BY Amanda Connelly | July 26 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Highland inspiration for Rutherglen teacher as first novel goes to press

A Catholic high school teacher has drawn on his experiences teaching in the Highlands to secure a book deal for his debut novel.

Alan Gillespie, the head of English at Fernhill School in Rutherglen, first began writing to while away the hours at a job in a mail room and, having now moved into a career in teaching, he is looking forward to the publication of his first novel, The Mash House, by publishers Unbound.

“The mash house is a room in a whisky distillery,” Mr Gillespie said, explaining the unusual title of his novel. “It is where barley is turned into the liquor that becomes the whisky, so I’m trying to use it as a kind of metaphor for transformation.

“The story revolves around a whisky distillery in a fictional village in the Highlands.”


Small beginnings

Mr Gillespie first began writing while working in a mail room in Glasgow, a job that he hated.

“My life was really miserable, but in my lunchtimes I would write stories on the computer in the office,” he said. “I used it as a bit of escapism, to pretend that my life wasn’t really boring.

“Then I did a Masters in creative writing to try and learn a bit of technique.”

He went on to become an English teacher, now leading the English department at Fernhill School, and has written for publications such as The Times and The Guardian.

More recently, he sent off a 5,000-word extract of The Mash House to Unbound, along with a synopsis of the rest of the book.



“They replied around nine months later, so I’d kind of completely forgotten all about it,” he said. “They said they wanted to add it to their list, which is great.”

Mr Gillespie’s inspiration for the story came from his own experience of a whisky-tasting talk, and his probation year as a teacher in the rural Scottish Highlands.

“I lived for a year in the Highlands—I taught at Ardnamurchan High School,” he said.

“It was a really beautiful, rural place with a loch and mountains, and you would drive past these herds of deer and stags.

“So it was a really evocative place, and it was always somewhere that I quite fancied writing about.

“Then I went to a whisky-tasting talk one day and that was where the story came from. It was a combination of those two things.”



Unbound Publishers use a crowd-funding model, whereby Mr Gillespie must achieve a certain number of pre-orders before the book is sent to print.

“I quite like that model, because you build a good relationship with the audience before the book is printed,” he said.

“I just hope that [readers] like it,” he said. “The book has a core relationship: it’s got a grandfather and a granddaughter, a teacher and a pupil, little family dynamics.

“I just hope it reads like a representation of real life, all of the misery and brilliant things that happen to people.

“Hopefully people will pre-order it first, and then once it reaches a certain amount of pre-orders, my publisher will edit it and distribute it.”

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