Aidan Martin (2020) Euphoric Recall

‘My name is Aidan and I am an addict.’

So what, you might say. You probably know the trajectory that follows.

You’ve got Damian Barr, who grew up near Ravenscraig steelworks, a solid working-class town. Him being gay wasn’t his fault—or even a fault—but being a fucking Tory, Maggie & Me, was just a step too far.

Deborah Orr, Motherwell: A Girlhood, which just about sums it up.

You’ve got Kerry Hudson’s whimsical, Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma (fiction) and Lowborn (factual) that deals with what it means to be working-class poor.

Meg Henderson’s wonderful Finding Peggy, but a bit before Hudson’s time.  

Darren McGarvey, with his Poverty Safari.

Janice Galloway’s autobiographies This is Not About Me and All Made Up are my clear favourites.

She mentored Graeme Armstrong and The Young Team, the story of Azzy and Airdrie, if you’re fucking asking, and it’s told in dialect.  

Scottish actor and comedian, Jane Godley, described as Nicola Sturgeon’s alter-ego (before she fucked up and went a bit too far and behaved like a politician—grabbing the money). Handstands in the Dark: A True Story of Growing Up and Survival, which told a tale of incest and marrying into a gangster’s family in the East End of Glasgow was, to my thinking, underrated before clicking on to Amazon to find over 2000 five-star ratings, which shows I was deluding myself, but not as much as Sturgeon.

We can even fling in Alan Bisset, Boyracers, which tries to do the impossible and make Falkirk cool.

And if we’re stretching it, Maggie O’Farrell  I Am I Am I Am, seven brushes with death. She’s from Northern Ireland, but kinda Scottish.

The real daddy of fictionalised memoir, Booker Prize winner Douglas Stuart and Shuggie Bain. A gay boy growing up in Glasgow’s housing estates and watching his mother slide under the couch with drink, while drowning, but claiming to be simply waving and doing her hair.

What does Aidan Martin add to this amorphous list, or, in other words, what kind of story can a guy in his late twenties tell us that we’ve not already heard?  In terms of markets, what’s his Unique Selling Point?

Livingston isn’t very cool, which is a good starting point.

First chapter, ‘Groomed’. He’s standing outside McDonalds. ‘Heart racing.’ I don’t like heart racing, because it’s clichéd city.  But we know what he’s talking about. He’s not there to have a Big Mac and chips. It’s in the chapter title. He’s fifteen and meeting an older man, with a North English accent, who calls himself Derek.

White-van man is a world of disappointment, but he’s organised. He’s got a room in a hotel booked and a cover story. He’s brought a bottle of Buckfast for Aidan, because that’s what you do. Fantasy is never reality.

‘Escapism,’ Sexual addiction, alcohol addiction, drug addiction.    

 ‘You’re fuckin’ dead, after class…

‘Truth be told I wasn’t as violent as the lads I was always fighting. Some of them seemed at ease taking it to the next level. But the idea of jumping on someone’s head or stabbing them felt sickening to me. Survival was day to day.’

Plotting of beginning, middle and end is quite straight forward. Aidan is suicidal, but the reader knows that if he’s written a book he can’t be much good at killing himself. The writer’s job isn’t to make things simpler, but more complex.  

Grandpa dead. Grandma deteriorating fast with depression and diagnosed as bipolar. His wee brother, ‘DJ was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma one of the rarest soft tissue cancers in the world’.   

Bargaining with yourself. ‘Money was getting tight, so we started on the cheaper drugs too. Back on the eccies, speed and valies. We had a few attempts at crystal meth, and I found myself smoking an unknown stuff from foil.’

Aidan had yet to hit his rock bottom, in Alcohol and Drug Anon language. But he’d a Higher Power looking out for him. This is shown in graphic form.

 ‘I self-harmed with knives…some otherworldly force flung the knives out of my hand.

All I can say is I know it truly happened.’

The reader knows Aidan is going to make it. But he’s honest about it. His relapses were to do with a lack of humility. I’ve heard the same story in so many forms. My brother, for example, telling me he was just going to have a few pints. Aye, we knew, what that meant. Deep down, so did he.

We’re in the world of repetition. Even the language becomes boring and clichéd. Recovery is slow. Aidan at 25 is at West Lothian College. He will have relapses. He will find himself. The reader knows that. God help us, if I start quoting Rumi and Leonard Cohen, We’re all broken. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

I’m a reading addict. The pleasure of recognition lies not in revelation—although that has its place—but in resonance.  

‘I am grateful to be clean.’

Hallelujah has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with a clean heart that cries out. Read on.

Journey to publishing Shuggie Bain.

Journey to publishing Shuggie Bain. [online event, transcript]

Jamie Crawford (interviewer)

First draft, 900 pages. What did you start reading? Discover queer literature Alan Hollinghurst. Jeanette Winterstone.

James Kelman. George Friel. Alan Warner.

Sunset Song. Jamie, at 14, it wasn’t one of my favourite books.

Douglas Stuart I never thought I can do this. Real lifeline to connect with Denise Mina. Kirsten…

Reading middle-class narratives. Not my thing. Pride and shame at my poverty. How powerful A Kestrel and a Knave.

