‘Set in and around Glasgow and sometimes even a wee bit beyond our solar system.’

A year ago Chris McQueer was selling shoes and testing out his comedy online. Now, he’s a published author garnering serious social media buzz. Books from Scotland talks to Chris about his debut short story collection, Hings, to hear how he got here, and what’s next.

Introduce yourself to Books from Scotland

Hullo! I’m Chris McQueer. I’m a 25 year old writer/sales assistant from Glasgow.

Your debut collection Hings has just been published – can you give an overview of what to expect?

Hings is a collection of 25 weird, darkly comic short stories. Set in and around Glasgow and sometimes even a wee bit beyond our solar system. It’s a good mixture of down-to-earth, raw Scottish stories, as well as a few more surreal tales.

Your short stories put surreal twists on the everyday – where do you find your inspiration?

Some of my stories are just sort of exaggerated versions of real events that have happened to me and my pals. For instance, I wrote one of my stories, The Moth, after my pal told me he ended up in A&E after a moth flew into his ear while he was driving. I remember thinking at the time, ‘Why would a moth fly into someone’s ear?’ Then I had a wee light-bulb moment for a story; obviously, the moth was trying to take over his mind.

Another story in the collection, Alan’s Shed (about a guy whose new shed is turned into a nightclub, against his will), was based on my neighbour and his newly built belter of a shed. A lot of my ideas just come from being in work and just people watching. I could serve hundreds of people on a busy day and all the wee snippets of conversation and stories customers tell me give me so much material to work with.

You originally grew an audience around your short stories on Medium, why there? How did that shape your writing?

Medium just seemed the best website for me to put my stories on. I liked the layout and the stats it gives you like how many views stories get, but it also gives you a ratio of how many people actually read your work right until the end. This was really useful to me because I could see which stories of mine were grabbing people’s attention from the start and which ones people were obviously bored of after the first few paragraphs. I used these stats to improve my writing and to try and make my stories hook people in from the start.

The first few stories I put up on Medium were quite dark, sci-fi ones, but I could see from the stats people weren’t reading them right to the end. Then I put up a story called Knees. It’s a wee bit sci-fi, but I’d been trying to introduce more humour into my work and I could see that that was what people were enjoying about my writing.  So after that got a good response I started writing more comedy stories and they were getting really good views and comments so I stuck with them because not only was it what my readers seemed to want more of, I enjoyed writing comedy a lot more than anything else.

It’s been quite a whirlwind going from Medium to published – any advice you would give aspiring writers? Anything you’ve learned along the way?

I’d say try not to be afraid of getting your work out there. It takes a lot to let people read what you’ve written and it can be quite scary. But taking that step is a massive one and is the first one in getting your work published. I’d recommend putting your work online and encouraging your pals, family, co-workers – basically everyone you know – to read it and give you some feedback. Good feedback does wonders for your confidence, and criticism will make you a better writer, just try not to take it to heart like I did at the start. Get your stuff sent out to any literary magazines you can find as well. But the best piece of advice I could give is to try and get involved in spoken word events. Put your name down for open mic nights or even just go and soak up the performances. Reading your work aloud gives you a good idea of what works and what doesn’t, it gives you a good ear for dialogue and plus you never know who might be in the audience listening.

You’re published by 404 Ink, publishers of Nasty Women, how did you come to work with them? Hings and Nasty Women are pretty different…

I submitted one of my stories, The Universe Factory, to 404 Ink for the first issue of their lit mag. They accepted it and I remember being so buzzing after I got the email from them. A few months later Laura and Heather invited the contributors to perform some of their work at the launch party for the mag. I said ‘Aye! I’m up for that!’, but as soon as I did I was filled with dread. I’d never performed my work before so I was a nervous wreck and was about to phone up and cancel on the day of the launch party. Thankfully, my maw talked me into doing it and I read out a story called The Dug. It went down a storm and as soon as I got the first couple of laughs my nerves just melted away, and I’ve been hooked on performing ever since.

After I came off stage, Laura and Heather approached me to see if I maybe had a collection of short stories that I was looking to publish. I thought they were just being nice and that nothing would ever come of it but a few weeks later I got another email from them asking to see my collection. After that it was just a total whirlwind from signing the book deal to launching my book. It’s been an amazing 8 months or so.

Hings is very different to Nasty Women but I think it still fits in with 404’s image and ethos. It’s a bit different to other short story collections out there and 404 are a bit different from the other, more traditional publishers out there. We’re both big into social media and marketing and we both just totally get each other.

Chris McQueer at the Glasgow launch of Hings

Hings recently launched in both Glasgow and Edinburgh with sold out crowds (and two very different styles of events), how was that?

The Glasgow launch in Waterstones was good but it was terrifying as well. Performing my work in front of so many of my pals, colleagues and near enough my entire family for the first time was really weird. It was good but a wee bit more formal for me. I think sitting in a bookshop and seeing my book for sale was a bit overwhelming for me and the nerves did get to me a bit.

The Edinburgh launch in the Biscuit Factory was different class. I absolutely loved it. It was more of a party than a book launch and I got to perform alongside other writers and poets who’ve been a massive part of my career so far (Ross McCleary, Martin Geraghty, Leyla Josephine, Sam Small, Jen McGregor) and have been big champions of my work. It was a lot more fun and definitely more my thing.

For those who missed you, where else will you be performing? What’s next for you?

Next up is Belladrum Festival in Inverness this Friday (the 4th August). I’m doing my first solo show where I’ll be reading from the book and might even fling in a wee bit of stand-up as well. Then later that night I’ll be part of the lineup for Sonnet Youth where I’m going to try out some new stories. On the 27th of August I’ll be performing at the Edinburgh Book Festival (Flint & Pitch’s Unbound event) which is an absolute dream come true for me. I can’t wait.

Hings by Chris McQueer was published by 404 Ink on 27th July 2017 priced at £8.99. Chris will be part of Flint & Pitch’s Unbound event at Edinburgh International Book Festival at The Spiegeltent, Charlotte Square on 27th August.

If you liked this article then you might like this, from 404 Ink on publishing Nasty Women, on Books from Scotland.

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