The Hanging Shed is set in 1946 Glasgow. Why 1946? The immediate post-War years are an unmapped literary landscape. Writers setting books in the mid-20th Century pick either the war period itself or jump forward to the rock ‘n’ roll 50’s or flower-power 60’s. They’re missing out. Britain in 1946 was a cauldron of change and upheaval. The country was broke, its empire disintegrating, and a million men were being dumped back into civvy street after six years in uniform. Now they had to fight for their jobs and a new role in society. Their estranged womenfolk had found a taste for independence and wage earning.
The nation’s cities were bombed out slums. Winston, the architect of victory – had been turfed out by a country desperate for change. Atlee’s new Labour government was promising a welfare state and a national health service to sweep away the poor-house and reduce the appalling levels of child mortality. Diseases like TB, polio and rickets were rife, and children with leg callipers a commonplace. Rationing was worsening. The black market spawned during the war had become the norm. Spivs and wide-boys ruled the roost, and corruption was endemic.
In other words, 1946 was a perfect stage for unleashing a lone hero against the forces of vice and venality. Conveniently too, it’s a time when capital punishment held sway, otherwise there would have been no story. It also meant I could duck all the CSI, DNA testing, police procedural stuff and concentrate on the hero and the story.
Why Glasgow? I was born and brought up in the West of Scotland. Write about what you know they say. My earliest recollections of Glasgow were the sound of tram bells sounding through the yellow smog of the 50’s. Pre-war Glasgow was scarred by razor gangs and slums, hunger marches and unemployment. The second World War was a brief hiatus in its steady decline from ‘Second city of the Empire’ to slum capital of Britain. 1946, Glasgow. A mean city in a mean time.
The challenge was to bring the era and the place alive without flaunting facts and figures. My research had to be accurate, but worn lightly. The story and the characters were the key. I achieved this partly by writing in the first person. I could only ‘see’ what my protagonist – Douglas Brodie – could see. There was no excuse for clunky and superfluous descriptions and explanations of the music, movies, news, theatre and conventions of the period. Brodie was a man of his time, conversant with the mores and the language.
Ah, the language. How to convey the flattened Glasgow vowels and the arcane Lallans vocabulary without losing every reader South of the border? With care. I had to use enough wouldnae, disnae, couldnaes and weans, ken, and wheeshts to give the story a sense of place without inserting roadblocks in every sentence. So far so good; the only people mentioning the language as an issue are Scots ‘worried’ for their English counterparts, but secretly revelling in the perceived exclusivity.
The Hanging Shed is published by Corvus 1st March 2011 for £15.99