Having stumbled across @GlasgowNoir on Twitter, one of the Get Around Glasgow team decided to download “clip their little wings” for the kindle. The book is the first in a series about a Glasgow private detective called Stevie McCabe by Glasgow author John Callaghan.
The fast flowing thriller has dodgy politicians, Glasgow gangsters, a jazz singing asylum seeker, a headless junkie and enough twists that will keep you turning pages right to the end. Along with the colourful characters, the best and worst of Glasgow is shown in full technicolour as Stevie McCabe winds his way round the city finding that more and more of his cases start interweaving with the same names getting whispered louder and louder. Not going to say to much about the book as we don’t want to spoil the plot but it can be read in a few days and comes heartily recommended. Talk is cheap though so the best recommendation we can give is the fact that the follow up has already made it’s way onto our reviewer’s Kindle!
We managed to track down John and we’re glad to say he was happy enough to answer some questions about his books and Glasgow.
John you’ve now released three books around the character of Stevie McCabe a sarcastic Glaswegian private detective. Did you have to look far for your inspiration or is he based on your self or someone you know?
No, he’s not based on anybody in particular, certainly nobody in that line of business, and absolutely not me. One of my main aims, though, was to make the city (cliché alert!) a character in the books, to write stories that could not have happened anywhere else. Since the books are written in the first person, a huge amount of that job falls on the narrator, so you could reasonably say that Stevie McCabe is based on a city, not a person. I might share one or two of his views, right enough…
The book traverses many different parts of Glasgow and the surrounding areas, are you based in Glasgow and do you physically go to all the locations featured in the book?
No, I haven’t lived in Glasgow for many years! However, I was born and raised there, a Govan boy by birth who moved later to Mosspark. Of course, I still have family and other connections there and I visit regularly. The books all contain the author’s note: “He left Glasgow, it never left him” and that sums it up. As for locations, they come into three categories:
(1) real places which do exist,
(2) lightly fictionalised places that are based on real ones,
(3) entirely fabricated.
and how you treat them depends on how real they are. When you’re writing in detail about real places which do exist (George Square, for example), you have to know them well; for locations only based on real places, it’s enough to get the overall feel right – describing a pub in the Gallowgate, for example, only needs sound and look authentic; it doesn’t matter if the place you’ve based it doesn’t actually have a jukebox. If your location is entirely imaginary, you can do what you like – in the first page of the first book, I introduce a fictitious shopping/business complex called the Kelvinbank Centre, more or less where the armadillo is. In reality, it couldn’t exist because there’s no space for it, but so long as there is a Finnieston riverside that looks over at the old garden festival site, then it makes dramatic sense.
One other thing people ask me about is why some specific locations, like pubs, are real while others are only “based on”. The answer is that it depends on what’s happening there – if the characters are just having a beer, and there are no “events”, then you might as well make it a real pub, but if, say, the barman starts to become a character, you have to fictionalise it, because the real barman of the real pub you have in mind might not fancy what he’s shown to say and do.
Stevie McCabe has a few regular drinking establishments he likes to haunt, any particular Glasgow bars you find your self returning to on more than one occasion?
Pubs again…my first-ever local was The Bells in Govan Road (long-gone now), followed by the Scotia (the smokiest pub in history – always a mad trick to sook a polo mint on the way home and think you didn’t smell of drink…maybe you didn’t, but your clothes smelt like lung disease). Since I don’t live in the city any more, I tend to follow wherever my mates frequent most and that changes over the years. There was a long time when the Vicky in Briggait was the inevitable destination, before the Three Judges at Partick Cross replaced it (or nearby alternatives like Tennents). In recent years, the Bon Accord has been a favourite (as it was many moons ago). The common theme (people aside) is the lust for good beer – which, in fact, Steve McCabe shares.
On your twitter feed you have been offering product placement opportunities for you next book, have you had much response and do you see this as an extra income or a way to engage with your readers?
No, no! It’s not meant to make ANY income because it’s free, at least in the monetary sense. All I ask is that people generate some Facebook likes and/or Twitter followers and in return they get their name used as a minor character in the current book. I haven’t really thought it through but I suppose it would work on the basis of, the more likes and followers, the bigger the role. One maybe gets you a place on a list of names, five gets you a role as a big polis who has a few lines and some patter – something like that. Obviously, this would only apply to characters who are not integral to the story, and can therefore have any old name. It’s mostly for fun and certainly a way to engage with readers. It’s the kind of thing you can do in modern writing/publishing, which would have been impossible even a few years ago. So far only one person and one business have come forward, so plenty of room to be ‘passer-by #4’ or ‘woman in pub with blue drink’. The places to go are @GlasgowNoir on twitter or on the Facebook page if anybody’s game.
