“Clever and crowd-pleasing” – Variety “A rising star.” – The Scotsman
Alan Bissett – currently disguising himself in the third person – is a novelist, playwright and performer from Scotland. He lives in Renfrewshire.
He was born 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 Falkirk and the setting for much of his later work. He attended Hallglen Primary School, Falkirk High School and Stirling University, where he received a First in English and Education. During the summers he worked as a labourer at the Grangemouth petro-chemical plant. After graduating he worked very briefly as an English teacher at Elgin Academy, before going back to Stirling University and achieving a Masters degree in English. He supported himself by working part-time in Waterstones bookshop and around that time was short- or longlisted for the national Macallan / Scotland on Sunday Short-Story Competition four times in a row (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002). He also published his debut novel about growing up in Falkirk.
This was Boyracers, released in August 2001 by Polygon when Alan was 25. He 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.
Novel number 3, Death of a Ladies’ Man, later shortlisted for the Scottish Arts Council Fiction of the Year prize, was published in 2009 by Hachette, the same 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 in March 2009 to great critical acclaim and has since been revived in Manchester and 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, was incredibly well-received by audiences and critics. It had an extended life in 2010, running as 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.
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) and ran at the Edinburgh Fringe; Ban This Filth! (2013), about anti-pornography campaigner Andrea Dworkin, which was shortlisted for an Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award; The Pure, the Dead and the Brilliant (2014), about the Scottish independence referendum, starring Elaine C.Smith; What the F**kirk? (Falkirk Community Trust, 2015), a stand-up show about Alan’s home-town; a play based on the life of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett, One Thinks of it all as a Dream (2016) for the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, which debuted at Oran Mor, Glasgow; It Wisnae Me (2018), about Scotland’s colonial past, produced in conjunction with the Coalition for Racial Equalities and Rights; the sequel to The Moira Monologues – the cunningly titled More Moira Monologues – which won a prestigious Fringe First award (and a string of five-star reviews) in 2017; and Do Not Press This Button, which was published as part of an Oran Mor ‘greatest hits’ play collection.
Alan has written three plays for young people: Pinocchio (Arches 2011), Nikki and the Gang (Youth Musical Theatre UK 2012) and Mr Francis and the Village of Secrets (Gariddge Theatre 2019).
In 2009, The Shutdown, a short documentary film written and narrated by Alan, directed by Adam Stafford – about Alan’s experience of the Grangemouth Oil Refinery, with particular reference to his father’s injury in the explosion of 13th March 1987 – premiered in competition at the 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, the same year that Alan won the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Writer of the Year 2011. The following year he was shortlisted for Writer of the Year at the Creative Scotland Awards.
Alan is very much in demand as a live act. In 2011 he was cast in Gregory ‘Black Watch’ Burke’s new 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 and poetry, 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 Writing (Cargo 2015).
In 2019 he presented a documentary for Caledonia TV/BBC Scotland Inside the Mind of Robert Burns. He has also written five episodes for BBC Scotland’s flagship TV drama River City.
During lockdown he kept himself and others entertained with his online Hoose Perties. He also scripted a short, animated film produced by Mull Theatre, The Shark Was Aware of Me, narrated by Alison Peebles.
At the end of 2020 he published his first extended prose work in nine years, the novella Lazy Susan, which was extraordinarily well-received and employed an innovative Choose-Your-Own-Adventure format to follow one weekend in the life of a young social media influencer. It led to him being shortlisted for Scots Writer of the Year at the Scots Language Awards 2021.
He is currently working on his fifth novel, The Coven and the Drowners, which he is hoping will be published sometime in 2023.
Believe it or not, there is a street in Falkirk named “Bissett Court” after him. Actual fact.
Alan was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in 2016 from the University of Stirling for his outstanding contribution to Scottish culture.
He lives in Renfrewshire with his partner and two sons.
In 2008 the Daily Record newspaper named him the 46th Hottest Man in Scotland. He hasn’t been on the list since, a fact which he very much laments.