Alan Bissett – currently disguising himself in the third person – is a novelist, playwright and performer from Scotland. He lives in Renfrewshire.
He was born and raised in Falkirk in 1975. David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, re-released, was at Number One in the charts that week. He grew up in Hallglen, a housing scheme on the outskirts of the town and the setting for much of his later work, attending Hallglen Primary School, Falkirk High School and Stirling University, where he received a First in English and Education. After graduating he worked very briefly as an English teacher in Elgin, before deciding to study for a PhD at Stirling, supporting himself by selling books part-time in Waterstones. He didn’t get the PhD, as it happens, but he was short- and longlisted for the Macallan / Scotland on Sunday Short-Story Competition four times between 1999 and 2002. He also published his debut novel.
This was Boyracers, released in August 2001 by Polygon. Alan was offered a position lecturing in Creative Writing at the University of Leeds soon after, which is where he wrote The Incredible Adam Spark (Headline, 2005). In 2004 he moved to Glasgow to take up a teaching position on Glasgow University’s Creative Writing MLitt. In 2007, Alan collaborated with the singer-songwriter Malcolm Middleton (Arab Strap) on the song ‘The Rebel On His Own Tonight’, for the Ballads of the Book album project, released by Chemikal Underground and conceived by Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble, which matched up Scottish writers with musicians.
Alan left Glasgow University in December 2007 to become a full-time writer, which he has been ever since.
Novel number 3, Death of a Ladies’ Man, shortlisted for the Scottish Arts Council Fiction of the Year prize, was published in 2009, also the year in which Alan started working in theatre. His first play, The Ching Room, a co-production between Glasgow’s Oran Mor and Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, ran at both theatres in March 2009 to great critical acclaim, and has since been revived in Manchester and in Philadelphia. In the same month, Alan debuted his ‘one-woman’ show The Moira Monologues at the Aye Write literary festival in Glasgow. The Moira Monologues, which he wrote and performed himself, had an extended life in 2010, running in a double bill with The Ching Room at the Citizens Theatre and Manchester’s Royal Exchange, as well as ten sold-out shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the National Library of Scotland, and a Highland tour. It is returning to the Glasgow Comedy Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016.
Alan also collaborated with The Moira Monologues’ director Sacha Kyle on The Confidant (National Theatre of Scotland / Oran Mor / Traverse, March 2011), an adaptation of a play by the Venezuelan writer Gilberto Pinto; Turbo Folk (Oran Mor) which was nominated for Best New Play at the 2010 Critics Awards For Theatre in Scotland (CATS); The Red Hourglass, which was developed by the National Theatre of Scotland (2012); Ban This Filth! (2013), which was shortlisted for an Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award; The Pure, the Dead and the Brilliant (2014), starring Elaine C.Smith, and What the F**kirk? (Falkirk Community Trust, 2015), a one-man show about his home-town which played in twelve different venues in Falkirk.
Their forthcoming show, based on the life of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett, for the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, will premiere at Oran Mor in 2016. They are also developing a play about the footballer Graeme Souness.
In 2009, The Shutdown, a documentary short written and narrated by Alan and made by Adam Stafford – about Alan’s experience of growing up in the shadow of Grangemouth Oil Refinery, with particular reference to his father’s injury in the refinery flare incident of 13th March 1987 – premiered in competition at Edinburgh International Film Festival, IDFA and Silverdocs Documentary Festival in Washington DC.
To date, The Shutdown has won or been shortlisted for numerous international awards, including both the Jury and Audience Awards for Scottish Short Film at the Jim Poole Scottish Short Film Awards 2009, Best Short Documentary at the San Francisco Film Festival 2010 and the Palm Springs Shortfest 2010. It was also shortlisted for a Scottish BAFTA in 2011.
Polygon published an updated tenth anniversary edition of Alan’s debut novel Boyracers, including a new afterword, in April 2011. Pack Men, Alan’s fourth novel and a sequel to Boyracers, was published by Hachette in September 2011. It was shortlisted for a Scottish Arts Council Fiction of the Year prize.
Alan is very much in demand as a live act, having performed various one-man (and, in the case of The Moira Monologues) one-woman shows. In 2011 he was cast in Gregory Burke’s play Battery Farm (Oran Mor). As well as appearing in countless schools across Scotland, he has performed at prestigious international festivals in New York, Toronto, the Hague, Melbourne, Bejing, Zagreb, Kikinda and Lagos.
During the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, Alan campaigned for a Yes vote. It didn’t happen. Ach. Hopefully next time.
He has edited several books of fiction, including Damage Land: New Scottish Gothic Fiction (Polygon 2001); New Writing Scotland 27, 28 and 20 (Association for Scottish Literary Studies 2009-2011) and Alight Here: An Anthology of Falkirk Fiction (Cargo 2015).
He has recently completed a screenplay for a supernatural thriller, The Familiar, being developed by Sinner Films, and is gearing up to write some episodes for BBC Scotland’s River City.
There should be another novel along at some point too.
In 2008 the Daily Record newspaper named him the 46th Hottest Man in Scotland. He hasn’t been on the list since, which he very much laments now that he is 40.