In my humble experience there are two types of student. The first is the shy retiring type who lives in the library rather the nightclub and considers Nietzsche, Foucault and Chomsky as his best friends. I fall into this category, although I do fall out with Nietzsche quite often. The second is ‘the man about campus’ who can be found puking into his best friends turn-ups or hogging the Palais dance floor on a Tuesday night. Loay Hady fits this later category or rather the characters from his debut novel Fresher do. The book does exactly what it says on the packet, recounting the glorious highs and lows of that first unforgettable week at university. James K Walker caught up with the former Platform editor to try and discover what all that bloody dressing up malarkey is really about...
You talk about the startling resemblance between a mother and daughter at university ‘same green eyes, same thin nose and they even had the same polite smile’. What features and personality traits have you inherited from the Hady family line?
Unfortunately for me not looks, but I guess I’m hard working like my mum. Would have loved to pick up other things such as punctuality off dad, but sadly I seemed to have picked up the whole Egyptian time keeping mentality, which is around 6 hours late… give or take a day.
The main character starts the book off trying to get over a relationship. Did you have a similar experience?
I split up with the girl at the start of my own uni days, just cos we were both moving away and I didn’t really want to try the whole long distance thing. The first few months were so rammed, I didn’t think about the break up much to be honest.
Do you think University is about education or escape?
I think a lot of people do it for both. Obviously students who study in their home town and still live with their folks don’t feel the need to get away. But personally living with other people was definitely where I learnt most while at uni.
In your opening chapter we encounter suicide, the law, homelessness and a variety of other awkward situations. Is this the average Fresher week?
I hope not! But there’s a core of truth to everything in the book, so it wouldn’t surprise me if someone somewhere had a Freshers’ with, say… half as much madness in it.
Every time the main character tries to help someone he gets into trouble. Are you trying to temper readers’ altruistic tendencies?
Ha ha, never, long live socialism – everyone should help everyone else whenever and however they can.
University life seems to immediately teach him tolerance. Are such social skills as important as the actual qualifications attained?
Completely, and one can go as far to say even more so. What you learn about dealing with such a wide spread of people becomes ingrained in your character and you live with the value of that for your whole life. As for the classroom education – if you end up in a job unrelated to your course, that subject knowledge is going to fade away pretty fast.
There is an incident in the book where the main character goes to hot-wire a car only to realise he has no idea how to do it. He just presumed he would be able to after seeing it done on television. Is television really that powerful a medium?
Well, let me tell you a story. There was a girl I thought was cool, so I asked her out and for the next few dates she was acting a little strange; saying things that just didn’t seem like her. A few dates later I managed to find out what had changed. She told me on our dates, she was acting how she thought Carrie from Sex in the City would act. Take from that what you will.
For your character, the poster sale was the most important part of info in the Fresher pack. What posters were in your dorm?
Ones of sunsets, they are my favourite thing in the world, without doubt. A ‘Bushisms’ poster ‘Welcome to Mrs Bush and my fellow astronauts’. Genius! and of course Toy Story!
What info would you put in a Fresher pack?
Mega money off vouchers, info about city haunts that are off the beaten track and most importantly, a list of all the health, financial and mental help a student could ever need, cos everyone needs one of them at some point.
The character mistakes a toothbrush for a vibrator in the book. Was this a Freudian slip or is sex always on a man’s brain?
Originally I toyed with the idea of him putting something of hers on in the dark cos he was cold… and that being the embarrassing part. But I just couldn’t make it stick comfortably. Him thinking of the toothbrush as a sex toy was more about how tired he was, and his imagination was running away with him. Though the short answer to the second part of your question is probably ‘yes’.
He befriends a pregnant woman. Is this common at university or are students more responsible?
Definitely more responsible. A lot of people are wiser to contraception and post sex options than they were in school in college, so even though there is more sex, there’s less pregnancies.
Why do students like dressing up?
Its fun I guess and maybe there’s a typical fantasy undercurrent in a lot of it.
And what’s your fantasy?
For me to wear: school kids, cos without fail people plaster messages all over your shirt. To view: superhero’s cos some people pull out all the stops and use the most random stuff to make the most bizarre outfits. Hilarious.
How did you meet the publisher and what are Stone Soup like to work with?
Pimping myself! Obviously I sent out dozens and dozens of manuscripts and they said they would go ahead with it. They were real easy to work with for Fresher, just streamlining me where I went into the characters head a bit, but for my second novel President it’s a lot tougher, cos there’s a lot of sensitive stuff in there that has to be dealt with in a lot more detail, especially in terms of audience, but we’re working on it and, they’re really supporting the idea of what I’m trying to do with it, so… I can’t ask for more than that really.
After graduating and being published in Nottingham, have you got used to being called ‘duck’ yet?
Ha ha- definitely. I haven’t started saying it yet, but I picked up saying ‘ay’ off loads of kiwis while I was travelling, so all I gotta add is ‘up me duck’ and I’ll be set.