Volume 9 - Issue 1 - Editorial
Alasdair Gray, who is interviewed in this issue of the Scottish Review of Books, recently caused a stushie with an essay titled ‘Settlers and Colonists’. For many commentators that was provocation enough and Gray, hitherto regarded as a national treasure, was roundly denounced as, at best, anti-English, and, at worst, racist. Politicians of every hue, including the Nationalists, who had once embraced Gray, eagerly distanced themselves from him, as if he had a transmittable disease. But what few people did was read Gray’s essay in its entirety, a common failing when politics and literature collide. We are reminded, for example, of the case of Salman Rushdie and The Satanic Verses, which very few of those who burned copies of the novel and effigies of its author had ever read or had the capacity to read.
However we believe that Gray’s essay deserves to be read and commented upon soberly. ‘Colonists and settlers,’ he wrote, ‘may start with the same homeland and some loyalty to it, a loyalty dependant on support the homeland gives them. The difference between these two sorts of invader becomes obvious when they have subdued the local natives by exterminating many of them, as in Australia, driving them away, as in North America, enslaving them as in South America, or (more rarely) giving some of them equal rights, as may be the case in New Zealand.’
Fire Island - Christian McEwen
In the late 1930s, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, Frank Fraser Darling moved to the tiny Scottish island of Tanera Mor. He came as a naturalist, intending to study seals and birds, and stayed on, for several hard-bitten years, to transform a ramshackle ruin into a thriving and productive farm. His was an urgent, sinewy, masculine enterprise, dependent, as so often, on the (largely) unsung labour of his devoted wife. But held in the daily mesh of action and practicality was another catch entirely: quiet epiphanies of looking and deep listening, the fruit less of mindfulness than of what some have called ‘placefulness’ – the blue-grey/blue-green wisdom given by Tanera itself.
The Traverse at Fifty - Joseph Farrell
When in 1887 Lady Gregory and W B Yeats sent out a letter seeking backing for the theatre that would become The Abbey, they stated clearly that the aim was to encourage plays ‘written with high ambition and so build up a Celtic and Irish school of dramatic literature.’ When in post-war Italy, Paolo Grassi and Giorgio Strehler drew up a manifesto for Milan’s Piccolo Teatro, they outlined their vision of theatre as a social service, as necessary to society as education or health. When in 1965, the free-wheeling Mickery Theatre was established in Amster-dam, its founder Ritsaert Ten Cate declared he was out to provide a venue dedicated to experimental, avant-garde ventures. And when the political climate created by the demonstrations and occupations in 1968 gave birth to a new style of theatre company, ranging from Dario Fo’s Nuova Scena to Peter Stein’s Schaubuhne in Berlin, they each issued high-minded manifestos proclaiming the new troupes to be socialist cooperatives committed to producing popular, mostly political, theatre and attracting ‘alternative’ (defining word of the Sixties) audiences.
Gerald Mangan claims to have discovered previously- unknown works by some of Scotland’s favourite poets. Here we present a selection.
He keeps telling me those stains
on his shirt-front are ketchup
from the all-night fast-food joint. And I keep saying: Pull the other one, I didn’t come up the Clyde
in a Transylvanian coal-puffer.
I know pizza-sauce when I see it churning around in the soapsuds
all day in the launderette.
Alasdair Gray: THE SRB INTERVIEW
Alasdair Gray, who is 78 and lives in Glasgow, is a writer and artist. Initially, he was best known for his drawings and paintings but with the publication of his novel Lanark in 1981 that changed and he was feted for the creation of a Glasgow Ulysses. Over the next four decades he produced a profusion of literary work, encompassing plays, poems, essays, novels and short stories. His most recent book is Every Short Story (Canongate, £30) which includes seventy-three previously published stories and sixteen new ones.
Early Days of a Better Nation - Harry McGrath
On the Scottish Parliament’s Canongate Wall, the most paraphrased non-Scottish writer since devolution meets one of the most misspelled Scottish writers of any era. ‘Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation’ was included in the 24 original inscriptions chosen for the building because they were ‘of relevance to Scotland and its Parliament’. It was attributed at the time to ‘Alisdair’ Gray.
