Chris McQueer: The Madness of Reality

words fae shaun mccluskey (@shaunmccluskey)
photo fae vanessa murphy (@vanessamurphy)

Glasgow’s Chris McQueer is kept busy with his full-time job where he dishes out tankings for a living. But on the odd occasion where everyone has been tanked for the day and he isn’t hanging out with his best friend, Brian from Glow – he can often be found relaxing and unwinding, typing away at his computer: sending tweets and writing short stories… both of which he’s actually very good at. On Thursday night, McQueer – who, for the record, shat it from my offer of a fight – put on his longest show to date in Ashton Lane’s Grosvenor Cinema. A whole 2 hours of stories, stand-up and short films. Whilst he may have found the running time daunting, it honestly flew in and was an absolute delight from start to end.

Chris read a selection of short stories from his debut book Hings to kick off the evening’s proceedings. It has been described by many as ‘Limmy meets Irvine Welsh’, and such comparisons are certainly justified. Less than a year from its release, Hings has become somewhat of a cult classic amongst Glasgow’s literary and non-literary scene. It’s received great reviews from the press, people have taken it on holiday with them and posted photos with it across the world, a friend of mine was even given it as a leaving present from his work – and folk that I know full well canny read have posted about how much they love it. Chris has made reading cool again for those of us with a vernacular so often looked down upon.

I’ve had the pleasure of digitally knowing (@ChrisMcQueer) for the past couple of years. I stumbled across a story of his about a mind-controlling Moth, and it was clear even then that he had a real knack for storytelling. Over the years, Chris’ stories have only gotten better, with his latest short ‘Afterlife’ offering a comical take on what comes next and the sort of food you can expect your granny to cook for you when you get there. Last year, Chris quit his job selling shoes + signed a publishing deal with 404ink. It wasn’t long until HINGS began to come together for the man aff Twitter.

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Chris spoke during the show about his time selling shoes, notably one interaction with a kid and his dad, and how it inspired his story ‘Crisp Packets’. In the story, the boy is told that footballers had to wear empty crisp packets on their feet in the days before fitba bits were invented. He then makes an absolute arse of himself on live telly when he grows up to become a football pundit. We were also treated to a new story, ‘Sammy the Crime Scene Cleaner’, from Chris’ as of yet untitled second book which is (hopefully) set to be released this Autumn.

McQueer’s work is grounded in the absurd nature of daily life in Glasgow. Therefore, The Madness of Reality is the perfect title for the show, because that’s exactly what it is: surrealist observational comedy, in realistic and familiar settings. His stories are so honestly told, with such great characters, that you listen to them thinking ‘this isn’t even surreal in the traditional sense, but this could definitely only happen in Glasgow’.

The biggest thing that I took away from the show was just how well McQueer’s written material translates into different mediums, and how great the short film adaptations of his work were. Working alongside Grave Day Productions (David Gray and Kris Cummins who produce content for BBC the Social + BBC Short Stuff), two of McQueer’s existing works were transformed into hilarious laugh-a-second shorts. ‘The Wee Voice’ sees David eat a urinal cake following instruction from his intrusive thoughts which suggests ‘come on, it’ll be funny’. ‘Mairried’ tells the story of a wee Glesga gran that discovers she hates her husband and the way that he eats prawn crackers after 50 years of marriage. And film three features a new story, co-produced by the trio, entitled ‘Road Closed’ which follows the pursuits of a young couple who encountered a road closure, on their way to their holidays at the most Instagram-able lodge in the country. I’ll leave that one at that because you’re going to absolutely love experiencing that one with no prior knowledge when it becomes available online.

The show was followed by a short Q+A, and a Santa’s grotto style Meet and Greet where you got to sit on the big man’s lap and tell him what you wanted for Christmas (the hottest new gaming device, new gutties and a copy of Hings 2 pretty please). Chris McQueer is an absolute natural storyteller and performer, with a very bright future ahead of him.

Hings is available from here and all good bookstores.

Every Black Mirror Episode Ranked Worst To Best

by chris mcqueer (@ChrisMcQueer)

Since it first burst on to our tellies back in 2011 with an episode based on what would happen if the Prime Minister was forced to fuck a pig, Black Mirror has gone on to become a cultural phenomenon. There’s at least one person in every group of pals who loves to tell you that it’s their favourite programme, even though you never asked. In the comments section of every technology-based news article, there’ll be at least half a dozen people cracking the same joke – ‘Ha! This is like something from an episode of Black Mirror!

