When I first signed a contract for Happiness Is Wasted On Me in 2019, I honestly didn’t expect much to happen for me. In an industry obsessed with debut authors, I’m in a strange position as a rising star who hasn’t really risen. A friend once said I was the best accessory a book launch could have and pre-pandemic, I’d popped up at plenty of launches dressed like a tit. On one hand, I want to be seen. On the other, I want to be taken seriously. Sadly, I’m not ambidextrous. So in 2019 when I headed into Edinburgh to sign with Fledgling Press to put out Happiness, I thought…this could be interesting. Then again, was there a market for a book featuring an asexual protagonist? A story set in Cumbernauld during the ’90s?
This was pre-Shuggie, of course. But only by a matter of months. Douglas Stewart kicked open the door and I snuck past while no one noticed. So it happened my first novel for adults was out in bookshops and online. A slow start, it eventually sold out the first print run, then the second, and gained me a whole new audience in the process. Still, I launched a book in the middle of the worst pandemic in generations. Even Doris Stokes would have gasped. You can’t understand how tough it was trying to sell a debut novel to people who couldn’t walk into bookshops. Online sales helped, but things were slow in 2020. Then the middle of 2021 came and readers on Instagram discovered the book. Bookshops also started to take note. Suddenly, I had a hit. For the first time I was selling plenty of books. The online reception, word of mouth, and sudden burst of interest in Scottish literature (Thank you Shuggie! Ta Young Team!) meant my book was displayed prominently on Scottish Fiction tables around the country’s bookstores. Without any festival appearances or promo opportunities in the press or media, I managed to succeed thanks to the readers, booksellers, librarians, and bloggers. Something seemed to happen here in Scotland. Books about our lives and our stories were being written and told by us. Maybe the authors of 2020 were pulling on some shared life experiences, but for the first time in my life, I felt I was in the right place at last – completely by accident, of course.
So what next?
Sadie, Call The Polis actually.
It’s a story mainly set in Little Denny Road, a street in Denny, which is an area of Falkirk. It later moves to Glasgow, specifically Nithsdale Road in Pollockshields. This is a story of change. Sadie, Call The Polis tells the life of a girl named Sadie Relish, who stands up in the middle of class and announces in front of her teacher that when she grows up, she wants to be a ‘prostitute just like my Mither’. From there, she realises her life is not quite like those of her classmates. The book starts in 1976 and ends in 2022, ready to be read in 2023. It propels the reader through the decades alongside a cast of characters I hope you’ll enjoy reading. You’ll follow Sadie from childhood to middle age. Her friendships, romances, first marriage, first divorce, births, deaths, and some good (and bad) music along the way. There’s a lot of darkness in the book, a bleakness born of real experience, but also humour, which is how I’ve tried to live my life.
In fact, that’s how I’ve survived my life too.
A deep dive into my own history here, something I don’t really talk about much. I’d rather not go into too many details if you don’t mind. Basically, when I was a teenager, I witnessed something that had a profoundly deep effect on me. It happened to my sister, a sudden violent event, to put it mildly. A home invasion is all I want to say about it. This took years to work through. What happened left me angry, unsure, and bitter. The fallout has lasted decades. What happened to me (while I was at school) was something I had to come to terms with, and really fight through decades later. But I had no help, even at the time. Strathclyde Polis offered time with victim support, but I refused. Why would I need that? I’m not a victim, I said. To acknowledge that would put me in that space, somewhere I couldn’t be due to my ego. Typical Scottish idiot, raised in my council house with toxic masculinity, armed robbery, stolen motorcycles, and snooker queue fights (usually before dinnertime). I think when I started writing Sadie, I was taking a hard look at how you can survive in a situation where the only constant is inconstancy. This can be good or scary, sometimes both. Stressful too? You bet.
My rebirth as Kirkland Ciccone really helped me, because he made everything more glossy and exciting, just like Bjork in the video for It’s Oh So Quiet. That was me in my own head for real. Becoming Kirkland Ciccone has healed me in many ways. Only now I’d choose a way cooler name, but at the time I was listening to Ciccone Youth a lot (and Madonna was always there thanks to my sisters), so it made sense. Oh, to be a hipster in the ’90s! As for Sadie, Call The Polis, I’d say it takes the wistful side of Happiness Is Wasted On Me without the murderous bleakness. Truthfully, there are still many moments of horrible darkness in this new book, some of it very Virginia Andrews – but also a lot of laughs. I’ve always said no one can laugh in the midst of misery quite like Scottish people. Sadie, Call The Polis is that sort of story and I’m very proud of it. Between us, I hope you’ll run (or walk a bit fast) to the bookshop and buy it the second it hits the shelf. I’ve reached out to Andrew Forteath to do the cover art again. He agreed, which is great because I absolutely loved the artwork for Happiness Is Wasted On Me.
My new book is many things, but above all else, I hope it’s entertaining, thought-provoking, and truthful in a way writers and their readers understand, a deal that we’ve made with each other – one I’ll try my best to uphold with this book. You’ll be able to pre-order Sadie, Call The Polis shortly. Soon there’ll be a cover reveal and all the other stuff that goes into promoting a new book. I didn’t really get that with the last book because of the pandemic. This time I’m hoping things will be a little different. Ideally, I’m going to go and have gigs, events, and hopefully lots of new friends too. Maybe even you, and you, and you too.
The book is out at the end of October. This will no doubt hamper my chances of getting into festivals and magazines (the big publishers will have their reviews in for Christmas), but I’m fine with that, especially since it worked so well for me last time, two years earlier. Thank you, as ever, for reading.