Glasgow to Gaddafi: an evening with David F Ross – 19 September 2018

The evening of Wednesday 19 September will be, for those present at the Ayr Writers’ Club meeting in the Mercure Hotel, an evening to remember. Storm Ali was still blowing and brave souls faced the wind and rain to listen to Kilmarnock based author, David F Ross, talk about his life and his books and the forces that drive his writing. No one was disappointed.

David started the night by telling us a little about himself and his background which, he said, greatly influences his writing. Born and brought up in Glasgow he moved to Onthank in Kilmarnock in his teens and on leaving school had a series of jobs including work as an undertaker, working in an ice cream parlour, as a tennis groundsman and DJ (this final job being important in his novels) before attending Glasgow School of Art to study architecture and graduating from the Mackintosh School of Architecture in 1992. With a background like that it is no surprise that he has a wealth of characters to draw on in his writing.

He read to us from his novel, The Man Who Loved Islands, and told us the book had started life in a hotel room in China when he was on a business trip there for his architecture practice. I, for one, was struck by the powerful imagery evoked by the reading and it whetted my appetite for more.

And more was to come. We were entertained with background to his first novel, The Last Days of Disco which, he admitted was almost biographical though he assured us he had never met any gangsters. His writing, he told us, is written as comedy but with serious plot lines. In his own words, “it has to be funny” or “it doesn’t work” and there is a lot of black humour in his work. I think it’s fair to say most of us have met people just like his characters in real life and that is something that lends authenticity to his plot lines.

His first three novels are a trilogy though set many years apart. The Last Days of Disco is set in 1982 and the second book, The Rise and Fall of The Miraculous Vespas some years later and The Man Who Loved Islands is set in 2014 and centres on a plan to hold a one day music festival on Ailsa Craig. Bizarre, you might think, but that is what makes the book the success it is. All of his books are laced with humour and it is humour we see around us all the time but for the most part ignore. Like Billy Connolly, he sees natural humour all around and brings it out in his writing.

He finished the evening with a story about a business trip to Libya which, although serious, was surrounded by hilarity, especially his meeting with Colonel Gaddafi. He was there with colleagues in connection with work on universities in Libya and one day on returning to their hotel after a shopping trip were surprised to see lots of stretch limousines outside. They were even more surprised when they were confronted by men in dark suits who prevented them entering the hotel. After explaining their reason for being there and explaining they were guests in the hotel they were finally allowed through the security cordon. The security men’s initial reluctance was probably due to the fact that David and his companions were dressed in shorts and sandals and were carrying blue poly bags filled with what could only be described as tat. A little later, while enjoying a football match on television in the dining area all the televisions in the hotel were switched off and music started to play through the hotel’s public address system. Everyone around them rushed to the reception area and they, intrigued, followed. There, descending the stairs, was Colonel Gaddafi himself. What happened next took them all by surprise. The man himself, seeing these three Europeans in the crowd adorned in shorts and carrying blue poly bags, came over and asked them why they were there. They explained they were from Scotland and were there to advise on the construction of universities for the Libyan Government. As with David’s plots, there is a dark side to this. At that time Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was imprisoned in Scotland following his conviction in relation to the Lockerbie bombing. Colonel Gaddafi, digesting the fact he had three Scotsmen as a captive audience, gave them a smile and said, “Ah you are Scottish… You have one of ours and now we have three of yours.” Heart stopping time or, as one of David’s characters might put it, breeks filling time, I imagine! With stories like that it is little wonder David has much to draw on to fill his plots.

Hopefully, I haven’t bored you with my ramblings. I could go on – it was one of those nights – but will leave you with one final thought. On Thursday, I headed down to Girvan. Like David, I too am fascinated by Ailsa Craig. For me, it is the way it disappears from view on a regular basis. The mystical disappearing island. Maybe there’s a plot there? I looked for signs advertising a music festival like the one in The Man Who Loved Islands but, sadly, there were none, just some small boats offering trips to and around the island. But who knows; one day maybe?

Graeme St Clair


  1. Suzie Turner

    I’m even more sorry I missed what appears to have been a thoroughly enjoyable, interesting evening.
    Very well written!

  2. Carolyn O'Hara

    Really enjoyed your take on the evening, Graeme – captured perfectly!:)

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