Fresh by Mark McnayFresh by Mark Mcnay


byMark Mcnay

Paperback | May 13, 2008

Pricing and Purchase Info

$17.06 online 
$18.95 list price save 9%
Earn 85 plum® points

Prices and offers may vary in store


Ships within 1-2 weeks

Ships free on orders over $25

Not available in stores


“The rhythm changed and the chickens came down faster and faster. Sean found it hard to catch up and they piled like corpses in the rain. As he tried to pick one up another would bounce off the back off his hand. Sometimes their legs, or shorn feet, would dig him right in the finger. It was like when you’re in a fight and the guy gets a couple in.” (p. 16)

Most of Sean O’Grady’s days are depressingly similar. He not only lives in a town he thought he would leave years ago, but he works a mindless, dead-end job in the fresh meat section at the local chicken processing plant. And as if he needed a reminder of the banality of life, the conveyor belt that flanks the wall where he works beats out a hypnotic rhythm that’s inescapable:


But it isn’t all bad. Fresh is the least of the gag-inducing departments in the plant and Sean’s uncle Albert works alongside him. Albert and his wife, Jessie, took Sean and his brother Archie in after their mother died, and treated them as if they were their own.

Sean hasn’t turned out too badly either: he has steady work at the plant, a good woman as his wife, and a fine daughter. But Archie is another matter. He got started as a career criminal early on, with stints in jail for teenage joy rides and small-time drug trafficking. That escalated soon enough and Archie is in prison – again.

Or so Sean thinks. One day Sean discovers that Archie is due out that very same day, and he panics. His brother had given him ₤1000 to keep while he was away and Sean has spent the money. Sean is certain that if he can’t get Archie’s money in time, his brother will kill him.

And he has good reason to believe the worst. Archie’s best friend and de facto henchman has already made it known that Sean had better be ready to hand over the cash or suffer the consequences. Sean has witnessed his brother’s brutality first-hand, which confirms his conviction that any brotherly affection Archie might have for Sean won’t stand in the way of him getting his money back – all of it.

With the down-at-heel joie de vivre of Roddy Doyle and the wacko plottings of Irvine Welsh, Fresh is a white-knuckle ride through one forgettable day in the life of Sean O’Grady. Mark McNay’s debut will leave you bowled-over and breathless and marks the arrival of a major new talent.

From the Hardcover edition.
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. Fresh is his first novel, and won the Arts Foundation New Fiction Award 2007. Mark ...
Title:FreshFormat:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 8 × 5.03 × 0.76 inPublished:May 13, 2008Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385663781

ISBN - 13:9780385663786

Look for similar items by category:


Rated 4 out of 5 by from Couldn't put it down Great book. Loved the Scottish language and the characters. Definitely recommend it.
Date published: 2018-01-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Gritty Dark Day in the Life A day in the life of Sean O'Grady - and it's not going well. His brother is about to get out of jail, and discover that the money he'd trusted to Sean is missing a good portion. Sean needs to come up with the cash, fast. Weaving through Sean's past through his reveries and memories, and the present through Sean's troubles and worries, "Fresh" brings - if you'll pardon the pun - a fresh approach to a familiar style of tale telling. The rough and tumble language of the working class poor is gritty and real, as is the humour of coping that comes so easily to the same. Having grown up in England, much of this novel made me blink in remembrance, either linguistic, or just in the style and description that McNay dabs with such a deft brush. At times even funny, this dark tale is sure to sit well with those looking for a harsh, but literary, experience. There is social commentary as well as narrative, and the balance of character and action is appreciated.
Date published: 2008-05-22

Read from the Book

Chapter 1The 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.Alright boys?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?It’s Friday.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.Maybe.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.Fag?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.No.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.Albert chuckled.Aye time flies when yer old.Albert smiled.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.Innit?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?What?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.From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. One reviewer praised Fresh because the “language – especially the dialogue – is brimming with life and never strained.” What is your reaction to the way in which Mark McNay has written the dialogue and narrative? Does his use of the Glasgow dialect lend anything specific to your experience?2. A screenwriter once opined that “great dialogue does not come from having a good ear for dialogue. It does not come from having some innate gift or talent for writing dialogue. It comes from this: knowing your characters so well that you know what they will say and how they will say it when faced with specific people, situations or events.” Do you agree? Do McNay’s characters react (and speak) in ways that ring true in terms of how you have come to know them? Is it possible to judge the authenticity of a character’s reaction?3. The chicken processing plant, and all its attendant gruesomeness, figures prominently in the telling of Sean’s story. Why do you believe McNay chose to set the book in the plant?, What role(s) does it play in the narrative, apart from being a backdrop?4. 4.At the start of the novel, Sean’s situation is arguably emblematic of a culture that revolves around immediate gratification – spending beyond our means with little thought to the consequences. Do you believe that his predicament is particular to living on a low wage, unique to Sean, or is it universal?5. The impact of their mother’s death reverberates in different ways for both Sean and Archie: Sean’s memory of his mother is fragmented because of his age, and as readers, we have little insight into Archie’s experience of her. In what ways, if any, do you believe that their mother’s death influenced the choices each brother makes?6. Sean’s narrative often skips into grandiose daydreams in which he plays the starring role: an heroic sergeant on the battlefield and the champion at the Embassy World Chicken-hanging competition, among others. Are his omnipotent fantasies escapism or survival or both? In what other ways, consciously or subconsciously, does Sean achieve the same objective?7. Choices, both good and bad, play out in Sean’s resolution of his predicament with Archie. Some of Sean’s soundest decisions are influenced by his wife, his uncle Albert, and Gambo. Which relationship, if any, do you think is Sean’s ultimate salvation? Why?8. Sean’s peripheral relationships with his auntie, Jessie, his wife, Maggie, and his daughter, Donna, exert subtle influence on him. Do these female characters move beyond the traditional roles of voice of reason, moral compass, nurturer or muse? What do these characters reveal about the gender roles that play out in Royston?9. The evolution of Archie and Sean’s relationship is pieced together through transitions between memory and the present. There is a discernable shift in the dynamics of that relationship, from Archie as Sean’s protector to his persecutor. What accounts for this shift? What are the most significant instances that changed Sean’s perception of his brother?10. In many ways, Archie becomes the archetypal villain by the conclusion of the story. Are there any aspects of his character that preserve his humanity? Do you think Sean’s resolution of his relationship with his brother is inevitable?11. Mark McNay is a relative newcomer to the literary scene, particularly in Canada. What are your impressions of him as a writer? What aspects of his style do you appreciate most? Why? If you had to describe McNay as a writer to your friends in three words, what would those words be?

Editorial Reviews

“Menacing, witty, with snappy no-nonsense dialogue and an unambiguous shocking ending, McNay’s debut is every bit as fresh as its title.” —Guardian (UK)“McNay’s portrayal of factory life is richly convincing. . . . His language–especially the dialogue–is exact, brimming with life and never strained. . . . The result is a novel whose edgy energy carries you forward . . . a hugely entertaining, sometimes disturbing, fiction debut.” —The Scotsman (UK)“McNay’s novel is something of a paradox because its apparently small scale belies its richness in detail. His craftsmanship is not only evident in the dovetailing of scenes and carefully-constructed suspense but in his evocation of Glasgow dialect.”—The Times (UK)