In this section I’ll summarise my unpublished fiction that’s looking for a good home. This will consist of a quick summary and an excerpt. To read some complete stories, visit my showcase page.
Title: Worse things
Word count: 100,000
Worse things is set in the mid to late 80’s. The story takes place in a remote, yet economically vibrant, fishing community in the north west Highlands. The village of Kinlochbaroch is loosely based on the village of Kinlochbervie in Sutherland, once one of the most important fisheries in the UK. The story takes place in two parallel timelines – a series of flashback chapters where the novel’s protagonist, Ross, experiences life in the village and slowly becomes the young man he is in the present day; and the present day part of the novel, in which we follow Ross’ first week at sea as an apprentice on a Buckie trawler (most of the boats that fish from Kinlochbaroch come from the Moray coast).
The book is a rite of passage novel and addresses themes of loyalty, identity, culpability, loss, love, racism and rejection. Although the book may be set in the north west highlands, it is far from sentimental and addresses the real issues that confront those living in remote communities. That said, it’s also very funny, but in a bleak, darkly comic way. It’s not Para Handy.
Having grown up in Kinlochbervie a lot of the material in this novel is direct experience (or certainly inspired by my experiences in the Highlands) and so is emotionally quite a raw work. The following excerpts are taken from a flashback section and present day section respectively.
Complicity - extract 1
I felt shit for days after we’d kicked Ali Fanta in. In fact, straight afterwards, as we were all walking back up to the hostel, laughing and joking, I felt a coiling deep in my guts, like my guilt was a live thing, a parasite inside my belly. The sensation’s still there, although it’s slowly going away, especially now that Ali’s back at school. But since we battered him Alistair doesn’t even ride on our hostel bus in the morning from Dornoch to Golspie anymore. Flap Jack, the Geography teacher with the maimed hand that lives a few doors down the road from Laird’s Court, gives him a lift to school nowadays. Fraser, Logie, Angus and Wee Wallop all got hauled into the Rector’s office. I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but it looks like Logie and Fraser might get suspended. Fuck knows why I’m not getting hauled in too.
We did it Wednesday night last week. Tea had just finished and I was on D.S. with Wee Wallop. After we’d washed all the dishes a crowd of us had headed down into Dornoch to hang out; we usually end up loitering about outside Capaldi’s, the chipper and ice cream shop, one of the few places in town that stays open beyond half five, and so, more from habit that anything else, we were on our way there.
For a change we’d decided to head down through the woods. There’s a network of paths that run through the Scot’s Pines, choked up on both sides with tangles of brambles, whins and dead ferns. As soon as we were beneath the trees I got hit by that smell: crow shit. All over the trees, the bushes, the path, a thick spunky spattering that mixes with the normal woods smell into something rotten and sickening. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can forget about them for a bit, get used to the bickering voices day and night – unless it’s dusk. Dusk’s the worse. When you’re outside, near the trees or in town down by the cathedral or the cemetery, the noise can sometimes drown out conversation. They’re all over the fucking place; sitting on walls, perched in the trees, walking along the street. And always looking at you, staring with those black-as-fuck eyes. Enough to give you the heeby-jeebies. In fact, if I’m being honest, they’re one of the reasons why I only do mushrooms down by the golf course or the beach, two of the few places in town that a relatively crow-free. You can always spot a Dornoch’s car by its crow shit icing.
When we emerged from the woods, we spotted Ali on the playing field by the side of the academy, practising his putting. At first we were just asking him what the crack was, stuff like that – mock friendly – but as soon as we’d seen him we’d started sizing him up, deciding what to do, nasty as fuck; you could feel the aggression in the air, like some kind of telepathic vibe between us, unspoken. Nobody had said we were going to do something to Ali, we just kind of sensed it without anyone having to say as much.
It was pretty obvious we were making him uncomfortable. He’d stopped putting and just stood nervously, answering our questions, venturing nothing, obviously wanting us away as quickly as possible. But that just made it worse. Logie was first:
‘No Fanta today then, Ali?’ That was our cue. Ali Fanta’s a bit of a mongo, not quite a full-on Downs Syndromee–or ‘Mongolian idiot’ as my Biology teacher calls them–but definitely a bit slow: ‘Alistair lacks mental agility’ as the report card we stole from him one day said. Not a total Joey but a bit of a fudge none-the-less. He necks Fanta like it’s going out of fashion. Bottles of the stuff, which is probably why he’s a bit of a fat cunt and why his jeans always hang half way down his arse crack.
