What’s your writing background? When did you begin writing and what inspired you?
My writing background is very poor because I chose not to attend school that often. My grandparents who reared me since the age of 6 months were alcoholics, which meant I very much did whatever I wanted, when I wanted. I was unruly as a kid growing up and my education suffered consequently. My mother who was a sort of stranger to me, only showing up on special days such as Christmas, my birthday, or Easter, which I remember on one occasion appeared one day right out of the blue and demanded she take me back into her care. Confusing as it was, I was still only eight years old, and I had no choice but to go along with my newfound surroundings and lifestyle. Once in her care I remember having to attend a new school in a leafy suburb in the west end of Glasgow. The area was called Kelvinside Gardens and was a much more affluent part of the city. On the same street just up the road from the flat stood a primary school called St Charles. I enrolled in this school and have a vivid memory of it. I absolutely detested it because one of the teachers put me on the spot and severely humiliated me in front of all the other kids in the classroom.
I suppose I stood out at the school for different reasons. No doubt my dialect was different from all the other kids, mine being more typically based on housing scheme slang. I felt like a fish out of water and I became introverted and withdrawn for a time. This wasn’t me; I wasn’t my usual outgoing, troublesome self. One day in the middle of a reading session I remember the schoolteacher shouted out my name and asked me to stand up. I recall a feeling of extreme discomfort and anxiety sweep over me as the teacher asked me to read an extract from the picture book I now had in my hand. As all the other children looked on expectantly, I cringed and just stood there frozen to the spot in total silence. I was stuck for words; everyone was observing me, waiting patiently for me to say something, and nothing came out of my mouth. It felt like minutes had passed while I stood there, yet still I couldn’t utter a single word. I could feel my face burning with embarrassment and I didn’t know what to do. I stuttered a few times and tried my best but I just couldn’t read from the book. With a lump in my throat and my cheeks going bright red, I could feel tears begin to run down my face. There was no one coming to my aid. This was the most horrible experience for me as a kid and one I’ll never forget. Playing truant at my previous school had caught up with me for sure, and what should have been a relatively simple reading task turned out to be an intense, daunting experience, and one that has stayed with me. I just wished the classroom floor would open up and swallow me whole. It was the worst feeling ever.
The pattern of missing school continued as I ran away from my mother’s house at every opportunity, making my way back to my grandparents whenever I could. The social work department got involved eventually and like countless other young Glaswegian boys before me I found myself caught up in a system that offered very little in terms of good, quality education. It wasn’t until later in life, much later, when I was serving a 14-year prison sentence that I decided to educate myself, prove to myself that I could do it on paper. I took on an NVQ Business Studies course intermediate level 2 and passed the whole course with distinction. I think the entire course covered something like nine GCSE’s. I also studied a dictionary when I found myself locked up in solitary confinement for 18 mind-bending months, 23 hours of every day. I began underlining words that appealed to me and as soon as I worked my way right through the whole dictionary I then went back to the beginning to start understanding them, really digesting the words properly. It kept me focused and occupied for a while!
I suppose the inspiration for The Glasgow Curse came from many sources; there were a variety of different reasons, frankly. I’d been mentioned in that many publications about Glasgow’s underworld, and not all in a very positive way it has to be said, that I guess it was about time I wrote my own book so that I could set the record straight and get the truth out there. For over twenty years I have lived with the burden of certain individuals having written a lot of lies about me in their semi-autobiographies and tabloid newspapers, even going as far as to tell lies under oath in the High Court in Glasgow, saying that I shot and killed a man. I had thought quite a lot about writing a book whilst in jail. People would often say to me ‘you ought to write a book’ or ‘why haven’t you written a book because you’ve been mentioned in that many of them’. It wasn’t until 2011 that I really got the head down and started writing seriously, I haven’t looked back since then.
How often do you write? And how do you manage to fit in writing among other commitments?
I’m currently writing the sequel to The Glasgow Curse so I’d say I’m quite busy in terms of writing and how I fill my day. Thankfully, I don’t have too many other commitments that require much of my time which allows me to concentrate on the follow-up book, and write when I want at my own pace. I think the key is not to exert your brain too much because it’s far too easy to attract the dreaded writer’s block. First thing early in the morning when everyone else is in bed and after that first coffee when I’m ready to take on the day I find particularly stimulating. I can write in just about any given situation whether this is with noise in the background or in total silence but I do prefer a tranquil setting. I’ve found that when I’m in the zone, when that sudden burst of inspiration takes over, then it makes no difference where I’m writing, because I’m so immersed in what I’m writing about it doesn’t really matter.
