Illustration by Milano Chow
Vice: When did you start writing?
Niall: As soon as I could pick up a pen, I suppose. I’m from a typical working-class Liverpool background. We never had any books in the house. But it was a house full of stories. I had a Welsh grandparent and an Irish grandparent, and they would tell me stories about the war and the old countries and that kind of stuff.
Was there one author who clinched it for you that you wanted to be a writer too?
When I was ten I found a novel at a jumble sale by this Welsh writer, Ron Berry, called So Long, Hector Bebb. He writes in a South Wales dialect, and I remember thinking, “This is amazing. The way normal people speak, in factories and on building sites, can actually be literature.”
ee, he’s not my proper son, not by blood, like, but I adter take him on as family when I married his mother, didn’t I? Ad no choice in the matter. I mean yeh can tell he’s not one of mine just by looking at him; more meat on a jockey’s whip. A strong fart’d blow him away. No way he’s gunna have any blood of mine in his veins, is there? But his mum, she likes her bit of rough, like, and I’m partial to a blond brewstered divorcée with tits all bought n paid for like a pair of friggin watermelons, so I adter take her boy on when I married her, didn’t I? Don’t know who his father was; some penpusher, friggin accountant or somet, never done a day’s real work in his life. Dodgy genes, like, knowmean? But, y’know, he’s part of the family now whether I fuckin like it or not and he turned 18 last week an I asked him what he wanted for a prezzie and djer know what he said? A buke. A fuckin buke! For his 18th! Gunner spend the day he becomes a man fuckin reading! Fucks to that, man. Bollox. So c’med, said I, I’ll take yeh for yer first pint, yer first legal bevvy as a man. Told the missis I was taking him to the winebar, just a quiet couple like, an she was happy. Half way down a bottle of gin and 20 friggin Prozac inside her, course the daft bint was happy. An the little get didn’t wanna go but I wasn’t gunna take no for an answer. He said I’m not going I said ye fuckin are. Tradition, this, I said; you become part of my fuckin family and you’ll take part in its traditions. I did this with my old man on my 18th, and he did it with his. Fuckin heritage, lad, I said. He says that he doesn’t drink. I told him every lad of mine drinks, fuckin stepson just or no. Besides, place I was gunna take him to, probly best off if he didn’t drink. Keep the lead in his pencil, like, knowmean? So yeh, I takes him down the Dock Road, to the Crown. Thursday Night Special, wannit? We goes in an all the lads’re already there, Willy an his brothers, Bob Thompson, all just clocked off an already friggin steamboats the lot of them, not even seven o’ clock. The boy’s gone all shy an fuckin timid like but I plonks him down an Willy puts his arm round him an starts singin “Happy Birthday” loud in his friggin ear like an I goes up to the bar an gets two pints an a double vodders, slips the vodders into the pint I give the boy. He sips at it an goes fuckin green, looks like he’s just about to friggin honk up all over the table. Honest to God, there’s no blood of mine in him, no fuckin way. Pure embarrassing if there was, tellin yeh. The place is fuckin chocka, all blokes like with it bein a Thursday, dead hot n sweaty, y’know the way it gets in there. Bouncer’s already havin a hard time tryna keep this fuckin shower under control like an the first girl hasn’t even come on stage yet. Never seen it that packed. The boy, well, he’s like a fuckin rabbit in headlights, inny? He’s never seen anything like it before in his life, knowmean? Should be enjoyin himself like but he looks like he’s gunna up an leg it any fuckin minute. Felt like tellin him that becomin a man ain’t bleedin easy, it’s not meant to be just fun; it’s somet you’ve gorra, what, fuckin endure. Happens to us all. Get used to it lad, face it fuckin head-on an be brave I wanted to say but the noise is so loud yeh can’t speak like it fuckin always is on a Thursday an anyways Willy’s still holdin the boy, singin in his ear. He’s gone red as a beetroot, the boy. Square peg in round hole. But fair play to him he manages to finish his glass an Bob goes up to get him another. I tip ahl Bob the wink as he passes so that he’ll know to spike it an he gives us a grin an a nod. Good lad, Bob. Knows the score, that man; see, same thing happened to him on his 18th, didn’t it? It’s what happens to all the bucks round here when they come of age, like; their old man takes em down the Crown. First legal night on the piss, first sniff of fanny. Heritage, lad, innit? Pure heritage. Tradition. Simple as. An where the fuck would we be without it, eh? The lad must’ve had five, six pints an several neat vodkas unbeknownst to him like by the time the first girl comes on. That dark girl, Melody she calls herself altho her real name’s fuckin Eileen or somet. Bold girl, like. Not fuckin shy, knowmean? An she’s down to her knickers, red crotchless numbers like, doin the splits at the front of the stage so close ye could friggin smell it an the lad’s eyes, they’re on fuckin stalks man, tellin yiz. Never seen anythin like ar Melody in his life. Looked like he was about to fuckin blub or somet to be honest an then all the lads start pointin at him an chantin 18! 