SP: The first thing I read of yours was The Hitchhiker – A Journey Round the Scottish Highlands. It’s set around 1970 but seems quite a timeless story. Fast forward 20 years and it could’ve been me taking that journey. I know the A9 like the back of my hand from countless trips between Edinburgh and Inverness. But from Dalwhinnie, your protagonist cuts off through Spean Bridge towards Fort William. I’ve hitched and camped myself (many years ago now!) around Glencoe, Loch Linnhe, Crianlarich, Tyndrum, etc. So this brought back a lot of memories for me. What’s your favourite route or spot in the Highlands?
BG: My wife and I recently moved to Callander so that we could house-hunt in the area. We’ve become pretty familiar with the road out of Callander, through Glencoe and onwards. I think that route is probably the most dramatic and inspiring in the Highlands – but definitely not for the faint-hearted during winter!
SP: Definitey not! But you’re from just outside Edinburgh, right? What effect has growing up in the shadow of the Forth Bridges had on your writing?
BG: I grew up in South Queensferry during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Situated on the southern shore of the River Forth and nestled between the two Forth Bridges, the Ferry (as it is called locally) looks out on a magnificent and memorable panorama. That landscape features in much of my work. My first novel, a Cold War thriller written in 1976, begins there. My second novel is set on Inchgarvie, the little island tucked under the Forth Rail Bridge. And, of course, the landscape is the backdrop to The Bookie’s Runner, my little biography of my late father. I think it was Hemingway who advised, “Write what you know.” Which I guess is what I’ve been doing.
SP: Interesting that you describe that as a biography. I wasn’t sure. I often wonder if your approach is a bit like mine sometimes is – fiction with a strong autobiographical element running through it. Did all that really happen or are you happy to throw other things in there, such as hearsay or made up stuff, in order to improve the storyline?
BG: Aside from the names of the “baddies” having been changed, every single word of “The Bookie’s Runner” is true. The same is the case for almost all of my short stories, including The Hitchhiker. It’s back to that “Write what you know” advice, I suppose: I often feel compelled to describe real people and real events in my life. Having said that, I do write fiction as well; The Island of Whispers, for example, which couldn’t be further from the truth!
SP: Do you like a bit of a flutter on the gee-gees or anything yourself?
BG: I used to bet on the horses back when I was the bookie’s runner’s runner. But betting doesn’t interest me now. That’s not because I’m puritanical or anything like that. It’s just that I know the bookies will win eventually; that’s why they’re rich and we’re not.
SP: Indeed! Ha ha! I loved that bit about becoming the bookie’s runner’s runner. So, what have you been up to lately?
BG: In between promoting my books and running my little short story website, McStorytellers, I’ve been trying to get on with my latest novel. Called “The Burrymen War”, it’s set in the Ferry some twenty years ago (what a surprise!). It’s a fiction, but it aims to expose the real level of bigotry and sectarianism that’s rife in many parts of Scotland. People will have us believe that the malaise only exists at football matches in the west, but that’s simply not the case. From coast to coast, there’s a lot of hatred out there…
SP: I tend to agree with you about that. It’s too easy for people in the east to dismiss it as a purely west coast thing. I think football mirrors the society and vice versa, but I do also wonder if some think it makes them ‘better fans’ by playing up to the stereotype of the tribal bigot.
BG: … Well, to end on a lighter note, in my role as the founder of McStorytellers, I’m delighted to be taking part in the inaugural Edinburgh eBook Festival, which has been running from 11th August and will end this coming Monday. The brainchild of author Cally Phillips, the festival is a virtual one celebrating all things indie and epublishing. It has held hundreds of exciting virtual events already and is definitely worth a visit.
SP: It sounds very interesting. Wish I could be there. Maybe next year! Thanks for the chat, Brendan.
BG: Thanks for the opportunity to talk about my writing, Steve.
SP: A pleasure.