I WAS the last journalist to speak to the literary legend, Alasdair Gray. It was the day of the General Election, and I had arrived at Alasdair’s house after calling his landline, which he promptly picked up, to ask if I could speak to him following his most recent accolade. At 84 (he turned 85 last week) Alasdair had just been awarded a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to Scottish literature this week by the Saltire Society.

I made the case to speak to Alasdair personally, because I suspected that the chance might not arise again. Alasdair passed away yesterday morning at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. His health was ailing, and he had used a wheelchair since a fall in his home in 2015. His wife, Morag, had passed some years before.

“I feel very pleased about the award,” Gray told me. “Because I am not likely to be writing another novel, or work of fiction, or even play.”

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What struck me during our conversations was the sheer amount of work that he had already completed, and what he still had to do. Surrounding the walls, floors and chairs were many, many pictures – some recognizable, from the paintings I had seen in galleries or adorning the front of his books, and others completely new. Line drawings and sketches, as well as big framed pieces. We went from room to room, me pushing him on his wheelchair, and he talked me through the various artefacts, relics of his life’s work.

I had first come across his work through my sister, who brought home from school her teacher’s copy of Lanark. And then while studying for an English degree in St Andrews – it was not required reading, despite being a landmark of Scottish contemporary literature.

Again, his name resurfaced whilst I studied Irish writing at Trinity College, Dublin, amidst comparisons to another giant of literary modernism – James Joyce.

It was surreal to sit in the living room of a living genius and ask him personally what he thought of such a comparison. “I think the comparison is flattering, but I don’t see it,” he said. “I like Joyce very much. I can’t say that I’ve read Finnegans Wake steadily through, though I dip into it from time to time and in short doses it amuses me greatly.”

It was apparent from his home how much Joyce had inspired him. I counted multiple copies of his works on shelves, and Alasdair told me that he initially wrote the Thaw section of Lanark intending it to be: “A portrait of the artist as a young Glaswegian and based on me.” In the hours that I spent with Alasdair, we looked at the pictures from his biography, A Life in Pictures. He had depicted a plethora of Glasgow characters, and complimented them with words.

As a journalist with a literary background, it was the words that have always attracted me to his work and he certainly has a way with them. He was shy, and modest: he seemed unaware how much his work meant to people in Glasgow. “I am just a rather haggard looking artist, surrounded by paintings which are rather haggard looking self-portraits stacked against the walls of his studio, saying, ‘how wonderful it must be to sit here surrounded by all my lovely pictures?’ “Is it not wonderful?” I asked him.

“It is more wonderful when other people acquire them, or if a public gallery has them and hangs them up. I’d prefer that.”