Tuesday 23 November 2010

Drive! by Andrew McCallum Crawford - Interview in Omikron Magazine (Greece), Issue 23, November 2010

Here's an interview I did over here for Omikron Magazine. The original text, in Greek, can be found at the link at the bottom of the page.

A Scottish Writer in Ptolemaida
Sokratis Moutidis

Every afternoon for two years, Andy McCallum Crawford could be found sitting in front of his computer in a cafenieo in Ptolemaida. Some people asked what he was writing. Andy's stock answer was 'Just work'. Other people thought he was planning lessons for the school where he teaches English. Even Babbis, the owner of the cafeneio, and an old friend of Andy's, had no idea he was putting the finishing touches to his first novel, Drive!

The book went through numerous drafts over a total of ten years before Andy was happy with it. "The characters were always pushing and shoving each other, trying to grab the limelight," he says. " I had to decide whose story it really was, and go with that. It took a while to get it right."

Terry, Sammy and Dug are the three central characters in the book. Sammy plays the drums in a rock band, while Dug tries to be best mates with Terry, even though they live in different worlds. Terry, the rich kid, has everything - money, women and good looks - but his relationship with his parents causes him to rebel. Drive! is Terry's story, the story of his revolt against his father.

"Most of the characters in the book have no parental guidance in their lives," Andy explains. "This is especially true of Terry; his father, in fact, wants to destroy him - he has done something his father considers unforgiveable. Just what that is - well, you'll have to read the book to find out."

The father/son relationship forms the core of the book, but there is also an exploration of hypocrisy in the protestant church. Terry's father is a staunchly Calvinist minister (something which makes Terry's life very difficult) but he is also raking it in as one of Edinburgh's top slumlords, renting substandard housing to the city's unemployed. Terry wants to expose his father for what he really is, so he joins a rock band, Drive!, in the hope that he will find a platform and an audience of willing listeners. He fails, and is soon faced with the question of what he is going to do with the rest of his life. After being rejected by the financial world, he finally decides, fully realising he is scraping the bottom of the barrel marked 'Desperate', to join the RAF. They don't want him, either. At this point, he vanishes, and no one, not even the reader, knows where he is until the surprise ending of the book.

Andy has lived in Ptolemaida for the last fifteen years. He has been writing since he was a student in Scotland. The parent-child relationship he explores in the book is something he found challenging. "Greek parents have a completely different relationship with their children compared with parents in Scotland," he says, "in that they will do anything - anything - to help their children. In Scotland, children are expected to leave home when they're eighteen. Of course, that doesn't mean that Scottish parents love their children less than Greek parents, it's just that they feel that their kids should be able to stand on their own two feet as soon as possible." Andy comes from an industrial town in East Central Scotland, which, he says, has more than a little in common with Ptolemaida. "We're ten kilometres away from the mine here, aren't we? I grew up in a town just over the back from an oil refinery."

Drive! is not autobiographical, although there are a few scenes that are based on actual events. The book is very Scottish in its language and tone. The story is set in 1986 Edinburgh, and there are lots of references to music from that time. All of the songs in the book have been collected together on Andy's page on Facebook, for those who would like to listen.

Drive! has been out since May this year. Andy has already completed another two books, both of which he hopes to publish in the near future. His second novel is set half in Scotland and half in Greece, while the third is set wholly in Greece. "I like that feeling when I start a book of not knowing where it might end up," he says. "Sometimes it's nice not knowing what's going to happen."

Drive! by Andrew McCallum Crawford
Skepdek Publishing, 2010

Available from:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Drive-Andrew-McCallum-Crawford/dp/9609929605/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1290549536&sr=8-1 (excluding Greece)



The original article in Omikron Magazine can be found here:


Sunday 14 November 2010

Norman MacCaig.

I spent most of my final year at University reading the plays of Dennis Potter in a dark corner of the library. Laudable, perhaps; but I was supposed to be reading Plato. Scottish poetry for me, then, did not exist. I had never been introduced to it. Call me a late starter.

I joined a writing group. Very soon a trip was organised to go and see Norman MacCaig 'doing a reading'. I remember the event, but I don't remember the location. Stirling? Bridge of Allan? Somewhere around there. It was him and Brian McCabe. McCabe I had heard of - I'd read his short stories. But who was this other man, this MacCaig that everyone was raving about?

McCabe was wonderful, reading poems and excerpts from his prose. Then the break. Wine out of cardboard boxes, of course. I could have done with another glass, but people were moving back to their seats. I found an empty chair in the front row. Introduction, and a polite ripple of applause. A tall, skinny man in a Tweed jacket loped into view. He stood directly in front of me, a fly smile on his lips. He opened the book he was holding and began to read.

There are moments in life that we all remember. They're called turning points. As MacCaig continued to recite - about Ancient Greeks, stones, oceans and frogs (frogs?), I knew that I had reached a turning point. The man was a genius. And all the while, that smile on his lips, and dancing round the edges of his eyes, as if he were daring us to laugh.

I saw him one more time. We got off the same train at Queen Street in Glasgow. He was walking along the platform in front of me. I knew it was him - the gait, the jacket. I wanted to speak, but what was there to say? 'Hello, I liked your poems'? Sometimes it is better to say nothing. Perhaps we can then make a poem of it. I'm sure Norman would have understood.