David F. Ross was born in Glasgow in 1964. His debut novel The Last Days of Disco was longlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award, and received exceptional critical acclaim, as did the other two books in the Disco Days Trilogy – The Rise & Fall of the Miraculous Vespas and The Man Who Loved Islands.
His fifth novel, There’s Only One Danny Garvey, topped several Best of the Year lists, and was shortlisted for the Saltire Scottish Fiction Book of the Year 2021.
He is a regular contributor to Nutmeg Magazine and in 2020 he wrote the screenplay to the film Miraculous, based on his novel.
Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?
I first began writing fiction just over ten years ago. In the simplest terms, I had time to fill. I’d spent a lot of time working overseas in countries where there wasn’t much to do outside of the job, or where little English was spoken locally. Writing fiction – as opposed to articles about design – became a way of passing some of that time doing something creative that I increasingly enjoyed and found to be very therapeutic. Unsurprisingly, my debut novel, The Last Days of Disco, is more autobiographical than those that followed. The story follows two teenage friends starting a mobile DJ business against the backdrop of local, small-town gangster activity that threatens their future.
The early 80s were a great time. There were so many things going on … musically, culturally and politically. I felt more alive during that time than any other; like the possibilities in my life were endless even though I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I’d end up doing with them. Emotions just seemed so much more tangible then. It just felt logical to me to go back to that period for my first book because I could tap into those feelings so easily.
What came first the characters or the world?
Always the characters.
I suppose it’s inevitable that there’s some of myself and my friends in the way the central characters in that first novel interact and speak. I’m glad that the authenticity of their relationship comes across. I was also 18 in 1982, when the book was set, so it was easy to recall how I felt then about the Falklands War or Margaret Thatcher. I also worked as a DJ then too, so a few of the ‘incidents’ are exaggerated versions of events that happened. The supporting characters are all generally amalgamations of characteristics and traits that I’ve found fascinating or remarkable.
How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?
When I finished the manuscript, I published it myself, and it gained some positive comments from people who had downloaded it. During 2014, I began communicating with Arcadia Books through Twitter – not initially realising it was Karen Sullivan (future Orenda Books founder, and my publisher) I was ‘talking’ to – and when she started supporting a collaborative writing thing I was doing, I thought I’d chance my arm and ask her to look at the manuscript, which she kindly did. She liked it, and for the following 8 months we refined and polished it into the finished version. The Last Days of Disco was Orenda Books’ first published title.
How long did it take to write?
That’s not as straightforward a question as it might appear. I wrote the bulk of the first draft in around 12 months during 2011. During that year, I was travelling a lot with work to China and the Middle East. Writing just became a good way to fill some of the time on planes, or when the jetlag kept me awake in the hotels during the nights.
Do you have a writing playlist? If so, do you want to share it?
All six of my books have a specific playlist and all published in the back pages of each book. More than happy to share them.
The Last Days Of Disco
The Rise & Fall Of The Miraculous Vespas
The Man Who Loved Islands
Welcome To The Heady Heights
There’s Only One Danny Garvey
Dashboard Elvis Is Dead
How many publishers turned you down?
I’m not sure. I briefly collaborated with an agent before being offered a deal with Arcadia, and subsequently Orenda Books. There may have been unsuccessful approaches made on my behalf by the agent but I’m not aware of any responses.
What kind of reactions have you had to your book?
All six books have had favourable critical reactions, both in the UK and in Germany where the first three were published in translation. The Last Days of Disco was long listed for the Best First Novel Award by the Author’s Club of London. There’s Only One Danny Garvey – my fifth book – was shortlisted for Scottish Fiction Book of the Year 2021.
What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?
Probably A.L. Kennedy’s for Welcome To The Heady Heights:
“A twisted love letter to Glasgow at her finest and worst, shot through with an eye for 1970s detail and an awareness of our current, complex ills. This is hardboiled Tartan Noir with a musical edge, streetwise intelligence and exactly the sense of humour you’d hope to find as showbiz meets Duke Street and high society enforcers battle gentlemen of the Sarry Heid and graduates of the Bar-L”
What can you tell us about your next book?
Not so much about the next one, perhaps, but the one just published – Dashboard Elvis Is Dead – is about the decline of America viewed through the eyes of Jude Montgomery, a young, mixed-race runaway from Texas, and Jamie Hewitt, a depressed guitarist from a Scottish band undergoing their first tour of the country. It begins in the early 80s and culminates in the Scottish Independence referendum of 2014.
