Arts Review: Chris McQueer – Hings at the QMU

QMU’s Scran might seem like a strange venue to host a literary conversation, and yet here we are. In between the booths and round tables, chairs have been placed facing a solitary microphone and the evening kicks off whilst everyone is still tucking into their chips. “Sorry, mate, I know you’re eating there” Chris McQueer apologies, after telling everyone, in detail, a grisly story about the remains of a man who died on the toilet – an anecdote from when Chris himself worked as a crime scene cleaner.  It’s a surreal conversation to hear but it fits in with the escapades of the characters in his debut collection of short stories, Hings. For Chris, the short stories are a culmination of all his life experiences, so it’s no surprise that he is finding his second collection tough to finish.

Chris tells us that he’s always had a passion for reading, his literary influences ranging from Irvine Welsh to the fantasies of Haruki Murakami. It wasn’t until he found himself moving back home after coming out of a relationship that he began to write in his bedroom as a way to alleviate some boredom. After writing his first short story, the process became therapeutic and soon a collection of short stories blossomed. Eventually Chris revealed his work to his mum and present girlfriend, who both encouraged him to share them online. He chose to upload the stories on Medium and share them via Twitter, and they grew in popularity and now Chris has amassed over ten thousand followers. 404 ink, the publishers behind the popular essay collection Nasty Women, printed his short story in their literary magazine and followed up with asking Chris if he had enough stories to create a book, which turned into the weird and wonderful Hings.

Chris reads a short story from his second collection, it’s a working title at the moment but let’s call it Hings 2, and the audience are loving it. It concerns Sammy, a character from his first collection, who finds himself taking up the grisly employment of becoming a crime scene cleaner and getting himself into a disagreement with the neighbours whilst attempting to clean blood up from a tenement close. It’s a great story; we’re empathetic for Sammy and his efforts to break away from the job centre with its patronising language of learning how to use your “soft skills” and “initiative”. I also feel fortunate to be able to experience Chris reading one of his stories live. Initially he seemed nervous to be in front of the microphone, yet his rendition of the story is effortless. These were made to be read in his deep Glaswegian accent, the Scots vernacular, and multiple piercing swear words roll off of his tongue. The stories are brilliant on the page, however they are something else entirely when you listen to them as it should be said.

Despite this, the language of Hings has not gone entirely unscathed. An Amazon review branded the collection for “NEDs” whereas an excerpt of one of the short stories, ‘Posh Cunt’, was blasted in the comments for its extensive use of swearing. You have to take these criticisms with a pinch of salt, they are tied up in status – many people view the working class with contempt due to their supposed coarse language. “Speak properly” is a phrase I’m sure many young Scottish students are more than aware of when they slip into Scots vernacular around their parents. As Chris explains when a question on his working class roots is asked by an audience member, he is so comfortable writing in Scots that English for him is “like writing in another language”. When I discovered these criticisms of Hings it felt like a literary deja vu, and I was reminded of the furious uproar when James Kelman’s novel How Late It Was, How Late won the Booker prize in 1994.

Despite these criticisms, Chris has not stopped writing. Hings 2 is on its way and so is a short story called ‘Leathered’. It is about a Barlinnie prison guard who brags on Twitter that he can leather Kim Jong-Un only for the Supreme Leader to read it himself. Even though he admits that he is struggling a bit for new material, Chris clearly hasn’t let go of his ability to conjure up such strange storylines, and it is these, ’The Universe Factory’ is one such story that comes to mind, which makes Hings so hilarious and unique in the first place. And what does Chris think about the label of working class author being attached to him? “I’m proud of being working-class. There’s no enough working-class writers and it’s good to be one of them.” I too am proud that a part of working class Scotland is being captured in such a brilliant way by a completely fresh writer on the scene. The city of Glasgow, for Chris, is “weird, surreal and good fun” – a statement which infinitely shines through in his writing and I am looking forward to reading more.

Follow Chris McQueer on twitter here.

[Emma McKie – @emma_mck]


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