Although the show has been an unrivaled success, it’s a wee bit hit and miss – to be fair, though, there’s definitely far more hits than misses. Here, I’ve ranked every episode from the absolute dirt worst to the very best.

 

SPOILERS AHEAD

19. Men Against Fire – S3 E5

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This episode is a car crash.

The premise of it sounds amazing; Set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian future, soldiers, fitted with neural implants that heighten their senses, hunt down and exterminate mutants known as ‘Roaches’. However, the main character’s implant malfunctions allowing him to see that the mutants he’s been mercilessly killing are actually normal people who happen to be the survivors of a genocide during a global war ten years before the events of the episode take place. The roaches are deemed ‘genetically inferior’ and the main character is actually working for a global eugenics company who are trying to ‘protect the bloodline’ of humanity.

It all sounds quality, but it’s poorly executed with characters who come across as barely even two-dimensional and the ham-fisted social commentary does it no favours. I’ve watched every episode at least a couple of times and this is the only one I struggled to get through even on my first watching. Forgettable, dull and boring.

18. The Waldo Moment – S2 E3

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The runt of the litter; well, until Men Against Fire came along.

This political satire is just about every Black Mirror fan’s least favourite episode. A failed comedian finds himself running in a local by-election as the voice of a cartoon bear. It’s hard to believe the characters in this episode found the bear as funny as they seemed to – Waldo is like an old guy down the pub doing a really bad impression of Ali G. Brooker himself has admitted that this was an episode he “didn’t nail” and it’s hard to argue with that.

The episode ends with Waldo being the leader in some dystopian nightmare world but it doesn’t explain how this happened which would’ve made a far better, more interesting episode.

17. Playtest – S3 E2

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Another episode from the third series which doesn’t quite live up to the standards set by other installments.

Again, it’s an episode with an amazing premise – a guy tries out a new hallucinatory, augmented reality fear simulator, which is more terrifying than the main character could have ever imagined. It delivers a couple of twists which you’ll see coming a mile away.

It is however probably the scariest episode of Black Mirror. There’s a few good jump scares and creepy visuals and the main protagonist, Cooper, is quite likable which makes the ending all the more jarring.

16. Arkangel – S4 E2

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This episode feels like it could be set in the same universe as the far superior The Entire History of You from the first series and the White Christmas special.

Directed by Jodie Foster, it tells the story of an overprotective single mother and her rebellious daughter. The mother has a chip implanted into her daughter’s head allowing her to see everything her daughter sees through her tablet. She can then pixelate distressing images so her daughter can’t see them. After a couple of years, and a visit to a child psychologist, she realises the emotional damage she’s causing to her daughter and stops checking up on her, stowing away the tablet she used. Another few years pass by and we see the daughter has grown into a happy and well-adjusted 15-year-old. But as her daughter starts to rebel and lie about her whereabouts, the mother reactivates the tablet and starts interfering with her daughter’s life.

It’s a decent episode, just not as gripping as it could’ve been and it’s very predictable how things are going to turn out.

15. Crocodile – S4 E3

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One of the most gritty episodes, with brilliant performances from the lead actors and a great concept but it’s let down by a clunky, muddled plot.

It’s very dark, even by Black Mirror standards, featuring a lot of killing (including that of a blind baby) and an end scene which attempts to be funny but just doesn’t fit with the rest of the episode. The technology which the plot revolves around is a device which allows your memories to be shown on a small, portable DVD player-like device. It’s a nice take on a concept Black Mirror has already used, with the memories coming across as distorted, grainy footage.

An okay episode, just not the most memorable, even with the shocking scenes.

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14. Hated in the Nation – S3 E6

The first almost-feature-length episode, this installment takes place in a Britain where tiny robotic drones have replaced the dwindling population of honey bees and taken over their pollination duties.

These drones are tapped into by a hacker and used to kill people by flying into their orifices and exploding inside their skulls. People vote on Twitter to decide who the next victim will be by using the hashtag #DeathTo followed by their chosen victim’s name. Kelly Macdonald delivers a phenomenal performance Detective Chief Inspector Karin Parke and you could imagine her starring in her own detective drama off the back of this.

