By Émer O’Toole
Chris McQueer’s career has taken off rapidly since submitting a story to publisher 404 Ink’s literary magazine last year. The 25-year-old, from Springboig in Glasgow, discusses his debut short story collection, sending a copy to Limmy and how Twitter has destroyed his attention span.
After leaving school at 16, and doing many jobs including being an unsuccessful Subway sandwich artist, Chris started writing Hings 18 months ago when he admits he was “stuck in a bit of a rut.” He always wanted to be a writer but says he had “never really sat down and done it” before.
“I had just moved back in with my mum and was kind of hating my job. I have wrote on and off most of my life — mostly off — but I thought this would be a good time to get back into it to keep myself busy.”
Hings came to life in the form of a short story called The Moth about a moth that takes over someone’s brain. “I posted it on this wee website called Medium. Nobody seen it because I didn’t have any followers so then I spent about a week kind of working up the courage to put it on Twitter for people to read”, Chris explains.
He says he is “so glad” his first readers came from Twitter where he now has more than 6000 followers because “everybody just responded right away” and “it was such a good feeling when people asked if I was going to write any more stories.”
Posting his stories on Twitter allowed Chris to find a network of writers. “We would bounce ideas off of each other and I would get feedback off people — sometimes good feedback, sometimes it was quite harsh but that was good as well to have that.”
The stories in the book average seven to eight pages and Chris believes this reflects his “wasted attention span” due to Twitter — this is perhaps why his stories have been so popular with his followers.
“I was writing the stories and I was thinking my pals don’t really read so I was thinking of ways I could get people like that to buy the book. I thought wee short stories, short bursts of humour, would be good to get people hooked.”
“Short stories are just ideal for me. On a short story you only really need to spend a maximum of a week or two weeks writing it before you get bored of it,” he says. “If I was to write a novel right now I’d really struggle with it.”
Chris wrote one story a week until December. After submitting a story called The Universe Factory to the November 2016 issue of 404 Ink’s literary magazine, the publisher got in touch with him in January asking to see his full collection of stories.
At the launch party of the magazine, Chris was asked to read his stories on stage. “I almost cancelled the day before because I thought I couldn’t do it. My mum kind of talked me into it.” Chris couldn’t believe it when 404 Ink asked if he was interested in publishing a short story collection: “I thought they must say that to everyone so I didn’t really think anything of it.”
Hings has been compared to the works Limmy and Irvine Welsh who Chris describes as his “biggest inspiration” along with American short story writer Amelia Gray. “She’s who I want to aspire to be like — she’s amazing,” Chris adds. He says his humour comes from Scottish sketch shows like Chewing the Fat, Burnistoun and Limmy’s Show. However, he is keen not to be seen as a copy of his favourite authors and TV shows. “You don’t want to bracketed as a copycat of Limmy — that’s like my worst nightmare. I managed to send him a copy of the book and I’ve not heard anything back yet. Maybe he hated it. I hope he liked it.”
Chris initially thought his book would have a niche audience and only appeal to people from Glasgow but this changed when he met his editor, Robbie Guillory from Freight Books. “He was English which I wasn’t expecting. I didn’t know if he would get the humour in it. I thought it would only be like Glaswegians that would like my book and I would only have a wee audience but he got most of it.”
Chis currently works full time in a sports shop and he says this is the ideal job for a writer. “I can serve hundreds of people a day I try to pick out a wee quirk in everybody I serve so I can use it for a character. You hear so many turns of phrases you can steal, it’s amazing.”
Most of the inspiration for Hings came from Glasgow. “Even just sitting in George Square and watching people is brilliant,” Chris explains.
“Everybody’s got a story to tell. It is just a city full of amazing people.”