18! 18! over n over again an the girl, that Melody one, she comes straight over to him through the crowd, hands all fuckin over her like an she sits down on his knee an rubs her tits in his face y’know the way they do, an then she just ups an fuckin drags the poor lad on stage. Drags him by the hand an she’s got some strength that girl; poor bastard’s got no choice but to follow her up, has he? I mean her arms’re twice the size of his. Crowd’s goin nuts like an he’s up there shakin like a fuckin leaf. Almost started to feel sorry for him but jeez he’s 18, he’s a man; gorra learn to behave like one, hasn’t he? This kinda thing hurts, sometimes; he’s gorra learn that. It ain’t all easy, becomin a man. I mean, look at me; three wives in ten years, no fuckin picnic, that, lad. Divorce is a messy fuckin business, no lie. You stop bein a kid an things start gettin friggin complicated, don’t they? Nowt easy in this world. Fuck no. Just somethin you’ve gorra learn. Just gorra have someone to help ye through it, like. So she took his kex down. Just unzipped em an let them drop with his undies n all an there he is, tremblin like, bollocko, swayin either with terror or the bevvy or both like, this friggin shrivelled worm-thing between his legs, on show for all to see. Awful. Fuckin awful. An that Melody, she takes his knob an points it out at the audience an the crowd went even crazier, pissin themselves laughin, an the lad starts cryin but he’s just standin there, kex round his ankles like, fuckin humiliatin for the boy. Everyone’s laughin at him an Melody tips him on his back on the floor with his feet facing the crowd like an she gets on top of him an tries to shag him, I mean as I say she’s not fuckin shy that one, but Jeez… like tryna shove a marshmallow in a fuckin parkin meter. Pure fuckin embarassin it was. Bob an Willy an the rest of the lads, they’re in fuckin fits an I’m standin up, shoutin at the boy to fuckin give her one for me like but nowt’s happenin. Honest to God, hung like a Chinese mouse, him. Fuckin mortifyin, it was. An I weren’t gunna be showed up like that was I so I says fuck this an gets up on the stage meself, Melody’s squatting like with her back to the audience, can’t see me, an I gets into position behind her. Bouncer comes steamin over but he can’t get through the crush, an anyway I’m in the girl up to the friggin plums in a second. Gorra show the boy how to do it, like, haven’t I? Course I have. Retain some self-respect, like, innit? Pure fuckin embarrassin, that. Stepson or no, he’s associated with me, it was me who took him there. Makin me look a knob’ed, that. Melody’s now leanin forward on her hands like, hands an knees, straddlin the lad, an I’m givin it to her so friggin hard that I’ve pushed her forward an I only realize too late like that we’re both positioned over the boy’s face; I mean he’s still flat on his back on the deck, blubbin away like a ponce. No blood of mine in that boy, honest to God. But aye, he’s still in that position when I pull out so I couldn’t help where I friggin bloshed, could I? I couldn’t help where it went. Taught the softarse a lesson, anyway, didn’t it? If yer knocked over, get back up on yer feet. Fuckin end of lesson. Simple as. An if yeh can’t gerrit up yeh gerrout of there quickquick. Got things to learn, that boy, no fuckin lie. So yeh, that was me; I did me thing then gave it toes. Too fuckin embarrassed to hang around, everyone there thinkin he was me blood relative, like. Mortified I was. Went off on a bender for a couple of days, gets home hungover to shite like and there she is, going on, what have I done to her son, in a terrible state, won’t come out of his room, locked himself in, all this shite. About a week ago this was an I haven’t seen the lad since. Not sure I want to, either, just yet, to be honest with yiz; I mean, right fuckin embarrassin episode that was. No son of mine who can’t gerrit up. Try an show someone a bit of heritage, get them involved like, try an include them in yer family’s history an what happens? See what yer get? A loader friggin grief, that’s what. Everyone laughin at yer on the shopfloor. Tellin yeh; next birthday, if we’re both still around like, he’ll get his friggin buke. Wish I’d never bothered now, to be honest. Fuckin farce, that’s what it was. Just embarrassin. NIALL GRIFFITHS Is the dialect in this story from Liverpool or Wales? It’s halfway in between, I guess. Liverpool is very close to Wales. Everyone in Britain is drunk all the time. Yeah. It’s drinking with a real hysterical, desperate edge. Every town on a weekend night is just absolute pandemonium. It’s the willingness, the eagerness, to divest themselves of every last shred of dignity. And to end up in the gutter, the women with their tits hanging out in a pool of vomit, and men beating each other up and picking on the weak. Saturday nights are horrible in town.