Hings by Chris McQueer

‘Limmy meets Irvine Welsh’.

So says the blurb on the cover of Glasgow writer Chris McQueer’s debut collection of short stories.

Whilst Limmy is at least a side-splitting, surreal Glaswegian, the comparison to the one-time Edinburgh resident Irvine Welsh is a wee bit lame to say the least.

Sure, McQueer writes from a working class perspective and employs demotic Scots and choice language, but then so have many Scottish authors such as Robert Chalmers, Alan Bisset and Jim Kelman.

And considering Welsh’s recent appalling ‘conclusion’ to the Trainspotting saga, no Scottish writer worth their salt would surely relish such a comparison.

But I’ll hang with the Limmy reference as McQueer’s book is indeed very, very amusing.

Released in 2017 by the new independent publisher 404 Ink (who won eight awards last year including the #1 slot of The List’s ‘Hot Hundred’) this collection marks the transition from McQueer’s literary endeavours on the spoken word circuit (where he started out at events such as Interrobang?!) into the printed word.

I have never had the privilege of seeing McQueer perform (at least not yet, though I do intend to) but I can well imagine how some of these tales would have had their genesis as pieces to be read aloud, in particular the shorter ones such as ‘Pish The Bed’.

He seems equally at home penning absurdist stories such as ‘Korma Police’, which describes a society where mild take-away curries are proscribed and offenders are brutally (and lethally) dealt with, and straightforward tales of dysfunctional working class family life (the three short pieces featuring a young scallywag named Sammy). There are also elements of outright urban magic realism (‘Alan’s Shed’, ‘Tourists’ and ‘Offshore’ amongst others). Perhaps my favourite piece of this nature is ‘The Budgie’ in which the titular bird sprouts arms and gives his owner dodgy racing tips (I suspect this tale may be influenced by the classic seventies movie Carry On At Your Convenience but is none the worse for it).

McQueer even dabbles with sci-fi in ‘The Void’ and ‘The Universe Factory.’ There is nonetheless a distinctive voice that runs through the entire collection regardless of which genre the author has chosen.

In my humble opinion, however, the strongest tale in this excellent book is also the longest. Entitled ‘Bowls’, it could be more accurately described as a novella rather than a short story as it has twenty chapters. In this saga of lawn bowls and murder (two of my favourite subjects) McQueer employs a dual perspective technique (well, spoiler alert, he does until the odious male character is killed).

He writes from a female point of view most convincingly, which is another good reason to avoid any comparison to an aforementioned author. Welsh has always had a big problem in this department but Big Angie, the story’s protagonist, is thoroughly believable and the reader is compelled to root for her from the word go.

This tale amply demonstrates that the author has the ability to create longer works of fiction without losing the characteristic humour so apparent in his shorter work. I am sure he is more than capable of going all the way and producing a novel, but only time will tell.

Having said that, in May of this year Hings won the Saboteur Award for ‘Best Short Story Collection’ (404 Ink also picked up an award from the same body as ‘Most Innovative Publisher’ – see, I told you they are hip) so perhaps Chris McQueer will be content to remain a writer of short fiction for the time being.

Whatever the outcome I look forward to reading more of him, seeing him live, and wish him all the best as an emerging and, above all, fresh slice of Scottish literary talent. No more lazy comparisons please.