Chris McQueer on HWFG
Chris McQueer on his second collection of short stories, his writing process and who he’d like to leather most
Chris McQueer, widely known as ‘That Guy Oan Twitter Who Writes Short Stories’, published his debut book Hings last year. Since then McQueer’s work, which has been described as 'hilariously surreal snapshots of working class Scotland' and 'Limmy meets Irvine Welsh' by Ewan Denny of Scottish comedy duo Link & Lorne, has won a Saboteur Award for Best Short Story Collection, and been published in all sorts of places, including The National newspaper and this very magazine. Amidst all these things and plenty more, McQueer has also penned a second short story collection HWFG, which is out this month. We meet Chris in his hometown of Glasgow to talk about the new collection, and what might be next in his literary career. So, Here We Fucking Go (get it?)
“The thing with Hings is,” McQueer says, “I was still a bit worried that people thought I was weird, so I held back a bit. But with this book [HWFG] everyone knows I’m a weirdo, so who cares? I just went for it. I like being weird.” There’s no discomfort in this: just a shrug and casual acceptance of his confirmed status as Scotland’s much-loved literary weirdo. Having thoroughly enjoyed both Hings and HWFG, we're pretty pleased to hear this answer. The two collections have similar themes, and some returning characters (for those of you who were Big Angie fans – prepare to be delighted), but there are some distinct differences in the writing. When we ask Chris about this, he’s immediately more animated.
“When I started off writing HWFG I was thinking to myself: it needs to be like Hings, cause that’s what people like," he says, "so I need to give them a bit of the same. But the first half a dozen stories I wrote were utter shite. They were like parodies of the stories in Hings. I felt I was trying too hard to be funny. Punchlines were just falling flat. I was just demented. Like, what’s going on here?”
Every writer goes through something similar at some point, but it’s how the writer pushes through (or doesn’t) that separates those that make it and those that don’t. “Then I just went 'Right, try and move away from comedy, maybe that’s the issue'. So I went away and I wrote a story called Afterlife, and I thought, 'Right: let’s get weird with that, make it a wee bit darker'. And I just had great fun writing it. Just wrote through that pressure of writing to punchlines and stuff. It felt brilliant.
“So I just thought: 'Aye this is it, this is how I want this new book to feel'. And I just went for it – all the stories just kind of came after that. But I still threw a couple of wee daft ones in there.” Afterlife is a surprising story from start to finish, straddling the social politics of East End Glasgow and exploring a theologically unique perspective of heaven. It’s also really, really funny. And it makes sense that this story was the turning point; it’s more abstract than many stories in Hings (maybe the most abstract in the collection), but the McQueer brand of humour is still very much present.
McQueer is animated throughout our conversation, and seems to enjoy talking about the writing process of HWFG. We ask what he did with all the pieces that he wrote before Afterlife and, without a flicker of frustration, he says everything written before the story was “just chucked”. But how many stories is that? We're curious to know how many weeks or months he’d spent drafting through ideas before hitting on the one that inspired HWFG.
“Like, at least six or seven. Each one was taking me three or four weeks to write, which was just like ages and ages and ages, and they were just nonsense that really annoyed me.” That’s, minimum, four and a half months of writing which he decided wasn’t going to be useful anymore. Maybe up to seven months of work – gone. This is a writer who doesn't shy away from pushing himself and his writing.
“Then I wrote Afterlife,” McQueer says, “and it all came out in like a week. I was like ‘Aw I’ve done it, this is me back on track.’” This is the moment every writer strives for, and the relief is palpable in Chris’s expression, even months later. He had mentioned writing to punchlines earlier, and we’ve always wondered this about Chris’s work; creating stories like this really worked in Hings, but we’ve often thought how great they would be as comedy sketches. Is this something he’d be interested in doing? “I’d like to, aye. I studied up at the City of Glasgow College once Hings came out. It was script writing and stuff, for the radio and for the telly. Aye, I’d love to have a go at that.
“I’ve been at the BBC every couple of months pitching and stuff but I’m not getting through. But they’ll say aye eventually, if I just keep doing it. So aye, writing for the telly’s probably my next goal.” C’mon, BBC, get it together – we want to see Big Angie on the screen and we can’t be the only ones?
Again though, there’s no dip in McQueer’s mood as he talks about getting knocked back. Sure, he takes a slightly more serious tone but his resilience is clearly something to be reckoned with. There’s a pause that lasts maybe a second before he continues.
“A novel as well.”
Another pause. We think we’ve found a contentious point. We ask if he feels pressure to write a full-length novel: “A wee bit aye. After Hings, I thought my next book should be a novel, but then I thought, ‘Nah I don’t really want to write a novel, I want to write more short stories.’ I like writing short stories, what’s wrong with that? So I just did it.
"But now I don’t know; the stories I’m writing are getting longer and longer. Maybe I should give a novel a go? Maybe that’s the next step. I don’t want to just keep churning out short stories, I feel people might get bored of that. I do still worry about that – it’s natural. So aye, a wee bit of pressure to write a novel but it’s good pressure.”
This is the best answer his readers could hope for: one day we might be treated to a McQueer novel. But we're glad he’s finding his own way to it. We’ll be ready when you are, Chris. Our final question harks back to Leathered, the short novella released earlier this year, published by Speculative Books (which can also be found in HWFG), in which a Scottish prison guard ends up in a fight with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. So, who would Chris McQueer like to leather most?
“Aye, that footballer, who shall not be named, that was firing into Vanessa [McQueer's girlfriend]. Aye, that happened: an actual verified footballer tried to chat up my girlfriend. I’d like to leather him. But he’d probably leather me to be fair, he’s like 6 foot 3 and 16 stone of pure muscle. But I can run fast – I’ll tire him out.”
He’s laughing and clearly doesn’t feel any real animosity toward the guy, but we can’t help but think this answer is somewhat reminiscent of how McQueer tackles his writing career. Short stories not coming out as he’d like them to? He keeps going and eventually the good ones are found. The BBC not letting him through its gates? He’s still running for this one, but we can only hope the BBC tires out soon. Chris McQueer is playing the long game, and isn’t prepared to stop until he meets his goals.