John G Fagan | Smorgasbord 2022
John Gerard Fagan is from Muirhead, a wee town just outside Glasgow. Having lived most of his adult life abroad he came back to settle in Scotland in 2020 and currently lives in Dunbar. He is the author of the memoir Fish Town and has published over 100 short stories, poems, and essays in English, Scots, and Scottish Gaelic.
LGT: Hi John, welcome to the Smorgasbord. What were you like at school?
JGF: I went to a high school in Cumbernauld and was a fairly quiet fella. My main group of friends is still the same one from school. I was into writing comics at primary school and had a series about a superhero called Super Sulk who went around with his pal Wee Jimmy Nothin beating up baddies.
LGT: Fish Town is an incredible book, fresh, raw, authentic, and beautifully written. Given that it is autobiographical, did you ever feel that you were over exposing yourself either while writing it or after it was published?
JGF: That’s nice to hear. Yes, I did feel overexposed after it got published in that people could read about my personal life. It wasn’t really something I thought about when I was writing it as I didn’t write it to get published, and it hits you in the face once it’s out. But that fades after a wee while and time creates a distance between you the character in the book, and you the writer.
LGT: The spare style of Fish Town presumably had much do with the fact that it was written on your phone. Was that a one-off or something you'll take forward? I guess I'm wondering if you might go into baroque levels of detail if you were let loose on a laptop.
JGF: I write a lot on my phone and did a lot of the early drafts of my current novels on it too, though not in the same format as Fish Town. My process for the last few years has been writing notes on my phone, getting it into some sort of shape on my old iPad, then I edit and expand on my laptop. I get to see it with new eyes when it transfers and helps the process. My thinking is alongside with what Poe believed in that brevity is vital in literature. As long as my imagery is as good as it can be, the characters are fully formed and leading the story, and there’s room in the story for the reader to breathe, I am at a place where I stop, no matter the word count.
LGT: Tell me about one of your best writing moments.
JGF: Winning a writing competition and getting my first short story published in Black Static magazine in 2010 was a great feeling and one where I first felt I was making progress and that I was good enough to be a writer.
LGT: What are you working on now?
JGF: I am working on several projects. It depends on what I feel like writing on the day. The main ones I’m working on are a Scottish working-class novel written in Scots, set in the 1930s; a Japanese novel set in the 11th century that follows 19th century Japanese rules of what constitutes a true novel; and a Scottish cyber punk novella. I find writing different genres helps improve other stories.
LGT: What does literary success look like to you?
JGF: Taking out a finished piece of work I’ve let sit for a few months and being happy with it. Having good reviews from other writers and readers I admire is also up there.
LGT: What advice would you give your younger self?
JGF: I wouldn’t change much about the decisions I’ve made because that old cliché of I wouldn’t be where I am now without making all the mistakes is true. But I would tell him to stop drinking so much, as it has nearly led to me dying on more than one occasion, and I’d tell him to stop eating animals.
LGT: If there was one person (contemporary or historical) you could spend a day with, who would you choose and why? How would you spend the day?
JGF: I would choose my granda. He died 20 years ago when I was a teenager and lived an interesting life and loved to read. I miss him and would have liked to have spent time with him now as an adult. It wouldn’t matter where.
LGT: Now for the name game. Name three authors who inspire you:
JGF: Cormac McCarthy – the best writer who has ever lived, Takiji Kobayashi – wrote brave proletarian Japanese fiction that got him killed, George Orwell – fiction or essays, his writing is outstanding and gripping.
LGT: Three books that stunned you when you first read them (hallelujah moments):
JGF: Blood Meridian – the final Cormac McCarthy book I had to read, and it was the most violent yet beautiful novel I have come across. Shohei Ooka’s Fires on the Plain – almost as disturbing as Blood Meridian and really peels back a soldier’s experience of WWII. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot – the first Dostoevsky novel I ever read and one that opened my eyes in how to write brilliant characters.
LGT: Three favourite books not included above:
JGF: Kobo Abe – The Woman in the Dunes, Henri Charriere – Papillon, Cormac McCarthy – Suttree.
LGT: Three favourite films:
JGF: The Thin Red Line – I was going to see some weans’ film up at the Showcase in Coatbridge, but it was sold out, so we went to see the next film showing, which was The Thin Red Line. I was 14 and it is still the best film I have ever seen. Terrence Malick is a genius and created something perfect. Alongside David Lynch he’s my favourite director.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – The LOTR trilogy are the films I’ve watched most and never get tired off. The final film I saw in the pictures twice and feel lucky to have done so. It’s a masterpiece and I doubt there will ever be a trilogy to even get close to it.
Into the Wild – heart-breaking and relatable on so many levels.
LGT: Three recurring songs on your playlist:
JGF: Keep Yourself Warm by Frightened Rabbit, Angeles by Elliot Smith, Sonne by Rammstein.
LGT: Any final words of wisdom?
JGF: Don’t be afraid to try something new with your writing and write what you love to write about. There are more than enough simply writing for the market instead and it stagnates literature.
LGT: Great words of advice. Thanks John.
LG Thomson is the author of seven novels, including Boyle’s Law, a noir thriller set in the Highlands. Her writing has appeared in a wide range of anthologies and literary publications including Wyldblood Magazine, Epoch Press, and Art North. Her latest book, Modernist Dreams Brutalist Nightmares, is a narrative memoir about being part of the first generation to grow up in Scotland’s most ambitious New Town. It will be published by Outcast Press in October 2022. Find out more here.