Cult singer, award-winning writer and hero of the Somaliland independence movement, Julian Gough has now come full circle. He started in Galway in the late 1980s with indie band Toasted Heretic, and returns this week for the opening of his first play, The Great Goat Bubble (details below). It's a career going alarmingly to plan.
At 15, Gough was asked by a teacher what he wanted to be. "A rock star in my 20s, a writer in my 30s, and a filmmaker in my 40s," he replied. That ambition has proven remarkably resilient.
Gough's songs -- like the subversive ballad 'Galway Bay' -- were always literary and comic, and so once he had the rock star bit out of the way, he started writing comic literature.
Various novels have emerged, to critical acclaim, and his short stories have won awards and gone viral.
The Great Goat Bubble at first appears to be a delightfully absurd piece of fiction. But it's rooted in cold fact and dismal science.
Gough, a keen observer of economics, was intrigued by the dotcom bubble of the late 1990s. Shortly after it burst, he happened to read an interview with the air traffic controller for Somalia, then -- and still -- in a collapsed state with barely any infrastructure.
The controller told of an incident where a goat had wandered on to a runway and been killed by a plane, and its owner had sought compensation from the UN, which ran the airport; under Somali tradition, the compensation would be twice the value of the goat. The controller refused.
What, Gough wondered, might have happened had he paid out? Might the herders have started to herd their goats on to the runways, in expectation of compensation? Would they have started buying goats, at whatever price, in order to herd them under the planes?
In other words, what happens when the value of something is based solely on the expectation of its price in the market instead of on its real utility?
The resulting story is a fable about economics, and it should have a bitterly familiar ring for Irish ears. "Ireland has acted out the story in real life, with houses instead of goats," Gough says.
It's not, he admits, obvious material for the theatre. "If you were thinking of writing your first stage play, you probably wouldn't put in quite that many aeroplanes, or that many millions of goats."
Gough set the story in Somaliland, an autonomous region within Somalia, and because there's nothing written about it in fiction, he was suddenly seen as a champion by the Somaliland independence movement.
But what's more surprising is that there's so little written about the much more mainstream concern of economics.
'Irish writers really understood the Catholic Church -- Joyce was saturated in it, for example. The equivalent of the church now is finance and economics, but writers don't understand it -- they don't know what bankers do -- so they can't explain the world to us. That's a disaster for the culture -- but it's a huge opportunity for me."
Gough has dabbled in film, according to his teeenage agenda, but his next "frontier" is video games. He wrote the narrative for the end of the huge hit Minecraft, and is entranced by the creative potential of digital technology.
"It's very hard to write a novel that's original, but it's easy to do something new on the iPad."
For all that, he has a new faith in the theatre. "You can't digitise a night in the theatre. You have to be there, to be mentally present: you're strapped to the story." The Great Goat Bubble should be quite a ride. (See galwayartsfestival.com The play runs until July 29 at the Druid Theatre.)
With Glengarry Glen Ross having just finished at the Gate, those seeking a further fix of David Mamet can get it in his provocative play on sexism and political correctness, Oleanna, in a production by Company D. It's at Barnstorm Theatre, Kilkenny, this weekend, and touring into September. See www.companyd.ie
Originally published in Weekend Review
The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble
The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble was originally published in the Financial Times (and was indeed the first short story they ever published). It has also appeared in New Writing 12, edited by Diran Adebayo, Blake Morrison and Jane Rogers, it's been used by the British Council to teach English in Africa, and it has been lovingly converted into a radio play by BBC Radio 4, first broadcast in the spring of 2009.
Please do feel free to print out, copy, email, or otherwise distribute The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble to your friends. Just try and keep my name, and the fact that it's part of the adventures of Jude, attached to it, so that if they enjoy it they can keep an eye out for more. Thanks! - Julian.
Read the full play via http://www.juliangough.com/the-great-hargeisa-goat-bubble/