Ali mumbled something about not having any Fanta. Someone else called him a fat bastard and said that more Fanta was the last thing he needed. Then Fraser had asked him for a go of his putter. Ali had said no, but Fraser persisted and eventually just took it from him. He’d grabbed a couple of balls from Ali’s bag and placed them on the grass. Then fucking leathered them, right out of the playing field and over across the main road. Ali had fidgeted on his feet, mumbled something about having to go home for tea, but then Wee Wallop had had a go too. He took a massive lump of turf out of the ground, bent the end of the club askew. Ali went to take it back off him – I think he was starting to cry by that point, but Wallop just pushed him aside and handed it to me.
And I laughed when I took the putter from him. Fuck knows why. It was a cuntish thing to do, weak. But in way I have to admit that it felt good as well, made me feel like one of the boys. I mean, it’s not as if I particularly wanted to humiliate Ali, or hurt him – he’s about the most inoffensive and unthreatening person at school and doesn’t even feature in the hierarchy/popularity/women equation. But I suppose what really matters is that the other lads do … and you’re either a part of it or apart from it. I’m not on the top rung of the ladder- not even close – but I’m not at the bottom these days either; in fact, I’d say I probably haiver somewhere around the middle: mostly okay but occasionally getting fucked. In the end the trick’s to keep the position you’ve got – presuming you haven’t the ambition to climb higher – and avoid as many conflicts as possible. But that means doing and saying enough of the right things to stop yourself slipping down a couple of pegs and inviting more of the hassles you’re trying to avoid. And sometimes that means bullying. Not that that’s any kind of excuse.
I mind I’d taken the putter and wellied one of the balls, sent it flying into the tennis courts by the academy extension. Ali was full on bubbling by now. The rest of them were laughing like fuck, taking the piss. My hands were shaking and my guts knotted up, but for once, not through fear. I whacked the club off the ground. Hit it so hard that it almost bent in two. It took all my strength so it must have been quite expensive.
The Ali had went mad, almost like an eppy. Lost it completely, like he does when people pick on him: starts flailing his arms about, screaming blue murder, spitting, stamping his feet, shaking his legs around. It can be pretty funny and it pays not to get too close – he’s quite a big guy. It’s not a focused attack or anything, more of a rabid fit. I mind he’d lunged for me, forearm catching me a glancing blow to the side of the head. I’d caught a glimpse of Logie out of the corner of my eye laughing his tits off and doing an impression of Ali, kind of like Elvis wobbling his leg, but with his arse hanging out of his jeans and spittle raining from his lips. I’d stepped aside and smacked Ali in the face: felt my knuckles connecting with something soft, then bone underneath. Blood. Bust nose. Then the rest of them pulled him down and beat the shit out of him. We chucked his clubs into a massive hedge on the way back to the hostel.
Scooty’s cap - extract2
We’ve no even left the harbour yet. Lachy’s fucking about with the plotter in the wheelhouse. He’s got some boy from the Ocean Harvester with him. The rest of us are down in the accommodation trying to keep out of the cunt’s way.
‘Furry-boots?’ Tam, glaring at me, nodding towards my bunk.
‘Furry-boots in your bunk?’
Oh fuck … not again. We were talking about fags two seconds ago.
‘My wellies? They’re in the for’ed locker by the donkey,’ I say, shrugging. ‘They’re just ordinary ones, from the chandlers.’
‘Fit? Fa’s speckin aboot fuckin weellies?’
