Glasgow Green by Edinburgh-based writer Jake Walker Curley was published at the end of 2013. A gritty thriller, it tells the story of forty-year-old Joe Ray leaving prison in 2006, after twenty years inside. Hoping to lead a good life on the outside from now on, he falls for Margaret, but Margaret is in danger. Her sister has just been murdered and powerful men want her out of the way too. Will Joe have to kill again to protect her? At the same time, a cull of main players in Glasgow’s underworld is taking place. Everyone knows that Joe’s old school pal JJ McGuire is responsible, but why? Joe knows why, just as he knows the terrible secret McGuire has kept hidden for twenty-eight years. Now more secrets are about to be hidden on Glasgow Green.
I asked Jake some questions about Glasgow Green and about his writing.
Jake, congratulations on the publication of your first book. I believe that you came up with the idea when you attended a screen-writing class and had to write a fifteen-word strap-line. Can you tell us what that line was?
“A man leaves prison determined to make amends for the crimes he got away with.”
And how did it develop from there? How long did the book take you to write?
I had already written a short story “McGuire” loosely based on a well-known Glasgow gangster. When asked to come up with a fifteen-word premise for a movie I turned to McGuire’s childhood friend Joe who was in the same short story. He had just completed a twenty-year sentence. That gave me two of the main players and when I introduced Margaret (Joe’s future love interest), the story took off, but JJ McGuire, demoted to supporting character, still dominates proceedings.
I have been writing the book off and on for about eight years. I wasn’t sure I could write a novel. I was consumed for a while with getting the word count up to 100,000 words and then it went to 120,000 before being edited down to around 80,000. But the editing process was enjoyable and it definitely adds pace, taking in others opinions (those who’d read the original manuscript) was liberating. I found it very worthwhile making suggested changes because it is paramount that the reader get the story.
Have you ever known anyone like JJ McGuire?
Oh yes. McGuire is an amalgam of gangland figures, past and present. I describe him as the equivalent of Alexander the Great born in Glasgow’s east end. You grow up there among good people but there are some dangerous individuals in the mix. They can laugh and joke with you, appear empathetic but cross them at your peril. This same is true of childhood to a lesser extent. People don’t just turn bad as they hit sixteen.
The book is told from various viewpoints, all the characters moving towards the finale on Glasgow Green. Did you plot it all first or work it out as you went along?
I have tried to show the good and bad sides of all the characters and that includes Glasgow itself. Good people do bad things and bad people do good things. Glasgow Green is a place of outstanding beauty but after dark things change. The place holds bad memories and dark secrets for Joe, Margaret and JJ McGuire and it will hold a lot more.
I did not plot the book out at all, I had the starting point of Joe’s release and the difficulties life had thrown at the book's other main players. The story grew from there. When it came time to reach the book's climax, I went back to Glasgow Green and walked the same paths my characters would walk. It’s the perfect movie setting and helped so much in completing the book.
The dialogue is very sharp. Do you read your work aloud to get that right?
Yes I do. Speaking the dialogue aloud definitely helps to strengthen their voices and bring conversations to life. I found it quite amazing how quickly a few lines of dialogue can move the story forward and how one character's reply can place a sudden twist in the plot.
Glasgow Green is a great title. Was the book called that from the start?
No, it was originally called “Best Hoorah”. Joe was a late baby, much younger than his siblings. Joe’s father would say that Joe was his ‘last and best hoorah.’ Then the book became “Amends to a Dead Man” a more plot-driven title. It was only after completion that I came up with Glasgow Green. The Park itself is a major player in the main characters lives. At the end of the book the new title made perfect sense.
Some light moments in the book are produced by Joe getting to grips with a world where so much has changed over the last twenty years: for example, he tries to work out how to use a mobile phone, and wonders what ciabatta bread is. Did you enjoy looking at the world through Joe’s eyes?
Yes, it was good to look through Joe’s eyes. I did not want to labour the point of change, but the mobile phone was useful in that respect. Nearing the latter years of his sentence Joe would be aware of them. On the outside he would be wary of them. He would be astonished and puzzled as to how people could openly carry on such private conversations in public.
Yes, there will be a sequel. I was surprised by the number of people, who having read the book, asked this question. So the sequel is under way. As for Joe and Margaret I am looking forward to seeing how things pan out for them. They call Glasgow Green the lungs of Glasgow and the sprawling park will again be a major player.
Thank you for answering my questions, Jake. Look forward to your next book.
Glasgow Green is available in print from Waterstone’s and Blackwell’s in Edinburgh, and Kesley’s of Haddington at £6.99