Interview with author
About Ghost City
Ronald Frame talking about Ghost City
Ghost City began as a idea. I felt that I hadn't read or heard a great deal about the sort of life that I thought I had and I just thought that it would be interesting to sit down and see if I could put it down onto paper. I wanted to write about these things because I think writing in a way is a means of recording things which have happened and as I said I just thought there was a certain kind of experience which didn't get much of a look in really.
I can remember in my early days of writing going to sort of writers' functions and parties and things like that and I used to get very irritated because when people heard that you came from the suburbs they had this notion that it was very un-cool to come from there. I can remember somebody once saying to me that they thought my life must be less real than these other people that they were writing about which I found a very peculiar thing 'cos all our lives are equally real and it's just a matter of depicting them and talking about them. I also felt that the Scottish life was different from the English life and of course there are different forms of Scottish life as well and that there was no harm in trying to describe this.
Titles either come to you at the beginning or they don't come to you at all I find and I hate the feeling that I haven't got a title because it usually means that you are left at the end scrambling around trying to find something. I think Ghost City must have been in my head, I mean simply for the reason that when I was walking through the streets of Glasgow it had occurred to me that so many of the buildings as I say in Ghost City have come down. That they're not there and yet when I'm walking through Glasgow I'm also remembering these places so there are really two cities. There's the one that's going on around me and there's the other one which is also very real. There's a virtual city in my head and it's filled with ghosts and Glasgow to me always looked very big and very high and when I first remember going into Glasgow regularly it was also a very dirty city because the buildings were very sooty. It doesn't look like it did then, like it does today. It was very black and of course I was smaller obviously at 10 years old and the buildings were proportionally higher so it was like Gotham City in a way and this was another thing that I wanted to write about in Ghost City, the fact that there can be two places, two cities.
I enjoyed writing Ghost City because it was different from fiction. It was as if I was going down into this dark well and I was kind of looking around and seeing what was down there and bringing stuff back up to the surface and kind of going over it and exploring it. It's curious, although I was writing non-fiction I almost felt that I was straying into fiction because this city had disappeared and I was trying to describe it to people who might say 'well it's not like that now and I don't remember these things'. I was in the Mitchell Library recently and they have a fantastic archive there of old photographs of Glasgow and I hadn't looked at them when I wrote Ghost City. In many ways the city was even stranger than I remembered. It was just as black but I'd forgotten that there were fewer cars and when people went into the city centre they tended to get a bit more dressed up than they do nowadays and I had slightly forgotten that as well and there were more buildings there that are no longer there than I remembered so that I actually thought that reality had slightly outdone me. That although I was imagining a city which I felt had become kind of semi-fictional, the actual place was stranger than the one that I remembered.
Ghost City is not invented. It happened and yet what I am saying is that it happened a long time ago and that your memory can play tricks and yet the tricks that it plays on you are kind of outdone by reality as I said when I discovered these photographs and found it was actually a much more old fashioned and actually exotic city than the one that I remembered.
Ronald Frame talking about non-fiction
When I was younger, when I was at school, I did read a lot of fiction. I think as you get older perhaps you're interested in essays and biographies and things like that. I think it's just important to just read as much as you can. Some people say that you should read people who think completely differently from you so that everything you read and everything that they say is a challenge to you but there's something to be said for reading people where you think 'yes that's how I would have said it if I could have found the words for it'.
Ghost City was actually one of the few instances of non-fiction that I had written and I felt that I probably said what I wanted. I think it must be different for every author, I haven't done very much of it and perhaps in a way I found it rather painful which is why I don't really do it very often. The thing is that you have to expose yourself as well. You have to kind of put yourself on the line and I think by this stage I had felt that the people that I had grown up with and who had been formative in my own life I felt I wanted to deal with them because in a way everything that you do write comes out of things that you have seen. I don't mean that you copy things that you see from life, it's just that things stick in your head and you find a context for it. By this time I just felt that I wanted to deal with my own life or some aspects of it.
