His literary loves explored

Aidan Moffat is one of Scotland's most distinctive - and best loved - songwriting voices.

For the past fifteen years his frequent glimpses of beer soaked melancholia have pushed back what is acceptable in pop music. Recently teaming up with multi-instrumentalist (and fellow Scot) Bill Wells, the sessions resulted in new album 'Everything's Getting Older'.

A bracing blast of cynical wit shot through with a genuine sense of tenderness, Aidan Moffat's songwriting benefited greatly from Bill Wells virtuoso musicianship. Out now on Chemikal Underground, if you ask us it's well worth tracking down!

Tracking down the Scottish bard, ClashMusic decided to probe Aidan Moffat about his literary tastes. Agreeing to answer our questions, the songwriter became the latest participant in 'Their Library'...

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What is your favourite book and why?
I honestly can’t think of one, but the books that are most dear to me are probably the ones I read when I was young and still have on the shelf. The Hamlyn Book Of Ghosts was fascinating and terrifying when I was a child, Peter Pan and Wendy was the first novel I read on my own, the Ladybird version of The Hound Of The Baskervilles nursed me through a really bad stomach illness, I loved William Kotzwinkle’s Jack In The Box as a young teenager, and Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing comics are still brilliant. These sorts of things hold much more romance and meaning to me than most of the adult literature I’ve read since.

What other authors do you like?
A few years ago I discovered B S Johnson’s work and read it all – it was quite an expensive thing to do, some of his books are quite rare – and I really fell in love with it. It’s never 100% successful, but his dedication to truth really struck a chord with me, and his experimentation with the book format itself really impressed me – he was arguably making interactive literature forty years before the iPad was invented. And I can usually be sucked into a Paul Auster book by the first page, plus there’s a lot of Scottish authors I enjoy; Alasdair Gray, Alan Warner’s earlier stuff, and I just read a book by John Burnside. I read an enormous amount of comics too, from superheroes to obscure little independents, from Grant Morrison to Charles Burns to Thomas Ott to Junji Ito, I really adore the whole medium.

What draws you to certain books?
Sex and mystery, a hint of the paranormal, sinister sorts of things. And usually it has to be written in first person – I have a real difficulty with a lot of third person narrative, I find it can bore me quickly. I like the immediacy and intimacy of first person, I find it far more engaging.

Have you ever discovered a real lost classic? What is it and why?
I think B S Johnson applies here, although he’s recently become a bit of a cult since Jonathan Coe wrote his brilliant biography of him. Of all his books, I think my favourite is House Mother Normal, although that’s the one that’s probably easiest to come by. I really enjoyed his first novel, Travelling People, which for some reason has been out of print for years. You can tell he’s still finding his feet, but I love the format – each chapter is in a different style, which wasn’t especially original but he seems pretty confident with all of them. Actually, he was a bit too confident at times, as Coe’s biography illustrates.

Do your literary influences have a direct impact on your songwriting?
No, I don’t think they do, certainly not on a conscious level anyway. The books I love tend to be designed to work on the page alone, so I rarely see something that I think can be adapted into or even just inspire a song.

What are you reading at the moment?
Grant Morrison’s ‘Supergods: Our World In The Age Of The Superhero’. As I said before, I’m a bit of a comics geek and I’m a big fan of Morrison’s work, so the book’s been pretty wonderful so far.

What is the first book you remember reading as a child?
As I mentioned above, Peter Pan & Wendy. I could still read it today with the same enthusiasm and I can’t wait to read it to my son when he’s older. Being the first novel I read on my own, it really opened my mind to the excitement of reading and the power of the written word.

Did you make good use of your library card as a child / teenager?
I used to go to the Falkirk library and get out all the ghost story books, but that’s all I can really remember. I don’t use libraries much because I’m a bit of a hoarder and I like to own things and pile them up.

How do you think literature achieves timelessness?
I’m not sure anything can achieve timelessness, all art is a product of the culture it was created in. It’s too early in the morning for a heavy question – sorry!

Do you read book reviews?
I only read reviews of books I’ve already read because book reviewers have absolutely no qualms about spoiling endings and major plot points. I find that infuriating, so I tend to avoid them, or at least just skim over it to the last paragraph to get the general feeling. For this reason, I’d appreciate ratings out of ten like they do in music reviews; I really don’t need to know everything that happens in a book before I read it.

Would you ever re-read the same book?
I’ve re-read quite a few. Peter Pan, Lolita, and a few B S Johnson books, not to mention countless comics.

Have you ever identified with a character in a book? Which one and why?
It’s difficult to think of anything specific, but I think I tend to identify with the authors more than the characters. Although, in the case of B S Johnson, they’re one and the same, so perhaps that’s why I was so taken with his work.

Do you read one book at a time or more than one?
I’ve always got a few on the go. Aside from the Grant Morrison book, I’m presently halfway through a Dusty Springfield biography, but I suspect I won’t finish it because it’s very poorly written. There’s loads of comics to get through, plus a book my girlfriend gave me about modern music theory of which I’ve only read the introduction. I’m reading through Alexander Trocchi’s novels for the first time too: I just finished Young Adam and I’ve got Cain’s Book and Helen And Desire lined up and waiting. And a beautiful book about the artwork of Robert A. Maguire, who painted the covers for loads of cheap crime novels in the 50s and 60s. There’s a pile as high as my beard that I haven’t even looked at yet too, and that doesn’t even include all the comics. I was talking to some mates recently about how I hated the Kindle and needed to have physical books, and I claimed I was building a library for my son. I wasn’t actually joking, but they seemed to think it was funny.

Is there an author / poet you would like to collaborate with?
Not especially, no, it’s not something I’ve ever really considered. Although now that you mention it, I’ve just had the germ of an idea that I may try and put into practice sometime soon. I’m not telling you what it is though!

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