Will Self

This article is from 2011

Will Self

Photography | Jerry Bauer

The author on his upcoming reading of Fleck with Alasdair Gray

Will Self takes part in three events this August, including the world premiere public reading of Alasdair Gray’s take on the Faust myth. Here, Self discusses the Glasgow legend

I’ve known Alasdair Gray for a long time now, nearly 20 years. We had the same publisher in England and he came to one of my events in Glasgow, probably in about 1982 or ‘83. We did some other events together around that time and struck up a friendship. I see him most times when I go to Glasgow, and I spend a fair bit of time in Scotland because my wife is a Scot.

Alasdair just asked me to join him in the performance of Fleck. The piece is a retelling of the Faust story and Alasdair seems keen that the Faust figure should be a middle-class Englishman rather than a working-class Scot. That’s OK. I’m honoured. I think I have the lead. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve done a lot of public events and readings over the years and when I started out I used to do stand-up and still do a bit every now and then. I’ve done two or three of my own books as talking books, so it’s not anything that particularly intimidates me. I think it’ll be a laugh.

It’s an odd piece, but then everything Alasdair does is pretty odd. It’s got all those elements you’d expect from him, including quite a bit of erotic interest, girls in various states of undress, a series of cheerfully embraced stereotypings and high-flown metaphysics. It’s simultaneously deeply heartfelt and quite sophisticated and kind of blindingly naive. To say that that’s his charm would be slightly damning with faint praise, but I mean charm on a stratospheric level.

Alasdair’s somebody who sees the fabulist quality in everyday life. You only have to go to Lanark to discover that he’s someone who sees the magical within the ordinary. He’s a passionate and unaffected Scots nationalist, a passionate and unaffected socialist. And he’s not a utopian – he’s believes everything is on earth right now. It just needs to be accessed in the right way. All of those things are wholly admirable.
He’s a naïve rather sentimental artist – it comes straight from the heart. He was formed in a crucible-like way, like Lanark itself which was a construction of Scots self-esteem under Thatcher in the early 1980s. That was the defining political era of his life, not that he wasn’t an artist and writer before that. Alasdair’s one of the handful of really important Scots writers in English of the post-war period.

Will Self, 28 Aug, 3.30pm (on WG Sebald), 8pm (the Folio Society Event), £10 (£8); Alasdair Gray’s Fleck, 29 Aug, 8pm, £15 (£12).

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