Glasgow Writers: James Carson
It’s always a pleasure to read James Carson’s stories – a thoughtful communicator and great listener with an irreverent sense of humour, he has an abundance of gifts to bring to the task of story telling and, with his talent for mimicry, it’s also a joy to watch him perform. James demonstrates an enviable dedication to his craft and his desire to seize the day is inspirational.
I had the pleasure of studying alongside James on Glasgow University’s M.Litt Creative Writing Course – where he raised the notion of peer support to a whole new level. He also proved to be a great asset when a few of us worked on a literary project for Glasgow’s West End Festival, where James, as creative as ever came up with the catchy title: The Lit Parade.
For so long as I’ve known him he’s made a habit of taking off to Berlin, immersing himself enthusiastically in the city and its culture – so no surprise to learn that his story Monkey on a Horse will be published there later this year. I’ll be watching out for that and I’m also very much looking forward to reading his novel, also set in Berlin.
Pat Byrne, September, 2015.
‘Literature has enriched the path of my life so far, in so many ways. I look forward to continuing the journey!’
‘I’ve been enjoying reading and writing for as long as I remember. An important moment in my young life was the day my dad took me to Bridgeton’s public library in Landressy Street. After that, I went back every week. Not even a rumour about kids being mugged outside the library by the local gang could deter me!
My love of libraries has stayed with me, and after doing a social sciences degree at Glasgow University, I went on to do a masters degree in library and information studies. Since then, I’ve worked in a variety of libraries and information centres covering education, the arts, business and the environment.
Reading has always strongly influenced my writing. I firmly agree with Stephen King’s two rules for writers: write a lot and read a lot. My early writing influences were humourists, such as Alan Coren and Bill Bryson. These days I still enjoy writing that can raise a smile, but also stories with a more sinister touch – what the Irish writer Kevin Barry calls “laughter in the dark”. Kevin Barry’s a good example of that, along with George Saunders and David Sedaris. I also like non-fiction writers who can convey a sense of the ludicrous. Tim Moore does this especially well. He takes unconventional journeys, such as travelling to Santiago de Compostela in the company of a donkey called Shinto. He has a wonderful way with words, and vividly describes his observations. But he’s not afraid to poke fun at himself, even to the point of appearing hopelessly incompetent.
It was this kind of writing that inspired me to write non-fiction articles, such as travel guides and book reviews. Some of these were published, most were not, and I gradually fell out of the writing habit.
Once again, it was reading and libraries that brought me back to writing. I hadn’t been doing much of either, but I took a look inside the library at GOMA and was intrigued by a book called The Men from the Boys by William Mann. It was about a group of gay men spending the summer at Provincetown in Cape Cod. Something about the story motivated me to email the author to tell him how much I’d enjoyed it. He replied with thanks and we kept in touch. Later in the year, he told me he was organising a weekend workshop in Provincetown for gay writers. On a whim, I decided to join up, and within a few weeks I found myself in Cape Cod in the aftermath of the worst snowstorm Massachusetts had seen for a generation. Provincetown is a summer resort, but covered in snow it seemed magical, and was just the right place to inspire me and other writers taking part in the workshop.
I returned home and made my first attempt at writing fiction. I had a bit of early success when two stories were selected for anthologies, and I also won a writing competition organised for Glasgow’s book festival, Aye Write.
When I took a voluntary severance from my job in 2011, I decided to fill my enforced leisure time by joining the Glasgow Writing Group, who provided a friendly and encouraging space for my submissions. One of the writers I met there was studying for the masters degree in creative writing at Glasgow University. I decided to find out more, and to cut a long story short, I graduated from the course in 2013. It was a terrific experience, and I learned a lot from the teaching staff, but also from the other students, who were from as far afield as the USA, Iceland, Malta and Denmark, as well as a good number from the UK. During the course, I had some of my stories published in From Glasgow to Saturn, the university’s literary magazine, and also in an anthology called Tip Tap Flat, edited by Louise Welsh. It was during the course that I also performed my work for the first time. I’ve done this a few times since then, and although it can be nerve-wracking, I also find it an enjoyable and affirming experience.
