Chris McQueer – on Hings, HWFG and getting into writing

Published

Credit: Sinéad Grainger

Emily Hay
Books Columnist

The Scottish writer’s new book “is here with a bang” and he talks all about it and more during his chat with Books Columnist, Emily Hay.

If you’re an avid reader in Glasgow – scratch that, in Scotland – and haven’t heard of Chris McQueer, I’m not sure what rock you’ve been living under but you might want to crawl on out because his newest book is here with a bang. Famed for his Twitter antics and prolific short-story writing, his debut collection Hings was published last year to widespread acclaim from both the Scottish writing community and beyond. Immortalising Glasgow, its voice and its people on the page, Hings was praised for its witty twists on mundane life and its presentation of culture on the working class streets of the city (as well as the occasional trip out of our cosmos).

Now he’s back with his eagerly anticipated second short story collection, HWFG – yes, it is titled Here We Fucking Go, and it’s fucking brilliant – and I was lucky enough to get to chat to him about HWFG, Hings, and all things writing.

GG: How would you say HWFG compares to Hings?

Chris: HWFG is quite a different book to Hings. I’m obviously really proud of Hings but with HWFG I wanted to move away from writing stories that ended on punchlines and that were quite slapstick. I wanted to try and take writing a bit more seriously and try and push myself a wee bit harder and I’m chuffed with how it’s turned out. I think HWFG is darker, weirder and a bit funnier than Hings but I’ll let the readers be judge on that one.

GG: How different was it writing HWFG compared to writing Hings? Was one more challenging than the other?

Chris: Hings was great fun to write because really there was no pressure on me. I was writing the stories to post online and to make my pals laugh, I wasn’t really writing with a view to those stories being in a book. Writing my second book though was honestly a million times harder than writing the first. Luckily my publisher, 404 Ink, had prepared me for this and were able to keep me from getting too disheartened and give me a lift when I was struggling for confidence etc while writing it. “Difficult second album syndrome” is what people kept comparing it to and that’s what it felt like at times. The first maybe half a dozen stories I wrote for the new book were awful. I felt like I was trying too hard to be funny and the stories felt almost like another writer trying to parody me. I decided to try and write something that wasn’t comedy after getting fed up with those stories and that’s when I wrote the story called “Afterlife” which is in HWFG. After I finished writing that story, I realised that that was how I wanted the tone of the new book to be: dark, surreal but still funny in places. It all started to click after that. Writing under the pressure to make this book as good as, if not better than, Hings was stressful but it really improved my writing I think.

GG: Do you have a particular favourite story and/or a favourite character across both books? Why?

Chris: Big Angie from “Bowls” is probably my favourite character. That was one of the last stories I wrote for Hings and I spent a long time trying to make it perfect. I wanted to try and write a more character-driven piece than I’d written before so I spent ages planning and building the character of Big Angie. By the time I came to write the story I knew her inside out, her motives, her dreams and fears and all that so the story just wrote itself really and I found myself being surprised at what she was getting up to as I was writing it. But “The Moth” is the first short story I ever wrote, so for that reason that’s probably my absolute favourite.

GG: How did you arrive at the titles for both books – was it just obvious to you or did you have to think about it?

Chris: I wish I could take credit for the titles but sadly I didn’t come up with either of them. Hings came about simply from me tweeting, “what should I call this book?” and my pal replied, “well it’s a book about daft hings, stupid hings, weird hings… so just call it Hings.” And that was that. HWFG was originally called “Repeat Prescription” which was my idea but as we got closer to the launch date I started to have doubts over that and so did 404. We struggled to come up with the right cover using that title and it also started to just sound a bit shite. Like “Repeat Prescription”, it felt a bit like, aw it’s more of the same stuff that was in Hings, that kind of thing. It started to sound a bit dour. Then Laura and Heather from 404 phoned me one day and just said, “we should call it Here We Fucking Go; four big letters on the cover – HWFG.” And I thought that was just absolutely perfect.

GG: We’ve all seen those shady amazon reviews about your use of a written Glaswegian dialect – what was your first reaction when you read them? What would you say if you could answer back to the people who left those reviews?

