Des Dillon

The Creation of Pignut and Nuncle

2 September 2021
Headshot of Des Dillon.

Des Dillon introduces us to his book Pignut and Nuncle, which features in this year's Book Festival Programme.

When Jane Eyre crosses the moor in Charlotte Bronte’s novel, night falls and she has to find shelter. She sleeps in a hollow but wakes in the middle of the night to pray in anguish to God. That search for refuge and profound sense of abandonment resonated with me long after I’d forgotten most of the novel. I could paint Jane curled up sleeping in the heather, her shawl wrapped around her and her troubles obliterated by sleep. 

Then there’s King Lear. His almost Christ-like figure, arms outstretched in the storm, abandoned by his daughters, bereft of love and kindness, pleading with the Gods to obliterate him and the world. I can see the lightning flashing on his face and the rain dripping from the tip his nose.

Everybody seeks shelter and I am no stranger to that myself. The need for shelter from the storms within and without is best recognised early in life and tackled, if there’s any peace to be had.  I consider myself blessed that I found myself on my own moor in my late twenties and sought refuge.

But as I discovered peace, somewhere deep in my subconscious Lear and Eyre wandered still on their stormbound moors. And at some time these two moors shifted in time and space and became one.

It was inevitable that in the far constellations of the mind, the moors having merged, Lear and Jane would meet. And this is often the way novels or plays come to me. They come roughly formed out of that strange place. And believe me, this is something you don’t want to happen. Writing longer narratives is a draining and thankless task. More akin to a prison sentence that, once received, you must dig deep to get through it.

So when I gave in to the story’s insistence, the narrator who popped up in my head with a colourful hat and jangling bells was an omnipotent Glaswegian/Shakespearian Fool.   When I say the idea comes roughly formed I mean the general shape and the major dramatic incidences.

There’s still the work to be done. And that is the prison sentence.

But I slipped on my inmates uniform and set out my rules of engagement:

Fool and Lear must speak to each other and Jane in Shakespearean English always since they could speak no other.

Every line they speak, although altered by me for my narrative purposes, must come from King Lear firstly. Then, if not found in Lear, they must come from another tragedy and if that fails then any Shakespeare play. When I needed a line I searched two or three key words in Shakespeare’s complete works and then hundreds of lines would pop up which I would trawl to intuitively find the right line and then set about tweaking that line, keeping the Iambic Pentameter but skewing the meaning for my own ends. As you can imagine this took a long time. Can you see the prison sentence now?

Jayne must speak pre-Victorian English(since this is when Jayne Eyre it set). Her dialogue was much easier as I took almost every line she speaks from the novel and, yes, changed it to work in the flow of the narrative.

Then, since he is speaking directly to us in first person present tense, the Fool needed a voice. His voice rose from my subconscious partly formed. But developed as I wrote. 

Working class Glasgow, and more specifically the Coatbridge-Irish have such a love for language. They treat speaking like Jazz. They re-invent, deconstruct and reconstruct new English Languages as they speak. It’s a sort of cheap entertainment. And it is expected, demanded even, because it lights up the day. And in fact when I studied Shakespeare I recognised  just how much we had in common in our inventive, gymnastic, and entertaining use of language. That’s why they are such brilliant storytellers. So Fool speaks to us in his own version of stream of consciousness, unpunctuated, contemporary Scots but switches immediately to Shakespearian when he speaks to other characters. 

The story sets these three characters on a quest to find an alternative ending to King Lear where Cordelia doesn’t have to die. Needless to say, the Fates do not go easy on them. And in good old working class storytelling tradition, this is a Tragedy, a Comedy and a Philosophical investigation rolled into one. The South American term for this sort of literature is Carnivalesque, where anything is possible and there are no literary boundaries like we have in English literature. 

So I served my sentence, I wrote the book but my publisher and agent didn’t want it. So with the idea that an actual printed book is a better object to send to potential publishers, I put it on Amazon Kindle.

I sold around ten, got some good reviews and then moved onto my next project(prison sentence) called Paddy And The Zoltrons about a cowardly boy who transports himself to another planet where he is their saviour.  By the time I got to planet Zoltron I had Ieft Lear and Jayne shivering in obscurity on the stormbound heath. 

Then, on World Book Day 2020, I was sitting outside a café on Hope Street reading Facebook posts from author friends and nursing a resentment at being overlooked when an email pinged in from one Lesley Affrossman to say she’d read Pignut and Nuncle and loved it.

Obviously I Googled her straight away. She was a publisher.

When I read that Sparsile meant a star not included in any constellation it seemed like the Gods had answered my World Book Day resentment instantly and emphatically. I had gone from bitterness to bliss and hadn’t even finished my coffee. Pignut and Nuncle by Des Dillon Published by Sparsile Books. Thanks you Lesley Affrossman.

And then, from  reviewer, Joyce MacMillan, who has slated and praised my work in equal measure through the years, the best review I have ever had. Looking forward to what happens next.