I had been writing fiction and I don't know how many books I had written maybe 6 or 7 and there comes a point when you almost look at yourself not as a fictional character but very from the outside and I think this for good or bad is something which probably distinguishes people who do write and certainly write fiction that there is a certain element of detachment about them. There's a kind of distinction that you have to make if this is what you want to do and you want to write about you have to be kind of objective and not worry too much what people are going to say, are they going to criticise you or say 'well I didn't know he thought like that' or 'funny thoughts to have in your head'. I think there's the slight problem of accuracy. I think when you are writing non-fiction you feel there's an obligation to get it absolutely right so all your factual details have to be, have you know to go through a long list of them and tick them. I'm not saying that's not important in fiction but I think you have a bit more leeway, you can suit yourself. You can do things with events and with history in fiction, in other words you can make things happen on certain days and you can change things slightly to suit your story. I think with non-fiction it's more difficult and I mean it's all true but it's true as I see it and not necessarily as the other people that I was growing up with would quite remember. I mean they would know all the things that I meant, the people I was talking about and so on. This was actually how I remembered the experience. I'm not saying it was factually inaccurate but it was just the particular elements of my education which felt important to me. It might be that somebody else with the same education would have remembered things in a slightly different way although we may have been judging from the same events but we may have taken away different interpretations. But it would be processed through their minds and Ghost City I was just saying was processed through my mind.
Ronald Frame talking about writing
It's a difficult thing, I think, describing why you write. It may be that the person that you ask is the one least qualified to say what the answer might be. I just think from very early in your life it just seems to be a way of kind of organising the world. I always enjoyed English at school because it seemed to be a subject that you didn't really have to do so much work with because here was this language that you had always spoken and always read and the other thing I enjoyed about it was that with, certainly with creative writing say, it was rather difficult to say that somebody was right or wrong, you know, you were giving your experience of the world and I just enjoyed the whole business, it just seemed to liberate my mind.
I've actually got quite a good memory. I've good recall. It's often things which other people might not notice. It's things to do with your senses, in other words with sound, the sense of smell. I mean I can be walking down the street and I can smell something which I haven't smelt maybe for 20 years and it just sort of whisks you back into the past. The funny thing about writing is, although you are writing about an experience which only you have had, you are trying to welcome other people into it and there are ways I think of doing this and one of them is through the senses, through the sounds and the smells. Well there were lots of things when I was growing up I mean, even the way the shoes sounded on the pavement, you know men had sort of steel tips and heels and women had clackety high heels and the fabrics that they wore tended to make certain sounds and these things I was always as I say, I don't know why, but I was always quite alive to these things and I remembered them and they kind of go into your vaults of memory and for some reason they just come out and the other thing is you can sometimes be walking down a street again and two ideas that you have had in the past which don't seem to belong to each other will just suddenly for no reason fuse in your mind and you think 'yes of course that's what all that was about' and then you can go off and write a story.
You know a writer's life suits me. It's fairly, well other people might think it was actually rather dull, but that's fine because I feel that my imagination is enough to kind of keep me happy. I think writing has to be a kind of organic process where it changes from day to day and if you're writing a longer piece you're not quite sure what you're going to do each day and if you're in a good mood you do a kind of happier piece and if you're not in such a good mood you can do a kind of darker piece and so on and that it changes from day to day and you have a rough idea where you are going, what the plot ending is going to be, but you're not quite sure how you're going to get there.
I like writing stories because you have a quicker turnover of ideas. Sometimes when you are writing a novel which takes several months it's quite a big thing to have to deal with when you're having to get up every day and get on with it even if you don't feel like it. In a story you can just kind of jump into it. You can jump into it in the middle or the end. This is the thing about writing, I don't really think you need to start at the beginning and go through till the end necessarily. If you feel like beginning at the beginning that's fine but you can always start at the end if you've got the ending and go back to the beginning and I think this is what I enjoy so much about writing is that you can become all these other different people and that's what makes people fascinating to me. I'm always intrigued by them and I love when people tell you things, tell you their stories. It might be that writers are quite good listeners, I suspect that they are because it's strange how often strangers start to speak to you to tell you things. You do remember something of what they say to you so it all gets filed away and at some future point you know you can find a context into which to use this material.
The most precious thing you get from a reader is time. When people say they've read something by yourself I mean I am always very humbled by it 'cos I always think it's a very responsible job to have when you are taking away people's time and you have to give them something back so at the very least you can do is be honest.