FROM the cheeky chap with the cheesy chat-up lines to the dopey drunk, all human nightlife can be found there as dark falls.
Handling the full spectrum was all in a night’s work for Edinburgh author Vicki Jarrett when she was in her 20s and working in chip shops in Morningside and Comiston.
Now 41, the mother of twins’ eventful shifts behind the Capital’s deep fat friers are long gone but still more than capable of stirring a vivid memory or two.
“They were located in areas in the city that you might say were a bit more genteel,” she says of her former workplaces. “But you still had your fair share of people the worse for wear at the latter end of the night, and you would always have police outside.
“I remember one guy attacked the shop in Comiston with a white pudding supper. He insisted it was a £10 note he had given me when he paid, but I had only given him change for five.
“When I refused to give him more money, he went outside, took out his supper, and started battering the shop’s window with it. Not that it had much effect, although if it had been a smoked sausage I suppose there could have been more damage. People only really come to a chippy when they are properly empty and hungry. They seem to think they can behave in ways towards you that you would never get in a restaurant. They’ll proposition you, threaten you, and talk to you as if they’re the most fascinating person you’ll ever meet.”
While they may not appear the stuff of literature, the denizens encountered by Vicki – who was brought up in Carrick Knowe and now lives in Buckstone with software developer husband Mike and their 11-year-old twins Heather and
Andrew – in the scrappier and less dignified hours of a weekend have certainly proved grist to her fiction writer’s mill.
Published this week, her debut novel, Nothing Is Heavy, takes all the grit, grease and farce of her chippy years and feeds them into a spiky yet tender tale in which three characters from very different worlds collide in unexpected and often surreal ways.
Protagonist number one, Beth, shovels chips in the Deep Sea chip shop while, across the road in Fantasy Island,
Amber spends her nights spinning round a pole in six-inch heels. The pair look set to continue along their respective humdrum tracks. But a sudden death forces both women into a life-changing course of action involving the lost and heartbroken George – dressed, for reasons which will become apparent to readers, in a monkey costume. As events speed by, the characters, via a volatile cocktail of sex, drugs, chips and angels, are forced to confront a past tragedy to which they are all connected.
“I think the book is really a cross of having done chip shop work for all those years and also living in Tollcross,” says Vicki, a former George Heriot’s pupil, who studied publishing at Napier University.
Although set in the fictional Junction Street, and without referencing the Capital explicitly, the writer says anyone who reads Nothing Is Heavy will recognise the Edinburgh sights and sounds that inspired it.
“I was more or less right above a chippy when I was living in Tollcross,” she recalls. “The weekend nights I remember are reflected in the book. All the roads come together there and people also tend to drain from the city centre through there after a night out. It has a pulse – a real life of its own.”
With a Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize shortlisting already under her belt for the novel, which has also been praised by the likes of Janice Galloway and Sophie Hannah, the omens are good for one of the Capital’s newest literary talents who isn’t quite done with chippies or the Tollcross netherworld as fictional subject matter. “They’re exciting in-between sort of places,” she says, “and that’s what interests me as a writer.”
n Nothing Is Heavy is published by Linen Press and can be bought as a digital download from www.linenpressbooks.com