Much excitement late last night when my lovely publishers at Lunicorn decided to announce the title of my latest book and, for good measure, a picture of the cover. It’s called Travels from my Twilight Zone and, at this stage, it’s that cover art that’s the received the most attention and admiration. It’s been a creative collaboration between Lochwinnoch illustrator Laura Jackson and Edinburgh designer Heather Macpherson at Raspberry Creative Type. I think it captures the tone of the book which I could describe as a sort of drug-induced travel guide to my subconscious. The drawings on the signpost refer to different stories in the book – some are childhood memories and others are pure fiction. The travel element involves locations in Glasgow – Easterhouse, Dennistoun – and then it branches out to include Ayrshire, Tullibody, Stirling, Broughty Ferry, Monifieth, Carnoustie and Arbroath as I describe school outings and cross-country trips in my dad’s old Dormobile. I also talk about being the youngest of eight siblings and the strange culture clash of having a Scottish mother and a Polish father.
The book begins in Dundee, of course, which is where I was at the start of this year, recovering from surgery and dreaming about my past while under the influence of morphine. There were also dreams about talking elephants, over-ambitious hand-shadow shows and a sinister plot to murder Santa Claus – hence the fiction section of the book. If you want more, well, there’s a volcano in Edinburgh and a monster in Loch Ness – but you knew that, didn’t you?
There’s also a foreword written by BBC Radio 2 Presenter, Ken Bruce, who got in touch last year to tell me how much he enjoyed The Red Light Zone. He’s one of the few people to have actually read Travels from my Twilight Zone and I’m chuffed by what he had to say about it: “His irrepressible desire to entertain enlivens every page.”
The official launch of the hardback edition will be in October, but you can now pre-order at Waterstones and other real bookshops. It’s £12.99.
“Where everybody was slashing everybody.”
That top line sounds like something from the theme tune of a 1980’s Glasgow sit-com. Perhaps one set in a neighbourhood bar called ‘Chibs” The kind of pub where everybody not only knows your name but also where you live and how much you still owe to the loan sharks. In fact, though, it’s a line from the opening of a very funny memoir written by the TV and online comedy star Limmy who describes his childhood in Carnwadrick, a council estate on the south side of Glasgow.
“in terms of how it felt living there, it didn’t feel as rough as some other places I’d heard of like Govan or Easterhouse, these places where it sounded like everybody was slashing everybody.”
As an Easterhouse boy myself, I’m well used to people bench-marking their own social status against my own home turf. Sure, there are parts of Dundee and Edinburgh which have rough reputations, but tell those east-coast tough guys that you are from Easterhouse and you can see them clearing the top step for you on the poverty podium. Offer the same information to people from Bearsden or Carnoustie and you can see them going for gold in the hundred metre sprint.
I’ve always been able to laugh at those who mock Easterhouse, mainly because I knew they were wrong. I remember the columnist and radio presenter Frank Skerritt writing an article published in a summer festival brochure. In it he included a joke about “how do you know a letter has come from Easterhouse? Look at the stamp on the envelope and you’ll see the Queen is holding her nose.” Ah, the old ones are the best.
Often the topic of my upbringing has been raised when I’ve been interviewed for a newspaper feature. I always go to great pains to confound expectations by describing my childhood as “idyllic” and, for the large part that’s true. I have memories of sunny days, wide open spaces, street games and laughter. It’s even been suggested I could write a book about those days, but others have beaten me to it. A few years ago, Rikki Brown wrote about his experiences growing up in the area and he, with great humour, was able to describe witnessing actual gang fights that did, indeed include some knife slashing and other assorted violence (some involving the use of a golf club). Rikki’s book, ‘Frankie Vaughan ate my hamster” also describes the highly publicised attempt by the showbiz star Vaughan to broker peace between rival gangs. There was also a weapons amnesty which lasted for just as long as the press photographers were there to capture scores of young boys (some of whom might even have been gang members) depositing sticks and bricks into a large metal bin.
Such incidents are far removed from my own memory of Saturday morning bike rides to Drumpellier Loch and ice cream sundaes at Shandwick Square shopping mall. Or the tree swing across the Monklands canal. Or fossil hunting in the peat-fields near Commonhead. Or snowball fights in the square at Corsehill Street. I could go on and my current connection with the Platform arts group in Easterhouse would give me a brand-new list of good things to say about the place.
And yet…I realise I have chosen to blanket some bad memories. Like the time Danny Pryce and I wandered down to watch the new electric trains at Easterhouse station, not realising we had trapped ourselves in no man’s land between two warring gangs: The Skinheads and the Toi . As the battle raged either side of us, we beseeched an elderly pedestrian to give us sanctuary and he escorted us back into safer ground. Or the time Danny and I were walking to school and a bloke pulled a gun on us. It turned out to be an air pistol, but the thwack thwack of pellets hitting a nearby tree made it no less fearsome.
So, yeah, one gang fight and some gunfire. Balanced against all the good memories, it’s not really enough to fill a book.
Or is it?