His parents, Ivan Moss observes early on in Unhappy-Go-Lucky, Ian Pattison's fourth novel, were typically Scottish: "my father was bipolar and my mother was a martyr." And with that bracing aperçu we're off into a funny, tender, observant story of Moss's relationship with his widowed mother Kathleen as – irascible, chain-smoking and, understandably, afraid – she faces up to the lung cancer that her lifelong addiction to cigarettes has brought about.

Moss isn't the caring type, exactly, but he surprises himself as he grows closer to his mother, seeing to her needs, ferrying her to the doctors', and taking a final opportunity to ask her for her memories.

Moss was Kathleen and Ivan senior's first-born. They lived in Govan at a time when the Fairfield's shipyard teemed with hundreds of "stunted workmen with grimy caps and brown grooves on their lower lips where their roll-ups sat". Later, the family relocated 13 miles to Renfrewshire, trading a cramped apartment for a two-bed flat in the imaginatively named Dreichstane – "a lovely picturesque wee town by the arse-end of Paisley", in the lyrical words of Ivan snr.

In time, it emerges, Moss left Glasgow for London, where he thrived, professionally and financially, in television, before returning to the city of his birth, and a top-storey apartment in a B-listed building in the west end. Which is how we find him as this entertaining novel opens.

"It started off one thing and it ended up something else," Pattison says over a green tea in Oran Mor. "I started off writing to amuse myself and I thought, 'This isn't really going anywhere, I'll put it aside.' But then what happens is, things coalesce in your mind after a while and you realise what it is actually about.

"So you start to layer it a bit. When I introduced the element of the mother's illness, that gave me an angle of entry to legitimately talk about the past, so that it had some context for the present. Otherwise, it just turns into a nostalgia-fest – which is fine, but I wanted a bit more than that.

"The other thing is, I'm at the stage of life where [my] parents are dead, friends are dying. What was it Noel Coward said to David Niven once? Niven was bemoaning the fact his friends were beginning to die off but Coward said, 'Personally, dear boy, I'm delighted if they can make it through lunch.' So there is that. Plus, everybody has got to do their mortality novel, and this is mine. Parents and friends die off, and you think, 'Well, if I don't write about this stuff now I'll probably forget it all, and it'll be gone for ever.'"

Reaching across the table for The Herald's copy of the book – the first time he has actually seen a finished copy – he reads a quote he borrowed from Harold Pinter: "There are some things one remembers even though they may never have happened." While it's foolhardy to assume a link between an author's personal life and his writings, there are certain parallels between Ivan Moss and Ian Pattison: the Govan childhood, the relocation to Renfrewshire (Johnstone, in the writer's case), the spell working in London, the return to Glasgow, the property in the west end. Except, of course, that Moss wasn't the one who devised Rab C Nesbitt.

"That's the framework," Pattison acknowledges, "and then you germinate it. It's just a wee dry pellet of experience, until you pour water on it and it grows. It's hard for anybody – I don't know, some writers will probably do it more articulately than I can muster – to disentangle fact from fiction. For a start, you don't remember accurately, so it's not fact, even if you think it's fact.

"Then you're adding a layer of fiction to, hopefully, make it entertaining, and turn it into its own world. Because it is its own world; it's the world as contained in your head. So even if you want to write straight fact, I don't think it's really possible these days to verify it; you don't always know if you're writing fact."

Unhappy-Go-Lucky details Moss's adolescence, his misadventures in school, the neighbourhood in which he grows up. One family in the book, the Huttons, is so abjectly impecunious that others defined them as "Christ, Would You Look At That" poor.

Also well-observed is the state of the Moss marriage, which with its sniping and mutual recrimination reminds you of Philip Larkin's line: "Man hands on misery to man/It deepens like a coastal shelf."

Once a year, Pattison says, he meets up with old friends ("a dwindling band of grey men") and certain old facts will emerge. "I thought we were the only family struggling with poverty, but it turns out that quite a lot of them struggled with poverty. It's just that people keep a respectable front going and it's only later in life they feel able to talk about that.

"We'll swap tales of poverty though we don't want to end up as the four Yorkshiremen, trying to outdo each other. But anybody who comes from a working-class background is aware that poverty is disfiguring, and it's not unique to you, even if it felt that way at the time."

His Govan has long gone, but certain aspects of life in a cramped room-and-kitchen have remained with him. He laughs. "The kitchen, so-called, was actually three rooms – kitchen, living room and bedroom. Theoretically, you could be cooking chips and could splash the hot fat over somebody who was lying in the bed in their pyjamas, while inconveniencing somebody else who was treating the room as a living room and was watching the TV. Nowadays, all these old bed recesses are wet-rooms."

Pattison's play about Tommy Sheridan – I, Tommy – will return to the Pavilion Theatre for a week in September ("fair play to Tommy – he's paid his dues and is out there re-inventing himself"), while a Nesbitt special will "probably" be shot in the autumn. He would also like to "try a couple more plays".

As for novels, he says, "they take so long. You've got to do other work, you've got to keep your head above water, financially, while you're writing one. I'm about the only Ian writing novels in Scotland who doesn't make a million out of it. I said to my last agent, 'Just publish the next one as an Ian Rankin - he won't notice.' He's got a whole shelf-full in Waterstones. What difference will one more make? I like doing them, though it's certainly not for the money."

The new novel will be launched at the Aye Write! book festival. "It'll probably be a Q and A, and a reading. To me, the most boring part of these events is when the guy actually reads from his book: not many writers are good readers, and it can be a dead experience. But usually it comes alive in the Q and As, so hopefully it'll be interesting and/or entertaining. And if not - " he pauses. "We'll give people their money back."

Unhappy-Go-Lucky by Ian Pattison is published by Tindal Street Press, £11.99. The author will be at the Mitchell Library at 6pm on Thursday, April 18. Tickets, £8, from 0141 353 8000 or www.ayeright.com.


Ian Pattison

Tindal Street Press, £11.99