Edinburgh Book Festival: Frankie Boyle reveals why he may give up live comedy for writing novels
He is renowned as one of the leading Scottish stand-ups of his generation.
But now Frankie Boyle has revealed he may leave performing live behind him for writing books – after penning a debut novel inspired by radical independence campaigners, drug addiction, artificial intelligence and Glasgow’s colonial past.
He revealed he has been plotting out another book with his son Thor about a lower-division Scottish footballer who gets bewilderingly embroiled up in a vast Alfred Hitchcock-style conspiracy.
Boyle was appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival to discuss crime thriller Meantime, which follows Felix McAveety, a former comedy writer for the BBC who is addicted to Valium, who enlists help after his friend Marina Kato is found murdered.
Boyle announced last summer that he was seeking a publisher for a book that had started life as a possible spoken word piece for an audio book. Meantime was published last month by Baskerville, the crime and thriller imprint of John Murray, just weeks before the comedy launched his latest Fringe show, Lap of Shame, at the Assembly Rooms.
Boyle said: “I was going mad in lockdown. I thought it might be quite good to construct an external monologue to try to drown out my internal monologue. I started writing a spoken word piece, but after getting 10,000 words in I realised I didn't know anything about spoken word. Also, there were a lot of characters, like a Scottish-Chinese guy and a Scottish-Indian lady, and I thought there was no way that I could do these voices. I then started adapting into a novel.”
Asked if he would like to write more novels, Boyle said: “I would love to. I think I’m going to do a bit of a tour next year, but maybe not that big a one, and also start writing another novel.
“I would much rather, if I could, segue into writing novels and just stay in the house and not travel so much. I would happily do that if I could.
“I think writing on tour is really good. It is hard to explain unless you do it the sheer blankness of having done a show and being in a hotel somewhere.
"There is just nothing you can do. You can’t sleep, you can’t really focus all that well on a book or whatever, so you might as well write, you might as well think, because you are not getting to sleep. You have so much adrenalin.”
Asked if he found writing his debut novel more enjoyable than stand-up comedy, Boyle said: “Yeah, because you don’t have to do the gigs.
"You don’t have to go and sell it to people. There is that thing sometimes with stand-up where you have a funny idea, but will a bunch of people in a basement agree? You don’t quite have that same dilemma when you write a novel. But it took equally long and it was equally difficult.”
Boyle said he and his son Thor had regular discussions about an idea for another novel, Target Man.
“It’s about a guy who is a second-division footballer for Dumbarton or something, who gets involved in an Alfred Hitchcock-style North by Northwest conspiracy, which he never understands,” Boyle said. “He just doesn’t have the intellectual framework as he is a target man striker.
“When we talk about it, we always have cartoonish villains. To some extent I think that has bled over into this book [Meantime].”
Boyle has set his debut novel in Glasgow the year after the 2014 independence campaign in Scotland, with a group of radical activists featuring in the book.
He said: “They are sort of based, in a very loving way, on a real radical independence movement in Scotland, who I think were a good bunch of people who did a lot of good stuff. This is like a kind of alternative universe version.
“I didn’t really do much in the referendum that was hands-on. I didn’t go to any stuff, but I was tweeting about it all the time.
"I don’t know if that was of any use to anybody whatsoever, but that was my contribution, although I did do a show for the BBC about it.
"I’m not really a getting involving with people and being around people kind-of-guy.
“It’s a double-edge thing because nowadays you can contribute without becoming involved. But I think sometimes you have the whole clicktivism thing, which is not actually doing any good.”
Meantime reflect’s Boyle’s interest in the colonial and slave trade past of Glasgow.
He said: “Glasgow is this huge post-colonial city. It was the second city of the British Empire and was where a lot of ships were built and all that kind of stuff.
“It played a huge role in the British Empire. We have streets that are named after colonies, we have buildings named after slave traders and we have a lot statues as well.”
The protagonists in Boyle’s book find themselves embroiled in the world of politics, the secret service and artificial intelligence.
“I think there is a lot to worry about with artificial intelligence,” he said. “There are a lot of very simple purposes behind a lot of the algorithms that are used in artificial intelligence now.
“On Facebook, for example, their algorithm is purely designed to try to advertise to you better and is just trying to give you the advert that you are most likely to click on.
“They have collected a lot of data on us after we’ve all been online for over a decade.”