There’s a great scene where hundreds of thousands of the bees descend on a safe house and try to get to their target inside which is genuinely chilling.

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13. Fifteen Million Merits – S1 E2

Probably the most Black Mirror-y episode of Black Mirror.

There’s not really any backstory for the complex where this episode is set which would’ve made the episode better, I think. It’s an episode with amazing set design that makes it stand out as one of the most visually stunning episodes. It’s a scathing critique on the class system with the unfit being assigned to janitorial tasks around the complex as well as being constantly mocked by those in the higher class who pedal on exercise bikes to earn ‘merits’, the currency in this bizarre world. As well as attacking the class system, the celebrity-obsessed culture of today also comes under fire.

It’s very clearly influenced by the likes of 1984 and Brave New World. It’s a bit depressing but also very watchable.

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12. White Bear – S2E2

This is a lot of people’s favourite episode of Black Mirror and it’s easy to see why.

It starts off a bit like 28 Days Later except the zombies are just people on their phones. It seems like a bit of a heavy-handed metaphor for the way people are, apparently, on their phones too much these days (someone once tweeted a Black Mirror episode pitch – “what if phones… but too much”) but there’s a big reveal at the end which is one of the best Black Mirror twists so far.

I admit this episode is brilliant but it’s so far down on my list simply because it’s let down by the constant screaming of the main character in the last 15 minutes which will make you want to stick your foot through your telly to make it stop.

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11. Be Right Back – S2 E1

Hayley Atwell and Domhnall Gleeson put in stunning performances in this tender episode.

Following the death of her partner, a woman signs up for a service which allows her to communicate with AI software replicating him. She then goes further by having an android made which looks and acts just like him as she tries to cope with her grief. Again, the path this episode takes is predictable but it works here and doesn’t make it any less watchable.

It’s an emotional study of grief and a very melancholy episode which stays with you a long time after watching it.

10. The National Anthem – S1 E1

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I remember sitting watching this episode for the first time absolutely stunned at what I was seeing.

The Prime Minister is woken up one morning to be told that a much-loved member of the Royal Family has been kidnapped and her captors are demanding that the Prime Minister fuck a pig on live TV or they’ll kill the princess. This was the perfect first episode and has had me hooked on the show since.

It’s the perfect mix of dark comedy, satire and social commentary. The tension throughout the episode is palpable and has you on the edge of your seat.

9. Metalhead – S4 E5

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Aesthetically one of the best Black Mirror episodes, this one is filmed completely in black and white to show us that this a world completely devoid of all hope. It’s minimal, eerie and tense as fuck.

Maxine Peake is one of the few survivors in a world overrun by sentient robotic ‘dogs’, based on the four-legged robots built by Boston Dynamics, which are hunting down and killing humans. I am desperate to find out the backstory of the dogs in this episode and how they managed to turn against humanity. Brooker said in an interview that he originally wrote a scene where it shows a man on the other side of the world controlling the dog from his as it chases Maxine Peake’s character which was cut because he wanted to pare the episode right back.

The lack of backstory is why I think this episode didn’t work for a lot of people but I thought it was class.

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8. Nosedive – S3 E1

Set in a world where people can rate everybody they interact with on an Uber-like 1 to 5-star system which then impacts your socioeconomic status, the concept for this one is on the nose but done very well.

The pastel colour scheme makes this episode beautiful to look at and it’s what I imagine a sci-fi film directed by Wes Anderson would look like.  The episode tackles the way use social media to define our own self-worth and how it affects our self-esteem. It’s yet another episode that follows a very predictable plot but it’s still well-written with plenty of humour and likable characters which makes this one of the more upbeat episodes.

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7. White Christmas – Christmas Special

Two men stationed in a remote outpost in a snowy wilderness tell each other their life stories.

Their respective stories from the 3 part narrative which comprise the episode and explain the two men’s situation. Blocking people in real life, a dating coach who can see everything you see and give you advice piped right into your ear and a perfect copy of your consciousness used to control your smart home make up the technology used in this excellent episode. Jon Hamm changing the way the copy of a woman’s consciousness perceives time so she experiences months of isolation while only a few seconds pass in the real is a harrowing scene and the ending of this episode takes it even further.

