Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Debut Spotlight: David F. Ross

Under the debut spotlight today is Scottish author David F. Ross, the latest debut author to be signed by Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books.  His debut novel The Last Days of Disco is published next week as a paperback although the eBook is already available if you cannot wait to read.

David F. Ross was born in Glasgow in 1964 and has lived in Kilmarnock for over 30 years. He is a graduate of the Mackintosh School of Architecture at Glasgow School of Art, an architect by day, and a hilarious social media commentator, author and enabler by night. His most prized possession is a signed Joe Strummer LP.

Early in the decade that taste forgot, Fat Franny Duncan is on top of the world. He is the undoubted King of the Ayrshire Mobile Disco scene, controlling and ruling the competition with an iron fist. From birthdays to barn dances, Franny is the man to call. He has even played 'My Boy Lollipop' at a funeral and got away with it. But the future is uncertain. A new partnership is coming and is threatening to destroy the big man's Empire ...Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller have been best mates since primary school. Joey is an idealist; Bobby just wants to get laid and avoid following his brother Gary to the Falklands. A partnership in their new mobile disco venture seems like the best way for Bobby to do both at the same time. With compensation from an accident at work, Bobby's dad Harry invests in the fledgling business. His marriage to Ethel is coming apart at the seams and the disco has given him something to focus on. Tragic news from the other side of the world brings all three strands together in a way that no one could have predicted. 

The Last Days of Disco is a eulogy to the beauty and power of the 45rpm vinyl record and the small but significant part it played in a small town Ayrshire community in 1982. 

Witty, energetic and entirely authentic, it's also heartbreakingly honest, weaving tragedy together with comedy with uncanny and unsettling elegance. A simply stunning debut.

How long did it take you to write The Last Days of Disco?
That's not as straightforward a question as it might appear. I wrote the bulk of the first draft in around 12 months during 2011. During that year, I was travelling a lot with work to China and the Middle East. Writing just became a good way to fill some of the time on planes, or when the jet-lag kept me awake in the hotels during the nights. When I finished the manuscript I published it myself, and it gained some positive comments from people who have downloaded it. During 2014, I began communicating with Arcadia Books through Twitter - not initially realising it was Karen Sullivan I was 'talking' to - and when she started supporting a wee collaborative writing thing I was doing, I thought I'd chance my arm and ask her to look at the manuscript, which she kindly did. She liked it, and for the past 8 months we've been refining and polishing it into the version that you've just read.

Why did you choose to set the novel in the 1980s?
The early 80s were a great time. There was so many things going on ... musically, culturally and politically. I felt really alive during that time; like the possibilities in my life were endless even though I couldn't quite put my finger on what I'd end up doing. Emotions just seemed so much more tangible then. It just felt logical to me to go back to that period for my first book because I could tap into those feelings so easily.

Much of the novel centres around the music of the era – does music play a big role in your life?
Very much so. Music is a constant in my life that I couldn't live without. I can't go anywhere or do anything without music on. Most of the best memories in my life are underscored or associated with music. The last ever concert by The Jam at the Brighton Centre, meeting Ray Charles and Elvis Costello in Montreal, spending a few hours buying records at the greatest place on earth ... Amoeba Records at Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco etc., etc ...

The two main characters, Joey and Bobby, are teenagers, yet very authentically drawn. Did you find it hard to give them a voice?
Thank you. I'm glad that the authenticity of their relationship comes across. I was also 18 in 1982, so it was pretty easy to recall how I felt then about the Falklands War or Margaret Thatcher. I also worked as a DJ then too, so a few of the 'incidents' are exaggerated versions of events that actually happened. 

Is either of these characters or, indeed, any of the other characters based on yourself or people you know?
I suppose it's inevitable that there's some of myself and my friends in the way the two teenage characters interact and speak, but beyond that, no. I've been extremely fortunate to have met many interesting people in my life and the characters are all generally amalgamations of characteristics and traits that I've found fascinating or remarkable. I love all of these characters though, and perhaps Fat Franny most of all. He was modelled on the wee guy with the pony-tail who used to be Michael Jackson's manager. I found it funny to imagine such a person with big - but not entirely legal - plans, trapped by circumstance in Ayrshire.

You've chosen to write in the vernacular. Were you worried that some readers would find it difficult to understand? Was your publisher happy to keep the dialect?
Since I was originally writing purely for myself, it never occurred to me not to write in such a way. I like books or stories where the context is a character in its own right, but it would have felt like a betrayal to the rhythm, spirit and authenticity of the place to have written in more standard English. I really hope that people enjoy it more as a result. Karen was very supportive although she did make telling interventions and suggestions when I used a phrase or a word which was just too impenetrable. She does concede though that she has learned some new ways to insult people, should she ever find the need.

How difficult was it to weave together comedy and tragedy?
My favourite writers (Jonathan Coe, Irvine Welsh, John Irving) do this effortlessly. I'm a Glaswegian and I believe that my upbringing has always involved using humour as a coping mechanism for some of the worst things life throws at you. There is much humour to be found in the face of adversity in the West of Scotland. It's how we tend to deal with things, and how we remain grounded. 

Did the Falklands War have any impact on your own life?
The only impact the Falklands War had on me was the irrational fear of being conscripted and sent there by the Wicked Witch of Westminster. I remember an argument with my dad just as the conflict started where he thought National Service should be reintroduced. I went out the very next day and joined CND! It was a very strange time though. The War was the last ever hand-to-hand combat war in history. Whilst still horrific nowadays, wars are fought differently. My own son is now the age I was when the Falklands War ended. The thought of him charging across a hill towards a kid the same age as him, and holding a rifle with a bayonet attached to the end of it still makes me shiver.

Politics come into the story in understated but significant ways. Can you explain its importance to the novel?
I was very politically aware in 1982. I was a member of CND, I joined the Labour Party, I was angry about the way Margaret Thatcher's policies were affecting Scotland. Most of the bands I liked (The Jam, The Clash, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, etc.) were very politically motivated. Until the Referendum in Scotland last year, there had been a real political apathy for around a decade. Finally, my kids expressed an interest and it was great to watch how maturely Scotland's young people expressed themselves. It reminded me of the early 80s. 
Although I was obviously no fan of Margaret Thatcher, I will concede she had conviction. I wanted to try and find a way to capture that specifically charged political context which would ultimately peak with the Miners Strike in 1985.

Your writing has been compared to Roddy Doyle and Irvine Welsh. Were they both influences?
I'm unbelievably flattered that anything I have done has been compared to both of those writers. Irvine Welsh is the Godfather of Scottish contemporary writing as far as I'm concerned, and Roddy Doyle is his equivalent in Ireland. Both are definitely influences although I think the most direct influences on the book are 'The Amateurs' by John Niven and Paul Weller's lyrics for The Jam's 'Setting Sons' LP.

You are a busy architect 'by day', so how did you find time to write?
With increasing difficulty, but I suppose everyone has busy lives nowadays. It's a question of time management and discipline although that's probably a pretty boring answer. I do keep a notepad next to my bed though ... and I've had great ideas for stories emerge at two in the morning and I can't sleep until I've written them down.

What's next?
I've submitted a draft of a book called The Glasgow Trilogy to Karen. It's three interconnected stories set in the east end of Glasgow spanning four decades. I've described it as 'Weegie Bampot Comedy Crime Noir' ... it's a new genre, hopefully. There's a central character in all three stories who is heavily based on my dad, who died a few years ago. The book is my wee tribute to him. Beyond that, I've started a sequel to Last Days, called The Man Who Loved Islands. It takes the central family characters up to the present day.

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