In which genre do you most enjoy writing?
Since my autobiography falls into the true crime category this means it is more than likely I will remain writing in this genre. Some people including fellow authors have asked me to consider writing fiction but I can’t see myself moving into that area, that’s not to say I won’t, it is far too early to make these sort of decisions. I will continue writing the sequel to The Glasgow Curse and after that who knows what might happen. My initial feeling though tells me to stay with what I know best, which is true crime!
How has your book been received in your home country?
The book has been received very well indeed, much better than I ever anticipated. I always had a feeling that it would do well but I could not have envisaged just how much. In Scotland there is a massive appetite for true crime books of this genre and the market for this dates back to the early ‘70s when the then notorious hardman Jimmy Boyle (the man, in my opinion, who takes credit for kick starting criminals writing about their life story adventures) wrote his prison memoir called A Sense of Freedom, later made into a film. Then there was a gap in the market with no further publications from anyone of notoriety for at least two decades, certainly nothing of significance that I can think of. Then in 2001 my arch rival and bitter enemy comes out with his semi-autobiography called The Ferris Conspiracy, an offering made possible only because of the input from his ghost writer and friend the late Reg McKay. Together Ferris and McKay exploited the market and went on to make a killing out of it. Various books were written and published mainly by the Scottish based publisher Black & White Ltd. ‘Others’ jumped on the bandwagon realizing that a lucrative market was there and that money could be made. Without mentioning any particular author or book there is something like 12 or 13 different true crime publications, all of which are about Glasgow’s underworld and all have been published over a 13 year period since Ferris and McKay started in 2001: this is a remarkable difference taking into account the 20-year gap in the market from when Jimmy Boyle first wrote A Sense of Freedom.
By the time I’d got round to writing The Glasgow Curse you could say the market for Scottish true crime was at its peak so it’s hardly surprising I’ve got a bestseller on my hands. I’m currently in the top 10 bestselling true crime books on Waterstones who are Britain’s largest book stockists. On Amazon the Kindle version has done really well where it’s currently the #1 bestseller in the true crime chart. I couldn’t really ask for more on my debut. In addition to The Glasgow Curse rankings the Scottish media have done wonders in terms of publicity and book promotion. I’ve been on the STV News discussing my book and all the major newspapers have covered a story of some sort. Scotland’s best loved paper the Daily Record actually serialized the book over a two-week period! I suppose I’ve been extremely fortunate when it comes to media publicity since some authors won’t get that sort of media coverage.
Since your book was released at the end of last year, what has life been like?
It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride to be perfectly honest. Things have definitely changed for the better overnight and I’m really lapping up the day-to-day dealings with all the different people from the publishing industry right through to the media world. Only yesterday I gave an exclusive interview to a journalist from the Glasgow Herald, this is scheduled to appear in the glossy magazine that comes with the actual paper on 22 February, the day after my birthday!
Remember my book is still very much a fresh publication having only been released on 26 November last year, and so it’s fantastic that there is a lot of interest. But most importantly since the release of my book I’ve found that my whole identity has changed. I’m now perceived as an author, a title I like very much and certainly it’s much better than being labelled a gangster that’s for sure! Identity is very important to all of us: without an identity we are clueless and don’t have any direction so I can channel this fresh, positive energy into things which are a million miles removed from those that defined my life before. Writing has also given me a newfound purpose, a sense of direction, and an enthusiastic aptitude to move forward in a different light whilst simultaneously putting the past firmly behind me. In doing this it has given me a new sense of identity and hope for the future.
Where can people find out more about you?
The easiest way for people to find out more about me is to visit my personal website: http://www.theglasgowcurse.com. This is a state-of-the-art website that users can navigate simply, it’s also the hub of my social networking platform that is updated regularly so is an essential tool for both me and the user. I can be found on Twitter where I’m currently quite active so please join me there if you use this social media: http://twitter.com/TheGlasgowCurse. LinkedIn is another platform I use from time to time so anyone is more than welcome to hook up with me there: uk.linkedin.com/in/theglasgowcurse.
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