There’s a lot happening here but it’s brilliantly-written and the 3 mini stories link together brilliantly. After watching the newest series, this episode now feels like it was almost like a dress rehearsal for the superior…

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6. Black Museum – S4 E6

Following the same kind of structure as White Christmas, this is another anthology episode.

This one, however, is bigger and better, perhaps owing to the bigger budget Netflix provided. The proprietor of a museum which houses ‘criminological artifacts’ gives a tour to a young woman, recounting to her the chilling stories behind 3 of the artifacts. A doctor is fitted with a device allowing him to feel the pain of his patients (based on a short story written by one half of the magic duo Penn and Teller, Penn Jillette), a woman in a coma’s consciousness is transferred into her husband’s brain allowing her to live again within him as a ‘passenger’ and the consciousness of an executed murderer is reborn as a hologram and visitors to the museum can pull the lever on the electric chair, punishing the man for his crimes over and over again.

The stories and characters here are all worthy of full episodes to themselves. The episode is also littered with plenty of Easter Eggs to look out for such as the hunter from White Bear.

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5.Hang the DJ – S4 E4

I first watched this episode while in the throes of a behemoth hangover and at the time, I said it was my favourite episode of Black Mirror ever and it turned me into an emotional mess. Having now recovered from said hangover, I still think it’s a great episode, but it’s not quite the best.

From the very start, we become emotionally invested in the two very likable lead characters as they are brought together through a Tinder-like dating app. There’s very heavy-handed foreshadowing about the eventual twist but it’s a beautiful reveal and has an uncharacteristically happy ending. Someone described this episode on Twitter as “San Junipero for straight people” which leads us neatly on to…

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4. San Junipero – S3 E4

This episode won multiple awards and has been almost universally acclaimed. It’s a lot of people’s favourite episode and it’s in just about everybody’s top 5.

On first watching, you’d be forgiven for not knowing what is going on but after 20 minutes or so all becomes clear and it paves the way for a truly emotional love story. Two women meet and fall in love inside what is revealed to be a simulation, a haven where the elderly’s conscious minds can be uploaded and live on even after death.  It’s good to see technology being portrayed as a force for good for a change and the episode asks some cool questions about the afterlife.

And since it’s set largely in the 80s, the soundtrack is absolutely banging as well.

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3. USS Callister – S4 E1

When I first saw the trailer for the newest series, this episode looked to me like a Galaxy Quest style parody of Star Trek etc. and I wasn’t looking forward to watching at all.

Thankfully, it turned out to be the best of the new series and one of the best episodes so far. Merging the simulated reality story with a real-world one may have been done before in Black Mirror but here we see it on a much grander scale. It’s a not-so-thinly-veiled attack on the way guys tend to abuse their authority as well as their sense of ‘superiority’ over women and PoC. The episode explores these heavy themes with humour and a great storyline. Jesse Plemons (AKA Meth Damon) is brilliant as the twisted Robert Daly.

Brooker has managed to deliver an ending here that is somehow both dark and uplifting. He also recently revealed what happens to Daly after his consciousness becomes trapped in the game – he dies of starvation due to the ‘Do not disturb’ sign he puts on his door.

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2. Shut Up and Dance – S3 E3

Where do you even start with this episode?

It’s phenomenal. Honestly, my heart was pounding watching this and you can practically feel the anxiety that Kenny, the main character, is experiencing over the course of this episode. After being videoed via his laptop webcam by a hacker as he has a wank, Kenny is blackmailed into doing increasingly bizarre and criminal acts. The pace is just completely relentless and breath-taking. You are rooting for Kenny throughout the whole episode, it’s easy to so see why, as a young guy, he’s so desperate to keep the video of him masturbating from being sent to his friends and family.

And then, right at the end, comes the twist. It’s one you don’t see coming and that will leave you feeling sick. It’s the best twist throughout the entire show by a mile.

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1. The Entire History of You – S1 E3

I’m expecting to receive some pelters for ranking this as the best-ever episode of Black Mirror. The episode is based on a piece of technology that you can imagine coming true in the near future; it’s called a ‘grain’, an implant that allows you to record everything your eyes see and then play it back in front of your own eyes for yourself or share on a screen for others to see.

