Lives in Books #7: Brian W. Lavery

December 2, 2020

Lives in Books #7: Brian W. Lavery

Writer and lecturer Brian W. Lavery, is author of The Headscarf Revolutionaries and The Luckiest Thirteen, both with Barbican Press. He is working on his third creative nonfiction from Hull and a novel based in his native Glasgow in the 1970s as well his poetry, short fiction and a theatre piece with music, based on The Luckiest Thirteen alongside singer/songwriter Derek O’ Connor, a Hull lad based in New York.

Thank you so much Brian for agreeing to answer these questions:

1. What are you reading at the moment?

At this very moment? – Thomas and His Friends, an excellent comic book based on the characters created by the Rev W. Awdry. I’m practising my storytelling as it is my wee grandson William’s favourite. Since he is only two, I am not entirely certain it is the comic he loves, or free toy trains that come with it.

Other than that, I have got a to-read list that is building by the week, some for review, like Red Hands, a novel of Ceausescu’s Romania by Colin W. Sargent, and Angelica – paintress of minds by Miranda Miller, and James Thornton’s lyrically beautiful poetry collection, Notes from a Mountain Village (all Barbican Press) – as well as some just for me, like the two collections of stories by the Scottish writer Peter Ross; Daunderlust and The Passion of Harry Bingo, (both with Sandstone Press) look set to be the works with which I will boring folk to death next.

Ross is a superlative teller of stories and he seeks out that which most would pass. A great exponent of whimsy and lyrical prose. And recently, I finished Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession (Bluemoose) – a novel of such consummate skill that raises the banality of the every-day to high art. I could go on. But I won’t. The to-read list would necessitate another article all to itself.

2. Did you enjoy reading while growing up – if so, which comics/books and writers were your favourites and why?

As a child I read all the time. I still do. Comics, books, cereal boxes – anything. My favourite comic was the Victor and my favourite character was ‘Alf Tupper – The Tough of the Track’ a working-class athlete, who was a welder during the week and a world-class runner at the weekend – the scourge of Greystone Harriers – Alf joined no club. He wore a lone wolf badge on his vest and ate mainly fish and chips while training. My kinda guy! The stories were wonderful, triumph every week and constantly sticking it to the posh boys at Greystone – what’s not to like?!

I remember being enthralled by Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, and R.M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island. Oddly for a tenement boy, I also loved all those public-school novels like the Jennings stories by Anthony Buckeridge. I dreamed of going to a school with tuck boxes and midnight dorm raids. I also loved all those gung-ho imperial adventure stories like the Biggles series by Capt. W.E. Johns. I also loved the stories of Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Herman Melville, Enid Blyton and many more – definitely a catholic taste! My library ticket was a prized possession. Still is.

As a teenager in the very early 70s, I was duty-bound to love J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Me and Holden Caulfield knew the score! It was then my life-long love of John Steinbeck began, joined soon by Charles Bukowski. I devoured the work of Alistair Maclean, Jack Higgins, Frederick Forsyth too. Basically, if someone put a book in my hand, I would read it. After all, if you want to learn to write, then you must read. Apropos nowt, one of the highlights of my life was when a critic described my writing about the Arctic and its environs and maritime adventure as being on a par ‘with Maclean or even Melville’ – to be honest – I could’ve retired happy that day!

3. Which books do you recommend to others and why?

See above … and below…

4. If any, which writers have influenced your writing?

From when I could remember I wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t exactly a career pursued by many down our street. That’s why I will be forever grateful to a working-class Glaswegian novelist and dramatist called Archie Hind – who wrote Dear Green Place and Fur Sadie – stories of Glasgow tenement life, with the first being about a guy from a place like my street struggling to write a novel – and succeeding. His work is sadly overlooked but it stuck with me. I was about fifteen when I read it. Similarly, the likes of; Barry Hines, Keith Waterhouse, Alan Sillitoe, Walter Greenwood and A.J. Cronin. To paraphrase Lennon, a working-class writer is something to be.

As I mentioned previously, I am in awe of Steinbeck, Bukowski, and Salinger – and I would add to that Roddy Doyle, Harper Lee, James Kelman, Alan Bleasdale, William McIlvanney, John Godber, Willy Russell and Jimmy McGovern; the nonfiction of Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, Hugh McIlvanney, Ludovic Kennedy, John Pearson, Sebastian Junger and Jon Krakauer – I am certain I have missed out many more. But you get the idea! I also love biographies and autobiography, some of the best non-fiction of course. I think writers are influenced to greater and lesser degrees by everything they have read, and everything that they will read.

In poetry, for me, it starts and ends with Robert Burns, the heaven-taught ploughboy; a man so ahead of his time and whose work is still quoted.

As a teenager I wrote to the great Scots poet Norman McCaig and sent him some of my poems (lucky Norman) – I was 14. He sent by return the kindest, handwritten guidance. I still have that letter, one of the reasons I never refuse a kid who asks for advice to this day.

Among my other favourite poets are; Bukowski, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Seamus Heaney, William Blake, Roger McGough, Adrian Henri, Tom Leonard, – and again this list will be missing out many too. 5. Desert Island Question – which book would you take with you?

My notebook. Seagulls will provide the quills – and I will have a story to bring home when the ship comes to my rescue. The last line in this notebook will read, ‘Please get this to Martin Goodman at Barbican Press’ – (just in case things don’t go as well as I might have hoped.) There is a reason why the phrase ‘He’s as lucky as a Brian!’ is not in common use.

To order The Headscarf Revolutionaries and The Luckiest Thirteen,

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