With Where the Bodies are Buried starting to appear in the shops ahead of official publication on Thursday, June 2nd, it struck me with some force that it has been fifteen years since my first novel hit the shelves. I had to do the sums a couple of times, but the answer is inescapable: it really is a decade and a half since Quite Ugly One Morning was published and instantly condemned by the Glasgow Herald as “deeply unpleasant and thoroughly nasty”. For a book that I regarded as very much a product of its time, the fact that it has been reprinted every year since 1996 is either a testament to the strength of its narrative and characters, or to the enduring appeal of jokes about jobbies. After all, how could the reader of 2011 relate to the world of 1996 as depicted in the novel, with the country governed by a coterie of over-privileged public schoolboys driven on by ideological spite and a nauseating sense of entitlement as they seek to flog off the NHS by the back-door so that more of the public spending budget ends up in the pockets of their friends and donors?
My feelings of excitement and mild trepidation upon the advent of a new publication have never diminished with familiarity, but it would be fair to say that my sense of anticipation regarding Where the Bodies are Buried is the most acute I have experienced since my debut. I think it’s because this, more than any novel since Quite Ugly One Morning, feels like a fresh start. It feels like a chance to connect with new readers, and to connect in a new way with those readers already familiar with my work. I’m thrilled by the prospect of new readers picking up my work and feeling the way my first readers did in 1996, and I’m hoping those veterans whizz through Bodies and think: “Damn, that baldy bastard can still surprise me.”
Back when I was first published, when asked about my comparative youth as a writer, I often remarked that I regarded my work as an on-going apprenticeship. At the time I was probably inexperienced enough to believe that such an apprenticeship would be finite. I now know that I’ll still be learning my trade no matter how long I live and how many books I write, but what excites me about the publication of Where the Bodies are Buried is that I feel I am now producing the kind of work that takes a decade and a half’s worth of training to be capable of writing.
Does that mean it’s a better book than Quite Ugly One Morning?
Ask me again in 2026.