My grateful thanks to Will Dady at Renard press for putting me in touch with Iain Hood so that we could stay in together to chat about Iain’s debut book. Let’s find out what Iain told me:
Staying in with Iain Hood
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Iain.
Thanks for inviting me!
Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
A pleasure. I love staying in. My wife and I, who had our kid later in life, joke that we had her just so we had an excuse to stay in, because actually we were sick of going out.
That sounds quite a drastic way of making the decision!
Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I’ve brought along This Good Book. It’s the fifth novel I’ve written, but the first one to be published, by the wonderful Renard Press. If I had dreamed of a publisher who ‘gets’ This Good Book the way Renard do, I would have thought it a for-definite opium pipe dream.
That’s lovely to hear. I think smaller independent publishers are brilliant actually Iain. Mind you, I think we need to have a conversation another time about how you know what an opium pipe dream feels like!
So, what can we expect from an evening in with This Good Book?
This Good Book is the story of two artists, Susan Alison and Douglas, trying to create the best art they can, while always aware that the ideas of ‘good’ art, ‘great’ art, the ‘best’ art are illusory, and can kill the art and, sometimes, the artist.
Crikey. That’s quite some premise. Tell me more!
Susan Alison narrates throughout, and this is her story told, as she says, the way her mithair likes a good story told. It’s Susan Alison’s description, explanation, maybe her apology, and her confession, if you like. The tone of the novel is a wicked dark humour paired with a fearlessness in terms of the ideas that get thrown around (God, art, love, death, mother: the ‘big’ words, as James Joyce has it) that I learned 100% from Dame Muriel Spark, that greatest of Scottish novelists. Susan Alison and Douglas can bicker like siblings, and lob hand grenades of intentional or accidental insult at each other. They can also make each other laugh until laughing makes their bellies hurt and think until thinking makes their heads hurt.
That sounds fascinating. What genre would you say This Good Book is?
This Good Book is a book that has a crime and a trial in it, but it’s not a crime novel, more a novel like Alexander Trocchi’s Young Adam. It has horror in it, but it’s not a horror story: more in the tradition of ‘The Horror’ in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It is a romance and a love story, but not a romance about the love relationship between the two protagonists.
This transcendence of genre mirrors the transcendence that both Susan Alison and Douglas seek in and from their art; a cut-through to meaning independent of form. And now I can hear Susan Alison and Douglas, simultaneously shouting out ‘Woooooo!’ Their howling derision at my pretentious description. And Susan Alison is like, ‘Independent of form, is it?’ And Douglas adds, ‘Oh aye, total cut-through!’ And Susan will kill it, with a final kiss off, ‘You know, I think I heard a semi-colon in there.’ They’re like that, the two of them.
Susan and Douglas sound utterly wonderful. I can’t wait to meet them when I read This Good Book and I’m delighted it’s on my TBR.
What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?
I’ve brought along the entire back catalogue of the Glasgow rock band Mogwai. Mogwai’s music was instrumental in the writing of This Good Book (there’s a wee joke in there for the initiated: most of Mogwai’s music is lyric- and singing-free).
Now I’m intrigued – and not a little ashamed to say I’ve never heard of Mogwai!
When I started planning This Good Book, the plan simply consisted of a list of Mogwai track titles that I thought might fit with the things I wanted to write about. This was a rich seam for mining: ‘Angels versus Aliens’, ‘The Lord is Out of Control’, ‘Like Herod’, ‘No Medicine for Regret’, and the track title that kicked it all off for me, ‘You Don’t Know Jesus’. Eventually the plan mutated into something else, but weaving the Mogwai track titles into the text was fun, helped the writing, and helped construct Susan Alison’s somewhat peculiar synthesised idiolect.
One plot thread in the book is enhanced (or even just understood, though I do try to explain as well) if you know some of the lyric-based songs of Mogwai, because Susan Alison appears to experience premonitions based around Mogwai lyrics. This is mystifying to Douglas and us, and Susan Alison herself, as she says, ‘Prophecy is all in the saying what the future holds. But Mogwai tunes? What kind of prophecy is that? It’s not exactly the time and date of the Apocalypse. Not unless, you know, you’ve seen them do ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ live.’ (Mogwai play extremely loud live, in case you don’t know your Mogwai stuff.)
Maybe we can play the music turned down a bit then…
We can either listen to songs associated with This Good Book (as you got to know them, or know them in this context, a game could develop of seeing how many track titles you can spot in the text). Or we could listen to the more mellow and quiet stuff they do; it is a relaxed staying-in evening we are after, correct?
That sounds more my thing actually…
Though maybe I’ll bring some drinks along and as the evening wears on, we might be heard stomping around to ‘How to Be a Werewolf’ or even ‘Like Herod’!! You never know.
You never know indeed Iain. Thank you so much for staying in with me to chat all about This Good Book. You put on some Mogwai music (quietly) and I’ll tell blog readers a bit more about the book:
This Good Book
‘Sometimes I wonder, if I had known that it was going to take me fourteen years to paint this painting of the Crucifixion with Douglas as Jesus, and what it would take for me to paint this painting, would I have been as happy as I was then?’
Susan Alison MacLeod, a Glasgow School of Art graduate with a dark sense of humour, first lays eyes on Douglas MacDougal at a party in 1988, and resolves to put him on the cross in the Crucifixion painting she’s been sketching out, but her desire to create ‘good’ art and a powerful, beautiful portrayal means that a final painting doesn’t see the light of day for fourteen years.
Over the same years, Douglas’s ever-more elaborately designed urine-based installations bring him increasing fame, prizes and commissions, while his modelling for Susan Alison, who continues to work pain and suffering on to the canvas, takes place mostly in the shadows. This Good Book is a wickedly funny, brilliantly observed novel that spins the moral compass and plays with notions of creating art.
A novel about Glasgow, about art, and about obsession. This Good Book will have you gripped from the opening chapter to its disturbing conclusion. Iain Hood is an original new voice in Scottish fiction. Colette Paul
Published by Renard Press on 30th June 2021, This Good Book is available for purchase in all the usual places including directly from the publisher here.
About Iain Hood
(Photograph © Jeremy Andrews)
Iain Hood was born in Glasgow and grew up in the seaside town of Ayr. He attended the University of Glasgow and Jordanhill College, and later worked in education in Glasgow and the West Country. During this time he attended the University of Manchester. He now lives in Cambridge with his wife and daughter. This Good Book is his first novel.
You can follow Iain on Twitter @iain_hood.