Interview: Alan Bissett
The acclaimed playwright, performer and author has started gigging again following a move to Lochwinnoch and the birth of his second child. Words by Nadine McBay.
Alan Bissett published his debut novel Boyracers soon after graduating from the University of Stirling. The Pink Floyd super-fan grew up in Hallglen, the Falkirk housing scheme which became the setting for many of his creations, most famously Moira Bell, the star of two hit productions.
Subjects of his successful plays have Included his favourite band’s late psychedelic pioneer Syd Barrett and feminist campaigner Andrea Dworkin before exploring Scotland’s colonial past in 2018’s It Wasnae Me.
Speaking from his adopted home, he tells us about his new work, the people that moulded him and what’s special about the nearby public houses.
When did you move to Lochwinnoch?
In spring of 2015. It’s been a great move for us, especially as we’ve got kids now, as it’s a proper community. People are friendly and open and the clichés about people saying hello to you on the street are true. It’s not too big, not too wee and there’s a good mix of social classes. You don’t feel people are either up their own arse or are rough as f***.
The village is home to many creative people; is that a coincidence?
It’s great to have things like Lochwinnoch Arts Festival and it’s a creative culture in general. If you go somewhere during the week like The Corner Bar, there will be folk musicians playing. Not to anybody specifically, just playing. There’s no Sky Sports or fruit machines, people go there to talk. They are proper rural pubs from hundreds of years ago, before technology came along and all pubs became the same.
Your first book Boyracers was published when you were 25. Was there someone who particularly influenced you as a young person?
I was always quite driven, always writing. I had some really good teachers who were encouraging. In my early twenties I was at Stirling University and going along to Stirling Writers Group. There was a tutor there called Magi Gibson and we had this really good pupil-mentor relationship. I owe all those women, especially Magi, an awful lot. Most creative people will have had people like that in their lives, people who took that energy and guided you in a way you couldn’t yourself. You never forget them.
You’ve written four novels and 15 plays. Is there a creation you are particularly proud of?
I could stand by pretty much everything I’ve done. While I’ve never had a massive, huge breakthrough success, I’ve never really had a dud. There are some I think I did particularly well. Moira Monologues is an obvious one, because nine years after it was first performed, people are still turning up for that show and enjoying it. With the books, Death Of A Ladies’ Man which, though probably the darkest, is the book that has the most depth and complexity. Funnily enough, in Moira Monologues she actually goes on a date with the main character from Death Of A Ladies’ Man, so those two texts kind of talk to each other.
Is there a part of your job that surprises people?
People who aren’t writers are surprised about the amount of travelling you do. There’s a tendency to think writing all happens in one stationary place, where you spend all day every day working. But you also have to promote your work and you get invited to places. I like doing that anyway – I like an audience.
What does the rest of the year hold for you?
I’ve just done the first draft of a stage adaptation of Alastair McIntosh’s book on land ownership, Soil and Soul, which hopefully we will build towards a full production. I am waiting to see if he thinks it’s any good. I’ve also just written Mr Francis and The Village of Secrets for a youth company in the north east of Scotland. It’s the true story of a guy called Frances Lethom who was a famous 18th century Gothic novelist. He’s now almost completely forgotten. He was banished from his home town of Norwich and appeared years later up in Inverurie under a different name. Nobody knows why.
Favourite part of Renfrewshire? Paisley Abbey. It’s an oasis of calm where you’re surrounded by history.
Best place for dinner? The Brown Bull in Lochwinnoch, especially their steak.
Best place for coffee? Blend Coffee Lounge in Paisley. They do a nice macchiato.
Best pub? The Corner Bar in Lochwinnoch. Great banter.
Keep up to date with Alan’s work online and follow Falkirk’s hardest woman Moira Bell on Twitter via @MoiraMonologues.