9 Oct 2014

The Pine Box Jig Involves No Dancing by Jim Ferguson

Published by Whirlpool Press

There are a few reasons why you'd do worse than read Jim Ferguson's The Pine Box Jig Involves No Dancing, but the primary one is the freedom apparent within.  Jim Ferguson writes free of constraint, and in no fear of anybody telling him he is wrong to do what he does.  He suffers none of the expectations normal to literary fiction, and as a result The Pine Box Jig Involves No Dancing is a sweet relief.

In terms of creeative writing these days, the lower down the food chain you lie, the freer you are from interference.  Interference takes many editorial forms, but for most writers begins with their agents, who will issue startling advice such as: "You should write more like so-and-so".  Then there are the publishers, who exist in a strange zone somewhere between trying to re-create the commercial success of yesterday, while persuading themsleves that they are looking for the new voices of tomorrow.

It's easy to see why publishing is a conservative business.  Profit margins are tiny, and with bookshops, agents, distributors, PR marketeers and even authors to pay, there just isn't that much left for publishers to get their hands on.  The upshot of this is that at the top of the litereary food-chain, there exists a fat strata of quite boring books. No one admits these books are boring, because that would be to disagree with the tight critical approval that keeps them there.  But they are boring, and if you consider it for a moment, you'll see that everybody is pretty much writing the same thing.  
So far, self-published books have done little to buck this trend because self-published books are much in the mold of the seagulls that follow the trawler.  Virtually every self-published item of fiction is genre fiction, and as such attempts to cash in on established markets.  It means that the only place left in which we might find innovative, approachable new fiction is among the ranks of the small publishers.  Of which we have many in Scotland.

ENOUGH OF THIS PISH THOUGH

The Pine Box Jig Involves No Dancing is one of several novels which came out in the months leading up to the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014.  (See also Craig Smith, author of The Mile; and Peter Burnett, authour of Scotland or No).  Of these titles, Jim Ferguson's chartacter is the least concerned about what the referendum might mean, and instead we perceive a character so beset upon by the necessities of survival, that politics takes second place.

There's a feeling of powerlessness in Jim Ferguson's ageing hippy of a character.  He rememebrs the 1980s and seems to have learned his political lessons then, so while he may broadly-speaking be a YES-MAN he is no enthusiast, but he does feel that the referendum day is nonetheless going to be a watershed moment, although for what, is less clear.

Instead, we read the diary of a man cut loose from social routine, in a country ruled by a mysterious, capricious and unapproachable force we should probably just call capitalism.  What this presents isn't the fact that working class men and women are not interested in politics, but that the kind of discussions we heard during the referendum were in and oif themselves an idle luxury of the chattering classes.  There is no painful wrestling with opinion or situation, and the language is entirely carefree, even though it deals with the daily concerns of food, poverty and what's on ther CD player.

Told in diary form, the strengths of The Pine Box Jig Involves No Dancing lie in the daily details, such as which music the character listens too, the odd doobey-doo they smoke, and the constant clacluations that are made over what can and cannot be afforded.

Due to a bias inherent in literray fiction, which tend to serve the moral and emotional concerns oif the middle classes, which are its readership, we rarely hear an actual working-class voice in novels these days.  It would be hard to imagine The Pine Box Jig Involves No Dancing published by a large publishing house, because such companies simply do not know how to reach working-class readerships, possibly even believing they do not exist.

If you read The Pine Box Jig Involves No Dancing, you might think of James Kelman, or maybe even Jeff Torrington, but that is because these are the only working-class Scottish writers you know.  Some of the content seems like trivial nonsense but the meaning emerges precisely at the moment when these seemingly random thoughts emereg with a depth of conviction that is unforced.  It's possoble this is the writer's real diary, we don't know him so it's hard to tell.  Work is a futile fernzy of activity that is bound to end in sacking or redundancy.  And the particulariy of vision to be found in cakes, david Bowie and musings on Paisley poets Robert Tannahill and Alexander Wilson effectively symbolise everything that is true in people; they are not stupid like you think; they can partake of eternity just as easily as they can partake of sawing lengths of pine.

There is a story, yep there's a story in The Pine Box Jig Involves No dancing, but it's not what you come for.  An auld hippy gets sacked from Tesco for kipping in a stack of toilet paper he has made (it is a scene of high comic power) and turns to restoring furniture, more out of love than any interest in business.  In between, he enjoys life, as one feels he may always have done.

Had folk round for the Burn's supper.  Rona, and Bob, and Irene. It aw went fine.  Veggie haggis, neeps n tatties gravy.  Posh ice-cream for afters.

...

There's a lot of good Scottish muisc on Youtube.  That did the bizzo, plus a couple of doobie-doos and the booze kept everything tickety-boo.  Robert Burns never ate ice-cream of course. Sadly, it hadn't been invented before the time of his death.  It's aw the wee things.

The journal is marked as that of a hippy, and there is a sense that both life and lifetsyle and contriving to some fianl revealtion; one entry reads:

The grass grow stronger by the day.

while the sentiments of the average Glaswegian are succinctly and oft expressed throught, in such summations as:

Foam and feathers, ya tadgers.

That said The Pine Box Jig is ower short, and you're likely to feel that.  There's no a guidebook anywhere that says novels, novellas, wee books or anything at all should be a certain length, but you'd still be advised to be prepared for a brief experience in reading.  You'll want more, that is true, and yet this brevity in itself makes sense these days. 

In looking at this in the full context of the book scene of today, few novels with their beginnings, middles and ends, their melodramas and their comfortable resolutions, reflect real life.  In that, The Pine Box Jig Involves No Dancing, for all its 57 pages, offers the reader the sense of what it's like being a real person, with a real person's regular confusion of desires and beliefs. It comes out in the voice. It's odd that this is an achievement in this day and age, but it really is.  

My birthday's on September the 18th too, referendum day, kind of spooky that.  A date with history.  Hope I don't fuckin die beforehand.  The pine box jig involves no dancing.  You never know the minute, that's what folk say, you never know the minute, you never know the minute.  Sing it, sing it, sing it - it's the referendum shuffle.

Jim Ferguson's Website