there’s no problem with the extreme destruction and the book turns out to be a violent nightmare. It reaches shops and shelves in 2014. I like it, regardless of the weird expressions the other authors pull whenever the book is mentioned. One author informs me that she loves it, but deep down I know she hasn’t read it. We stand together after an event. Julian Clary walks past. I gasp. I’m a fan. The author I’m with tells me she wouldn’t read his filthy, disgusting books. Well, I think, it’s just as well you didn’t actually read Endless Empress.
I finally get the my invite for the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Word of mouth has reached them about this fabulous fatty. Teen Titles gives me a rave review. The kids want my tour to stop off at their school, each and every single school in Scotland. I’m touring every week, stopping off at theatres and other venues for live events. This is a kind of invisible success for me. One girl tells me after a gig that she wants to be like me when she’s older. “Be like yourself,” I say. It seems like the kind of thing I would want someone to tell me at that age, but I never got to hear those words.
I like how things are going at this point in the decade. What could go wrong?
My sister dies and I’m not sure how this can be. I take a strange sort of solace in knowing she passed away at a party, which really is the way she’d have wanted it if she had any choice. Her loss is a huge wound, a missing limb that you still feel but can see. I have another sister. For her, the horror is just as intense. But she isn’t like me. I’m pragmatic. Tough. My childhood has made me this way, or so I think whenever I think about it at all.
My third book is finished and published in 2015. North of Porter, described by one reviewer as being like ‘Scooby-Doo on acid’. I love the description. I’ve been binging on X-Files and want to write a novel where the main character is a handbag wielding teenage boy. Heather McDaid, future publishing superstar, praises it even though I reckon it’s bonkers. My publisher at this point enjoys my weirder take on YA and dislikes any attempt at writing a conventional book for this audience. I’m not sure it’s doing me much good. Sometimes I think I want mass acceptance. Or maybe that’s my bank balance? I think about the future. My first job after college was as a psychic consultant, so predicting the future isn’t so difficult.
Then it all stops. A book I’ve written, the biggest book of my life so far, the one that’ll put me above my station has been picked up by a huge publisher…then put down. Literally. They love it, but their bosses aren’t sure how to market the book. And so I’m adrift. Then a twist in the tale: a stalker suddenly begins harassing me. It lasts nine months until I finally discover their identity and put a stop to it. Bizarrely, this happens on the anniversary of my sister’s birthday, the one she can no longer celebrate. 2016 is a strange year and I can’t wait for it to end. However, there’s something good on the horizon and 2017 bodes well for me. The ReImagination Festival, organised by the good folks at Edinburgh International Book Festival, is touring. They ask me to take part. I do several events and emerge quite well, or so I’m told. At one point it’s suggested by Janet Smyth that I write a book for adults because the audience enjoyed my show. This gets me thinking…
Glowglass is published in 2018. This is another YA novel, written earlier the previous year. It gets me out and about again, which is good. But I’m bored of the YA genre. Too middle class, I feel. It lacks that punk spirit that originally drew me towards it. I want to be a cult author. I want to write adult fiction. Plenty of adults read my books, it isn’t such a giant leap. So I start writing what I hope will be my debut novel for adults.
But the next one, the one I finished in early 2019…
As 2019 ends and a new decade begins, I feel I’ve become the person I’ve always wanted to be. I’ve never been self-loathing, I’m too egomaniacal for that. But now I’m happy with my own presence. My quirkiness is no longer something to disdain but to declare loudly. I’m a better writer too. Goodness, the change in my technique over the years is broad. I know what I want to do now. I have a totally different mindset now. So I’m welcoming 2020 with optimism rather than uncertainty.
Memorable Moments (Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone)
I’m invited to a book launch. One of the biggest best-selling authors of Scottish Noir turns up too. We’re both wearing the same fur coat. I refuse to take mine off because I was there first. She sensibly removes her coat. I spend the rest of the night thanking the lord for the stash of Lynx in my fake Louis Vuitton bag.
This is the decade I decided to start my own festival for underprivilged kids and reluctant readers in Scotland, the ones who can’t go to far off festivals. Alongside Cumbernauld Theatre, we launch Yay! YA. The emphasis on performance is stressed – and I’m stressed too. I rip my hair out at one point. The first Yay! is a hit. We have the biggest authors in Scottish publishing there and they do it willingly, helping me out when I need them. Theresa Breslin, Cathy MacPhail, Barry Hutchison, Roy Gill, Alex Nye, Linda Strachan, Lari Don and many more. We repeat this event over the years. The buffet is always good, so top marks to the caterer!
For a while, the best accessory for your book launch is me and I go gladly to as many as possible because I’m still a voracious reader. One event I’m invited to for a YA novel ends in disaster after a blogger refuses to climb the steepest staircase in the world. They think they’re launching Harry Potter. An actual magician turns up but my enthusiasm has vanished like the rabbit in his hat. Everyone is dressed in gowns and serious suits. Me? I look like a gloomy French artist from the 60s. Except with chips.
The launch of 404 Ink’s Nasty Women in 2017 feels important. Margaret Atwood has helped fund the creation of the book. Women are speaking out. #MeToo is about to gain momentum and the publishers of Nasty Women have put out a hot book at the right time, completely without knowing all this was about to happen. It’s still one of the most intense – and enthralling – live events I’ve ever been to. Tickets were completely gone. The stories told by women were in turns hilarious and horrifying, but never ever boring or trite. I leave feeling I’ve just watched something important happen in front of me.
The time I step out of a taxi to attend the annual Teen Titles Magazine party only for someone on the street to loudly exclaim “What the fuck is that?” at me. Literally right at me. To be fair, I was dressed as a watermelon, complete with watermelon clutch. Sadly, everyone mistook me for a ladybird
My gig at Tidelines Book Festival, my first ever festival, was called Cheap As Chips. Basically, I gave away a bag of chips for every ticket sold. Ker-ching! That’s me boosting literacy and diabetes in one fell swoop.
The religious school I performed a gig at that had more posters of Nicholas from X-Factor on the wall than it had statues of Jesus.
One memorable moment for me is the time I walked the catwalk at the UKYACX Book Event in Newcastle, much to the delight of everyone. Pose, I said. Fatties unite! I said.
I was in charge of a writing group at Cumbernauld Theatre for a year, but it drove me mad. One of the members was obsessed with a play he wrote years ago that he funded. He would re-enact it each week and I felt myself reaching for the nearest bag of Wotsits. Someone else came in and read a story about Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode) being a vampire while touring in Transylvania and biting his ex-wife in retribution for the alimony. The other writers were so talented, really lovely people too. I ran for the hills.
The Edinburgh Book Festival in 2019 is a wonderful experience. A Q&A session ensues and the tent is packed by people from various schools around Scotland. Librarians politely ask questions too. Eventually I ask everyone what they’re listening to. They shout two names loudly. “Taylor Swift!” “Panic At The Disco!” I make a suggestion, just to show I’m totally cool. “What about Charli XCX?” The tent goes silent. Someone shouts, “Who?” and I’m aware more than ever that I am not the expert at predicting trends I used to be. Oh I knew everything about the next big thing. The new bands, coolest directors, authors to look out for. How did this happen? Was it a gradual shift? Best-selling crime author Claire Askew fielded another question from the audience, saving my dignity and pride.
Meeting one of my idols Theresa Breslin and asking about a long out of print novel she published in the early nineties. “Leave it with me,” she said. A few days later it arrived in the post with her name on it. I thought about the young version of me and what he’d say if he saw for himself what I’d received in the post. I think he’d be chuffed.
2009 to 2019. A lot happened.