Scotland isn’t the kind of place where men have often been very open about their feelings. Even for my generation, attitudes towards mental health were never exactly what you would call progressive (the only time it was ever acceptable to admit to crying was after the 2003 UEFA Cup Final). It’s something we’re getting better at, though, and a young writer from the West of Scotland has just published one of the most honest memoirs I’ve ever read on the subject.
“Boldly Going Nowhere” is the literary debut of Steven McKinnon, an emerging talent from Glasgow. From the cover art you might be forgiven in thinking that this Dave Gorman/Danny Wallace type affair, and while it’s in the same ball park, there’s a bit more going on here. There’s something identifiable here if you ever get anxious or feel low for no apparent reason (note: everyone does). You get a sense sometimes that the author is getting a weight off his chest, and that’s fine, because he also happens to be hilarious while doing it.
The book follows Steven from summer 2009 up until the end of 2012, through the little victories and defeats, drunken anecdotes and major events in his life. We see a lot of happy moments in the life of a guy who’s unhappy. We see romances (or lack thereof), travels across Europe and even an awkward interaction with a stripper, and all with the same sincere narration that admits to sometimes feeling shit, even during funny stories.
“Boldly Going Nowhere” isn’t telling a new story, and it isn’t here to. It’s telling a story we’ve all heard before – about someone going through a rough time, and coming out the other end, but when it’s written with as much warmth and charm as this was, it’s an infinitely readable story. Not a tale about a wacky misfit looking for love, or gloom-filled account of mental health problems; but a sincere message to use the support network available to you when you’re having problems, to open up to your friends about depression and anxiety. It’s something we need to be reminded of in this country, and it comes from a funny and likable voice throughout. I sincerely urge you to check it out.
We’ve also managed to snag an interview with the author, and he was delightful. Read on.
There’s a lot in the book about biscuits, can you tell us about some of your favourite biscuits?
I’m partial to a good old Digestive, and on the rare occasions that I’m feeling filthy, a chocolate Hobnob.
You’ve mostly written fiction before this, what made you decide to go for a non-fiction memoir style book for your debut on the page rather than a traditional novel?
I went for this real life tale because I think a lot of people would empathise with some of the elements. And I really, really wanted to tell folk about the time I broke into my old high school.
You’ve got a bit of a Batman fixation, tell us why you love Batman?
Eh, aye, I did a Ctrl-F search in the manuscript and discovered the word ‘Batman’ appears no less than thirteen times. Batman is the perfect individual, and the whole book is about me trying to better myself, in preparation for one day witnessing my parents being gunned down in front of me so I can use it as an excuse to dress up in a muscular gimp suit and dropkick people.
You’re one of an increasing number of writers who’ve gone down the route of self-publishing rather than through a traditional publisher, can you talk to us a bit about that?
Although I did approach agents with this story, because it’s not about a celebrity or ‘crazy’ enough to be headline material (it’s much more low-key), I doubt a major publisher would even have touched it. I knew it wasn’t going to be a moneymaker, but I thought I had a few experiences worth sharing, why not turn them into something worthwhile and get it out there? As an indie publisher, I retain all the rights and control and have final say on everything, and I can publish as soon as I want to. Could be doing with some of Random House’s marketing clout though! (Although having said that, there’s less money in the traditional publishing world going out for new writers than there was even just 5 years ago, another reason to take the indie-plunge.)
What’s next for Steven McKinnon?
Perhaps unsurprisingly after that Batman answer, I’ve been working on something superhero related for about 5 years that keeps morphing into one thing and then another. So, I think I’ll buy a bottle of spiced rum, tan it, and try and conquer that. Oh, I’m delighted (and frankly, baffled) to be featured in anthology being put together in memory of the late, great Terry Pratchett. So that’s quite nice.
Since we’re The Speculative Bookshop, I’m going to have to ask what your favourite fictional universe is and why? I’m guessing Discworld based on that last answer?
Absolutely the Discworld. Or possibly the one we’re living in, which I’m not entirely convinced isn’t fictional…
I like the Discworld because Pratchett takes the real world and only tinkers with it slightly, and even though it’s full of wizards, witches and highly-intelligent orang-utans, the hypocrisies and sheer stupidity of the real world is perfectly illuminated. As you read it, you really ask yourself how we managed to get into such a sorry state.
Thank you for being cool enough to do an interview for us!
You can purchase Boldly Going Nowhere from the link below, and also check out Steven’s website and give him a wee follow on Facebook.