A Young Team With Serious Staying Power

‘The Young Team’ by Graeme Armstrong

Azzy Williams is ready. Ready to smoke, pop pills, drink wine and ready to fight. But most of all, he’s ready to do anything for his friends, his gang, his young team.

Round here, in the schemes of the forgotten industrial heartland of Scotland, your mates, your young team – they’re everything.

Azzy Williams is fourteen; a rising star, this is his life and he loves it.
Azzy Williams is seventeen; he’s out of control.
Azzy Williams is twenty-one; he’d like to leave it all behind.
But a way out isn’t easy to find . . .

Inspired by the experiences of its author, Graeme Armstrong, ‘The Young Team’ is an energetic novel, full of the loyalty, laughs, mischief, boredom, violence and threat of life on these streets. It looks beyond the tabloid stereotypes to tell a powerful story about the realities of life for young people in Britain today.

I am not given to hyperbole when it comes to books. I try to take a balanced approach and judge a work by its own standards. A repeated pet peeve of mine is reviewers who criticise a book because it’s not the one they want written. “Well, put your crayon in your mitt and write the book you wanted to read then!”

Even so, this book has to be one of, if not the most, important novel for Scottish arts of the millennium thus far.

Graeme Armstrong has battered into the limelight of the literati with this debut like a Reebok Classic to the coupon.

This is a novel of profound pathos, tapping into the world of a class of people who don’t get heard, who’s voices are perennially misunderstood, marginalised and stigmatised.

But this is no poverty safari. There is an understanding here that people are people. That light and shade and good and bad are universals. That people can change and escape and grow but that these are choices and that personal responsibility is a factor. And an acknowledgement that society is stacked against these young people and hope is just a chimera if you can’t live beyond today.

I almost cheered when the Strathclyde Violence Reduction Unit and the folk hero that is John Carnochan got into the text (“You just need to give people a chance,” and the big man knows what he’s talking about.)

There’s a clear lineage between Irvine Welsh’s ‘Trainspotting’, Alan Bissett’s ‘Boyracers’ and ‘The Young Team’ but, for me, this novel surpasses both its forbears.

Yes: they are written in the dialect and vernacular of their surroundings; yes: they are populated with the pop culture references of their settings (although if, like me, you were training to be a teacher in 2006 and not heading to Fantasia, a lot of the Trance references fly over your head. I’m really quite old.)

However, what sets the Young Team ahead of those two is that – like one of those t-shirts you see with the evolutionary stages of man is that ‘Trainspotting’ is like a primordial swamp of black comedy and social realism ending in a swamp of despair. ‘Boyracers’ is lighter, more pop culture fixated and makes a case for education as freedom. ‘The Young Team’ does it all and leaves you longing for Azzy to make the right choices to meet his potential, to free himself for good.

Armstrong is more than a voice to watch. He is potential behemoth of the literary scene up here. A book which will sink into you and stay with you forever. It should be compulsory reading for all teenagers in Scotland.

Purchase Links: https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/graeme-armstrong/the-young-team/9781529017328 Where you’ll also find an extract

Debut author Graeme Armstrong

Graeme Armstrong is a Scottish writer from Airdrie. His teenage years were spent within North Lanarkshire’s gang culture. He was inspired to study English Literature following his reading of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting at just sixteen. Alongside overcoming his own struggles with drug addiction, alcohol abuse and violence, he defied expectation to read English as an undergraduate at the University of Stirling; where, after graduating with honours, he returned to study a Masters’ in Creative Writing.

His debut novel, The Young Team is inspired by his experiences.

Social Media:

Twitter @G_Armstrong21

Author Simon Conway set to triumph with ‘The Stranger’

Scottish author Simon Conway’s fifth novel looks poised to position him as one of the best authors working in the thriller genre today c

Full confession: I’d heard of Simon Conway but this is the first novel of his that I have read. Frankly, after this, my ignorance shames me and, I mean this sincerely, this piece should propel Conway into the very first rank of thriller writer’s working today. 

A world of smoke and mirrors

The Stranger centres on Jude Lyon, an SIS officer, dispatched by his duplicitous Head of Service, Queen Bee, to track down a legendary terrorist who was taken to Syria back when we didn’t do that sort of thing. Honest. 

But this terrorist is not all that he seems. And neither is anyone else in this novel.

As well as Lyon, a lead character with a love life complicated enough to make George Smiley blush, and Queen Bee, the smoke and mirrors head of the security services, the novel is populated with a fascinating cacophony of characters, including a squirming semi-alcoholic former Foreign Secretary, a Scottish journalist with a professional and personal interest in Lyon and a Russian diplomat and his wife who may or may not be luring Jude towards the rocks of disaster. 

Conway’s plots are onion layered: peeling back one skin at a time. He manages that neat trick so often missing in this type of novel which makes plot reveals seem inevitable and surprising rather outlandish or tediously predictable. 

His storytelling remind me of the best of Charles Cumming or Jeremy Duns – engaging, jigsaw tight, satisfying at the end but with potential for expansion in a future work. 

Descriptive passages Martin Amis would be proud of

He writes well too. “Jude’s immigrant provenance is equally exotic and fragmentary, shot through with competing veins of conformity and criminality, from a cigar-chomping bank robber for a grandfather to a general given to eccentricity and dark moods for a father,” is the sort of descriptive passage that Martin Amis at his most interesting would have been proud of. 

And, while it is true, Conway’s novel doesn’t – of necessity – have the same laugh out loud quality of some of Mick Herron’s novels, “Jonno Butcher, one of Cathy’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of meat-faced nephews,” is a description of which even the Slough House author would be proud.

I will be surprised if it emerges that Conway is not a fan of Le Carré. In fact, I’m not sure if it’s an affectionate nod to Le Carré, or merely to do with the abundance of such names in the region, but all the characters from the Caucuses we encounter in the book have names from Le Carré’s novels, especially ‘Our Game’.

Perhaps the most impressive area is that of the terrorists. He makes them well-rounded, whole characters who you don’t mind spending time with. Terrifying, yes, but nuanced and engaging too.

A crash, bang, wallop conclusion done with joie de vivre 

The ending of The Stranger may be slightly crash, bang, wallop for some people’s tastes but even this is done with enjoyable joie de vivre and edge of the seat inducing tension as well as some final plot twists which make me hope that this is not a standalone novel but the first in a series.

Overall, a triumph of a novel that makes me long for the opportunity to encounter Jude Lyon and his world again. 

Just need to go back and read Simon Conway’s back catalogue now. Whole-heartedly recommended.