Alan Warner and Brian Hamill (2019) Good Listeners, published by the common breath.
Posted by celticman on Mon, 25 May 2020
I enjoyed this collection of six short stories from Alan Warner and Brian Hamill. If we went at this alphabetically, it would be BH and AW, but get real. Alan Warner writes an introduction, waxes nostalgically about the time he used to send manuscripts by post! That was before he became an internationally acclaimed writing superstar. He felt sorry for would-be writers like Brian Hamill, whose writing he enjoyed reading, but with nowhere much to send short stories now decided to lend his literary weight to proceedings and jointly publish a book with him.
It’s a book published by the common breath. Just up the road from me in Partick. Hamill has been doing the things I mean to do. His three short stories aren’t as good as Alan Warners’s, but then again, not a lot of folk’s are.
The best of the collection is It All Pours Down Like Silver. A stoater of a story with the protagonist going back to live with his—once best mate—Angus in the kinds of shitty Scottish town beyond Fort William that Warner portrays so well in his novels.
Angus opened the front door just enough to let the dog out. Its leather muzzle busied with fury at the two inch gap. Angus said, ‘Must be fifteen years and you turn up and I haven’t done the hoovering.’
‘I’ll forgive you.’
…The dog was called Aleister Growley.’
So what’s changed in fifteen years? Nothing. What’s going to change? Nothing. When everything’s fucked up it remains fucked up. How fucked up can life be is the theme of the story, if that can be the theme and not the story? Nothing makes me more unhappy than a happy ending.
Both writers trade in Scots noir, which is relation to Tartan noir, and it’s a crime not to read it. I hadn’t heard of these terms until recently and might just have made them up. William McIlvanney is the baseline.
Hamill does a decent job of sending it all up in The Writing Tutors. We’ve all been there. I remember a similar story on a website I inhabit like a gang hut (ABCtales) at the far end of the etheric universe. This writer’s class was full of lawyers. They imagined because they could spell Ferrari writing fame and fortune beckoned. I’d a similar experience with an arsehole that liked to pontificate and swap jokes with the tutor. The worst part was when I read his writing it was fucking great.
Here we have the much vaunted opening line.
‘Daniel O’Brien was a simple person.’
A simple first line.
‘At the age of twenty-five, he decided he wanted to be a famous novelist. He knew nothing about writing so enrolled in an evening class.’
I guess that pretty much describes Hamill and my own experience. But given a choice I’d rather not be famous. I would like to be widely read.
Daniel O’Brien’s writing tutors say contradictory things. Daniel was trying to understand the best way to be a famous novelist, but also the best way to be himself. If I was hyping the story up, I’d say something clichéd like… and with hilarious results. But I’ll just say, aye, that could have happened and I recognise these characters.
The Red Rabbit is the longest of the three stories and his best.
‘It was my second chance at being a student again. Mature this time. I wouldn’t fuck it up'.
The reader, of course, knows, or kinda hopes, he will. Otherwise what’s the point of reading? The narrator is called ‘Brian by the way’, I’ll let you decide, if Brian Hamill is Brian. A good story is when you can’t separate fact from fiction. This happens here. I know people like that. I’m people like that. Brian is Brian because good writers—and Hamill is a good writer—inhabits many characters, many skins. Read on.