East End born and raised, inspired by the dug and adapting to the weird turns his life has taken, Chris McQueer still can’t believe that he’s a published author, getting recognised in pubs by fans of the wacky and hilarious Hings. Hings is a collection of short stories, the first works of Chris that have been published, and the book has achieved love around the world and great renown; it’s even been compared to the likes of Limmy and Irvine Welsh, for fucks sakes. I loved it, personally. I was bloody star struck meeting Chris in a Tinderbox in Glasgow one day and I got to ask all the questions I had while reading his book and learn all his writing secrets! So here we go: this is Chris McQueer: Author n That, where we delve into Chris McQueer’s writing process, his live pre-Hings and everyone who influenced him along the way.
Chris, who now studies professional writing skills at college, has always been a big reader and, for a good while, a closeted writer. From Goosebumps and Animorphs, to Neil Gaiman, Irvine Welsh and now the likes of Amelia Gray and Helen McClory, Chris loves to read the weird and wonderful but was always worried that his friends and family wouldn’t approve of his own stories. “It was about two and a half years ago that I really got my head down and started writing,” Chris told me. “I kind of dabbled when I was younger, but I did more writing when I was in school.” He remembers being given prompts to write in English, but in these prompts, he never found anything he wanted to write about. I’m guessing that Sammy’s tale of inadvertently killing his own da by throwing up everywhere was not thought up via a prompt.
He felt unstimulated by all this so he never really wrote because of it, even after leaving school. But when he had to move back to the East End with his mum after three years of having been moved out, being driven crazy by a job and grieving for his pet dog, Chris started looking for something to keep his mind occupied. So, he started writing short stories. He wanted to cheer himself up, and he did!
When Chris wrote his first short and was proud of it, he let his mum read it, who was so impressed that she suggested that he do something with it. Then Vanessa, Chris’ girlfriend of around two years now, also thought Chris should do something; put his short stories online. He didn’t want to at first but she talked him into it and so his stories were up on Medium and his Twitter following started going up.
Chris’ work has been met with great appreciation and love so it’s hard to imagine that he ever thought it may not be good enough or too weird to show the public. “Just because it was out of the blue, I didn’t have a history of writing or anything,” he explained. “Everyone knew I was into reading and stuff but they didn’t think I was that into it. I was worried about my pals slagging me off but I had no reason to worry about anything. As soon as I started putting my stuff online, and they started reading it, it was all really positive. They were like, it’s good to see you doing something like this, because I was in a bit of a slump.” During this “slump,” Chris said he was working in a sports shop and not particularly enjoying it. He phrased it as “hating life.”
The writing process for Chris is simple; it starts with two notebooks. One for initial ideas; titles and a small synopsis. Another for fleshing out, building on stories presented in the first notebook. He gives it a page synopsis and works from that. But the essential to writing for Chris? Timmy. Timmy the Dog. When Chris is writing, Timmy is always floating around. “He sometimes sits on my desk when I’m writing. When he’s not there I’m like, this isn’t write. I’ve got to shout him up and I’m like, cool, I can write now.” Timmy is his muse!
Becoming the rock star
So how did Chris come from hiding his short stories to being the guy known for writing the mad wee stories and getting recognised in town. I mean, the guy’s having strangers approach him like “hey man a love yer book.” Even a hero of his own Limmy has read the book!
It was a fast process, and not very traditional, he thinks.
404 Ink, publishing house ran by Laura Jones and Heather McDaid, were following Chris on Twitter and so seeing the work he posted online. When they opened submissions to their literary magazine, Chris submitted a story and it was published! There, he had his foot in the door. At the launch party for the lit magazine, Chris brought it up with the publishers; he mentioned he had a few short stories and wanted to know if they’d be interested in having a look at them or even publishing them? They said yes! Chris did not believe them.
“I was like, aw, they’re just being nice. That’s the kind of thing you’d say to a writer, so I never thought anything of it and never sent them it.” So, Chris let it be. Then two weeks later he got a message demanding the short story collection. “I was like, awrite, cool…you being serious?” So, he sent it and before he knew it he was in Edinburgh talking it all over, signing the book deal and work had begun on the cover of Hings. He got that email on the fourth of January 2017, and by the end of that month he had signed the deal and he was suddenly involved in Aye Write! as well.
When it comes to what his life was like pre-Hings and what it’s like now, Chris describes the difference to be comparable to night and day. He got to give up his job because of the book; he left the day before Christmas Eve 2018 (pretty convenient that, missing that mad Christmas Eve shopping rush).