‘I’ve no got boots with me, just slip-ons, trainers and my wellies. I think my trainers are in my bunk. They might be on the floor though.’ I hate it when this happens. Fucking Doric. It might as well be Gaelic the sense it makes. My guts squirm as I start poking about in the junk littering the accommodation floor pretending to look for my Nikes. I’m pretty sure that the trainers are in my bunk – under my sleeping bag with my gloves – leastways, that’s where I think I put them when I changed into my slip-ons … not that it makes any odds, it’s academic, an excuse to avoid Tam’s Paddington. I can just about feel his eyes boring through the top of my skull. What the fuck does he want? I daren’t just come out and tell him I haven’t a fucking clue what he’s saying. Furry-boots, furry-boots, furry-boots? I wish someone would publish a wee pocketsize Doric phrasebook. I’ve seen some years ago, in stupid tourist shops in Cullen and Keith – wee sheep-shaggy places – but they were always those twee Broons-type ones, the ones with Brigadoon, kilt-wearing Scotsmen in them walking Hamish Macbeth dogs and shouting, ‘It’s a braw, bricht, moon-licht nicht the nicht, ken?’ Not too practical an addition to the Apprentice’s Survival Kit. Right up there with clean pants and socks, a toothbrush and johnnies. Maybe if they sprinkled a few ‘cunts’ and ‘fucks’ here and there they might at least capture the flavour of fishermanspeak:
‘It’s a braw, fuckin’ bricht, moon-licht cuntin nicht the nicht, ken?’ I can just see it -
‘Excuse me just a moment could you, Tam, old boy, I just want to translate that last colourful phrase you used.’
- as I reach into my back pocket for my dog-eared and time-served edition of Hoo tae Speck like a Fishermin by F. Cunt.
‘I’m nae on aboot yir fuckin’ sheens, min.’ He’s going to loose the rag. I stop grubbing around on the floor, the muscles in my back bunching into a scrum. I’ve got a brutal beamer. ‘Would yi c’mon, min, I’m fuckin chokin here! I dinnae want tae lose the thread.’
What the fuck’s he on about? What the hell are furry-boots?
‘Get yir erse in gear, Rossy, ma loon,’ Jocky crows from the rafters.
I feel like a Podling strapped in front of the crystal shaft, the corrupted beam draining my vital essence away drop by drop … must resist, must resist. I hate it when this happens. Thank fuck they can’t see my face.
‘I nivver said fuck a’ aboot yir fuckin’ sheens, min, I’m wantin tae ken far yir fags are at, yi fiel wee cunt.’ Fags? The manacles break open, the beam dies…
‘My fags? I just said a second ago. They’re in my bunk. Sorry, I thought you were asking about something else.’ I get up, feeling relieved, but like a bit of a spare.
‘Aye, I fuckin kent thir in yir bunk. Fit the fuck div yi think I’ve bin on aboot fir the last teen fuckin’ minutes? Furry-boots in yir bunk, min?’
Furry-boots = Whereabouts. Furry-boots = Whereabouts. Furry-boots = Whereabouts. Logged and filed.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some English fanny that’s a stranger to Doric. I’ve lived in Kinlochbaroch for nearly ten years and Morayshire fisherman have been an integral part of the community ever since we moved here. You soon learn to understand them – not that you have much choice, mind – and nearly everyone in KLB is bilingual up to a point, except maybe the odd white settler, but even most of them can maintain some kind of pidgin Doric conversation when they have to. It’s just Tam. He spits his words out like they were shit flavoured. It wouldn’t do the cunt any harm to wear his bottom teeth on occasion. I mumble an apology and hand him a fag, then pass one up behind me to Jocky.
‘Aye, thanks, ma loon.’
I’m beginning to wonder what the fuck I was thinking, signing on with the Maradona. Maybe the old-man was right and I do need my head examined? Maybe I should have listened for once, ‘marked his words’, and got my arse off to college or something, like Michael did. But there’re always maybe’s. Besides, there’s no way I’d give the bastard the pleasure of seeing me dragging myself home so soon, tail between my legs. Got to batten down the hatches and weather the storm. Fishing’s just a job. If the monkey-men can do it, so can I. It’s no as if I haven’t been to sea before, either.
The accommodation fills with petrol-coloured smoke. Tam was away to tell us a story.
‘Rossy, min, ging awa aft an see if that glaikit deef cunt’s goat ony juice wi’ the stores.’
I can hear Curiosity clanging about in the galley above us.
‘Aye, in a sec’- when I’ve finished this fag.’ Jocky, testing the water, seeing just how much of a lackey I’m prepared to be on my first trip. Got to be careful though, strike a balance between looking keen and turning myself into a doormat.
