I first came across Doug Johnstone and Alan Bissett when I worked in the library service. I happened to start by reading second novels by both of them (The Ossians by Johnstone and The Incredible Adam Spark by Bissett), although this wasn’t deliberate and technically The Ossians was Johnstone’s first novel, it just came out second.
At the time I thought maybe I liked these books because I could relate to them; they were about things I recognized. Johnstone’s book is about a band touring the edges of Scotland, which starts off in Edinburgh – I live in Edinburgh and all my flatmates are in bands. Meanwhile Bissett’s is about a lad with learning difficulties living in small town Scotland – I grew up in small town Scotland worked for a while with kids who had learning difficulties. Having read more of their stuff, though, I know I’d have enjoyed them even if they hadn’t happened to appeal so specifically to my experience. This is because the quality of the writing is high, and because they are both doing something a bit different.
Rather than giving them an event each, the book festival decided to put the two men together last night to chat about their newest books, Smoke Heads (Johnstone) and Pack Men (Bissett).