Source: Review copy
Publication: 21st September 2019 from Red Squirrel Press
Glasgow is correctly lauded for its wonderful characters and hospitality but at the turn of the Millennium it was dubbed the ‘Murder Capital of Europe’ with sectarian divisions and organised crime rife in the city. Four of its natives have been raised around the city’s Bridgeton area, cultivated by its ill-omened beliefs, and now have to separately find a way to subsist. But one crime family firmly believes in the tradition of torture and a novel way of disposing of its detractors. Who will emerge smelling of roses—or end up pushing the roses up from the earth below?
One of the very real joys of writing about books is the opportunity it gives me to pick up something unusual; something I might not normally have gone for but which turns out to be really quite special. Stephen Watt’s Fairy Rock is just such a work.
A crime novel in verse and not only that, but set in the midst of where I live. Not just close or nearby, but in the immediate locality. And it is dark. So dark it is as black as the devil’s soul. All the worst aspects of human life are in this book. Rape, incest, endless drug selling and taking, violence, gore, sectarianism, gun running and of course, murder all play their part in the daily lives of our characters.
Set in Bridgeton, Stephen Watt has written a powerful story that follows the lives of a crime family and four residents as they scrape their way through each day. Bridgeton is ruled with a rod of iron or in this case, with granite curling stones from Ailsa Craig, by the local crime family – and woe betide anyone who fails in their role or tries to cross them.
This is a world where the fastest runner lives longest, but even then it’s a short life. Watt’s descriptions are vivid and authentic; his characters stand out like those in a Ken Currie or early Peter Howson painting. Watt knows the awfulness of the lives they lead and squares up to it, shoving it in our faces and showing us what is going on under our noses, lest we be in any doubt.
Fairy Rock is a poet’s Trainspotting, with more violence (believe me, the de-gloving sequences are eye wateringly brutal) and yet there’s a vein of humour that permeates the whole, usually at the Police’s expense.
Danny, Seamus, Deek and Claire have their dark and sorry lives mapped out in front of them. Danny, is so messed up that fellow pupil Laura has to grass him up while at school in order to feel safe. Watt’s imagery is startling and striking and his poem follows a linear trajectory as we trace the various crimes, the impact on the characters, and the efforts of the police to stop them.
Verdict: I really got immersed in Fairy Rock, the world’s first crime novel in verse and I’d certainly read more of Stephen Watt’s raw, dark and visceral work. This author’s crime poetry is very much to my taste.
Fairy Rock is available from Red Squirrel Press
Stephen Watt was born in the Vale of Leven in 1979. His awards include first prize in the Poetry Rivals Slam, the StAnza International Digital Poetry Slam, and the Tartan Treasures award. Notable collections which he has curated include the Joe Strummer Foundation collection Ashes To Activists (2018) and the James Watt bicentenary booklet Horsepower (2019). He is Dumbarton Football Club’s Poet-in-Residence and was appointed the Makar for the Federation of Writers (Scotland) in 2019. He lives in Dumbarton with his wife Keriann and pug Beanz.
In 2017 Andrew Smith, then Director, now Chair of the Scottish Writers’ Centre, came up with a dynamic idea to run a Twitter campaign inviting poets to pitch an idea and the winner would have a poetry pamphlet published by the SWC’s publisher partner, Red Squirrel Press. Poet, critic, essayist, editor, designer and typesetter Gerry Cambridge, poet Sheila Templeton, writer, musician and Editor of both Postbox Press (the literary fiction imprint of Red Squirrel Press) and Postbox International Short Story Magazine, Colin Will, and myself took part in a panel at the SWC, ‘How to get published’ in October 2017. Andrew received many entries, a shortlist was drawn up, Stephen Watt subsequently won and persuaded me to publish a full-length collection.
— Sheila Wakefield, Founding Editor, Red Squirrel Press