BOOKS: Survivor of a stroke, he taught literacy for a time to people in Glasgow housing schemes such as Drumchapel

Some folk spend far too much time on Facebook, writes Bill Heaney, who also took the pictures at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

And novelist Nick Brooks is one of them, and proud of it.

On the other hand his fellow writer, Lisa O’Donnell, is on FB but kind of reluctant to admit it.

I asked both of them about this during a session at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

The previous day, I had listened to Kirsty Wark and William McIlvanney explain to their audience how they came by the stories for the books they had written.

McIlvanney said much of it came from his youth, what he overheard in the house or on public transport.

Kirsty Wark said she had sourced her material for her novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, from experiences at home and work and on holidays.

But, since so few people get out and about anymore, were the new generation of authors picking up ideas from what they read on Facebook in the same way their elders would have done from what they overheard on buses and trains?

Well, yes, some said Nick, who was born and still lives in Glasgow and whose forebears are from Northern Ireland.

Not really, said Lisa, whose family have roots in the Rosses in Annagry, Co Donegal.

Indecent Acts is the name of Nick’s third novel.

He has been around a bit since he achieved an Honours Degree in English from Glasgow University and graduating from the MLitt in Creative Writing.

His former occupations have included musician, cartoonist and stained-glass window maker.

Survivor of a stroke, he taught literacy for a time to people in deprived Glasgow housing schemes like Drumchapel.

And it is from his experiences in Drumchapel he draws the story of Grace, a semi-literate, 40-something mother who attempts to hold together her precarious, chaotic family life.

Brooks make Grace the narrator of the story which is soaked in humour and empathy and which tells how she has been left to look after Sean, her grandson, and Vincent, her son, who wants to join the army.

She lives in constant fear that her daughter, Frances, a drug addict and the mother of Sean will turn up suddenly and without warning one day and take the boy away.

The book is written in Grace’s inimitable misspelt patois with hilarious and moving effect.

Both the Brooks’ book and Lisa O’Donnell’s are about the challenges facing ordinary Scots living in poverty. It’s the issue that unites their two novels.

Closed Doors is said to focus on the upside-down Rothesay world of an 11-year-old boy called Michael.

Like Nick, Lisa has written tenderly about people trying to cope in troubled times.

Michael is a boy with a secret and secrets are hard to keep in any small community, never mind an island.

When bruises show on his mother’s face and whispers start and become too loud to ignore, Michael begins to wonder if there is an even bigger secret he doesn’t know about.

Desperate for life to return to normal, he sets out to piece together the truth.

Critics have described Lisa O’Donnell’s book as “a sharp, witty and heartbreaking second novel from a dynamic new talent”.

Her Annagry connection is writ large across the acknowledgements section of Closed Doors where she thanks her grandparents – Len, Nan, Biddy and Danny.

* Closed Doors by Lisa O’Donnell is published by Windmill Books and Indecent Acts by Nick Brooks by Freight Books and both are available in good bookshops and on the usual on-line outlets.


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