In fact, Alasdair Gray paraphrased the line from a poem called Civil Elegies by Canadian poet Dennis Lee and has made no secret of that. In September 2012 Gray’s soon-to-be unveiled mural on the wall of the revamped Hillhead subway station in Glasgow was covered by a large black poster that read ‘work as if you live in the early days of a better world’. Gray explained why he had changed ‘nation’ to ‘world’ and said of the ‘nation’ version that: ‘I have always attributed it to him [Lee] but people started quoting it as if I had invented it’.
Back to the Drawing Board - Alan Taylor
Into my possession recently came a facsimile of Herman Moll’s Atlas of Scotland. Published originally in 1725, it was reprinted in 1980 in a limited edition of 500 with green cloth boards and a brown leather spine. The copy which I have is numbered 149. The publisher was Heritage Press, based in Towie Barclay Castle near Turiff in Aberdeenshire, which dates to the sixteenth century but is presently in a state of neglect. Publication, it seems, was made possible by the enlisting of subscribers, among whom were Princess Margaret, Peter Shand Kydd, Princess Diana’s stepfather, Keith Schellenberg, erstwhile laird of Eigg, the actor Iain Cuthbertson and Andy Stewart, the bekilted host of The White Heather Club who - in my mind at least - will forever be associated with the The Muckin’ o’ Geordie’s Byre.
House with a View - Christopher Harvie
In 2008 Angus Calder died in a nursing home within the precincts of Holyrood, Croft an Righ, Edinburgh’s blue-sky Marshalsea. Years earlier we had both agreed with John Buchan that Chrystal Croftangry, protagonist of that autumnal novella, the 1827 ‘Introduction’ to The Chronicles of the Canongate, might have started a new Scott. The burnt-out rake returns to Clydesdale and the family estate to find the old house gone and ‘Castle Treddles’ in its place:
Thatcher in the Raw - David Torrance
Ah, the 1980s. I remember it, of course, but mine was the vantage point of a pre-teen, and by the time I’d figured out what was happening it had gone, replaced by the more nondescript 1990s. If only I’d been a decade older, or even a few years, that tumultuous decade might have left more of an impression. Thus the decade of shoulder pads, BMX bikes, Stock Aitken & Waterman and Spitting Image is for me the recent past and, as Alan Bennett once observed, there is no period so remote. Yet the influence of the 1980s remains prevalent, in the number of privately-owned homes, the triumph of consumerism and nostalgic fads in music, fashion and literature.
In the Wilds of Aberdeen - Mandy Haggith
Covering a year in Aberdeen, starting in November with the onset of a snowy winter, Esther Woolfson’s Field Notes from a Hidden City takes the form of seven thematic essays punctuating chronological notes. It is not a daily diary and sometimes a couple of weeks go by without comment, but it has the apparently random flavour of a nature journal, with entries triggered by observations or encounters, liberally laced with textbook research. It is also a remarkably personal book, and by its end one is as familiar with the author’s family and friends as with the urban animals who share their lives.
Cardinal Virtues - Jonathan Wright
Papal conclaves aren’t what they used to be. It only took a few days and five ballots to elect Francis I and, as best as we can tell, it was a well-organised and suitably decorous affair. The mischievous historian in me almost longs for the time when conclaves were ill-humoured and could last for years. In the middle of the thirteenth-century the people of Viterbo grew heartily tired of the squabbling papal electors who had been abusing the town’s hospitality, depleting its precious food and resources, and not coming close to a decision about who should follow in St Peter’s footsteps. An obvious solution presented itself: the citizens of Viterbo ripped the roof off the building in which their ecclesiastical leaders were gathered and hoped that heavy rain showers would force them into action. This was hardly an ideal way of proceeding but at least there was a healthy dose of drama.
