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| ALASDAIR GRAY (1934-)|
"I was eight or nine years old when it occurred to me that I would one day write a story which would get printed in a book. This gave me a feeling of deliriously joyful power."
Glasgow School of Art
Painter, teacher, publisher, professor of creative writing at Glasgow University.
Did you know?
His first novel, Lanark, was 25 years in the writing.
After decades of struggling as an artist and writing TV and radio plays, Gray's first novel, the loosely autobiographical, blackly fantastical Lanark, changed the landscape of Scottish fiction, opening up the imaginative territory inhabited today by writers such as AL Kennedy, James Kelman and Irvine Welsh. It led Anthony Burgess to hail him as "the most important Scottish writer since Sir Walter Scott" (though in the US it was marketed as SF and sank like a stone). He lost some admirers with an account of a miserable sadomasochistic fantasist, 1982 Janine, a novel which he still considers his best "simply because it's about somebody who is least possibly like me". He lost others with Something Leather, a loosely woven story about flagellatory lesbians and erotic tattooing which borders on the pornographic, but then found critical acclaim once more with his Whitbread-winning Poor Things. He has also published short stories, poetry (always written, he claims, after the loss of a loved one), essays and polemic (including a book on Scottish home rule, Why Scots Should Rule Scotland). Illustration and typography play a major part in his work; he doesn't just write books, he creates them.
You have to work at Lanark - a "Life in Four Books" which begins with part three and is set in the bleak city of Unthank, whose inhabitants are beset with symbolic diseases, and in which the hero is two different people and the genre is both bildungsroman and science fiction - but then, so did Gray. The end result is one of the landmarks of 20th-century fiction. It's about a man who longs to create great art, but Gray also describes it as a journey towards sunlight and more love. A less daunting starting place is Poor Things, a cheerfully progressive take on the Frankenstein myth, or his latest collection of short stories, The Ends of Our Tethers, which offers a series of glimpses into a quirky, parallel world, or of course his own favourite, 1982 Janine. Finally, The Book of Prefaces is a lavishly illustrated anthology with illuminating glosses by Gray and others - a coffee table book with intellectual heft.
As a child he devoured Hardy, Dickens, Scott and Stevenson. Gray's reimagining of Glasgow in Lanark has been compared to Joyce's Dublin in Ulysses and Saul Bellow's Chicago in The Adventures of Augie March; it also carries the dark foreboding of Wyndham Lewis. Gray ascribes its combination of autobiographical realism and supernatural elements to Kafka; after reading The Trial, The Castle and Amerika, he decided to "put my journey through hell in the middle of my Portrait of the Artist as a Frustrated Young Glaswegian". The spirit of the late 19th century suffuses Poor Things, which Gray modelled on Robert Louis Stevenson. But his passion, his progressive politics, his position on the fringes of literary society and his blending of the visual and literary arts are most reminiscent of William Blake.
Now read on
James Kelman, Agnes Owens, Janice Galloway, Douglas Dunn, Will Self.
A film adaptation of Poor Things, starring Helena Bonham Carter, Robert Carlyle and Jim Broadbent, went into production in 2002.