Painter, novelist, playwright, poet and editor, Alasdair, now aged 82, often combines his diverse artistic talents within single works (some of his murals have words in them, some of his fictions have illustrations) to challenge existing forms. Blending satire and tragedy, realism and fantasy, his work has been credited with spurring a renaissance in Scottish literature.
RLJ: What belief system lies behind your work? And have these beliefs changed as you get older?
AG: No, they haven’t changed. The Oran Mor murals were influenced by Gaugin’s Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (4) These are questions that human beings have asked themselves from the year dot and most religions and sciences and many arts have been created to provide partial answers to them.
RLJ: What are your own answers to these questions?
AG: Our lives are rooted in Death’s republic. What are we? Animals that want more than we need. Where are we going? Our seed is returned to Death’s republic. I have no belief in the immortality of my soul. I am not frightened of dying. Artistically, I’ve been very lucky, because I’ve done most of the things I wanted to do. But I do fear physical and mental decline. I do notice unexpected holes in my memory. Things I thought I knew well that I can’t recall. Memories suddenly disappear – but they do come back.
RLJ: What other negatives do you find in ageing?
AG: The absence of walking. I hadn’t expected to start doing without that so soon. I find it sad to think that I’m not likely to climb a hill again.
RLJ: You have described The End of our Tether as being about the physical, social and moral decrepitude of people. Did you include yourself in that?
AG: Yes. Many of my books and stories have been imagining myself a little older and more decayed than I actually was. It has been a natural progression for me to write about older people as I
age myself. When I was younger my health was poor. I was asthmatic and, therefore, I found it easy to imagine myself being much older than I was.