Aside from the Commonwealth Games and (debatably) the Scottish Referendum, Glasgow’s proudest modern accomplishment is surely the return of Des Dillon’s play, Singing I’m No a Billy, He’s A Tim.
Dillon’s frank but humorous view on the Old Firm rivalry that inflicts the city is returning this April to The Pavilion Theatre. Since the book’s publication in 2008, the play has spread throughout Scotland and Ireland, making Dillon a minor celebrity of northern Britain.
Coatbridge-bred Des Dillon has released almost 20 novels set around the Glasgow lifestyle. One of which has caught the attention of theatre-lovers and those rarely glancing at the heavy read curtain alike. Singin’ I’m No A Billy He’s A Tim is the story of two opposing football fans tossed into the same cell, their freedom dependant on the outcome of the match and the resulting winnings that will secure their bail money.
“I don’t make points. Other people make them. It became an anti-sectarianism play and I’m happy with that but no, I don’t try and make a point. My whole aim is for people to give me £20 to give them a great night out of entertainment. The last thing they need is taught and I don’t think anybody would be so stupid that they would need a lesson. I think that’s the big mistake writers make. They think that most people are more stupid than their writing, when actually I think it’s the other way round.”
Dillon is a fresh exception to the rule of what is imagined when picturing an author or playwright. No large feather quill. No hidden depth. No bullshit of any kind is tolerated.
“I’m just writing poetry [nowadays]. Once a year I put the plays on, I make enough money for another year and I don’t do anything. My play goes to London and it gets reviewed as a political satire, in really good reviews, but generally up here it gets called “popular theatre” as they say, which really means ‘shite’. That’s what popular means: shite.”
It’s hard to decide whether Dillon is an author who intends to break barriers or conform to them to become great. Or perhaps greatness itself is simply shite too.
Underneath the humour of how petty man can be, a cultural or political message is expected from an author who wrote so often about the subject.
“I was brought up in a total sectarianism community. I was part of it because it was normal. You just hated Protestants. They hated us. That’s the way it was. Or that’s what you felt. That’s what you thought. That’s what you were taught. You learnt it from the people round about you.”
But maybe the point was to reflect rather than tackle.
“The easiest way to tackle a heavy-duty subject is through comedy anyway. And that’s why the play’s been so easy to swallow. It goes down even better in Belfast supposedly. They love it over there, because to them it’s just funny.”
There have been arguments that sectarianism is less of an issue nowadays and that we’re a little safer wearing a green or blue top in certain areas again.
“I think it’s easier nowadays. Definitely. I don’t think that’s down to my play.”
Since this is a man who won’t take any bullshit, the recent referendum obviously came up. The country’s best modern example of bullshit.
“I just think Scotland would be better off on its own. It’s a different culture. We’ve got more money.”
However, this opinion could be created from Scotland’s situation in the arts rather than any political or financial basis. Maybe this no-bullshit approach is due to the publication system we’re used to and that Dillon – and any other Scottish author – is entirely sick of. Maybe the younger generation famed for voting yes were imagining a new world. A world where there was no need for pseudonyms and faking a London address to get noticed by the fat men sneering behind their cigars.
“Every Scottish person knows no matter what walk of life they’re in, whether it’s in football, writing, acting that they’ll never ever reach the dizzy heights of success because England hold the key to the doors of success. I’m unknown [in England], so I’m not a great writer then. I’m well known in Scotland.”
Being frank, Dillon has shattered the image of what makes a great writer. Do sales make you a great writer? That would make J.K. Rowling the best writer ever. Does legacy? No one this century will achieve that. Is a writer’s only choice to put a new spin on Twilight and spit it out to succeed? Publication gives you three options and asks you to choose only two: money, fame and depth.
Meanwhile, Des Dillon will continue to grumble at the latest Oprah-recommended book from the backstage of Singin’ I’m No A Billy He’s a Tim and hopefully live out the legacy of F. Scott Fitzgerald: die believing he is forgotten with a hidden treasure somewhere in his house waiting to be discovered and remembered for centuries.