AS THE writer Janice Galloway tells of her formative years in

Ayrshire, she fixes her large calm eyes on me. I am the one who feels

the tears coming. ''My father, who had a newsagent's shop, was an

alcoholic and died when I was five. I can remember the screaming matches

and being burned by lighted cigarettes as I was picked up. I'm

constantly appalled by the stupid ideas that adults who should know

better have about how permissive the 1960s were.

''My mother left her husband, and she couldn't find anywhere to live.

Eventually we lived in a place above a doctor's surgery. She was given

it rent-free because she cleaned the surgery. We stayed in one room with

a divan that got put down at night. Three of us -- my mother, my sister,

and myself -- slept on the f***ing divan. There wasn't a kitchen; there

wasn't a toilet; there was a potty. My mother used to get 50 pence

widow's allowance. We were living on bugger all. Coming home to find

that the house had to be broken into by your uncle yet again because

your mother has taken another overdose isn't a cheering experience.''

Galloway appears to have had a childhood within a childhood, a

creative cocoon into which she could retreat when the adults began

raising their voices and their hands. She wrote a novel at the age of

11, but it didn't survive.

''My mother burned it. She was superstitious working class, Lorn.

There were things that weren't for you, and something up there was

watching you getting out of line. She used to tell me I'd be found deid

up a close -- strangled with my own tights because I was cheeky to


She also used to go underneath the table and sing. Her father had left

her with a huge legacy of bad memories, and a couple of hundred pounds

in trust. She persuaded her mother to buy her an old upright piano from

the music shop down the road from the surgery. Primary school had been a

refuge and at Ardrossan Academy she met her musical mentor.

''Ken Heatherington, who died recently, was an exceptional man. He

tested every child and if he thought you were musical you automatically

got violin lessons and got a school violin. The music was like f***ing

Pandora's Box for me; it was the first time I felt there was something

there I wanted to do, and you didn't have to pay money. There were four

school choirs and I joined them all. I tried to get into the boys' choir

as well to sing tenor -- and managed.''

She proceeded to Glasgow University to study English and music. She

recalls that she was advised by Heatherington to take English as well as

music for the intellectual challenge. She doesn't speak with any

affection of her alma mater. ''It was all about exams, and I hated

Glasgow University. I found it quite evasive, quite distant, quite

foreign. It knocked the stuffing out of me, that place. I was also

having to cope with home and having boyfriend problems.''

The girl who had loved school became a teacher. Though she didn't have

a teaching qualification in music she taught children the violin, until

the teachers' strike of 1981 finished that. Why did she become

disillusioned with the classroom? ''You could see incompetent things

going on and being thought good things because they didn't rock the

boat. You could see laziness. It is very easy for teachers to forget

that these are people's weans, and that people want the best for them.''

For most of her life Galloway has been prone to depression. She can

remember when she was about 10 standing on the shore at Saltcoats during

a storm in the winter and wondering -- in fact hoping -- that she would

get swept off. There was an eerie premonition in this experience.

''My mother walked into the sea at Saltcoats when I was in my

twenties. A courting couple found her. She was blue. They wrapped her up

in something like Bacofoil at the police station. She had three massive

heart attacks following it. When she was dying you could see there were

things she realised she wanted to say. Even then she couldn't bring

herself to say them, and I certainly didn't want to hear them.''

It's not surprising that Galloway got into a mess, drinking heavily.

But it wasn't the psychiatric sessions that saved her. Nor was it a

moment of vision. Her life was changed by tripping over a book. ''It was

Alasdair Gray's Lanark. I picked it up and it blew my mind, partly

because I was taking anti-depressants, partly because I was reading it

when I was half cut. I couldn't sleep, and it's a bloody good book for

an insomniac.

''It was the first time I had read a man who was aware that he was a

man. He wasn't the universe, he wasn't the truth, he wasn't harmony,

beauty, love, and deep thought. He was just a man and he was being

sexually honest. That was the thing that most profoundly impressed me.

''And he was being wildly imaginative and having fun and being

Scottish simultaneously. He was using his own syntax, and it was

remarkably like my syntax. And it was weird. It dislocated, and my head

had always dislocated. Suddenly I thought: I can do that.''