Mood Swings - Rosemary Goring
To open Robin Robertson’s fifth collection of poems is to pass over the threshold of ordinary life and find yourself, like some fairytale character, caught in an otherworld that, while enchanting and beautiful, can also be malign. It is surely no coincidence that the image of keys runs through Hill of Doors, as if there is a series of locks the poet must open, an armory of bolts to be thrown until a particularly sticky door will creak open, beyond which the here and now, and a host of metaphysical realms, will finally be revealed. The only hill in this collection is Tillydrone Motte, one of Robertson’s boyhood haunts in the north-east of Scotland: ‘Fifteen years in every kind of light and weather:/my castle-keep, watchtower,/anchorite’s cell, my solitary/proving ground, a vast sounding-board/here amongst the gorse and seabirds.’
Too Many Bison: Infantilising Museums - Lucy Ellmann
My husband and I made our way from Edinburgh to London for the launch, on Valentine’s Day, of my new novel, Mimi – a sort of romance based in New York but written mainly in Orkney. This happened to coincide with ‘One Billion Rising’, a worldwide mass action against male violence, organized by Eve Ensler. I thought of going to the rally at Westminster myself but was scared of being kettled and missing my launch party! I also had reservations about the usefulness of this global stunt (reservations mainly to do with the American flavour of it all, and the use of dancing as a form of protest). But Ensler’s project did at least give women across the world a sense of camaraderie, if only for a day. Nik Williams, a friend who works for ‘Peace One Day’ (a global movement set on enshrining at least one day of peace a year: September 21st), was there and reported back that it was a lively event, featuring for instance a banner that said, ‘BIG SISTER IS WATCHING YOU’.
The Battle for Adam Smith - Neil Davidson
On the Royal Mile in Edinburgh stands a statue of Adam Smith. Sculpted by Alexander Stoddard and unveiled on July 4, 2008, the only statue of the great man to be erected in the Scottish capital at first seems unexceptional—a worthy memorial to one of the great figures of the Scottish Enlightenment. It is certainly a more impressive work than the travesty of Hume, also by Stoddard, on the other side of the High Street. Hume appears in Classical garb and looking rather slimmer than contemporary memoirs and paintings of the philosopher would leave us to believe. Smith is at least represented in the costume of his age, standing in front of a scythe and sheaf of corn, symbols that rightly reflect the agricultural focus of The Wealth of Nations. Viewed from the back, however, the statue displays the difficulties we still face in coming to terms with Smith and his work.
Alain-Fournier's Solidarity Masterpiece
Youth is another country. They do things differently there, according to different rules, and in a language which is quite lost to us in later life. It is easy enough to capture early childhood in fiction. There are conventions about what the child knows and doesn’t know and because there is an adult (usually) in charge of the text, the child’s omissions, false beliefs and misunderstandings are flagged up, sometimes to comic, sometimes to poignant effect. Adolescence is more resistant. If Lacan – the first but not the last Frenchman here – is correct and the unconscious is organised like a language, then adolescent syntax and adolescent narrative must somehow reflect a mind in the process of being radically rewired for adult functioning. Ask a child to tell a story: the result is strange and beautiful. Ask an adolescent to tell a story and it seems disjointed and remote, full of internal contradictions and yawning lacunae, over-punctuated and stilted.
Classifieds Vol 9 Iss 1
Classified contains a listing of new titles submitted for inclusion by publishers in Scotland. Advertisers in this section are:
Argyll Publishing 01369 820 229 argyllpublishing.com
Association for Scottish Literary Studies (ASLS) 0141 330 5309 asls.org.uk
Barrington Stoke 0131 225 4113 barringtonstoke.co.uk
Birlinn Ltd. 0131 668 4371 birlinn.co.uk
Brown, Son & Ferguson 0141 429 5922 skipper.co.uk
Candlestick Press 07500 180 871 candlestickpress.co.uk
Grace Note Publications 01764 655979 gracenotepublications.com
Luath Press 0131 225 4326 luath.co.uk
Neil Wilson Publishing 0141 954 8007 nwp.co.uk
Polygon See Birlinn
Thirsty Books See Argyll Publishing
Scottish Storytelling Centre 0131 556 9579 scottishstorytellingcentre.co.uk
The In Pinn See Neil Wilson
Vertebrate Publishing 0114 267 9277 v-publishing.co.uk