Nutcase is my debut novel and tells the story of Aidan, a lad growing up in Sheffield in the 1990s. His mam and dad live on this rough estate and deal a bit of weed to top up their benefit, and his dad knocks him about but his mam lets him get away with murder. Gradually his violence escalates. He doesn’t look for trouble, he just brings it with him like dog mess smeared on his trainers. He sticks up for people, and that makes him a hero, so he keeps swinging, and gradually his life is spiralling out of control.
Although Nutcase is set in the modern world, it began with my reading of Icelandic sagas. Sagas are medieval stories about violent feuds between farmers, and they are weirdly like novels in some ways. They are about relatively normal people and the decisions they make, and the consequences of those decisions. But they are also very fast-paced and action-focused. They are not at all interested in telling us what characters think and feel.
I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to write a novel using the saga style. So I had a go: Nutcase is a rewriting of The Saga of Grettir the Strong, updated to a modern setting. What surprised me was that Aidan’s story took on a life of its own. The original saga is full of violence and hardship, but it doesn’t leap out at the reader. When I translated that into the present, I ended up with a book full of violence, obscenity, sex, drugs and poverty. It also turned out to be a story about choices: good ones, bad ones, and how our choices come back to haunt us down the line.