Gray Stuff: Designs for Books and Posters - Alasdair Gray interview

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  • 19 November 2010
Gray Stuff: Designs for Books and Posters - Alasdair Gray interview

The Glasgow polymath on expensive art books and why he’s banned from buying flowers and cooking

Scotland’s cherished polymath shares some insights on expensive art books, Walter Scott and why he’s banned from buying flowers and cooking…

First record you ever bought
My sister and I had seen the Laurence Olivier film Hamlet and we bought the wax cylinder, as this would have been in the early 1950s. It was Laurence Olivier doing all of Hamlet’s great speeches.

First film you saw that really moved you
One of the Disney ones. Probably Dumbo or Pinocchio. They certainly moved me.

First movie you ever went on a date to
I can’t ever remember a girl accepting to go to the pictures with me. I was never very good at getting girls to go out with me.

First thing you do when you’ve got time off work
I sometimes go to the pub for a whisky on the way home. I do quite a lot of reading and a friend and I try once a fortnight to go a few miles of a country walk. As near Glasgow as possible, on the campuses and Mugdock Park.

Last great meal you cooked
I’m not allowed to cook. My wife doesn’t like me cooking. The meals I make myself are usually along the lines of toasted cheese and tomato with garlic cloves. Although I do boil an egg in the morning.

Last extravagant purchase you made
Almost certainly a book, generally an art book. There is a book out at the moment which costs about £120 so I’m brooding over whether I can afford it.

Last book you read
The Fortunes of Nigel by Walter Scott. It is a remarkably good book. There are a few of Scott’s novels I’ve never read so I’m getting through them.

First great piece of advice you were given
‘You’ll never make a living by being an artist in Scotland,’ my teachers and parents used to tell me. And they were largely right.

First thing you’d do if you ran the country
Go mad like all the rest of them. Neither prime ministers or presidents run the country – it’s the stock exchange and no one person is powerful enough. That’s why the country’s in the mess it’s in now.

Last time you exploited your position to get something
I’m not really sure. I don’t like to think I’m an exploiter. No doubt I am. I’m afraid I’ve suppressed my guilty memory.

First three words your friends would use to describe you
You’ll have to ask them. I think they think I’m nice. Well I’ve heard them say so.

Last time you made an impulse buy and regretted it
Only books and I don’t regret any of them.

First concert you ever attended
When I was about six I lived in Yorkshire and there was a hostel for miners which had a social centre. Amateur concerts were held there. Anybody who could sing or do a turn would do so. My mother was a very good singer so she would sing ‘Comin’ Through the Rye’ and I recited one or two puerile wee poems.

Last time you bought someone flowers
[Consults his wife] I think last time I bought flowers was for my wife. She told me not to do it as there was a previous occasion when an insect came out and stung her, so she asked me not to buy any more flowers for her or for the house.

First thing you think of when you wake up in the morning
Chiefly, I have a lot of pills to take, but don’t always do them right away. So sometimes I start by wondering which pills to start taking. On the other hand, I think about work, so sometimes I forget to take the pills until later.

Last thing you think of before you go to sleep
I don’t know. When I go to bed, I seldom fall asleep right away and generally do some reading to ease me into it.

Gray Stuff: Designs for Books and Posters, 1952 – 2010, an exhibition of Gray’s graphic works, is at the Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sat 11 Dec.

Alasdair Gray: Gray Stuff

  • 5 stars

An exhibition of the writer-slash-Blakeian illustrator's designs for books and posters created between 1952 and 2007.

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