Chris was published by 404 Ink and he describes the publisher to be supportive and not at all what he thought it would be like. When it came to the publishing industry, Chris said, “I thought it would be like all guys in really stuffy offices, all serious, and then I met Laura and Heather and they were like, yeah cool just go write some daft wee stories for us. Jackpot!”
Started from nothing, Heather and Laura are two badass women who created their own publishing house. They’ve also published Nasty Women; a collection of essays detailing life as a 21st century woman.
Chris thought that his family and friends wouldn’t be supportive of him, he thought that 404 Ink were just humouring him when it came to looking at his stories, and sometimes he still only thinks that his success comes from his Twitter following. “I’m really hard on myself. I feel like publishers only gave me a book deal because they saw my work online and the responses it was getting.”
He compares himself to other writers, but I suppose most writers probably do. He compares himself to Irvine Welsh, whose work he started reading because his mum read it when he was young, and thinks that Welsh is lightyears ahead of where he is. “It’s good in a way because it means that I’m always trying to improve myself. It’s good that way, but it’s annoying.”
Part of the reason why Chris respects Limmy is because he’s seen Limmy use writing and writing sketches to overcome the mental health issues the Glaswegian comic has experienced in life. Knowing that Limmy himself has read Hings is surreal for Chris. “I feel like it’s a wind up, it’s so weird,” he said. Not only has Limmy read the book but in its praise, Hings has been compared to the works and writing styles of both Limmy and Irvine Welsh!
When Chris learned that he had been compared to two of his idols, he couldn’t believe it and was close to tears. “I was like, wow man, this is amazing. I was sitting with the book in my hand, looking at it. It was everything I wanted. To be compared to the two was amazing.
Then reality set in and I realised, people are going to pick up that book and see that quote and expect something as good as Limmy and Irvine Welsh. I was like, shit! Can I live up to that? I was up all night worrying about it. I was like, maybe we should take it off the cover.”
Life before Hings
Sandwich artist, crime scene cleaner and sales in a sports shop; these are some of the occupations that Chris entertained before being published.
He doesn’t know what he preferred between sandwich artist and sports shoes salesman. Being a sandwich artist was good because it was repetitive; he liked the simple monotony of it all. But selling shoes…not that. That was inspiring. “Every day I was selling to hundreds of people and it inspired stories [see ‘Crisp Packets’ in B-Side]. Just talking to people, you’d get wee bits of their lives and their stories, I was just like, I’m having them! I’m going to use them, turn them into a character. I kind of miss that.”
But what trumps them both? Well, if the company hadn’t gone bust, perhaps he might still be doing it…Chis spent some time, around two years, as a crim scene cleaner.
Although stories and anecdotes from his days of cleaning the scenes of criminal activities haven’t been used in Hings, he’s got some stories in the bank from his time in this job. “That’s the best job, I’ve ever had, honestly.
It was pretty grim. Sometimes it would be something like, a guys’ been stabbed in a close and there’s a wee bit of blood. That sounds horrific but we were like, it’s just a wee bit of blood today, ideal! Other times…there was one where like, a guy died on a toilet pan.” Perhaps this inspired the death of Sammy’s da, as told in Hings’ very first story? Anyway. “The body had been taken away but the guy had been left there for like over a week anyway. It was a bit horrific, there were bits of skin left and stuff.” I kind of gagged a wee bit when he told me that. Thanks mate.
His mum had been working for the company that was cleaning the scenes, and she got his grandad a job there, and then his auntie too, so he wanted in as well! “She was coming home with all these stories and I was like, this is morbid…but this is amazing! I wanted to do it.” And so, he was in, spending his days off from the sports shop, cleaning up crime scenes. “I loved it,” he said.
Hopes for Hings
Hings started with a story called ‘The Moth’ which was never meant to be. Chris presented this story, one of his first short stories that he’d written for the book, to his editor who hated it. “I was a little gutted because it was the first story I actually sat down and wrote so I loved it and I was emotionally attached to it.” His editor did not share such affection for the story. “I was so proud of it and he hated it. He was like, either rewrite it or cut it. I was like, alright, fair enough. So, I rewrote it and he was like, I still don’t like it. Se we cut it.” So Hings really started with the story of Davey and his newest tattoo.
As for his favourite story, Chris loves the tale of Angie, the best bowls player in town. “It took me so long to write it and I got so invested in the character of Angie, I just loved it. It was one of those stories that just, I knew how it ended. It wrote itself. I struggle with coming up with endings so it was a rare joy, knowing how it ended.” ‘Bowls’ appears in Hings and is truly mad. I won’t spoil anything here, you should really go read it yourself.
