Scots Novelist Andrew Meehan tells Marianne Taylor about the books and poetry that shaped him.

Favourite book you read as child

The Professor Branestawm books. Remember them? I had to look them up to discover that they were authored by Norman Hunter. The Professor was an early confidante, too real to consider that he had been created by anything other than my subconscious. We were very close. His housekeeper Mrs Flittersnoop barely got a look in. I had a thing for Enid Blyton, too. Even Malory Towers. I’m sure I got teased for that.

First book that made an impact on you

My brother Niall, a designer, has always had a good eye. I was about fifteen when he brought home the lovely Picador edition of Italo Calvino's Difficult Loves, a story collection that mostly concerns itself with fleeting and illusory obsessions. In The Adventure of the Married Couple, you'll find factory worker Arturo on his way home from the night shift. He gets there just as his wife Elide is on her way for work. He gets into her side of the bed where her warmth remains. When Elide gets home from work, Arturo has his bike hoisted to his shoulder, off back to the factory. The bed is almost intact, as if it has just been made. She gets in and turns off the light. “From her own half, lying there, she would slide one foot toward her husband's place, looking for his warmth, but each time she realized it was warmer where she slept, a sign that Arturo had slept there too.” I used to read this story over and over and over again. And nowadays I relive it. My partner Áine loves to run in the morning. The alarm goes at ten past six, even in midwinter, and off she goes around Queens Park in Glasgow, up around Battlefield. She tells me she does her squats in Scottish Poetry Rose Garden. But even before the front door has clicked shut, I have rolled over to her side of the bed. It’s warm, and I lie there waiting for her to come home.

Favourite character

I’m daft and vain enough to feel an affinity with Saul Bellow’s last great literary omnivore, Abe Ravelstein. “Odd that mankind's benefactors should be amusing people." Why do I like him? For his appetites, and for the fact he’s easily distracted. A smart man but so often wrong; with flashes of madness and a rare kind of sanity. Oh God, now it feels like I’m blurbing Saul Bellow. I’m sorry. I also have a soft spot for the book’s narrator, Chick. The onlooker. Here’s his introduction to Ravelstein. “One of those large men - large not stout - whose hands shake when there are small chores to perform. The cause was not weakness but a tremendous eager energy that shook him when it was discharged.”

Which books have made you laugh or cry?

I love the company of the poet Charles Simic. In Club Midnight he asks: “Are you the sole owner of a seedy night nightclub? Are you its sole customer, sole bartender, Sole waiter prowling around the empty tables?” I think we’re in a cry-laugh situation here. But Amy Bloom is a writer who can make me smile. She does pleasure like no other, and it’s so hard to do. Why is that? It’s a form of fantasy writing, I suppose. And fantasy is so hard to get right, too. Now that I think about it, Bloom’s characters in Where The God Of Love Hangs Out have a little of the Ravelstein in them. They like their treats, they love comfort. And it’s not everyone who can title a story Compassion and Mercy and get away with it.

Book you wish you’d written

The Collected Stories of Lorrie Moore. Every single story, every word, exactly as she chose them, and in that order. It seems as if she really cares. Hers seems to be an invented world - also characterised by distraction - and it’s delivered in a style that I know I imitate and try to live in. I’m also very keen on her novella Who Will Run The Frog Hospital?

Last book you read

“If I’m a workaholic, it’s only because I hate work so much that I’m trying to finish it, all of it, once and for all.” That’s a line early on in Miranda July’s story The Metal Bowl. I read it this morning. And how could you not want to read on after an opening like that? The ending made me gasp, and I have to say it’s thrown me for the entire day. Is it sordid? Sort of. Sort of sordid. Her novel The First Bad Man had the same effect on me. It’s sometimes good to find a writer beside whom you can feel only meek. Next to Miranda July, I am so very meek and square. I’m actually fine with being square. But I’d rather be Miranda July.

Favourite Scottish book

I have the Collected Norman MacCaig, which I love looking at but never open. The “Selected” is much more manageable. Someone else has done the choosing. That takes the stress out of it. MacCaig’s work is uncanny. He’s clairvoyant. Oh no, I’m blurbing him as well. Blurbing Scotland’s greatest poet. And it’s only lately that I’ve been getting into WS Graham. There’ll be no blurbing him.

Guilty pleasure

Bloom and Bellow have got pleasure all wrapped up. I’ll focus on guilt, if I may. I have to that say I’m dependent on it. The Mystery of Love, my novel about the marriage of Constance and Oscar Wilde, started off breezy but ended up in the realm of guilt and repression and shame. I was a lot of fun to be around when I was writing it, no doubt about that. And I was, I’m slightly embarrassed to say, reading too much Marilynne Robinson (Gilead, Homecoming and more). Many Scots know Homecoming from Bill Forsyth’s film adaptation of it. But really her work withstands all interpretation. This is a writer who sees the world from above, and below. And I have her to thank for my return to a childlike delight in the fear of God - which there’s a lot to be said for. It’s good to have a sense of humour about it, too, if you can. But that’s not always possible. When I’m talking about the fear of God, I’m thinking of Robinson’s version of it. And, as I was rereading Homecoming, I was preoccupied with graveyards at sunset, dust on pulpits, the smell of churches, the smell of existence. And all that stuff runs through The Mystery of Love. So I get prickly when people are resentful of or dismissive of guilt. Things have changed, they say. But guilt is mine, I need it, please don’t take it away from me.

Favourite three non-fiction books

The Journalist and The Murderer by Janet Malcolm. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan. Just one of many attributes they have in common is an infectious fascination for subjects (criminals, hippies, reggae) in which otherwise I would have little interest. I’d read Sullivan on show jumping. And I’d urge you towards his description of Axl Rose (from the band Guns N’ Roses) dancing.

Favourite three novels

I’d love my next book to come in at 120 pages. Max. As short and neat as a Spanish sailor. With this in mind, I’ve chosen Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill; The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke; and On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan; the latter I read twice on my fortieth birthday, before and after a lovely nap.

Andrew Meehan’s novel The Mystery of Love is out now on Head of Zeus, £18.99.

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