My most recent book is The Projectionist which was published by Rymour Books in February of this year. It’s set in the fictional Scottish seaside town of Seacrest, a town drunk on cinema, and follows the effect the arrival of a mysterious film critic, Cameron Fletcher, has on the residents. It’s been described as a mystery that’s for fans of both Kenneth Anger and Agatha Christie and that about sums it up. My first novel, The Knitting Station https://www.rymour.co.uk/knitting2.html was published back in March of last year and is a Buchanesque romp set in the 1060s featuring coded knitwear, sinister sheep and hallucinogenic stovies.
I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since Mrs Kay in Primary 5 read my story out to the class one Friday afternoon and for years my main focus was on short stories. I lacked the confidence to tackle a novel until I was lucky enough to get a place on the Scottish Book Trust Mentorship scheme and wrote The Projectionist under the wise supervision of Sam Boyce who now works as a literary consultant. It's been a long, tortuous road to publication so I’ve learnt to make the absolute best of the times when it goes well; getting a story accepted, being placed for a prize or getting on to the Scottish Book Trust’s Debut Lab and meeting such lovely fellow debuts as Caron!
Tell us about yourself?
Are you working on something now? Can you tell us about it?
It’s a novel called The Hedgewitch and the Burryman and is about the Green Man paying a visit to Edinburgh, wreaking havoc as he goes. Whether or not it will every make the light of day, I have no idea so I’m making sure I’m enjoying the writing process as much as possible rather than worrying about the end result.
Which six books will you take to the Island?
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I have to admit I’m not a great one for re-reading books as there are so many books yet to be read and I can be a slow reader. The Great Gatsby is one short enough to re-read without me feeling as though I’m missing out on new-book reading time and is packed full with enough beautiful prose and incident to satisfy. We had to read it for Highers way too many years ago but the absolutely awful brown and orange covers for that particular edition almost succeeded in heightening the sense of discovering a true masterpiece. I’ve read it at regular intervals throughout my life and it’s always fascinating to see what aspects my own experiences now heighten, topics that my fifteen year old self would have brushed past that have a real poignancy now I’m nearing 50(!).
The Abbess of Crewe – Muriel Spark.
I would have to take along a Spark for the short, sharp shock it would provide, her prose stiletto-sharp, elegant and deadly. Every now and again I think about bingeing on her work because the novels are close to novella-length. But that’s a bit like attempting to binge on a cask strength single malt as they pack a real punch with lingering side-effects. In Scotland there tends to be a touristy focus on The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and that carries the danger of passing over just how innovative and deeply strange her writing is. The Abbess of Crewe is almost Monty Python-like in its satirical combination of the seemingly ‘innocent’ life of nuns with political skull-duggery, the Abbess using surveillance and propaganda to maintain her position. It succeeds in being both laugh-out loud funny and curiously disturbing as morality becomes a pliable, shifting thing. It had a strong influence on my first novel, The Knitting Station, in its attempt to combine two seemingly opposing subjects – knitting and armed conflict – to comedic effect (in my novel, sheep tend to take the place of nuns). The Watergate scandal was its inspiration and in its depiction of people in power, loudly proclaiming their innocence whilst using any means necessary to maintain their position, it feels all the more relevant today. Spark’s novels frequently feature strong, charismatic central figures who are as seductively and dangerously appealing as any cult leader. Aside from their broader warnings of being wary of such figures in real-life, a reader held in her thrall, you can’t help wondering how much she personally identified with such characters as Brodie and the Abbess, her readers taking the place of pupils or nuns.
The Collected Short Stories - Shena Mackay.
If you haven’t yet sampled the delights of Shena Mackay, as dark and rich as a Christmas cake well soaked in brandy, then you really need to stop reading this and order one of her books straight away. Her language is as heady as Angela Carter’s but instead of music hall angels and werewolves you’ll find depicted with a humour that teeters on the brink of cruelty, forgotten poets, dodgy antique dealers and lives of quiet suburban desperation. There’s always a hint of the grotesque lingering under the painterly surface, a seedy glamour and eye for the every-day surreal. Mackay is one of those writers who’s powerful enough to change the way you see the world, her prose as intoxicating as one of those weirdly coloured liqueurs you might find lingering stickily at the back of your drinks cabinet. An episode of Are You Being Served? as directed by Mike Leigh is perhaps the closest I can get to describing her work, a description that hardly does her justice. If you haven’t yet read her work, I’m envious as you’re in for a treat.
The Flight From the Enchanter - Iris Murdoch.
I’m ashamed to say I didn’t start reading Iris Murdoch until my late forties as I’d always seen her as being a bit too weighty and ‘philosophical.’ So I was completely unprepared to discover just how richly enjoyable her work is, how fascinated she is by human relationships and the textures, sights and smells of the world. How can you not enjoy a novel that begins with its heroine swinging from a chandelier? With its focus on interweaving relationships it has a melodramatic, soapy feel to it (and as a long-time aficionado of Coronation Street, I mean that as a genuine compliment). Reading Murdoch is like experiencing a waking dream, unpredictable, bewildering and always entertaining.
Sweets: A History of Temptation – Tim Richardson.
I have to confess, I can’t really put my finger on why I’m so fond of those books and why, out of all of them, it’s probably the one I would rush to save if the waves started encroaching. I suspect the simple explanation is I have a sweet tooth and desert islands are no doubt lacking the pastilles, lozenges, toffees, nougats and other treats described in Richardson’s history. It’s a book about some of my most favourite things and a genuine comfort read, clearly written with a deep love and appreciation of its subject matter.
Nosedive: A Field Guide to the World’s Smells – Harold McGee.
This one’s cheating slightly as I haven’t read it yet despite starting it a few months ago. It’s a wonderful book exploring the world of smell, from the basic smells that were created along with the dawn of the universe (quite eggy mostly), to those created by plants, animals and ourselves. McGee is the very best kind of teacher, enthusiastically sharing his subject without dumbing down with a great way with an inspiring, mind-expanding description. His vision of smells being granted colours and swirling over San Francisco is the sort of passage that can make you fall in love with a book. The past two years have played havoc with my reading and I haven’t been able to focus as much as I’ve wanted on Nose Dive. Being stranded on a desert island would be the perfect opportunity for me to give it the attention it deserves
Which disc will you take to the Island?
Oooh, this is such a tricky one! But I’ll have to get down with the kids here and go for Kate Bush’s Running Up that Hill. I believe it’s quite popular now and seems an appropriate backing track for someone trying to get through the days until rescue.
What will be your luxury item?
The Knitting Station was in part inspired by Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie so I would love it if a container packed full of single malt whiskies slipped off the side of the SS Politician Mk II and was conveniently cast ashore.
Which fictional character will you meet?
Robert Louis Stevenson was quite an influence on The Knitting Station with the heroine, Hannah Richards, a female version of Kidnapped’s hero, David Balfour. Davey is pretty useless as an action hero and all the more appealing for that, a sensitive soul who has tearful arguments during his bromance with the dashing Alan Breck. We’d be able to share his experiences and have a laugh about his being stuck on the island of Erraid before being told how he could wade ashore by some passing fishermen.
I’d understand it though if he didn’t fancy a return visit to a deserted island, so if he wasn’t available I’d like to spend time – although not too long, four hours would be about right - with that Stevensonian anti-hero, Long John Silver. He seems a fascinating, charismatic figure, charming but deadly, a piratical Jekyll and Hyde. I’d loved to find out what he got up to when he sailed off to freedom at the end of Treasure Island, much to the scandalised reaction of Victorian readers.