So, if any story from Hings were to be picked up and carried on in either more short stories or perhaps even a novel, of course ‘Bowls’ would be a strong contender for this one. Or perhaps, Sammy’s stories, which pop up every now and then through his book. Sammy is my personal favourite! So, I’d love to see more of this. When I got B-side and the first thing I saw inside was a Sammy story, I was STOKED.
And what about a TV series or movie? If he had to pick, Chris would rather see Hings as a TV show. Maybe an anthology. Like Black Mirror. But set in the scheme. Nice.
Hings and beyond
Hings is an ode to the working class of Scotland; from the West End and Byres road to Easterhouse and even outer space, we meet all sorts of colourful Scots speaking mostly in a very Glaswegian dialect. Makes sense. It’s how Chris speaks, so why wouldn’t he write like that? It’s how most Glaswegians speak, so of course they’d love reading that. Irvine Welsh has written books and books in the dialect and has been met with success on success on success action. It’s fantastic and immersive to read but if ever it were to be translated into, say, French or Italian…well whichever poor soul translating it might find a little bit of difficulty… (how you say…Hings?)
So, would Chris ever venture out of Scotland, to the rest of the UK, to Europe, or beyond? Maybe. “I really like writing about Scotland and the working class because that’s what I know, but I feel like I’m really limiting myself, limiting my audience, writing in a Glaswegian dialect. It’s a hard sell. But I wouldn’t want to write about other places for the sake of it. Without sounding arty farty, it would have to be for the right reasons.” Not at all. Well said. Understandable. “For now, I love just writing about Glasgow.”
But what else is Chris working on?
Sketches! Chris has teamed up with two experienced sketch writers and he’s glad to have them on his side, because he’s found sketch writing harder than anticipated. “It’s hard, man. I thought it would be so easy, just like writing short stories I thought, but it’s totally different.” The process for writing sketches involves Chris writing them as short stories and having his friends rewrite them as sketches.
Hings has also become an audiobook, which Chris has recorded himself. The experience was strange for him and has provided him with a chance to reflect on Hings and how his writing style has evolved since then. While he was really only used to reading aloud six or seven shorter stories from Hings, he had to read every single story featured in the collection for the audio edition. “It was unnerving, going back to read stories that I had written over a year ago and seeing them. There was a lot of stuff I was reading back and I was like, why did I write that? That sentence doesn’t make sense. That sentence is far too long. This is terrible, how did I get published?”
He’s also got a show coming up at the Grosvenor, and his biggest yet! Used to smaller audiences when he’s reading his work aloud or talking about it (like when he went to the Waterstones in East Kilbride! I was there!!), but now he’s got an audience of like, fifty or seventy-five? It’s sold out anyway so fuck the details. He’s sold out! The show, which will take place on the fifteenth of March, will consist of two parts: in the first, Chris will talk about Hings, the inspiration behind it, and he’ll be reading some stories from it and B-side. If he’s got it in time, he’ll be reading new material as well. The second half will focus on sketches, the filming of them and more details on them.
So how does he feel about his big gig? “Shiting myself honestly.” Ah. Good then. “I’m so nervous. Biggest show I’ve done so far, by far. It’s an hour and a half of just me on stage. The closer I get to it, the better I feel about it. It’s going to be good.”
Expanding further from sketches and short stories, Chris has also written a play about a nineteen-year-old boy meeting his father for the first time in his adult life. When they meet, it is eerie; they act and look so much alike. It’s more serious than anything else he’s really written so far. He wrote a short story, a little more serious than those found in Hings for Speculative Books which was reflective and insightful, all the while holding onto that Hings-y charm Chris is known for.
Chris is also working on Hings 2 (dedicated to Brian fae Glow (might have to change this before he needs to issue another public apology about it)) and he’s also written the pilot episode of a sitcom based in a sports shop! After nearly a decade of working in one, Chris just can’t leave the stories behind; he must tell them and thought a book wouldn’t do it justice – a sitcom would be perfect. There’s also a super-secret project he’s working on but I wasn’t allowed to ask about that.
It was great talking to Chris and seeing where he’s going. I’m going to his gig this month and I am EXCITED. Seeing Hings 2, the sitcom and everything else is going to be such a great adventure to go on. He’s an ambitious man who’s got lots planned and tonnes of time to do it all in and so many stories to tell – from selling shoes to cleaning up messes from dead bodies, to reflective plays about family, to stories about Angie, the best fucking Bowls player ever.