Liam leaves a job appraisal and heads to meet his wife Ffion at a party where he notices she seems to be flirting an old friend called Jonas. It starts off with Liam picking apart his appraisal at work but then moves on to him picking apart his relationship, ultimately uncovering his wife’s infidelity and the fact he might not even be the father to his daughter. It’s very dark, it’s very tense and it’s very uncomfortable to watch at times as Liam forces Ffion to replay her memories for him. It’s not the most in-your-face episode of Black Mirror, instead, it’s more understated. Some episodes are let down by a lack of backstory but here, as the implications of the world where everyone can record their memories are slowly revealed through snippets of conversation.

For me, this is Black Mirror at its very best.

 

 

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Book Review: Chris McQueer’s Hings

By Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr

There’s that old saying that you should never judge a book by its cover: have a glance at a novel like Trainspotting and you’d expect some supernatural story about skeletons as opposed to the morally ambiguous, heroin fuelled epic that it is. Chris McQueer’s debut book Hings sees that rule, stares at it with a raised eyebrow smirk and drop kicks it out the nearest window – with the neck of a bottle that bares an uncanny resemblance to Scotland’s favourite tonic creeping from the bottom corner, a burst of beautiful colours from every palette smear the sleeve with vibrant beauty.

This description alone is enough to give you an idea of what to expect from McQueer with his compilation of short stories. The use of a drink so etched into the working class stereotype and giving it this nice twist, whether intentional or not, is refreshing and ties not only into the author’s background but the whole host of characters that will lead you through the 200+ pages Hings has to offer. 

Chris-author-picA common comparison has been drawn between McQueer and other famous Scottish figures such as Irvine Welsh and Limmy which, once you’ve read a handful of stories, is clear to see why: a fair few of the characters have their speech written with that Filth-esque dialect where your “yers” and “kehns” are worn proudly just like a G-star t-shirt. Limmy is credited with making the classic weegie speak a bit more mainstream thanks to his show and now cult status on Twitter though his side of the comparison comes more from his endeavours in Daft Wee Stories – some tales will be fully fleshed out, spanning for pages while others will just, well, end, abruptly and usually with a conclusion so absurd that you’ll drop your copy from laughing – here’s hoping you’re no reading any stories on your phone. 

However, McQueer’s stuff is so unique and just outright imaginative that to leave the description of such a writer solely to this would be doing his work a great disservice. So many of these stories revolve around a mundane or over-used story, say for instance getting bullied in A Fistful of Coppers, and are injected with enough creativity that they’re elevated to 3 page epics: the aforementioned Coppers story is one of the shortest in Hings but is presented much like the gritty western its name is derived from, the Mexican village replaced with a playground but the showdown being just as satisfying. Examples like this are numerous but it never gets tiresome or repetitive, reading like Interdimensional Cable skits from Rick and Morty but with more depth.

It’s when McQueer pushes himself out of his usual comfort zone that Hing’s strongest moments occur. While most of his work up to this date have been predominantly comedies, there are a few stories that try to do so much more than get a chuckle out of you. Let’s take for instance Lads, a story that starts out just like your usual “ZANTE Related imageHOLIDAY WITH THE BOYS” that you expect it to just play out as a satire of this sixth year holiday patter that haunts your Facebook feed everyday. However, as it continues, things start to become more of a romantic affair, much in the vain of Moonlight though instead of a totally serious drama revolving around sexuality and race, Lads is a funny, adventurous romp with our lead finding himself with his rag-tag pal bringing some comic relief.

The same can be said about Bowls, my personal favourite of the bunch, which plays out like Thelma and Louise that touches on relationships, social stigma and class effortlessly. Easily being the longest story of the lot, the story does that aforementioned trick of taking something as mundane as bowls and turning it into a thriller that still never loses that comedy element which makes a McQueer story a McQueer story. A quick note: try all you want to imagine Angie as anyone other than Jacqueline McCafferty but you’ll never escape it.

It would have been so easy for McQueer to play it safe, bash out a few short stories that stuck closely to the formula that have made him such a icon in the Scottish writer scene. Thankfully, he’s not only pushed himself out his comfort zone but twisted everyone’s perceptions of the writer – he’s undeniably funny but his ability to weave a well written narrative with likeable, and dislikeable, characters in addition to his sheer creativity is what makes him such a juggernaut.

“Are you ready?” for the year of McQueer reads the last line of Hing’s blurb – “fuckin yes ah am” I can say with resounding confidence.


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