As is now fast becoming the norm for any event involving Alan Bissett at the book festival, the audience at this latest shindig along with Doug Johnstone left with sore bellies and cheeks from an hour of laughter.
Bissett is a force of nature, managing to capture the essence of youthful humour and couple it with adult, mature themes that he addresses through his fiction. And with Johnstone, a worthy partner in their double act, we have two authors who fit together like two proverbial peas in the same pod.
Both authors began the proceedings by reading from their latest works: Bissett from Pack Men and Johnstone from Smokeheads. Johnstone’s reading was rich and vibrant, allowing the audience to follow the story and be pulled immediately into a fascinating world in the highlands that is brimming with adventure and disaster for the protagonists. Bissett didn’t so much read his but perform it, as he read from the moment in Manchester in 2008 just prior to Rangers fans going on the rampage at the UEFA Cup Final.
On Bissett’s attempt to record the events of that fateful night through fiction, he said: “Although a novel may be based on reality, there are layers of fiction that go on top that change it to something else,” and that unless there’s risk in a book what’s the point in writing it?” referring to the fact that the sensitivity of one half of the Old Firm may be pricked by his novel.
Johnstone’s book comes from a different source altogether, in that he writes for himself first and foremost. “I write because I don’t see the world I live in reflected in any of the fiction I read.”
Throughout the event both authors parried and pattered, providing much entertainment as they pushed open the barriers that both men faced in bringing both of these novels into the public domain.
The best question of the festival came from a lady in the audience who asked both authors what their worst criminal act was. Johnstone admitted to having taking drugs, pee’d in a public pace and to have been cautioned by a police officer while a student. Bissett then shocked everyone by coming clean to having a habit of eating four Weetabixes from a bowl at any one time. “It’s not a crime!” he pleaded.
A hilarious night from two very talented writers, I’ll be picking up copies of both of their books before the end of the week.