While studying for the degree, I also co-organised a spoken word event for LGBT History Month. LGBT: In Our Own Words took place at the CCA in Glasgow, and included contributions from Kirsty Logan and Paul McQuade, as well as a wonderful poet called Zach Ellis, who made the journey from his home in Portland, Oregon, just to take part in our event.
The masters course instilled in me the discipline I needed to write every day. I still write short stories, some of which have been published. Last year, my short story, Promenade, was the winner of the Dear Scotland writing competition, and another of my stories, Since Vince appeared in the summer 2015 edition of the Irish literary journal, The Bohemyth.
Since my first visit in 2006, the city of Berlin has exerted a strong pulling power on me, and I’ve returned many times. The history, architecture and people have also influenced my writing. I’m currently writing a novel set in the city, but I’ve also written short stories about Berlin. One of these, A Monkey on a Horse, will be published in September 2015 by the Berlin publisher, E-Publi, and I’ll be there to perform an extract of the story for the launch party.’
Extract from A Monkey on a Horse
Shrieks of laughter fill the air. A hen party is sexually harassing two fake East German guards. On the near corner of Pariser Platz, a guard outside the American embassy yawns. Above him, the Stars and Stripes are at half-mast, after another mass killing in the land of the free.
Two young men arrive, placing their plates on the table beside mine. The floppy haired one is bigging-up someone called Pernilla.
“She left the Arts Council to head-up the agency here. She’s very, VERY good at what she does.”
The one with big, fashionable, spectacles nods.
“I can’t wait to work with her.”
They spend the next five minutes trying to define performance art, finally deciding it’s anything that isn’t static.
“Apart from dance”, says floppy hair, “Pernilla hates dance.”
Big specs nods, “This dressing is very good isn’t it?”
“Honey mustard”, says floppy hair, chasing a baby tomato round his plate.
They have another discussion, this time about conceptual art.
“It’s sacrificial, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but it’s also a luxury.”
I wish Ray was here.
“I want to bring my art to the moment”, says big specs,” I don’t want merely to take photographs. I want to express myself photographically.
Floppy hair points his fork at him.
“Pernilla will love that. She’s very pro that.”
I wish Ray was here. We could have had fun with this.
Ray: “I don’t want merely to drink.”
Me: “No, I want to express myself alcoholically.”
‘In August 2015, I was in Berlin again to make a recording for Berlin Stories, a radio programme that’s part of NPR Worldwide. My story, a slice of life about the night a gay bar in Berlin was raided by the police, will be broadcast in November 2015, and will also be available as a podcast.
Good friends are important for encouraging writers, especially since our work is largely a solitary affair. I’ve been lucky to have support from many friends, and especially from my partner Robert. We’ve been together for over 20 years, and his reassuring presence has been an important factor in keeping me on track.’
‘Literature has enriched the path of my life so far, in so many ways. I look forward to continuing the journey!‘
James Carson – September, 2015.
James is part of the Ten Writers Telling Lies Project – where ten of Glasgow’s most talented writers have got together with the musician Jim Byrne, to produce a book and CD. The product will be launched in 2017. You can catch a preview at the West End Festival 2016.
Streets of Berlin: www.epubli.de/shop/buch/Streets-of-Berlin-The-Reader-Berlin–Streets-of-Berlin-9783737564328/47279
Berlin Stories podcast: berlinstories.org/
Tip Tap Flat: www.freightbooks.co.uk/tip-tap-flat-a-view-of-glasgow.html
Promenade (winner of Dear Scotland writing competition): dearscotland.com/2014/01/07/writing-competition-1st-place-promenade-by-james-carson/
From Glasgow to Saturn: glasgowtosaturn.com/archive/
And previously on glasgowwestend.co.uk Christmas Story – The Gospel According to Sammy James Carson
24 Hours in the City of Love – James Carson, February, 2016.
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