In a turn of events beyond even his own wildly vivid imagination, 25 year-old Springboig-born “shoe-selling extraordinaire”-cum-written-raconteur Chris McQueer has enjoyed a honeymoon first year of writing. Published by 404 Ink, his debut collection of short stories: Hings released ahead of its scheduled July 27th street date to Scottish Twitter-wide acclaim and a deluge of photoshopped images from his doting 6000 follower-strong audience. Chris recently sat down to speak to the Strathclyde Telegraph about his life, his stories, and of course, Hings.
Having left school at 16, and partaking in a smorgasbord of occupations from unsuccessfully attempting to half foot-long subs as a Subway sandwich-artist, to training to be a barber, writing was a simple pastime from Chris’ childhood.
“First time I remember writing was when I was about 12, I’d just watched Shaun of the Dead and I thought ‘I’m gonna write a zombie novel set in Glasgow.’ I got about 4 pages in and it was fucking diabolical.”
Although dabbling occasionally in the years thereafter, it wasn’t until last year that Chris penned something he deemed good enough for public consumption. After hosting it for a week on Medium, Chris worked up the courage to tweet out his debut short story: ‘The Moth’. A far cry from the light-hearted, humorous stories from which Chris has made his name, perhaps – it is probably the darkest moment on Hings – ‘The Moth’s origins are not dissimilar to that of the vast majority of the collection, an innocuous idea that he construed and contorted.
“It came from quite a dark place. A pal of a pal was working down in England and was driving a van, and a moth flew into his ear whilst he was driving, and I thought ‘’Fuck, why would a moth fly into a guy’s ear? Obviously to take over his mind.”
Chris’ work is deeply colloquial, both in its language and its dark comedy – Limmy and Irvine Welsh are two literary forbearers whose work Chris’ has been favourably compared to ad nauseum, and appropriately are who Chris cites as his two biggest influences. The stories are also very distinctly Billy Connolly-esque in their set-up and delivery, with Chris also noting the Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill vehicle Chewin’ the Fat as an influence, Hings boasting a recurring character in ‘Stevie’.
“When I come up with an idea for a short story I play it in my head almost as a sketch – I try and set them all in the same universe.”
Much like his inspirations’ work, Chris’ stories are inherently from a working class perspective or focus, – there is one such story in Hings quite simply titled ‘Posh Cunt’ – but despite Chris describing the majority of his characters as “exaggerated versions of real life”, the consistent subtext of class struggle is one that he was keen to insist was purely accidental, for the most part.
“My aim is to write stories that people enjoy. I’m not writing high-brow literature, I just want to give people a laugh to be honest. There are a lot of stories in the book that talk about class divide and when I finished it that seemed to a theme throughout that I hadn’t noticed [whilst writing]. I didn’t mean that, even though it’s something I’m quite interested in, I find it fascinating. Sometimes it’s intentional [the subtext of class divide], but normally when I try and make it so it goes to shit.”
Whilst discussing some of the specific as-of-yet unseen stories in Hings, Chris reflected on ‘Bowls’, the grandest story he has penned to date, and by far the longest story in his collection, but one he is especially proud of.
“I did a brief creative writing course last year at Glasgow Clyde College and we had to had to write a piece throughout the length of the course, that was ‘Bowls’. It uses a 7-point story arc and that’s something I’d never used before, but it allowed me to write something a lot longer than anything I’d written before – I took everything I’d learned in that course and concentrated it into that. I’m really chuffed with that story.”
‘Bowls’ is one of 25 short stories that comprise Hings, and having written such a breadth of material in little over a year, Chris has developed something of a process for writing his work.
“I’ll come up with a premise for a story – i.e. ‘What would happen if one day we woke up and everybody’s knees bent backwards’ [‘Knees’], and then it’s just trying to find a plot to go around that. It’s easy to come up with a premise, but it’s hard to come up with a story. I could come up with twenty ideas but maybe only 2 or 3 I could actually turn into stories.”
Although he initially planned to submit proofs for Hings to several publishers, Chris was very complimentary about his publisher 404 Ink, insisting that they were his first and only choice, and as a small, Scottish-based independent publisher, a natural fit for him by any conceivable measure.
“Their whole marketing strategies and their ideas, how they use social media, just totally aligns with my own – I feel like Laura and Heather [the founders of 404 Ink] and I are just totally in tune. They’re such a modern publisher, too. Many of the others I looked at were really dated in comparison.”
(404 Ink’s flagship title, Nasty Women, was released to critical acclaim earlier this year. You can read our coverage of its’ Glasgow launch event here.)
With the press rollout for Hings now in full swing, Chris is preparing to read a few of his stories live at two launch parties, one on release day, in Glasgow, and one on the following day in Edinburgh. Having now read several of his pieces to audiences, Chris described reading live for the first time at 404 Ink’s launch party for the 1st issue of their literary magazine, which he contributed a story to, last year.
“On the day of the launch I was going to phone up and cancel I was so nervous, but my maw talked me into it – I worked up the courage with a couple cans on the train through to Edinburgh and I was half-cut by the time I got onstage. But then once you’re into it and hear people laughing at words you’ve written, it’s the best feeling ever and now I think I’m addicted to it.”
With a creative writing skills college course commencing in September and no shortage of ideas and inspiration for new stories, Chris is understandably optimistic about the future of his writing.
“I really want to write a novel but I don’t I’m there as a writer, yet. ‘Bowls’ was me almost testing the water, to see if I had not just the skill set but also the attention span, because I’m that used to writing short stories that if I thought ‘If I try something longer I’ll get bored and go do something else’, but with that one I just enjoyed the process and how the characters grew from a scribble in my notebook to fleshing out a 30 page story. I think/hope there’s a novel coming…soon. I have a wee half idea in my head for one but I want to develop and get better as a writer first. My next book will be more short stories.”
We began to wrap up our chat with Chris with a reflection upon his success, particularly how much he attributes it to his Twitter presence.
“Twitter’s probably 90% responsible for where I am now. I’ve always loved it. I wanted to get more creative with my tweets and I’d start wee threads of wee stories or observations about everyday life and it felt like a natural progression from writing tweets to writing short stories. I had a few thousand followers so I was really lucky that I had that platform for launching.”
In addition to Twitter, Chris singled out his family as hugely important to his process, and his success.
“With my mum and Vanessa [Chris’ girlfriend], it’s like having two editors – just to bounce ideas off of, they get what I want to write and what I’m trying to say with the stories. It’s ideal having them, because initially they’d just tell me what I wanted to hear with the first couple stories but now I can get them to be a wee bit harsher with me so the feedback’s actually constructive.”
To close our discussion, we asked Chris for any advice he’d give to someone in his position a year ago; someone with a dream or goal they felt was totally unrealistic or impossible.
“This time last year when I started properly writing my short stories if you’d told me that by now I’d have had a book published I’d have said: “Fucking no chance, that doesn’t happen.” You can be your own worst enemy but you can do it, you just need to push yourself – just fucking go for it.”
Hings launches officially on July 27th, but was released ahead of schedule and can be purchased from 404 Ink for £8.99 here.