Chris: Och, each to their own. If people don’t like my writing or my use of dialect then fair enough, I’m not going to be able to please everybody. I write the way that feels natural and works for me and I’m not going to change that any time soon. I’ve developed a thick skin since Hings came out. When I got my first few reviews it left me feeling quite down and upset, like I was a failure or something but now there’s nothing that motivates me more.

GG: Who or what would you say are the biggest influences on your writing – were they the same or different for both Hings and HWFG?

Chris: I grew up in a family of Irvine Welsh fans so the big man has definitely been a big influence on me. I read a lot of his short stories especially when I first started writing Hings. Most of the inspiration for the stories in Hings came from my family, the patter my granny and granda would hit out with especially. And as well as that just growing up in a working class area in the east end of Glasgow, there’s so much stuff happening all the time, people getting up to all sorts, everyone here has a story. The fact that through writing I can cement my own wee place in working class culture keeps me motivated as well. For HWFG I read a lot of more contemporary and experimental short story writers, people like Amelia Gray and Helen McClory.

GG: I loved your story “A Weekend in Twitter Jail” on your Medium page – how do you think about Twitter in relation to your writing? Do you think it helps give you ideas to write about or is it more of a distraction?

Chris: It’s a bit of both definitely. I draw a lot of inspiration from Twitter, it’s a wee world you dive into through your phone and you can basically see people’s innermost thoughts as they shout into the void. I’ve based a few characters in my books off people I know through Twitter. It is a big distraction as well though, I sometimes delete the Twitter app off my phone, disconnect my laptop from the internet for a couple of days at a time and when I do that my productivity goes through the roof. I enjoy Twitter too much though to get rid of it. It’s how I built a platform for myself, gained the attention of a publisher and even how I met my girlfriend, Vanessa. Twitter is brilliant.

GG: Do you ever see yourself delving into other genres of writing – poetry, drama, maybe even a full-length novel?

Chris: I’m working on a novel at the moment as well as a couple of short film scripts. Short stories will always be my favourite type of writing though. I go to a lot of spoken word poetry nights and I’m always blown away by the poems people perform but I’ve just not got the right brain for writing poetry, I’ve tried to write some and it was rotten. Writing a novel is totally different from short stories but I’m loving it. Having so much more freedom and space to play about with characters and multiple plot threads is great fun.

GG: What do you think you’d be doing right now if you hadn’t gotten into writing?

Chris: I was a crime scene cleaner which was my favourite job so I’d like to think I’d still be doing that if the company hadn’t went bust.

GG: How did you go about first getting your work published?

Chris: I was really really really lucky. I was putting my work online, a short story every week or so, and built up a good following on Twitter because of that. After doing that for a while I started firing stuff out to literary magazines to try and get published. One of those magazines was run by 404 Ink, my current publisher. They published my story “The Universe Factory” in their first issue and at the launch party for the magazine, Laura and Heather mentioned that they were planning to move into publishing books so I just brass necked it and asked them if they’d have a look at my collection of short stories. They said aye and asked if I’d email the collection over. The next morning I thought to myself “och, they’re just being nice. They’re not going to say naw to my face” so I didn’t bother sending them over. After a couple of weeks I got an email from them asking where the collection was and if I still wanted them to have a look. Next thing I knew I was in Edinburgh signing the deal. It’s been 100 miles an hour ever since and I’ve loved every minute.

GG: Any advice on getting into writing for people who maybe thought they never could?

Chris: Honestly if I can do it, anyone can do it. There’s a saying, “everyone has at least one book in them” and that’s definitely true I think. The first step is getting over the fear of showing your work to other people. You’ll definitely be surprised by how positive their reactions will be. Once you do that you’ll feel unstoppable.

GG: Any plans for a Hings 3?

Chris: I think HWFG will be my last collection of short stories for at least a couple of years while I try my hand at novel writing. My novel features a couple of characters from Hings and HWFG but you’ll have to wait and see who.

HWFG is out on 8th November, buy it directly from 404 Ink here: https://www.404ink.com/store/hwfg-by-chris-mcqueer