BOOKS / Second thoughts: A pleasure to look back at anger: James Kelman is surprised to see the new edition of The Busconductor Hines (Phoenix pounds 4.99)

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The Independent Culture
I GOT a pounds 400 advance on this novel, first published in 1984. I started writing it in 1975-76, five years after A Chancer, although I finished it two years earlier. I alternated between them while working on various short stories. It took seven years to complete and underwent many changes. Several thousand words were cut from the original manuscripts which I sold to a Glasgow library for pounds 350 when I was skint in the mid-80s.

All in all it's earned me about pounds 2,000. I heard rumours of the new paperback edition months ago but I've had no communication from the publishers. The first I knew of its existence was a couple of weeks back while doing a reading in Ross and Cromarty. Somebody asked me to sign a copy. It was interesting to see the new cover design and blurb. I borrowed it and read a section to the audience, altering words and phrasing as I went.

I make a couple of technical moves within Hines, what might be termed 'narrative transitions'. These allowed certain formal freedoms. As a result the final version of A Chancer became more difficult to complete but I was able to utilise the freedoms within A Disaffection.

Once published a novel is a property that belongs to somebody else. There is a sense in which the three novels remain 'mine' but overall I accept that I don't own the products. Contracts get signed freely and that's that. Legally the novel's future is none of the author's business: from reviews and criticism to cover designs and reissued paperbacks, translations; whatever.

It's best to disassociate yourself. I seem to recall the chairperson of the 1984 Booker Prize selection panel complaining that Hines wasn't even written in English; he coupled it with one by Martin Amis, the two worst novels of the year. It meant very little to me then and the same goes now. Writers learn to cope with the 'uncalled for'. My first book - of short stories - was published in 1973 so I regard myself as fairly experienced. The work in progress is all that matters and you can't allow it to suffer. The only folk to benefit there are shareholders and employees of the alcohol, drug and medical industries.

I can't read my novels in book form, except in preparation for public readings. But I'm fond of The Busconductor Hines, pleased it's back in print. When I read from it in Ross and Cromarty I was reminded of how angry a novel it is; also, that I had managed to render this anger coherent. What more can you ask?