Do you take notice of online reviews?
Yes, but not to the extent that I’d dwell on them too long, whether good or bad.
Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?
I’m not sure what genre-writing is, to be honest. Or whether certain established genres need to have specific parameters to make them fit. I guess I write books that I’d want to read myself, full of characters and emotions that I can relate to. For me, literary fiction is about life, and what it is to be alive.
What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?
I’m an architect.
Which author(s) inspire you?
Historically, George Orwell, Barry Hines and Colin MacInnes are significant influences. Of those still writing, Irvine Welsh, Andrew O’Hagan, James Kelman, A.L. Kennedy, Alan Warner and John Niven continue to be important reference points for me, especially in terms of authentic, socially realistic characterisation.
Irvine Welsh – and Trainspotting especially – has changed the way the Scottish literary voice is appreciated around the world. Andrew O’Hagan and John Niven both come from an Ayrshire background and their books – specifically Niven’s The Amateurs – demonstrated that small-town everyday life could be emotionally affecting and brutally funny.
Right now, there’s a new generation of Scottish writers whose work is phenomenal. Kirstin Innes’s Scabby Queen and Graeme Armstrong’s The Young Team are amongst the best I’ve read, with authentic, complex characters that I completely identify with from my own experience. And last but certainly not least, there’s David Keenan whose writing is truly unique, mesmerising and astounding.
Which genres do you read yourself?
I’m not really a ‘genre’ type of person. It’s either good writing or it isn’t, in my opinion. Good writers tell a great story with brilliant, believable characters. It’s as simple as that for me.
What is your biggest motivator?
Boredom, and the inbuilt desire to be creative.
What will always distract you?
The usual things for writers, I guess. Family, friends. Football, probably.
How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?
A little, but that’s more about involvement in the final approvals. Orenda Books use a brilliant graphic designer (Mark Swan) and his cover ideas are always astounding. You learn to trust the expertise of others. The publication of an Orenda book is a very much a team effort with everyone – editor, proofreaders, blog tour manager, publicists, PR lead, and graphic designer – all collaborating to make the book the best it could possibly be. It’s an inspiring environment to be a part of.
Were you a big reader as a child?
I didn’t read a lot as a child. Mine wasn’t a family background that encouraged reading. I don’t recall there being books in our house and perhaps as a result, I was always more interested in other things: music and football, mainly. Time being the most valuable commodity there is, ideas for my own writing now – and the things that inspire me creatively – still usually come from other sources, from visual media and from music. I am someone who gets bored easily and I am also very impatient. Books that lack immediacy or any discernible pace are unlikely to last the distance with me. I have too many half-read novels – and half-written ones, come to that – lying around the house already. However, I am now trying to make up for my much younger self’s indifference to literature.
What were your favourite childhood books?
I didn’t have many, but The Blinder by Barry Hines stands out. It’s less well known than A Kestral For A Knave and I’m perhaps the only person in the world who thinks it’s better. The book’s depiction of the red brick back courts of Northern England – and of the early 60s social context – is brilliant, and the characters are realistically flawed. I’m still slightly ashamed to admit that I stole this book from a small, local library as a kid. Although, since I still have the stolen copy, and it continues to inspire me now, then maybe the owners would forgive me.
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?
The Book Nook in Stewarton is my local bookshop. It’s a great little independent community-focused place run by enthusiastic and supportive people.
What books can you not resist buying?
The work of the writers noted in the earlier question.
Do you have any rituals when writing?
Not really. Although I do have to have music on. Preferably something with a relevant vibe to the writing.
How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?
Right now, there’s about six.
What is your current or latest read?
God’s Teeth and Other Phenomena, by James Kelman.
Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?
I think John Niven’s forthcoming memoir, O Brother will be a fantastic piece of writing, albeit one that would’ve been extremely painful for him to write.
Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?
A future book idea with a working title of Weekenders about cousins returning from the First World War who scrape a living robbing the houses of rich people.
I’ve also started developing a script project based on There’s Only One Danny Garvey.
Any events in the near future?
There’s a possible ‘launch’ for Dashboard Elvis is Dead with spoken word artists and a couple of bands playing, but we haven’t fixed the date for it yet.
and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?
Again, I’m not a genre-specific writer, but Paul Weller, and specifically, The Jam’s fourth album, Setting Sons is a constant source of inspiration.