Man On A Mission
Award-winning author Darren Mcgarvey is breaking down barriers with his fiercely intelligent take on poverty, class and society
DARREN MCGARVEY removes his headphones and greets me with a huge grin as I walk over to him in the cafe he’s chosen for our chat. “Ha! I saw you outside on your phone and somehow I knew you’d be the one I was meeting – you had that look about you. Now what can I get you?”
His honesty and openness are quickly apparent. The author, rapper, activist and social commentator, also known as Loki, knows how to read people, a skill he picked up out of necessity at an early age.
It’s also one he details in his
Orwell Prize-winning, muchtalked-about first book Poverty
Safari. Part-polemic, partautobiography, it documents his rise from a dysfunctional home and deprived social background.
“Growing up in a hostile environment you have these instincts you’re not aware of that are helping you to deal with it.
Whether it’s tuning into people’s body language and voice tone or monitoring their gaze direction.
“Even as a malleable kid, you become more sophisticated and manipulative to try to keep someone’s explosive anger at bay.
“These things are useful in that moment but they become hard-wired. You project those fears on to every relationship you have and every institution you deal with. It’s all about vigilance – you live in stress all the time. It’s a default factory setting.”
His upbringing in Pollok, Glasgow, forms the compelling narrative. An alcoholic, abusive mother, poverty, drugs – it’s a brutally raw and real read. How does he feel about it being dubbed a misery memoir?
“That was a term I started hearing when I began dealing with publishers. I quickly clocked on to the fact that whatever I wrote would have to contain elements of an autobiography. That’s what would legitimise everything else I had to say.
“I just thought, ‘I can play this game. I’ll use it to my advantage’. I used the opportunity because I was confident I could write a good book and that good things would come out of it.
“There are always compromises involved, but it turns out that writing about my own life has been very helpful for a lot of people. They come up to me at events and even sometimes just in the street. Whether it’s social workers, cops or people who’ve lived it – it’s having quite a powerful impact on their lives.
“I think starting the book with a chapter on why I’m a crap reader was a good way of attracting people. Straight away they identified with something. For many, they’d never found anything that talked about things that they were familiar with before. That was the very reason they didn’t read.
“They were blaming themselves when actually the real reason they weren’t encouraged to pick up a book is that the world is full of middle-class fluff. If you’re not identifying with the subject matter then reading can become a laborious task. It’s like when you’re forced to eat vegetables. You know they’re good for you but it can be hard. However, a moothful of Skittles goes down a treat – you forget you’re eating!
“It’s seems to be the sort of book that when folk are finished reading it, they want to pass it on to someone. It’s that word of mouth that’s pushing it in a way I could never have imagined. And I’ve tried to do it without preaching or pointing the finger at things.
“I’m very critical of my own behaviour both in the book and my live shows, which I think is important.