You'll never buy supermarket chicken again. "Fresh" is a white knuckle ride from a new voice on the literature scene. This is a visceral, buoyant tale of brotherly love and hate. It is a debut novel from writer recently graduated from UEA writing course with Distinction. Sean's days are of a kind. The factory. The line. The chickens...And Sean's dreams of escape. Then today, his brother Archie gets out of jail on early release. Which would be great if Archie weren't a little loose in the head. And if Sean didn't still owe him a grand. Testing the boundaries of brotherly love, this white-knuckle thriller relives a day in the life that will leave you bowled over and breathless. With the down-at-heel joie de vivre of Roddy Doyle and the wacko plottings of Frank Cotterell Boyce, Mark McNay is an awesome new presence on the literary landscape.
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Mark McNay was born in 1965 and brought up in a mining village in central Scotland. After a failed electrical engineering course and fifteen years doing odd jobs Mark joined the UEA creative writing course in 1999. He graduated in 2003 with distinction.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The street lights were dimmed by the threat of dawn. He shivered. His wellies made a hollow scraping sound as he trudged to the bus stop. He coughed and it echoed round the pebble-dash of Cadge Road. He picked a bit of chicken feather from his overalls and let it flutter into his slipstream.
Alright wee man?
Sean turned and saw Rab and Albert coming out of the path at the side of Royston Road. He waited for them.
His uncle Albert was smoking a roll-up. Rab had his hands in his pockets and swaggered like boys his age should. Sean looked at him and thought twelve years in the factory would take the swing out of his shoulders.
What are ye lookin so cocky about?
Albert had a final puff and threw his dog-end onto the pavement. He smiled.
He thinks he’s on to a promise the night.
Sean inspected his cousin.
Is that right?
Rab glanced at his dad and back to Sean.
Sean looked at Albert.
It’s about time he popped his cherry.
Ah’m no a virgin ya cunt.
Sean looked at Albert and smiled. Then he turned to Rab.
Alright wee man. Ah’m only kiddin with ye.
As long as ye know.
The bus stop had men round it smoking and coughing and spitting. Sean and Albert sat together on the bench. Rab stood next to the other teenagers. They stood in a circle talking about drinking and fighting and fucking. Sean listened to them for a second and turned to his uncle. Albert nodded at the youngsters. Sean gave Albert a resigned look. Sean knew he was getting old because he’d rather sit with his uncle than stand with the boys.
It wasn’t meant to be like this. Him and Maggie had some big ideas when they started seeing each other. They could have went to Canada or London, anything but get a house on Cadge Road. Maggie was lovely though. Long dark hair and blue eyes. Best-looking girl in the class. Jammy bastard they used to call him.
Albert touched Sean on the shoulder.
Sean took the pouch and made a roll-up. He passed it back and Albert gave him a light.
Are ye for the Fiveways the night? said Albert.
Sean felt gutted.
What again? How no?
Ah’ve got debts to pay.
Ye must have with all that overtime ye’ve been puttin in.
Sean had a long puff on his fag.
It’s doin my fuckin head in.
So what are ye payin off?
Donna’s school trip.
From last year?
It was only six months ago.
Aye time flies when yer old.
As long as she enjoyed herself.
Aye she did. But as soon as she got back all Ah heard was Christmas this and Christmas that.
Aye well that’s weans for ye.
They’re dear son but worth it in the long run.
Sean looked at Albert.
Ah fuckin hope so.
Well look at how you turned out. Ye were well worth it.
Thanks Uncle Albert.
And look at our Rab. He’ll be alright as well.
Aye but look at our Archie.
Albert shook his head.
There’s always one’ll turn out rotten.
Ah hope it isnay Donna.
Albert grabbed Sean’s knee.
No she’s a good lassie. And she’s got you and Maggie as examples. She’ll be alright.
Ah fuckin hope so.
Ah know what ye need. A wee bit of fun. Take yer mind off all that serious shit that’s weighin ye down.
Tell me about it.
So c’mon out for a pint the night.
Ah cannay afford it.
Ye can surely afford one pint.
Sean felt really gutted.
Ah wish Ah could but Ah cannay.
Albert nodded and called to Rab.
D’ye hear that?
Yer cousin’s no comin for a pint the night.
Rab gave Sean a pitying look.
That’s what marriage does to ye.
Sean stared at the shops across the street from the bus shelter. Albert slapped him on the leg.
Ah don’t know how ye do it. Ah’m chokin for a pint now.
Sean smacked his lips.
Tell me about it.
Ah well only ten hours to go eh?
Sean felt miserable.
More like six months.
What are ye talkin about?
That’s how long Ah’ll be payin this fuckin debt.
How, who d’ye owe?
Sean nearly told but he never. Albert put his hand on his shoulder.
Don’t worry young fella, Ah’ll buy ye one in the Saracen at lunchtime.
A double-decker appeared at the end of the street. Albert stood up and shouldered his satchel. The younger men dropped their cigarettes and stood on them. They jostled to get on first. Sean got on last, said cheers pal to the driver, and went upstairs to sit with Albert at the front. They didn’t say much, just looked out the front window at gangs of workers readying themselves as they approached a stop. The doors hissed open and it got louder as the bus filled up. Before long they were on the dual-carriageway.
The lights up the middle of the carriageway flashed past and made Albert look like someone out of an old film. Then they were out of the city and the lights stopped. They were flying in the dark. The bus slowed and indicated and turned. It rolled up a lane pushing Sean and Albert together then pulling them apart. The engine whimpered as it climbed the gears after every curve. Occasional overhanging branches would clip the side of the bus. Sometimes, through gaps in the trees, Sean would catch a glimpse of the factory, each image larger than the last. Slowly it climbed out of the dark and they were beside it, intimidated. From the top deck it looked like a prison, or a Ministry of Defence establishment. Barbed wire and searchlights and a chimney pumping smoke into the sky. The whine and whirr of machinery and no dawn chorus. The roar of buses coming from all directions. Red buses from the east and orange buses from the west.
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