The Rise & Fall of the Miraculous Vespas: David F. Ross Interviewed

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Stars on 45: Scottish author discusses the sequel to The Last Days of Disco.

David F. Ross’s début The Last Days of Disco was hailed as ‘Dark, hilarious and heartbreaking’ by Muriel Grey and ‘Full of comedy, pathos and great tunes’ by Hardeep Singh Kohli. A poignant tragi-comedic evocation of a transformative decade filled with laughter and the promise of crushed dreams. Ross’ acutely observed social commentary signalled the arrival of an exciting new voice in Scottish literature.

Ross’s second novel returns to the 1980s and revisits some of the characters we met in The Last Days of Disco. A companion novel, not a direct sequel, The Rise & Fall of the Miraculous Vespas eulogises the era when teenagers dreamed of recording a hit single and appearing on Top of the Pops.

Your love for 1980s music shines through The Last Days of Disco and The Rise & Fall of The Miraculous Vespas. What is it about that decade which inspires you?

It was the decade where I made choices – good and bad – which made me the person I am today. I think those late teenage years are ones where your senses are most attuned to the emerging influences around you. The world seems a big, exciting, tempting, scary place and that combination of hope and fear makes things more memorable, I suppose. As a result, it’s pretty easy to tap into those palpable emotions that I felt when I wanted to be in a band, or to be Paul Weller. It was probably the time when I felt most alive, which isn’t to say life isn’t good now … far from it. But I’ll always have a nostalgic fondness for what ultimately is now recognised as a fairly pivotal decade; for me and for the country.

This is the second instalment in a trilogy. Have any of your childhood memories been woven into the books?

More so with the first book, I think. This one was more about letting my imagination run wild, and although informed by people and circumstances that help keep it authentic and grounded, it’s ultimately about me wanting to be the frontman in a band.

The Rise and Fall of The Miraculous Vespas takes place around the same time as The Last Days of Disco. Did you map out the characters’ journeys before writing the first book?

No, not really. As you’d gather, I’m a fan of Irvine Welsh and john Niven and my love for their books came from the character-driven narratives of their stories. I learned from them that if the protagonists are well drawn and believable, that they could really do anything as long as it stayed true to their characters. I invested a lot of time in the characters for the Last Days of Disco and then just let them interact to a certain extent. With three-quarters of the book draft finished, I had no idea how it was going to end. The ending just really emerged as a logical way those characters would react to the circumstances they found themselves in. It was slightly different with the Miraculous Vespas in that I had the ending in my head fairly early on, so I generally knew where it was ultimately leading. It was more just a case of pointing the main characters in the right direction and then seeing what would happen.

How much research did you undertake into the murky world of 1980s pop management?

I have friends in the music business who were in very popular Scottish bands in the early 80s and their insights and memories were very helpful, however, I was careful to avoid the pitfall of it becoming almost a comedy-documentary. Spinal Tap cornered the market there and it would be foolish to try and do something similar. It is still fundamentally a story about people desperately pursuing their dreams (whether legal or illegal) and I think that if there is a developing underlying thread to what I do, it is probably that. I’m interested in interesting people; what motivates them and how they interact with their context and the opportunities it throws up. So, yes … I’ve picked up a certain vibe from friends and acquaintances who were there, but it’s really all about the characters and the interaction of their stories.

What makes a good pop manager?

I think it’s a potent mix of inspiration, determination and outright seat-of-the-pants madness. The legendary svengalis of the late 70s and early 80s had acknowledged – rightly or wrongly – that the managers of indie bands were as important as the band members themselves. The music press interviews of the time were as likely to focus on Malcolm McLaren (Sex Pistols), Bernie Rhodes (The Clash) or Alan Horne (Orange Juice / Postcard Records) as any of the singers or guitarists of these groups. Often they were just basically opportunistic chancers who, by force of character and strength of will, achieved what they did despite making it up as they went along. Max Mojo shares that restless, inventive DNA. Some of the greatest music of all-time came out of that context, where record labels and bands were being run from people’s bedrooms. It’s incredible, and sadly now – in the homogenised, commercialised pop-pap world of Simon Cowell etc – lost to us forever I fear.

If you had to construct a premier league of pop managers who would be in the top three?

Malcolm McLaren, Colonel Tom Parker, and … Max Mojo.

The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas is published by Orenda Books

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DVD News: Trapped – The Complete Series One

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Arrow Films has announced the Monday 11th April DVD & BLU-RAY release of the complete first season of the Icelandic crime drama Trapped.

