25-year-old Chris McQueer from Glasgow has been helping Scottish readers crack a smile on their stereotypically dour faces this summer with his debut novel, Hings. His book is a collection of short stories mostly set in a slightly surreal version of Glasgow. He recently appeared at the 2017 Edinburgh book festival to discuss his recently published work.
McQueer began writing at the same time we all did – English class. He claims that he always felt frustrated in school because he felt he had stories to tell but was restricted. Indeed, it’s understandable that a school teacher may not approve of stories about Postman Pat turning to M-Kat after he is replaced by delivery drones. So eventually, McQueer attended classes at Glasgow Clyde College where he was free to write about whatever took his fancy.
He was encouraged by his mum and girlfriend to share his work online. He said:
“I was worried they'd all just think I was a weirdo but everybody was really supportive… the reaction it got honestly blew me away. After that I was hooked on writing and started doing a new short story every week and putting them on Twitter. Having people expecting new material every week spurred me on to just keep writing.”
After attending a spoken word night he was approached by 404 Ink, which led to his book deal, and he credits at least some of his success to social media. He continued:
“Getting stuff published in literary magazines is good and gives you some credentials but I always felt like it meant only a handful of people would actually be reading the stories…
"Putting my stuff online meant I wasn't getting paid for it but I gained a lot of followers on Twitter and Medium and that meant people were sharing my stories constantly and talking about them. I think this showed 404 Ink there would be a market for a book like Hings and that's what persuaded them to publish my stories.“
His social media fans were not wrong, and the odd short stories do indeed live up to the hype. McQueer’s work has been described as a "Limmy meets Irvine Welsh" – a bold statement, but one that rings true as you make your way through the pages of working class characters that he portrays as cleverly as Welsh did, living in the same universe that Limmy frequents.
The hilarity of McQueer’s work perhaps lies in his depiction of characters we all recognise in situations most of us could never imagine. We see the man we asked to buy us drink when we were 14 through his mid-life crisis, becoming an integral member of the local YSF - Young Springboig Fleeto (Top Boy); an average man working on the oil rigs being stalked by some kind of Australian mermaid (Offshore); a man fond of a takeaway choose a bullet to the brain rather than give up his last mouthful of korma (Korma Police). Each story depicts thoroughly average characters in thoroughly bizarre situations, and this is precisely the magic of McQueer’s work. Many of the characters in the stories in fact come from people he knows;
“A lot of my ideas for characters come from serving customers in work. I like to try and pick a wee quirky feature in everyone I speak to so I can use it for a character. A lot of the characters are based on my mates and my family but I better not say which ones because I'll end up getting took a square go.”
It would be a discredit, however, to treat McQueer’s work as simply comedic, as it becomes evident that other themes are present. The heroes and loveable characters are unapologetically working class, whilst the upper and middle classes are the subject of their mocking.
Posh Cunt conveys the drama and the heartbreak that occurs when your son abandons Partick Thistle, pints of Tenants, and pies, for Waitrose, quinoa, and the Tory party. In “Is it Art?” Crawford, from Byres Road, who is "always intimidated by the working class" hopes to educate skiving schoolboy Deek on the wonders of contemporary art. He accompanies Deek on a journey to the furthest east he has ever been before – Easterhouse. As it turns out, Deek educates him on his own artistry; scams and pickpocketing.
However, class-conscious humour and focus on those eager to break away from their working class backgrounds was apparently unintentional.
“I definitely didn't mean for the book to focus on the class system so much but it’s one of the things I'm really interested in and that's sort of come out in the stories," said McQueer. "Really what I'm aiming to write is the stuff I want to read but that isn't really out there. I want to read about characters I can relate to in settings that I'm familiar with but given a surreal twist and I hope that's what I've managed to do with Hings.”
It appears as though he has indeed managed to hit the sweet spot with readers; successfully grasping whatever that unique element of Scottish humour is, his popularity is ever increasing.
“The world's a shitty place just now so I'm just trying to give people a laugh.”