Apparent 12-year-old profiled at the Guardian. Sweet merciful crap, I’m getting old. OoOoOoOolllld. There was a day when I was so young to be so accomplished. Now people spit in my face and kick me down stairs just to laugh at the old man crumpled at the bottom. OoOoOoOolllld, I tells ya!
At 28, Riley has already carved out a place as one of the UK’s most talented young authors – and, as her third novel, Joshua Spassky, is published, one of the most prolific too. She first edged into the spotlight aged 22, with the publication of Cold Water (named one of the five outstanding debut novels of 2002 by the Guardian Weekend magazine), before Sick Notes a few years later. Both featured a protagonist in her early 20s, rattling around a Manchester full of dive bars and dust, cleaving to friends for comfort and starting and ending relationships with unpromising men.
What distinguished these slight novels was their poetry and perfection – you could read them in a single sitting and never once snag on a wrong note. The setting and tone made it clear that Riley was a Smiths fan (”I must have seen Morrissey play a dozen, maybe 20 times”), but her books have none of the sentimentality and drama of her idol’s songs, no girlfriends in comas or gang members dying. When her first protagonist, Carmel McKisco, is told, “You’ve got quite a downbeat disposition, haven’t you?”, it seemed an apt summation of her style.
It’s often suggested that being a young, full-time writer is a romantic existence. “It’s better than having to work in a call centre,” notes Riley, “but then, well … you really have to trawl the depths. To me it seems like the only way to live. The thing is, according to whatever inner orthodoxy I’ve created when I’m writing, I just want to get it right. So it’s not as though there’s any tremendous triumph or romance – I feel like I’m just always trying to be accurate, to get everything in the correct proportion.”
Sigh. When I was your age, lady, I was just trying to get getting drunk right. It took a lot of practice, let me tell you. It takes a certain amount of practice to drop a shot glass neatly into a Boiler Maker, but I stuck with it and now look at where I am. Hic.