Tam tucks his Bic back into his jeans. I clock the T-shirt he’s wearing. It’s one of the end-of-the-pier, toffee apples, penny arcades and dog shit on the beach kind, the bastard child of a seaside postcard and a Chubby Brown video. On the front there’s a German tri-plane flying through the air, Red Baron style, with a trail of women’s underwear disgorging into its slipstream. In the cockpit a pair of slender, stockinged legs stick up on either side of a bloke’s hairy arse. The caption says ‘Dirty Fokker’.
‘Aye, I wis tellin yis aboot the loon frae Port Gordon,’- at last – ‘yi ken the boy? Frae the Cormorant.’
‘Oh, aye.’ Jocky leans out from his bunk. He looks like a beetle grub in his pockmarked brown sleeping bag. ‘Aleck Fraser’s loon. Bides wi yon fuckin’ heifer frae Finechty fa works in Cruickshanks. Fit’s her name noo – ‘ Tam’s away to answer, but doesn’t get chance. ‘ – Betty. Betty Swollacks, eh?’ Jocky grins at us. We don’t laugh. ‘She hings aboot wi’ that shoor ay boots fit drink in the Commercial.’
‘Aye, that’s the bouy. Onyways, him an’ a crowd ay loons frae Buckie wir a’ takin the shot in Tutti Frutti’s twa weekends back. They wir a’ fuckin’ bleezin by the end ay the nicht, usual style, ken, so they pile intae Maharaja’s, ‘cause like it disnae close till aboot wan on a Saitirday nicht, aye, an thir a’ fuckin starvin. Onyways, yir man Scooty’s goat a cap in the front ay his mooth, ken? A falser, an’ he wayks up the next mornin, ken, an’ gings tae the bog fir a hit-an-a-miss. Spies his coupon an’ realizes his fuckin tooth’s missing. The fiel cunt reckoned he’d swallayed it – fan he wis eachtin’ his curry the nicht afore. So guess fit the clarty cunt did?’
‘Fit? He nivver spewed his ringer and sifted through it?’
‘Nah, worse thin that, min. The dirty cunt shat in the bath fir the next three days and poked though it wi’ his ma’s kitchen gloves on looking fir his tooth.’
I scald my throat – smoke down the wrong way, laughing, eyes watering. Above me Jocky’s wheezing, and for some reason, his laugh minds me of the noise the foot pump that used to be in the boot of my brother’s escort made.
Cue dimension skip – where the fuck is the foot pump? I didn’t see it by the shore, amongst the wreckage, and I’m pretty sure it’s not in the car up the peat road – I’ve rummaged about in it often enough, I’d have spotted it if it was. It could be in the big shed out the back of the house, though? A lot of Michael’s stuff ended up there after the accident – parental osmosis.
‘Did he find his cap, then?’ I say, wiping tears from my eyes.
‘Aye, aye … He found it twa days later, ken?’ He pauses. ‘In his fuckin bed!’
He waits a whiley till we’ve stopped creasing ourselves.
‘But that’s nae the best bit, ken?’ he says. ‘Aboot a day aefter, his ma wis stertin tae wonder fit the guy minkit smeel wis that wis comin frae the bin oot the back ay the hoose. So, ken, she opens it up tae find her marigolds sittin in the bottom a’ covered in Scooty’s shite.’
‘Tam? Tammy?’ Lachy’s disembodied voice from above. ‘Quit yir preckin aboot doon there an’ awa tae the pier offices tae see if thon supply cunt left that boax ay wee hoappers fir us. Yi hearin me?’
‘Aye, aye. I’m hearin yi.’ Tam hauls on his wellies -an opportunity for some diplomatic sooking. Lachy’s heavy-booted feet clang across the shelterdeck above our heads.
‘Do you want me to come with you?’ My eyes are still stinging and my cheeks hurt.
‘Nah, yir aricht, Rossy min. Yi can help yir man here packin awa the stores.’ He turns to Jocky and winks. ‘Just show the boy far athing’s kept eh? Like the fuckin teabags and the milk.’
‘Aye,’ Jocky cackles, sliding out of his chrysalis, more of a crusty deckhand than a red admiral, ‘but yir nae gettin tae ken far the biscuits are kept, though. ‘pprentices dinnae get biscuits.’