Do you still think those narratives are missing.

Still middle class industry. Like is drawn to like.

Took you 10 years. Where there points you thought you’d never finish it.

So busy. Cheats. How to write when I wasn’t at my desk. I never lost faith in it. I didn’t feel overwhelmed. Never very far away.

Getting to the point I want to do this.  How did you find your way to get published.

Met a woman at a party. Queried agents. Rejected by many. She sends it out to be submitted. When you get rejected, do you want to know? Answer. Just say no.

Books journey, finding your champion. Rejected 34 times. (by all the big publishers).

American publisher. Scottish guy.

Jamie Crawford, my first job was literary agent. Putting it out to US publishers. Thought process?

Simple. I live in America. In New York. It was swiftly rejected in UK and Scotland. Function of where I live. Many Scottish voices pushing outwards. Writing Shuggie a way of returning home.

Agnes difficult character.

Shuggie interesting voice. Didn’t want everything to come from his 7-year-old pov.

I wanted to stay in school. So I ended up living on my own in a bedsit and work 4 nights, DIY superstore. For the first time I didn’t have to take care of anyone else.

Collapse of city mirrored by characters, as city collapses. Agnes decaying too. Families struggling. Leanne. Even Annie’s (across the road).

AA, Alteen. Lots of families coming apart.

Drive to Pithead.

Agnes had hopes. She’s married the wrong man.  

Shuggie is  very quickly othered. Attack on feminist. Queerness.

Did you have a soundtrack in your head?

Kelly Marie. Middle of the Road, Bay City Rollers. Whitney.

Book hit the zeitgeist?

Pursuit of truth, struck a real chord?

I only set out to write a very intimate love story. Agnes trying to get on. Violence, misogyny. Create worlds and these characters. We’re still struggling with the same things.

The freedom of having no audience. Does that change how you write?

I’d finished my second novel before Shuggie was published. The way people have taken Agnes to their hearts.

Adaptation, who’s going to play Agnes? Writing pilot and outlines. Leek is my favourite character by far.

Adaptation? How’s it going?

Difficult. Consequence and forward motion. Remix in a way. I didn’t want to hand it over to a screenwriter.

Did you find the environment you grew up in frightening?

Class and literature?

MC writers write anything, but WC have to answer questions about WC narratives.

Different response? Scottish people, can feel the realism, on the page. I know Jinty. Universal experience. Lots of mothers coping with addiction.

Books about hope and love.

Up to 40 languages in translation. Right now published in four languages.

Events, talking about books.

Next book?

Young Mungo, published next April. Loch Awe? Set in the 90s.

Short stories for New Yorker. I have been writing for a long time. Working on my third novel. I spent three years living on the Hebrides. Writing about love and loneliness and textiles.

Have you become a writer full time? Yes, writing my primary focus.

My mother kept me focused by teaching me how to knit. Focussed on her memoir. Solidarity. Good people going through tough times.

I’ve spent my entire life in the world of women. Even textile college, 15 women to one man.

Favourite books. Graham Armstrong, The Young Team.

Andrew O’Hagen Mayfies. As You Were, Elaine Feeney.

The Booker Prize 2020, won by Douglas Stuart for his novel Shuggie Bain.

Who will speak for us? —is sometimes as simple as who speaks like us. We all might be Jock Tamson’s bairns, but in the real world debut novelists, and those using Scottish dialect don’t win prizes.  How Late it Was, How Late, well it was 1985 when something like this happened. James Kelman caused a kerfuffle. Rabbi Julia Neuberger saying the book was ‘crap’.  I prefer Jeff Torrington, Swing Hammer Swing, or a Janice Galloway’s memoir that’s not a memoir, or even Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, but I don’t get to choose. I’ve not even got around to reading Douglas Stuart’s book—although like many others I will, instead of reminding myself I should—so why should I be going on about it?

Because I’m a reader. That’s what I do. That’s who I am. It’s the first thing I do in the morning and last thing at night. I’d brush my teeth with a book in my hand, but it’s just not practical. But books should never be practical. They should be otherworldly.

I don’t change, but the world around absorbs me molecule by molecule. I look at the world differently after reading. I’m even one of few readers with input into a small Scottish literary prize. It’s not glamourous. An unpaid task to box-tick and summarise a novel in a pithy line that few will bother reading and which is churned up with other’s lines and average scores.

But, hey, I write stuff too. I’ve got a whole number of novels lying about like scrap cars with their wheels off waiting for that spark of the ignition key. When something like this happens the literary bar doesn’t come down. Failure and me get along just fine. We’ve been in a regular relationship so long some folk assume we’re married. And every spring a guy in a dress puts a black mark on my head and reminds me.

‘Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.’

I’ll leave the afterlife until after life. Still, we dream of leaving a mark—on a page. The Pied Piper of public opinion is playing our tune. We’re marching today from a slightly different beat, one that I recognise, one that others might recognise too. I’m not the type of person who writes a book. It’s only brainy and successful people that do that sort of thing. Only those sort that get published. Aye, right!  Dream on.