Elegantly Wasted: A Review of Allan Wilson’s Wasted in Love… (10 Years On)
10 years ago today Allan Wilson's Wasted In Love was published by Cargo Publishing, and was widely acclaimed and vaunted by readers and critics alike. We thought it was worthwhile marking this milestone by returning to the original SWH! review and putting it into context from the perspective of the present day.
2011 was also the first year for the Scots Whay Hae! podcast and we repost the one where I spoke with Allan Wilson (only our fourth) at the bottom of the page. *AB
In 1974 rock journo Jon Landau returned from a gig and proclaimed ‘I have seen the future of rock n’roll and its name is Bruce Springsteen’. Well I’ve been reading Allan Wilson’s debut collection of short stories, Wasted in Love, and its really very good indeed. But don’t take my word for it, none other than legendary Scots’ poet Tom Leonard has said ‘He reads like the real thing…terrific debut anthology’, and you don’t argue with Mr Leonard.
I first became aware of the work of Wilson when his short story ‘The End’ was included in last year’s anthology The Year of Open Doors, and, considering he was sharing pages with some of Scotland’s best writers, the fact his was one of the highlights spoke well for what was to come. Publishers Cargo obviously thought so too as they signed him up sharpish, the result of which is Wasted in Love.
I interviewed Allan on the last Scots Whay Hae! podcast (See below) and what is clear is that this is someone who lives to write, who would do so (and indeed did so) even if no one was reading his work. Having spoken to people who had read these stories before publication, and whose opinions I respect, I was sure that this was a collection that wouldn’t disappoint. There was, to paraphrase Paul McStay, a buzz about the place.
Don’t think for a minute this is hype without substance. Wasted in Love is all about the writing. There are glimpses into lives and relationships which are dissected with a surgeon’s precision. Wilson understands people; their hopes, dreams, insecurities and fears. He knows what makes people tick, and what makes them fall apart and touches upon the good, bad and ugly sides to human nature confronting all three with great honesty. He doesn’t shy away from looking at racism, betrayal, lust, deception and violence but this is not simple gritty, urban realism. There is often a tenderness to be found in difficult circumstances, the belief that love, either given or received, holds the possibility for salvation. Unfortunately, for some, that love is wasted.
He also has an ear for how people talk to each other, often hiding more than they reveal. His scenarios detail universal concerns, but his pinpoint use of Glaswegian phraseology places them not only in a place, but also in the present day. There are references to Alasdair Gray and Belle and Sebastian, snatches of song lyrics from Arab Strap and The Smiths, late night visits to burger vans and kebab shops, and meetings in pubs and clubs which change people’s lives, at least for a while. What is remarkable is that Wilson manages to make readers care about his protagonists in only a few pages. This is because these are people who find themselves in circumstances that we all, to a greater or lesser degree, can recognise and empathise, if not always sympathise, with.
At the core of Wasted in Love and the characters who inhabit its pages is the knowledge that individuals are looking for happiness with no real understanding of what that might entail or how to achieve it. This goes some way to explaining, if not excusing, the moral ambiguity and straightforward bad behaviour that Wilson’s men, and they are almost always men, display. As Springsteen once sang ‘Everybody’s got a hungry heart’, something Allan Wilson understands all too well.
*AB: Going back to reread Wasted In Love, and this review, has been informative as I feel both still stand up. Allan's stories are as fresh as they were when I first read them, and if you can hunt down a copy you won't regret it. So far, it's the only publication from Allan Wilson, (although his work appeared elsewhere). It may be that it remains so - I have no idea - but if it is it deserves to be recognised as a notable and memorable collection of stories, one which, with hindsight, linked the past and the present day.
It may not have had the impact of Jeff Torrington's Swing Hammer Swing or Archie Hind's The Dear Green Place, but it shares its DNA with those writers and those books, as well as with the work of Alan Bissett, and, more recently, Chris McQueer. With Wasted In Love Allan Wilson wasn't looking back, although he was aware of what had gone before, his writing was of its time with a nod to the future, and that's what made it so exciting.
Here's the Scots Whay Hae! Podcast with Allan Wilson from October 2011: