A self-proclaimed "Strathclyde addict", Dr Rodge Glass returns to the University of Strathclyde as the Convener of the MLitt in Creative Writing, having previously attended the university as an undergraduate student in 1997 and then as a Writer in Residence in 2008. We sat down with Rodge to discuss his career as a writer, what sparked his interest in English studies, and his upcoming projects, including remembering the work of Scottish artist and writer Alasdair Gray at a number of conferences and events.
Tell us a little bit about your career so far...
I started out purely as a novelist. My first book, No Fireworks, was published by Faber and Faber in 2005. That and Hope for Newborns, published in 2008, were family dramas set in the Jewish community in Manchester I grew up in. I was really lucky early on, as No Fireworks in particular helped me get noticed, and allowed me to to keep writing professionally. I have a bit of a double identity - I've published three novels now, also a collection of short stories and a graphic novel, but alongside that I've also spent a lot of the last ten or fifteen years writing and talking about the great Glaswegian polymath, Alasdair Gray, whose work is so closely associated with the city of Glasgow. I worked for Gray when I was starting out, then wrote his biography, which was published by Bloomsbury and won a Somerset Maugham Award for Non-Fiction. Since then I've kept publishing on Gray and working with the man himself. Sadly he passed away in December, at the age of 85, but he leaves behind an extraordinary literary and artistic legacy. Over the coming years, I want to do all I can to bring more attention to that legacy, especially here in Scotland.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career to date?
There have been lots of fun moments, but my favourite thing has definitely been having my work translated. Several trips to Serbia, where bizarrely my book of short stories was translated, that was a real surprise and an eye-opener too. The translation of my novel Bring Me the Head of Ryan Giggs into Italian in 2014 was a real highlight. At the time my wife and I were returning from Latin America, after seven or eight months living and writing there, and we stopped off in Italy to do promotion for the publication there. A highlight was being able to compile my own playlist of Manchester music for Italian national radio - I couldn't stop smiling the whole time. There are other moments, but it's the travel and meeting folk interested in books from around the world that really interests me.
What is your role within the school?
I've just been appointed as a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, with my main specialism in fiction - novels and short stories - also creative non-fiction, which is really popular, and great fun to teach. In Creative Writing, we tend to focus on creative process, on experimentation and revision, but that's driven by wide reading of other contemporary writers. Also, research is important for a lot of kinds of writing and can be really satisfying. The world of Creative Writing is in fact many different worlds: poetry, screenwriting, hybrid writing, fiction (in all its many forms), creative non-fiction (which is also many things, from science to nature to memoir writing), and lots of other things besides. There's plenty of rigour, but plenty of freedom too. It's my idea of a good time.
What inspired you to enter into a career in English studies?
The turning point for me was really when I wanted to write Alasdair Gray's biography but also needed the time, money and opportunity to do it. So I applied for an AHRC grant for a PhD, which would become the biography. I also used the time to write my second novel, then I realised I was happiest in a community of writers, also within an academic context. I'm a real book nerd, and this way I get to write, research, teach and also be part of a community of folk also interested in the same things as me. I'm working closely with the novelist and screenwriter Andrew Meehan now, and I always work better when I'm part of a team. The writing life can be wonderful, but it can also be lonely. Well, not in an open plan office!
What initially attracted you to the University of Strathclyde?
I'm a bit of a Strathclyde addict, and this is the fourth time I've signed on to something here. First, I started out at the University of Strathclyde in 1997, coming here initially to do History and European Politics. I hadn't taken English at A Level and only chose it as an option at the start of my degree, but found I really enjoyed it, and surprised myself that I was doing well. I eventually changed my degree and did a Creative Writing dissertation, which back then was a new thing. I did my MPhil jointly between Strathclyde and Glasgow University, then after doing my PhD I returned here again, first as a Writer in Residence in 2008-9, then in my first academic post, as a part-time Lecturer from 2009-2012. I then moved to Edge Hill University in Lancashire - though I'm English, I'd lived in Scotland all my adult life at that point and I was looking for a full time post. That was a fantastic experience, I loved Edge Hill. But we always wanted to return to Glasgow, and now I have the job at Strathclyde I always wanted. I count myself very fortunate.
Tell us about any projects you are currently involved in.
I've just finished a novel, Once a Great Leader, which is an alternative history of the relations between Chile and the UK over the last 50 years. It's a big book and may not be published for a while. But my immediate projects are related to Alasdair Gray's legacy. I'm going to be the Convener of the 2nd International Alasdair Gray Conference in June 2021, which I'm hugely excited about. One day will be hosted by the University of Strathclyde, the other by Glasgow, and we'll have people interested in Gray coming from across the world. The conference is particularly interested in looking at Gray's art, whose reputation has changed radically since I wrote my biography, really flourishing in the last ten years of Alasdair's life. I'm also the Director of the International Alasdair Gray Research Network. Then there are collaborations with the Scottish Book Trust, where we're working with their StoryMag, which is doing a special issue on Gray for teenage writers and illustrators inspired by Gray. There are also events planned at this year's Aye Write Book Festival, which I'm curating under the title 'Remembering Alasdair', and Edinburgh Book Festival too, for later in the year. I imagine I'll be working on Gray for many years. I'll always want to write my own work, but can't imagine leaving his behind. Particularly in the last few weeks, since his passing, the outpouring of affection and recognition has been quite staggering. He's a Scottish original. I hope that in future years, people who want to study Gray or do research on his work will come to Strathclyde, to work with me.
Do you have any words of wisdom or encouragement for any prospective students?
Yes: it's not about talent, it's about hard work. And anyone can work hard. Read widely, think deeply, research thoroughly and revise closely, and you'll have a great time. Writing is a way of engaging with the world while trying to make sense of it. And the skills you learn will be useful whether you go on to work in the writing or publishing industries or not.
You can keep up-to-date with Rodge's work on the channels below:
Rodge Glass' personal website
Alasdair Gray Conference Twitter: @ImaginedMaking
Making Imagined Things: Website for 2nd International Alasdair Gray Conference & International Alasdair Gray Research Network