Then Galloway had a dream. She found a face buried in the ground and

picked the earth off it. It turned into a man, her uncle George. It

became a short story called It Was, and it was rewritten many times. She

used to hang about the Third Eye Centre, and saw an advert for a

short-story competition with a #25 prize.

''I was badly skint. I needed a lot of dough. I was buying booze

before food. James Kelman was the judge. I'd never met him before, but

when you meet Jim, you really know you've been met by somebody. He said:

'Send that story to the Edinburgh Review'. They gave me #40, so I was

very pleased I hadn't won the competition.''

Learning the craft of fiction, she found that the writing came

smoothly because she was willing to take ''enormous risks''. Her first

novel, The Trick is to Keep Breathing (1990) won the MIND/Allen Lane

Book of the Year. Blood (1992) was a collection of stories. Her new

novel, foreign parts (Cape, #14.99), gives two women on a driving

holiday in France a memorable role in modern literature.

The critic Douglas Gifford, who teaches Scottish literature at Glasgow

University, has said that ''Galloway's is the outstanding new voice

among outstanding new ways of looking at women in modern Scotland,'' and

James Kelman has called here ''a really fine writer''.

But Galloway is too honest a person not to admit that praise has

changed her approach to writing. ''I've always been very keen on pats on

the head, possibly because there weren't very many at home. Once you

start being reviewed you would have to be an exceptional person not to

become more self-conscious. The idea that people had gone into a shop,

paid money for your book and taken it home was like a sexual thing.

People were at home doing private things with your book. And some of

them were writing about it in the papers. I got a huge rush of energy

from it because it meant finally that I did exist.''

Like Kelman, Grey, and Owens, Galloway is published from London. Some

critics appear to see them as a Glasgow working-class writing school, a

literary clique in the same way that Edinburgh's Rose Street poets were

regarded as a literary clique. Galloway gets angry at such comparisons.

''Who the hell lumps London writers together because they live in

London?'' But isn't there a tendency among Scottish critics to do this

with her and her west of Scotland contemporaries? ''Laziness. We have a

bloody lazy critical tradition in this country. These are very limited

perceptions, perceptions which avoid having to read and critically

appraise writers for what they have to say as individuals. Nobody, for

example, would lump Graham Greene and Allan Massie together, but one

might as well say that they're writing about middle-class preoccupations

which are English.''

There is also said to be a political message in the work of Galloway

and her contemporaries. ''I'm a feminist, so the personal is political.

I can't write through me without it being political, because who I am

has been formed in certain political ways. For me, for example, to write

as a woman is a political act in itself.

''For a woman writer to exist at all in some ways and be honest about

the fact that she's a woman and she sees the world in a slightly

different way to men is a political act in itself. To write about female

sexuality is a massively political act. For centuries female sexuality

has been literally unspeakable. Language is by and large a male

construct. Look at the way we use words; look at the kind of words we

have for sex. There are far more words for the male experience than for

the female experience.''

Janice Galloway has a son, James Alexander, to the pianist Graeme

McNaught. ''I'm a kind of a single parent. I tend to think of my wee boy

as having two good female parents. I've lived with my friend Alison for

a long time now. I was staying with Alison when I met Graham. She's a

very generous soul.'' She's reading my face. ''Lorn, this is an official

scoop. Me and Alison don't have sex, never have had, and are never

likely to. We just don't fancy each other.''

Her son has a much more stable childhood than she ever had, but there

are moments when a genetic inheritance seems to be at work.

''Sometimes I hear my mother coming out of my mouth. You catch it, you

say: I didn't actually mean that, son, what I meant was . . . There are

other ways to parent; people used to assume that you brought your weans

up the way your parents brought their weans up.''

Hearing the story of her upbringing, people say to her: it's all

experience; you'll be able to write about it. She responds: ''I've

written a lot of it out myself. There's also a danger of clinging to it

or over- romanticising it, or using it as a kind of passport to being

abusive to people who haven't had that kind of background. You think the

world owes you something. I've not quite placed it for myself yet, about

what it was meant to me.

''But people's everyday lives are utterly fascinating. You don't have

to have all sorts of hellish things attached to your life in order to

have material to write about.''