Monday, May 12, 2008

Talking about football fiction with Alan Bissett

Alan Bissett has been mentioned in this blog before. He's a Scottish writer. For his literary efforts, he's been getting called a doyen and rating mentions in places like the List's top 100 cool eh, things. At the moment he's working on some more fictional largesse and plans to revisit the peeps in his first novel BOYRACERS. His last book THE INCREDIBLE ADAM SPARK is excellent too. Well worth reading for any number of reasons. None of them are football related right enough.

A wee while ago, he wrote a short story for the THE HOPE THAT KILLS US football writing anthology, so I wrote to him and asked him if he'd maybe talk about football fiction for us. And he did.

TheSimplestGame: What made you choose to write A Minute's Silence? What's behind it, your inspiration? How did you get involved with The Hope...?

Alan Bissett: A MINUTE'S SILENCE was written specifcially with the theme of the anthology in mind, so it had to be based around football, but I did want to use it to explore issues that are bigger than football, and in Scotland there are few more important issues than that of religious sectarianism. It's difficult to grow up as a young male in Scotland without being touched by this in some way, and while it wasn't quite as fierce as it is in Glasgow, that Catholic/Protestant shite still reached us in Falkirk. Looking back on it now I can see how my young mind was being warped politically by the simple issue of supporting a football team and I wanted to explore that. Football can be divisive at the best of times, but in Scotland it is particularly sharp, and I thought I'd be shirking my responsiblity if I didn't recognise that.

TSG: One of the great strengths in your work is voice, you are able capture the patter, the sense of time and place and all the stuff that goes with it in these really fascinating characters, how do you think you are able to do this?
AB: All I wanted to do was write as genuinely as I could about the world around me, and certainly when I was young my friends and I communicated in a language composed of film, sitcom, music and football references. That pop-culture world was as much a dialect to us as the Falkirk accent that we spoke with. I wasn't conscious of doing anything other than to show how this 'stuff' informs the very fabric of people's character and the way they interact with each other. If I'm able to do it well, it's because that 'is' the natural voice of contemporary society - from Dunoon to Denver. How often have you been trying to describe a situation to someone by saying, 'It was like that epidsode of Friends/The Simpsons/The Sopranos when X says to Y....' And yes, for a lot of men, football is a culture and language all of its own, which includes or excludes the same as any other culture and language. I'm just reflecting the reality of that."

TSG: There seems to be a general belief that men prefer reading non-fiction over fiction – it's been put forward as one of the reasons for the dearth of football fiction. Do you think this is true and do you prefer reading non-fiction or fiction?
AB: It would seem - if marketing statistics are correct - that most men do prefere reading non-fiction, and certainly as I've grown older I've started to read a lot more of it: whether on history, popular science or politics. The advantage of fiction is that it can explore the psychology and motivations of characters in a way that is dramatically exciting, but the disadvantage is that you can only learn so much 'about' the world from fiction, as it just does not have a duty to record the facts in the same way that non-fiction does. I think it's probably healthy to read in both areas.

TSG: Do you think there is a defined market for football fiction?
AB: There's a market for any kind of fiction, as long as it's good. But I do think the market is smaller, for reasons I'll soon come to.

TSG: Another theory is that footballers are better at expressing themselves with a ball than a pen, why do you think there is so little fiction about a sport which is so popular?
AB: I think the difference is that most people whose main interest is football *tend* not to be big readers of quality fiction; most readers of quality fiction *tend* not to be football fans. If you want to do any reading about football, there are newspapers, magazines and non-fiction books by the dozen devoted to it. There are online forums where you can discuss the game with other fans. Given what I said about fiction being poorly equipped with facts - and football being a game based on speculation based on statistics - fiction would not seem to be the most natural place to go for insight .

That said, David Peace's THE DAMNED UNITED is one of the best novels I've ever read, let alone novels about football. It elevates the game - and Brian Clough in particular - to the level of Shakespearean tragedy, which massive egoes, obsessions and personal demons exposed for the reader to see. It's epic! More exciting than football itself, as far as this reader is concerned. Fiction deals with characters and narratives, which is why Clough's enormous personality and the twists and turns of his story are perfect material. But let's be honest, most footballers and managers are fairly blank. They're athletes. Their story takes place before us on the pitch. There's often little fiction can do to supplement it that no fan can do for himself as he watches.

You can buy these books on Amazon, or go straight to Alan Bissett's My Space page or the Alan Bissett website in the links on the subs bench (on yer right).

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