Louise Welsh Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow (September, 2015)
Final part of the Plague Times Trilogy. No Dominion (July, 2017)
(I thoroughly enjoyed the launch of Louise's book – Part 1 of the Plague Trilogy 'A Lovely Way to Burn' – available to buy on Amazon March, 2014.)
I met up with Louise Welsh in Mono at Glasgow’s Trongate, near the office where she writes these days. I appreciated her taking time out to see me as she is currently at the crucial editing stage of her sixth book: A Lovely Way To Burn, due to be launched in 2014.
Despite being an experienced and successful writer, Louise was every bit as nervous about her latest book as she was prior to the launch of her first book, The Cutting Room, back in 2002. Whilst she feels ‘very privileged’ to be in the position she's in, she’s still apprehensive and feels as though she is ‘preparing to sit an exam.’
If her previous track record is anything to go by then she’ll pass with flying colours; Louise has come a long way since she ran her wee bookshop, Dowanside Books, in Glasgow’s West End. Not only has she written five successful novels: The Cutting Room, The Bullet Trick, Tamburlaine Must Die, Naming The Bones and The Girl on The Stairs, but she has also produced many articles, features and reviews.
From the outset Louise's writing has attracted acclaim, with The Cutting Room gaining numerous awards including:
Her books have also been translated into many different languages.
I have long been a fan of Louise’s writing and was intrigued by her first novel, which seemed to draw some inspiration from a local auction where I worked in Glasgow’s West End. Rilke, the auctioneer, amateur sleuth and unlikely hero had some familiar traits, such as his enthusiasm for ancient artefacts – in contrast, the dark and sinister tale was totally novel.
Louise’s warm and friendly manner is a perfect foil for the chilling tone and disturbing topics to be found in her writing. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing her speak on a number of occasions, initially in 2007 at the launch of Glasgow’s Glasgay!, festival of queer culture. I’ve also attended some of her book launches and, more recently, when she was Writer in Residence at Glasgow University, 2011-2012, have heard her speak about the world of writing to creative writing students, . Louise previously gained an MLitt Creative Writing with Distinction, at the university, so she is very familiar with the territory. Her wit, natural approach and easy rapport with the audience make her an engaging speaker and there is no-one quite so encouraging to students as Louise – who makes it all seem possible.
I very much enjoyed Tip Tap Flat, the anthology Louise edited while working at the University. Recently, I also read The Girl On The Stairs, published by Canongate, March, 2012. I was transfixed by the sinister psychological thriller set in a very bleak and threatening Berlin. Her writing is marvellous and she has a sure knack for unsettling the reader, drawing them into some very dark territories including child abuse, the supernatural and the fear of violence towards an unborn child.
Despite her proclivity for taboo topics, there is remarkable variance in Louise’s stories, with their diverse settings, characters and situations. In many ways it is this diversity, which characterizes her work. So it’s not surprising to find her involved in a whole range of very different and fascinating projects.
This includes writing a libretto for the fifteen minute opera, Remembrance Day, with Stuart MacRae, who wrote the music. She further collaborated with him to write the opera, Ghost Patrol, commissioned jointly by Scottish Opera and Music Theatre Wales. The opera opened at the Traverse Theatre Edinburgh in August, 2012 at the Edinburgh Festival and had its London Premier at the Royal Opera House. Louise has been thrilled by the ‘fantastic reviews’.
She ‘simply loved writing this opera’ and enjoyed the whole experience of working with Scottish Opera, and entering ‘a world you never thought you would see’.
She has also presented radio features including a five part series for BBC Radio 4, which followed the footsteps of Edwin Muir and How to Commit a Murder, BBC Radio Scotland. Other successful projects have included the play Panic Pattern, co-written with long-term partner, Zoe Strachan.
Another collaborative project, which Louise is passionate about, is Merchant City Voices, where she worked with Jude Barber, to create sound pieces, depicting Glasgow’s complex relationship with the slave trade. This audio trail draws on the writings of Frederick Douglas, a freed slave and political activist. You can also hear the imagined viewpoints of Glasgow’s city merchants, slaves and abolitionists. She is very knowledgeable about this topic and points out that one thing she loves about being a writer is that ‘you are learning all the time.’
Louise appears hardworking, happy, creative, clear thinking and not an author who is full of angst. However, whilst she is grateful for the many accolades received and the chances that have come her way, she explains that 'there is often a balance to be struck.’ Although, opportunities to travel are exciting and bring financial reward there are sacrifices to be made when ‘you leave your home, your life and your loved ones behind – sometimes for lengthy periods’. In explaining this Louise is more stating a fact than having a moan and despite this consideration, she feels ‘very lucky to be a writer’.
Along with her many fans, I’ll be looking forward to the launch of A Lovely Way To Burn. I’ll also be heading along to hear Louise discuss A Girl on The Stairs at Aye Write 2013, when I’ll be hoping to learn something about how to create ‘sustained tension and hold-your-breath suspense’ (The Bookseller).
(You can find out more about Louise Welsh, her books, and keep up to date with projects and events she is involved in at: http://www.louisewelsh.com/)
Pat Byrne, April, 2013.
I'd like to thank Louise Welsh and Zoe Strachan for writing the Foreward to our book Ten Writers Telling Lies.