It’s publication day for Alan McClure’s Callum and The Mountain, an adventure story for children. Happy publication day Alan, hope you enjoy celebrating. Read on to find out more about Alan, his writing, what he’s currently reading and what fictional character he would like to be.
Thanks for joining me today Alan. First of all, would you tell my blog readers a little about yourself?
Sure! I’m an Aberdeen-born poet, songwriter and storyteller now based in Galloway, where I earn a living as a Primary School teacher. I studied zoology at Aberdeen University and I maintain a fascination with the natural world – this creeps into a lot of my writing. I live with my lovely wife, two boys and a cat and I’m pleased to be a wee part of the flourishing literary scene in the South West.
What inspired you to start writing?
That’s a bit like trying to remember what inspired me to start speaking! As far as I recall it’s just a thing I’ve always done. I’m from a fairly wordy family – my maternal grandpa was a respected linguist, and we corresponded with him in long letters the like of which no-one ever writes anymore. My dad has an incredible memory for poetry and songs and was never reluctant to regale us with his favourites, and he and his brothers share a literary sense of humour which saw them writing pages of rhymes to each other. That really impressed me as a boy. Also, both my parents read to us, a wide variety of tales from American classics like Homer Price to the public-school stories of Frank Richards. I think my mum probably did the most to encourage my brothers and I to translate some of these influences into original composition, and she remains incredibly supportive to this day.
Tell me about your journey to publication
Well, I’d had a couple of short stories published in the past, and a few poems here and there (including in Poetry Scotland, which was a big deal for me), but I’ve been unsuccessfully chasing novel publication since I was about 22. It’ll be a familiar tale for a lot of your readers – trawling through the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, re-writing synopses, hunting for hints and tips online – it’s a pretty thankless journey. I’d got to the point where a personalised rejection was a bit of a triumph after so many standard “Thank you for considering us, we read your submission with interest but…” letters! Then I had a couple of big steps forward: first, I took part in Wigtown Book Festival’s mentoring scheme and had the good fortune to be paired with Karen Campbell, who loved what I was working on and gave brilliant advice; next I got shortlisted for the Kelpies Prize, which was an enormous vote of confidence when I really needed it; finally, I attended a course at the gorgeous writers’ paradise that is Moniack Mhor and met some fabulous fellow writers, including Paul Magrs, who eventually pointed me in the direction of Beaten Track Publishing. They have been amazing and enthusiastic, and I like what they stand for. So really, the major steps have all involved getting out and about and meeting folk, which is not always something that comes easily for folk who spend a lot of time in their own heads, fiddling about with words.
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
Strange goings-on in a wee village on the West Coast of Scotland. It’s a big jolly mess of landscape and language and magic and adventure, with enough mystery to keep you scratching your head long after you’ve finished it. I really do want readers to be haunted by it – there’s a lot going on in there, themes of friendship and loyalty and faith and our place in nature, but there’s also an exploding school and a boy literally talking out of his bum, so it’s not too po-faced!
How did you come up with the title for your book?
It was tricky, for such a simple title! Floris books used the working title ‘The Day My School Exploded (But it Wasn’t My Fault)!’, which I wasn’t really keen on – too much focus on one event and a bit flippant, though I could see that it jumped off the page nicely. Post-Kelpies I started calling it ‘Things-of-Green’ after the weird, interfering nature spirit who first entangles Callum in his adventures. The final title is actually a bit of necessary foreshadowing – the Mountain is really central to the whole story, though that doesn’t become evident until later on. I’m very happy with that title – it seems quite timeless to me.
How do you plan to celebrate publication day?
Well, it’s coming out on Thursday August 15th, and Thursday happens to be the music session night at the Masonic Arms in Gatehouse, so I may well go and raise a glass or two with my musical chums!
Do you have a work in progress just now?
I have a few, but I’m furthest on with another MG book called Malkie in Malawi. It’s a first-person adventure story told by Malkie, a likeable wee Glasgow bam who ends up getting sent on an exchange trip to Africa. He gets entangled in some dodgy local dealings and ends up having to rely on his wits to survive in the Bush until he’s rescued. I’m really enjoying writing as Malkie – he speaks a kind of schoolyard Scots and he’s a genuinely good-hearted kid, despite being a bit punchy and gobby!
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
The Missing Beat series by fellow Beaten Track author Bob Stone has both me and my boys enthralled. To Live With What You Are is a properly chilling examination of identity by Charlie Gracie, and deserves to sit alongside the best Scottish thrillers of recent years. The Muslims are Coming! by Arun Kundnani is an insightful and disturbing analysis of the treatment of Islam in Western political discourse.
What are you reading just now?
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks – I’ve come to him really late but I think it’s brilliant and I can’t wait to get through more Culture novels. The Sound of the Hours by Karen Campbell – lyrical, soulful storytelling at its best.
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
A big empty notebook and a pen, if that’s allowed!
Is there a book you’d like to see made into a film?
Well, Callum and the Mountain by Alan McClure would be a solid-gold hit, I’m sure!
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
I’ve just succumbed to the lure of twitter, so folk can find me on @alandmcclure.
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
Tom Bombadil in Lord of the Rings. He always gets missed out of adaptations, but he’s my favourite character in the book and one of my favourites in all of fiction – he is above and apart from all the political manoeuvrings in his world because he is entirely engaged in the here-and-now business of rivers, plants, birds and beasts. I think that would be lovely.
Author website: www.alanmcclure.co.uk