Moira Bell is already one of the great characters of Scottish theatre; a working class force of nature, a single mother with two big laddies (who cannae handle their hash), an earthy line in patter, a song in her heart, and a wee smoke of the illegal sort balanced in her ashtray. The creation of novelist Alan Bissett, The Moira Monologues has been on tour around Scotland for the last few years to great acclaim and full theatres echoing to the sound of belly laughter. But alas all good things come to an end and Moira’s final fling is on Friday night in her home town of Falkirk. Bella Caledonia’s Kevin Williamson caught up with Alan Bissett on the eve of the final show.
KW: The last ever Moira. How does she feel about this? Nervous, relieved?
AB: Moira is very excited to be stepping out on a Scottish stage for the last time in Falkirk. She’s been all over the place – from Ullapool to Manchester – but hasn’t strutted her stuff in her home town since she did the Glen Club, a totesy place on the Hallglen housing scheme, in 2008. So the Town Hall, Falkirk’s biggest venue, feels like a good place for her to end her travels. Touring takes it out of you, and she wants to have her feet up watching the Easties Omnibus with a voddy on Sunday. But yes she’s nervous. Cos it’s Falkirk. And that one counts more than any of them.
KW: She’ll be deserving her wee bit toke with her feet up. Do you think we’ll see her again in the future in a different production, or is that it, over and out Arab Strap style, on the crest of a Falkirk wave?
AB: Well, the BBC have bought the TV and radio rights to the character, and I’ve written some scripts for radio broadcast, so here’s hoping. And there will be one more full gig, but not a public one: it’s in Cornton Vale Women’s Prison. My Johnny Cash moment. That should be quite electric. I might tour her round England and Ireland next year, and I’ll probably still do select scenes at live literature nights, but otherwise, yeah – that’s it from Moira performing the whole thing from beginning to end onstage. The audio/script download from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010 is already available here from Cargo Crate , and I’m going to film the Falkirk show, so there’s no real need for her to stay out on the road. Means I’ll get some new writing done too!
KW: Corton Vale? You’ll get eaten alive! If yer lucky. Bet it goes down a storm though. It was quite a feat, for a writer, to do what you did. Over an hour on stage, on your own, few props, and nonstop dialogue. I can’t think of many writers who could act so naturally, and have the comedy timing and range of voices to carry it off. When I saw it I was doubled up laughing. A fine night out. The performing side of writing is pretty important to you?
AB: Yeah it is. I think it’s often a two-way process. The writing and the performing feed into each other. By performing a piece live you get a great sense of its dynamics, of where you’re picking the audience up and where you’re letting them go. That naturally makes you a better writer. Also, I enjoy the sensation of being onstage, and just think it’s a natural step from the ‘performative’ nature of dialect writing anyway, at which Scotland excels. All I did was just memorise and rehearse it, and so it becomes theatre rather than ‘literature’. I’m amazed other writers haven’t done it before. Liz Lochhead I suppose has, but she’s associated with playwriting and poetry, not prose. It just felt right to do it the way I did, although when I think about a male novelist with no acting training performing as a woman on a theatrical tour for an hour each night, it doesn’t seem to make sense does it!
KW: Tell the truth… you loved the cross-dressing, didn’t you? Did it help you appreciate yer feminine side?
AB: It actually did! I decided not to perform in drag, cos that would make Moira seem like a cartoon, rather than the real, full, believable working class woman I wanted her to be. But the skinny-jeans and boots combo, the stance, the scene when she flexes her seduction technique - yeah I suppose it does mean you find parts of your psyche you might not have otherwise. A lot of fun. Every man should do it.
KW: And I’m sure most do. At least once. So I’m told. Anyway, what’s next on the horizon for you? Novel Number 4 in the bag yet?
AB: Yes, I just turned it in to the publisher a week ago. It’s called Pack Men, it’s set in Manchester on the day that Rangers played there in the UEFA Cup Final of 2008, and it’s out in August. Also, my debut novel, Boyracers, has just been re-released for its 10th Anniversary Edition, with a new afterword by me. And finally, I’m going to be working on new plays, which should hopefully see Scottish stages in the next couple of years. Busy busy. Too busy actually.
KW: Nice one. Look forward to reading that. The Great Rangers Novel perhaps? (I’m shaking ma Hibby heid at the very thought). Okay, cheers for doing this, Alan. This interview will be up online within a few hours, such is the advantages of new media over the auld papery stuff. Before we wrap it up can I ask you about new media publishing, especially with regards to authors. I read a couple of days ago about an author, Barry Eisler, who knocked back a half million advance to self-publish his next novel as a digital download only. He reckons it’s the way to go for all authors and gives almost total control over the whole publishing process, from production to distribution. Another writer, Allan Guthrie, has said similar. Any thoughts on this? Something you’d consider in the future?
AB: I think I will, yes. I’m the one constantly out on the road taking the books to audiences, so this new model would easily augment that. Publishers and booksellers have dictated terms for so long, but all you need is a writer and a reader. If the transaction can be kept between them, then it’s more power to the artist.
KW: That could be a smart move. I kinda guessed you’d be up to scratch on this. I’ve spent a pleasurable chunk of this morning reading ‘The Fool’ a new poetry collection by Darran Anderson, who edits the poetry on 3:AM Magazine. He has published the whole collection online as a blog! And you know what, most poetry publishers would have jumped at the chance to publish such an amazing collection. The times they are a-changing. The digital revolution is taking up where my great publishing hero, Mark Perry, left off. (He was the publishing revolutionary who started the DIY photocopied punk fanzine Sniffin Glue back in 1976. And my all-time inspiration.) Anyway, thanks again for doing this interview. Its been a pleasure talking with you and good luck with Moira’s swan song on Friday.
AB: My thoughts exactly. Cheers for the interview. Catch up with you once we’re in our new flat (moving on Monday). See you soon, man.
The final show of The Moira Monologues is on at Falkirk Town Hall, Friday 15th April, starting at 7.30pm. Tickets are £10/£9 and be got from the Box Office here. I’m told they’re selling fast.
Above, Alan Bissett performs ‘The Date’, one of the six Moira Monologues, at the Words Per Minute monthly writers showcase at The Arches in Glasgow.