The series has reportedly received the highest budget invested into an Icelandic series and premiered to 1.2 million viewers on BBC Four. Trapped is under the direction of cinematic filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur who helmed last year’s true-story epic Everest.

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The series centres around a remote Icelandic town as a mutilated and dismembered body washes on the shore, an unidentifiable man murdered only hours ago.

The local police chief,  Andri (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), whose personal life is in shatters, realises a killer has descended into his town.  As word spreads, order disintegrates into chaos as the town’s residents realise they are all possible suspects.

Trapped is available to pre-order from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Trapped-%C3%93lafur-Darri-%C3%93lafsson/dp/B01BKI6IF6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1456352573&sr=8-1&keywords=trapped

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Trapped-Blu-ray-%C3%93lafur-Darri-%C3%93lafsson/dp/B01BKJTQPY/ref=sr_1_1_twi_blu_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1456352573&sr=8-1&keywords=trapped

DVD Review: Execution According to the Law (Aðför að lögum)

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The story of how a murder investigation nearly toppled Iceland’s government.

Casting a long shadow on the integrity of Iceland’s legal system, the wrongful conviction of six people for two murders is one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in the nation’s history.

On the night of January 26th, 1974 Gudmundur Einarsson, an 18 year old labourer, went to a dance hall in Hafnarfjordur, a port town 10km south of Reykjavik. When the venue closed at two in the morning he attempted to trek home despite the harsh winds and heavy snow. Two girls driving through the town claimed to have seen Gudmundur and an aggressive drunk attempting to hitchhike.

Later that morning Gudmundur was spotted trying to make his way home alone through the thick snow. According to a witness report he was heavily intoxicated and fell in front of an oncoming car. This would be the last known sighting of Gudmundur.

When Gudmundur failed to turn up for work he was reported missing. Not suspecting foul play, the police conducted a thorough search. Unable to find any trace of Gudmundur’s whereabouts the file was closed after two weeks pending further evidence.

Ten months later Geirfinnur Einarsson (no relation), a 32 year old digger-driver, returned home from work. A colleague had invited him to go and see a film at the local cinema. Geirfinnur declined the offer, claiming he had to be meet someone later that night. The colleague drove Geirfinnur to a nearby cafe where he bought a packet of cigarettes. Returning home he answered the phone and was heard by his wife saying “I’ve been there already. I’ll be there”. He went out again, drove his car and parked near to the cafe. Geirfinnur was last seen in a phone booth. The keys were left in his car’s ignition waiting for a driver who would never return.

Credited with changing public perceptions of the case, Einar Magnús Magnússon’s documentary Execution According to the Law presents a forensic examination of the investigation and trials. Using a combination of archive footage, newly recorded interviews, and reconstructions the film presents an in depth analysis of the case that examines the justice system’s failings and asks how six people could be convicted without any evidence.

The astonishing story of Iceland’s most notorious murder investigation reveals a police force ill equipped to handle a murder investigation and exposes the abuse inflicted upon the accused and its traumatic consequences.

Six petty criminals known to the police for alcohol and drug smuggling became prime suspects in the investigation. Initially denying any involvement all six would confess to their involvement in double murder after being broken by lengthy interrogations, repeated bouts of torture and extended periods of solitary confinement.

Attempts to withdraw the statements were dismissed by the Supreme Court.

To date the police have found no physical evidence of murder.

Halfway through the investigation an embattled government facing a toxic cocktail of the Cod War and a general strike enlisted the services of German “super cop” Karl Schutz to oversee the investigation. Employing a more forceful style of interrogation Schutz extracted fresh confessions that enabled all six to be found guilty for their part in a double murder.

Execution According to the Law is a sobering lesson in what can happen when law enforcement agencies are under pressure to deliver swift results. An enthralling, enraging, and perplexing tragedy. Einar Magnús Magnússon’s documentary is a sterling example of investigative journalism.

A real-life Nordic Noir for crime fans yearning to watch something new after Making a Murderer and The Jinx.  

Eymundsson are currently stocking a subtitled DVD.

Quentin Bates’ chapter in Truly Criminal: A Crime Writers’ Association Anthology of True Crime provides an exhaustive overview of this case and its continued relevance.

A 2014 BBC World Service documentary interviewed surviving suspects.

Iceland Monitor report on recent arrests in relation to the murder of Guðmundur Einarsson.

Sagafilm is producing a new documentary about The Guðmundar- and Geirfinnur Case for BBC and Netflix.

Iceland Review report on a new book containing a confession to the killing of Geirfinnur Einarsson