Craig Smith interviewed by Jamie Williams

Craig Smith Photo

 
 

Q. What was it that inspired you to begin writing? It seems like you've had quite a varied and interesting career, was this something that you've intended to do for a long time?

I think it's something I've always wanted to try, but never seemed to have the time or inclination. Based on the occasional daft Facebook post or email, various friends told me that I should try writing. I thought that I might as well give it a go, so I took an online writing course (writingclasses.co.uk). My tutor was fantastic, and after I’d submitted a few short stories she encouraged me to carry on. Halfway through the course I started on the novel and found it a fairly enjoyable process. It kept me up most nights, but it certainly beats working.

 

Q. Were there any other writers who inspired you to write this book? 

I'm a big fan of most Scottish fiction, but the book that really opened my eyes was Gordon Legge's "The Shoe" back in the late 80s. It seemed to be a story about me and my mates, told in a Scottish voice, and I'd never read anything like it before.


Q. The book feels very down to earth, funny and realistic in its approach. Was there some kind of real life inspiration behind the events that happen in the book? Perhaps a real life pub crawl?

I've spent many a night talking rubbish in the pub, but I've never had a pub crawl as eventful as the one in the book. The inspiration came after a visit to the Castle with my kids. We were walking past the Ensign Ewart and it dawned on me that in all my years of drinking in Edinburgh I'd never set foot in the place. I thought to myself "should really arrange a wee pub crawl down the Royal Mile sometime" and that was the start of it. My head was full of the independence debate at the time, and the two threads just seemed to tie together without any huge effort. It's a fairly simple idea, but I like the fact it's all very contained and there's a definitive start and end point.


Q. The book feels very much to me like sitting in a pub with friends, having a few drinks and listening to various funny ‘pub stories’ being told. Was this intended as the way in which the book should be read?

The book can be taken as that - some mates on a pub crawl having a laugh and a bit of banter. And I hope this makes it accessible as I'd love it to be read by as many people as possible (obviously!) but I tried to use the Royal Mile as a metaphor for the 300 years of the Union. So there's lots of little "easter eggs" hidden throughout. They meet up at 17:07 for example, that's probably the most obvious one, but events in each pub attempt to represent key stages in Scotland's history. So we've got a bit of a medical revolution, industriousness, the war years and ultimately the post-war decline, leading us to the crossroads at the foot of the Mile - a "which way now" point for Scotland. Whether I've achieved this remains to be seen, so aye, let's just leave it as a (hopefully) entertaining pub crawl!


Q. The book also feels very ‘local’. It describes in detail the area of the Royal Mile, and sites like the Castle and the various local pubs. Was this important for you as an author to write a book that feels very central to the city of Edinburgh?

Yes, I love Edinburgh and I'd love it to be the capital city of an independent Scotland. It's the most beautiful city on earth - it's the least it deserves.


Q. How important were your own beliefs in the issue of Scottish independence behind the writing of this book?

I'd say they were important, but if I'd written a book that was just a pub-based rant of my own views on independence I think it'd have a very limited appeal. I've tried to keep a balance between the arguments put forward by Ian (the Yes voter) and Euan (the No voter).


Q. Is the book intended as a means of persuading readers about the potential benefits of Scottish Independence?

Ultimately, it's meant to be a piece of entertainment, but if it convinces one undecided voter to vote Yes, then that’s a bonus. And if it can make a No voter lean more towards undecided, then all the better.


Q. Is there a particular character that represents yourself in the book, and in whom you represent many of your own beliefs? (perhaps Ian)

Not exactly, I’d say there’s a bit of me in both Ian and Euan. I actually started out like a lot of people, with no real strong views on independence. I’d never have called myself a unionist but I was never particularly pro-independence either. I think that’s what made both the characters so easy to develop, as I shared Euan’s views myself at one point, until my eyes were opened to the possibilities and potential of an independent Scotland, which Ian puts across so strongly in the book.

 

Q. How important do you think it is in raising awareness of the issues of Scottish Independence at this time?

It’s the biggest decision the people of Scotland have ever had to make and given how hostile the mainstream media is towards independence, anything we can do to raise awareness has to be a good thing.

The Yes campaign is doing a fantastic job at a grassroots level. There are local groups all over Scotland. We’re all out doing our bit - leafleting, canvassing, delivering newsletters, talking to friends and neighbours - and it gives me hope. I’m finding more and more people are switching to Yes – once you start getting the facts it’s the only way you can go. The march and rally in Edinburgh was hugely inspiring. 20000 people there, and every single one of them is, at some level, an activist who will potentially go out and convince others that a Yes vote is the only way to secure Scotland’s future.

Of course there’s uncertainty with a Yes vote, but there’s just as much uncertainty, if not more, with a no vote. The difference is, a Yes vote gives us control. A no vote’s like taking the steering wheel out of your car. You’ll have no control over the direction you’re heading. And if you hit a wall, the airbag won’t be there to save you. It doesn’t take a huge amount of joined-up thinking to see why the mainstream political parties (Lab, Tories and LibDems) are against independence – to varying degrees, their political careers depend on the union, but Scotland has way more to offer the world than occasionally strengthening a New Labour majority at Westminster, and that’s the best we can currently offer within the UK – we’ve only actually affected the outcome of UK general elections three times since World War 2. That’s not democracy to me. Westminster, for the most part, doesn’t represent Scotland’s interests.

I think the biggest awareness issue that needs to be addressed though is the “Vote Yes and Salmond becomes the King of Scotland” myth. A Yes vote is NOT a vote for the SNP. It depresses me how often I have to say this to people, but it shows just how effective the media are at drumming a negative message into people’s heads.


Q. I was wondering about the character of Jock, in some ways a quintessential Scotsman wearing his tartan trousers. Is the character intended to represent some kind of symbol of the strength of the Scottish national character?

Ah, yes, sort of. The character of Jock is key to the book, he IS Scotland in a way. He’s meant to represent Scotland under the union. I’d originally planned to make him a much more ethereal character, but couldn’t really manage it. In the hands of a more skilled writer he might have been, but in mine, he’s just a belligerent old drunk. But hopefully loveable too, in a way. Although he does come across to me as a weird mix of my own Grandad and Granpaw Broon.


Q. You mention that you would like to write a longer book next time... Are you working on anything else at the moment? What kind of book do you see yourself writing next?

I’m not at the moment, but I’d like to work on something a bit larger in scale. The Mile was written fairly quickly and the pressing nature of the independence debate meant I had to try to get it out as soon as possible. I was absolutely delighted when Pilrig Press said they’d publish it, but a part of me would have liked to have chipped away at it for another few months. I’m sure it could have been longer, but I like the fact it’s a fairly quick read – it might give it a wider appeal. Who knows?