With Cuttin’ Heads (out now on Amazon!), the basic plan was “something loosely based around the legend of Robert Johnson.” That was all I had. No real themes in mind. Just a vague, spooky notion about a Mississippi bluesman who lived nearly a hundred years ago. Not something I could easily relate to. I figured the research would be a severe pain the arse.
I was about three chapters into the first draft when it started becoming apparent that there was much less research required than I’d thought. Turned out, this was actually a pretty personal novel. Maybe the most personal thing I’d written. Looking back on the story now (which when I think about it, places a lot of importance on the number three), it deals with three distinct themes; music, family and fear, and in turn three distinct stages of my life. This sounds all sorts of high falutin’ and pretentious, but when I ponder it, there was definitely some semi-subconscious autobiographical shenanigans afoot.
Theme the first; music. At the heart of Cuttin’ Heads, a story about an unknown rock trio, are my teenage and young manhood ambitions of being a musician. From the age of fifteen, I spent some twenty-five years as a guitar player, drummer, singer and songwriter with various bands. I got a music degree, did some sound design and wrote a few jingles, including a Mozart inspired entrance theme for a pro wrestler, which was pretty cool. I never reached the hedonistic heights of rock stardom I’d dreamt of as a spotty adolescent, but I had the time of my life jamming, gigging, writing, making a lot of noise with friends. And it was during those years that I discovered a thousand bands, learned their songs and everything I could about them, and discovered the folklore of rock n roll; the myths, legends, the Twenty-Seven Club, spooky tales of souls sold at lonely crossroads.
Theme the second; family. The concept of family is a big part of the novel; our heroes Aldo, Luce and Ross each have their own familial hangups which go some way to defining who they are. If the experiences of my youth are the heart of Cuttin’ Heads, then it’s my early middle age that’s the sensibly hair-styled head. My experiences of becoming a dad bled like a toddler-punched nose into the relationship Aldo has with his son Dylan. Though I do like to think I’ve got the fatherhood thing down a bit better than my main protagonist, who in all honesty makes a pretty shitty pater familias. Thus far, I’ve at least managed to keep my son safe from life threatening calamities involving packing tape spiderwebs.
And my favourite theme of course; fear. Obviously, I was going to throw some scares in, and our merry band of minstrels Public Alibi each have to face their personal nightmares and deal with them in their own ways. If my youth is the heart of the book, and my early middle years the head, then it’s in my early childhood that Cuttin’ Heads has its dark, twisted roots. The bogey-nosed, scabby-kneed years spent in short pants are when you have your most powerful experiences; your first memories, your first music, books, movies, and your first concepts of what’s right and wrong. What’s funny, and scary.
My folks split when I was still learning the finer points of bowel and drool control. Mum left, and cancer got dad a couple of years later, so my two elder brothers and I were raised by dad’s sister and our paternal grandparents. It was a pretty old school upbringing, happy enough, a little sombre, with a hefty pinch of religion thrown in. Prayers were said without fail before school and bed, and a few Bible chapters were required night time reading. Now add to this straight laced environment an old record player, a box of my dad and aunt’s rock n roll records from the fifties and sixties, the emergence of punk and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the late seventies and early eighties, and the rise of the VHS and its accompanying video nasties. To wit, I saw a lot of fucked up shit before I could tie my shoelaces with any finesse. My kid has Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol. I had Freddy Krueger and An American Werewolf in London.
But one particular relic from that period was my gamechanger. An original vinyl copy of Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast, which belonged to my eldest brother. The cover artwork for that album was, and still is, pretty fucking startling; the giant skeletal Ed the Head, the grinning, pitchfork wielding Satan, the detailed hellscape crawling with demons and the damned… It got me at a fundamental level. It was scary and fascinating and sad and exciting. Being the property of my big brother, I was of course strictly forbidden, under pain of a doing, from laying my sticky paws on the prized LP, so I had to wait until he wasn’t around to sneak some time with the Irons. When I heard the music, and read the lyrics on the inner sleeve… holy shit. Or unholy shit, as the case may be. They were actually singing songs about the Devil! With all the prayers and Bible passages going on in the house at the time – and a lot of thoughts about death and the afterlife in my six-year-old skull – My wee mind was officially blown.
So looking back, while The Complete Recordings of Robert Johnson was a definite influence on Cuttin’ Heads, I think maybe The Number of the Beast was the original catalyst. An album I first heard three decades before I even thought about being a writer. An album I’ve never grown tired of as a skinny wean, a young fool, or as a grumpy old(ish) man. It’s still in my top five albums of all time, and in my mind will always be associated with music, family, and fear.
Length: 361 Pages
Release date: April 15, 2018
Synopsis: Aldo Evans is a desperate man. Fired from his job and deeply in debt, he struggles to balance a broken family life with his passion for music. Luce Figura is a troubled woman. A rhythmic perfectionist, she is haunted by childhood trauma and scorned by her religiously devout mother. Ross McArthur is a wiseass. Orphaned as an infant and raised by the state, his interests include game shows, home-grown weed, occasional violence and the bass guitar.
They are Public Alibi. A rock n’ roll band going nowhere fast.
When the sharp-suited, smooth talking producer Gappa Bale offers them a once in a lifetime chance to make their dreams come true, they are caught up in a maelstrom of fame, obsession, music and murder. Soon, Aldo, Luce and Ross must ask themselves: is it really better to burn out than to fade away?
Author Bio –
Prizewinning author D.A. Watson spent several years working in bars, restaurants and call centres before going back to university with the half-arsed plan of becoming a music teacher. Halfway through his degree at the University of Glasgow, he discovered he was actually better at writing, and unleashed his debut novel, In the Devil’s Name, on an unsuspecting public in the summer of 2012. Plans of a career in education left firmly in the dust, he later gained his masters degree in Creative Writing from the University of Stirling.
He has since published two more novels, The Wolves of Langabhat and Cuttin’ Heads, a handful of non-fiction pieces, several short stories including Durty Diana, which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2016, and the Burns parody Tam O’ Shatner, which in 2017 came runner up in the Dunedin Robert Burns Poetry Competition, and was a competition winner at the Falkirk Storytelling Festival.
He lives with his family in Western Scotland.
“The Christoper Brookmyre of horror. Readers will be very very afraid.”
– Louise Welsh, bestselling author of the Plague Times trilogy
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