Author Confessions: James Yorkston
We tempted James Yorkston (@JamesYorkston) - one of Scotland's leading singer-songwriters, and early Fence Collective member - into Author Confessions to celebrate the release of his debut novel Three Craws from Freight Books.
Have you ever pretended to have read a book to impress someone?
Most people I know have read a book, some have even read two, so I don’t think I’d particularly impress them by pretending to have read one.
An escaped prisoner was running down the street, shouting 'I’m free! I’m free!'; my wee boy looked at him and said 'So what? I’m four.'
How do you arrange your bookshelf?
I throw books. I shove them. I sometimes kick them into position. They battle for space with CDs, hats, shoes, dogs and cats.
I once shot a sheep with an air rifle, wounding it just enough that I had the strength to drag it to the lip of an air-raid shelter and drop it down inside.
Which book has left the greatest impression on you?
When I was 16 years old I broke into a church near Strathmiglo with my buddy Frank. We were after the altar wine, of course. The vicar dude caught us and whacked me over the head with a 19th century Wright’s Bible. I still have the scar, just above my right eye. Frank, funnily enough, went into the priesthood a few years later.
What’s the strangest question you’ve been asked about your work?
In Gothenburg once I was being interviewed by a young lady. As the interview progressed, questions slowly but surely changed, morphed from being all about me and the band to all about Edinburgh. After a while I questioned her why this was occurring and she admitted that she was considering moving over and wanted to know where was best to live, etc. I called my double bass player over and he politely concluded the interview.
How do you react to bad reviews?
I find reviews tend to cement my own view of a book or a record or whatever. When I get a 5-star review I seldom believe it true and the same when I get a 3-star.
4-star Jamesy, that’s what they call me. To put it another way, if someone were to tell me I had a full head of hair I wouldn’t believe them; same if they told me I had no teeth.
Is writing a pain or a pleasure?
It’s a both. When the words flood out there’s nothing easier, when the story is being created and embellished – I love that. But of course, sometimes it just doesn’t work like that.
What’s your most extreme research story?
I once shot a sheep with an air rifle, wounding it just enough that I had the strength to drag it to the lip of an air-raid shelter and drop it down inside. Although it was a most unpleasant experience, it made the writing of the event afterwards far more believable.
What would your dream job be if you weren’t an author?
I couldn’t really call myself an author just yet. I’ve written a couple of books, but that’s dwarfed by the amount of music I’ve released. The question reminds me though of a Seamus Ennis story - Seamus being one of the great uilleann pipers, of course.
Seamus was being asked by a colleague if he’d heard of so-and-so, a piper who lived in the area. 'No,' said Seamus, 'I don’t know him.' The conversation carried on. 'Are you sure now, Seamus? So-and-so? I know you’ve seen him,' and Seamus continued, 'No, I don’t know a piper of that name.'
Finally, exasperated, the man said, 'Ah c’mon now Seamus, you must know such-and-such? He owns a set of uilleann pipes? He’s played when you’ve been there…' and Seamus replies, 'Ah him, yes. But owning a set of pipes doesn’t make you a piper!'
What’s your most prized possession?
People always say family don’t they? And I’d have to agree. But family aside, I reckon if I had an OK guitar to play on I’d be able to build the JY empire back up after a house fire or what not.
Have you ever had a near death experience?
A few; one which comes to mind is I was climbing Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuidhe at Ben Avon with my father a decade or so ago. I’m no climber, more a duffer who had a rucksack on his back and inappropriate footwear. The climb was clouded over so there were no views, mostly, but a few hundred metres from the top there was a crack in the clouds and I saw down to the loch below. As I was taking it all in, a mighty gust of wind pulled me away from the mountain and for a second it could have gone either way. I was lucky, of course, and I fell back to the immediate cliff face. Below me there was nothing but steep slopes, rocks and shale, there’s no way I would have survived if I’d gone over. I remember that moment very clearly, despite the years between it and now.
What’s your guiltiest music pleasure?
I think I’ve grown out of that stuff now. When I was a kid, I was very much involved in genre, so I’d only like punk rock or dub reggae, say. Fortunately, as I’ve aged, I’ve thrown off such daft shackles and I no longer feel guilty about anything I like. I feel guiltier disliking things, especially if it’s music by people who I like as people. Guilty Music Displeasure, perhaps.
I’ve thrown off such daft shackles and I no longer feel guilty about anything I like.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring authors what would it be?
You’ll find more time to write if you don’t programme a club, manage and play in a trio who scatter themselves all over the globe, have a solo music career alongside and, of course, a family to look after…
What’s your most over-used phrase?
My speech is peppered with 'man' and 'dude', especially when on the road. I meet so many sound engineers, promoters and support bands, I find it nigh on impossible to remember their names. But as the great man said, 'You’re all dude to me'.
Which author do you nominate for Author Confessions?
I’d nominate John Williams, a fine biographer and novelist.
Thanks to Freight Books we have one copy of Three Craws to give away. For a chance to win James Yorkston’s debut novel, post your answer to this question in the comments or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org:
- Of which famous Fife musical collective was James Yorkston a founding member?
Closing date: 17:00, 30 May 2016. Open to UK entrants only. Full terms and conditions.