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Reviews / Maconie’s conversational style impresses

WHEN Stuart Maconie set out to promote his latest book, The Pie At Night, he fully realised that a standard book-reading tour, where the audience sits and watches the author read passages from their own work, can be a little dull, writes Alex Garrick-Wright.

So Stuart began to add anecdotes and jokes. Over time, this side of the show grew and grew, and by the time he came to Mareel on Saturday night, the show had become something very unusual indeed.

When Shetland News spoke to Stuart a few weeks ago, he described The Pie At Night as “somewhere between stand-up and a book reading.” This, it turns out, is a very good description.

Using the book as a starting point, Stuart would take a topic from it and just talk, discussing his writing and experiences, and moving to telling stories and jokes – some in the book, some from his previous books, most just off the top of his head. When his train of thought reached the terminal station, he referred to The Pie At Night for another jumping-off point.

The book’s main focus is on leisure in ‘the North’ (of England), so many of these trains of thought started out from ‘football’, ‘food’ and similarly vague topics. It was this vagueness that gave the show its vitality. When discussing ‘food’, for instance, Stuart started with talking about the “culinary Mongolian steppe” of his hometown, Wigan, before interjecting about how good the cooked breakfast he’d had in Shetland was, and winding up some time later explaining how Marmite is made.

Stuart is a very engaging speaker, and his wandering narrative felt very natural and eloquent. His stories were funny and he clearly enjoyed telling them. His 20 years of radio presenting have given him the ability to just talk away in an affable and entertaining way about anything at all.

Although he describes himself as a writer first and foremost, it is Stuart’s extensive radio and music career that provided a considerable amount of the evening’s show. There were a number of really interesting stories from his broadcasting and, from years of radio work and writing for the NME, Stuart was able to name-drop considerably.

He mentioned interviews with Morrissey (who, we were assured, used to be the most interesting interviewee and is now “a bit of a dull racist”) and Father John Misty (an incredibly obnoxious indie songwriter who Stuart “nearly punched”), working under the late Terry Wogan (who used to get free curries sent to him at 7am), and lots of interesting titbits about the various personalities he’s met over the years (such as how Ozzy Osbourne used to test car horns for a living).

While he did read some passages from his book, it was in a “There’s a bit in the book that’s on this very topic” kind of way. Again, it felt less like a formal show and more like a chat. The book passages were very entertaining; Stuart writes in a very conversational style which made it fit seamlessly with his off-the-cuff gab. If you had just come back from the bar and he was in the middle of reading a passage, you might not have noticed the difference.

Ultimately, the show felt more like Stuart was in the pub with the audience, having a laugh with them, rather than being on stage and making them laugh. When Stuart realised, following the interval, that you can drink in the auditorium, and asked the audience’s permission to go and get his wine (permission granted), it all felt perfectly normal and natural. So off he went to fetch his wine, with people shouting their orders for drinks and crisps after him, like it was all just a night out.

Most book-promotion events try to sell the book by giving little tastes of it and hoping the audience is intrigued enough to buy a copy. The Pie At Night took another route – Stuart sort of sold himself, as a communicator and storyteller, as a funny and interesting person with a lot of things to say. If you found him engaging as a speaker, you’d doubtless be interested in the book.

It’s a shame that there were no copies for sale in the lobby after the show; it was enjoyable and interesting enough to have definitely sold a few copies. 

Alex Garrick-Wright