When do you think the book will be finished and will it be self published?
The novel, called My Name Is Never Was (which, by the way, was the subject of my unsuccessful campaign to get Courtney Love to approve the quoting of her lyric, which I posted about on Facebook) should be finished in March at the current rate of progress and (allowing time for admin) should be available to join the first three some time in April. It concerns an old church in the Gorbals, a reality TV show, a religious cult, modern celebrity and murder. It will indeed be self-published.
You can buy paperback versions of your books from your website and Amazon, do any shops in Glasgow sell your books and do you have any particular favourite book shop in Glasgow?
No, in keeping with the modern approach of using social media, publishing independently, and not spending vast amounts on promotion and printing, I do everything online through the big retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and of course my own website. It’s not that I’m against conventional bookstores, far from it, just that the logistics of distribution are a pain. Having said that, I do plan to indulge in some legwork over the next few months to try and get some shelfspace in the real world and clearly Glasgow would be an ideal place to do that. My favourite bookshop (gone now) used to be the mad revolutionary one on Paisley Road between the Kingston Bridge and the Toll, but that was only for reasons of mischief and comedy, since it was run by total bampots, (it appears, lightly disguised, in the third book). The other one I liked was John Smiths in St Vincent Street (also deceased).
Your book is also available for the Kindle on the Amazon, what’s your thoughts on the move to digital books. In the past people would pass on books they would recommend do you think this is going to make it more difficult for new authors to get established?
I think it’s great. From my point of view, I can personally format a novel and upload it to Amazon instantly without cost. Readers can buy it for a third the cover price of a physical book and store it along with a jillion others on one small device. I think new ways of interacting between readers will develop – are doing, already, in fact. For example, I have a tiny but loyal following among Californian pensioners who are members of Amazon readers’ forums and are always recommending each other whole series of books that way. That kind of thing (and other social media based activity) will only grow – who would have thought even ten years ago that we’d be communicating world-wide with strangers about books, beer, sport and so forth? As for new authors, it’s actually easier to get something (anything) out there this way than by traditional methods. Try telling a London agent what a walloper is.
Do you have a favourite building / place in Glasgow?
I guess it’s the terrace in front of the main Gilmorehill tower at Glasgow University and the cloisters behind it. I set the first scene of my first book there, and that must mean something. I also once watched Arthur Montford drive golf balls from there into Kelvingrove Park with a wobbly rubber club. That must mean nothing.
We’ve recently nailed our colours to the mast and put Alasdair Gray’s Lanark forward as our favourite book based in Glasgow. Apart from your own what’s your favourite book based in Glasgow?
I met Alasdair Gray once, a long time ago, and I’m pleased to say he’s every bit as eccentric as you’d hope. He turned up to propose the Immortal Memory at a Burns supper with his ratty jumper outside-in and back-to-front – excellent! That aside, does the Crow Road count as a Glasgow book? Not really, I guess. I have good memories of William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw books, but I don’t know how well they will have aged. An outsider would be Brond, by Frederic Lindsay, although I must confess my memory of book and TV show are intertwined.
And finally what would your perfect Glasgow day be?
You couldn’t actually do all this in just one day assuming you could….start with a big pile of rolls ‘n’ square slice (rolls off a big slab from the paper-shop, sausage from a proper butcher), walk that off down by the Clyde – along Broomielaw, over the squinty bridge and along Govan Road to the subway, catch the subway back to Buchanan Street and walk along/through George Square to Babbity’s for a couple of pints, then off to a well-known Glasgow football ground for a derby game ending in the right result (what that result might be is a secret); evening spent in the Three Judges in Partick, followed by a curry in the nearest place that would let us in. And then something uplifting to read at bedtime, I dunno, Milton or George Eliot or the like (aye, right) as the sun sets over the Clyde with no jakeys to be seen.
We would like to thank John for taking time out of his busy schedule and answering some questions and for shedding some light on his characters and his writing process. If you want to find out more about John and his books please use the links below:
Glasgow Noir Fiction: Website
Paperback Editions: Lulu Publishing