Monthly Archives: November 2011


Volume 7 – Issue 4 – Classifieds


Prester John
John Buchan
POLYGON £7.99 PB 978 0 85790 162 0

South Africa, 1900. 19-year-old David Crawfurd is sent to South Africa to earn his living as a storekeeper. A strange encounter on the journey suggests that dark deeds are afoot – all bound up with the mysterious primeval kingdom of Prester John. Available in paperback as part of an extensive backlist of Buchan’s titles and on eBook.

The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth
Stuart Clark
POLYGON £8.99 PB 978 1 84697 215 7

The first of a trilogy of novels inspired by key historical events in man’s quest to understand the Universe. Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei, although on different sides of a religious divide, seem united by a theory which threatens to reveal the very mind of God, but will put their lives in danger. eBook also available.

The Hunted
Paul Cuddihy
CAPERCAILLIE BOOKS £8.99 PB 9781906220426

Set in Glasgow, 1919, this tense political thriller follows Tom Costello, chosen by Irish Republican leaders to assassinate a British General. There is an informer in their midst and the British send their own marksman, Corporal Harrison to hunt down and kill Tom before he trains his sights on General Maxwell. Kindle and e-Pub versions available to download from Amazon and iBookstore

Whose Turn for the Stairs?
Robert Douglas
HACHETTE SCOTLAND £7.99 PB 9780755318926

Night Song of the Last Tram’s author Robert Douglas turns novelist to tell the story of 12 families and their tightly-knit street in 1950s Maryhill. With his customary humour and pathos, Douglas recreates a time and place particular to Glasgow but to which everyone will relate. Young love, new starts, and a domineering granny feature.

The Witches of Pollok
Anne Downie
CAPERCAILLIE BOOKS £8.99 PB 9781906220365

A gripping tale of witchcraft based on a true story set in 17th century Scotland. A young girl with a mysterious background, Janet Douglas cannot speak initially, but finds her voice to accuse others of witchcraft. The malevolent Janet Douglas disappears amidst a conflagration of fire… or does she? Kindle and ePub versions available to download from Amazon and iBookstore

The Wicker Tree
Robin Hardy
LUATH PRESS £7.99 PB 978-1-906817-61-9

From the director of The Wicker Man… As young Americans Beth and Steve become missionaries in Scotland, they are welcomed to Tressock, the border fiefdom of the sinister Lachlan Morrison. They assume their hosts simply want to hear more about Jesus. How wrong they are. The new movie is due for release in UK cinemas soon.

Da Happie Laand Robert
Alan Jamieson
LUATH PRESS PB £9.99 978-1-906817-86-2

Shortlisted for the Saltire Society and Creative Scotland Book Awards 2010/11, this is the new edition of the epic and ambitious novel journeying between Shetland and New Zealand, encompassing mystery, ethnology, drama, linguistics and even a love story.

The Thistle and the Grail
Robin Jenkins
POLYGON £6.99 PB 978 085790 163 7

The Holy Grail of football, the Scottish Junior Cup, glitters at the end of a string of matches and suddenly the entire town of Drumsagart is depending on it. Also available in paperback as part of an extensive backlist of Jenkins’ titles. Available on eBook.

Poverty Castle
Robin Jenkins
POLYGON PB £7.99978 085790 160 6

Donald Sempill buys a ruin in Argyllshire to restores it as a home for his family – Poverty Castle. The idyll can’t last, though. Try as hard they might, the outside world creeps into the Sempills’ Eden. Also available in paperback as part of an extensive backlist of Jenkins’ titles. Available on eBook.

An Old Pub Near the Angel
James Kelman
POLYGON £7.99 PB 978 0 85790 148 4

James Kelman’s first collection of short stories appear as fresh and sharp as when they first appeared. Set among the tenements and bedsits of Glasgow, they shine a light on the exploits of young and old alike. Available as an eBook.

The Busconductor Hines
James Kelman
POLYGON £7.99 PB 978 085790 143 9

New eBook edition.

James Kelman provides a brilliantly executed, uncompromising slice of Glasgow life in the form of a bored busconductor cursed with an eccentric, anarchic imagination. Intelligent, funny and humane. Also available in paperback as part of an extensive backlist by Polygon. Available on eBook.

The Blockade Runners
Jules Verne
LUATH PRESS £7.99 PB 978-1-905222-20-9

This classic tale of adventure from Jules Verne links the bustling docks of 19th century Glasgow with the danger and conflict of the American Civil War.

A Small Town Affair
Rosie Wallace
HACHETTE SCOTLAND £7.99 PB 9780755319343

A recipe for domestic disaster! Take one small town. Add three households: a MP, his wife and children; a Church of Scotland minister, his wife, teenagers and an afterthought; and a 60-something local businessman, and his childless wife. Mix in several large dollops of scandal, some secrets and a tragedy.


Scunnered – Slices of Scottish Life in Seventeen Gallus Syllables
Des Dillon
LUATH PRESS £6.99 PB 978-1-908373-01-4

The ideal gift for thinkers, ponderers and cynics, Scotophiles and Scotophobes alike. From internationally acclaimed and award-winning writer Des Dillon comes this humorous exploration of Scottish life and culture.

Tam O’ Shanter
Alexander Goudie
BIRLINN £25.00 HB 978 1 78027 036 4

Tam o’ Shanter is widely regarded as Robert Burns’ masterpiece. This magnificent edition of the poem features the work of Alexander Goudie, one of Scotland’s greatest 20th century artists, who was inspired by the poem to produce some of his most powerful and imaginative paintings, which capture all the menace and comedy of Burn’s poem.

An Cuilithionn 1939 – The Cuillin 1939 and Unpublished Poems
Sorley MacLean
ASLS £12.50 PB 9781906841034

Edited by Christopher Whyte, this major new edition of MacLean’s epic work includes 400 lines never before published, along with MacLean’s own English translation, and an extended commentary. 45 other previously unpublished poems by MacLean also appear here for the first time, with facing English translations.


The Flight of the Turtle – New Writing Scotland 29
Edited by Alan Bissett & Carl MacDougall
ASLS £7.95 PB 9781906841065

New Writing Scotland is the principal forum for poetry and short fiction in Scotland today. Every year it publishes the very best from both emerging and established writers. The Flight of the Turtle is the latest collection of excellent contemporary writing, drawn from across Scotland.


Scotland’s Castle Culture
Edited by Audrey Dakin, Miles Glendinning & Aonghas MacKechnie
JOHN DONALD £25.00 HB 978 1 90656 633 3

The drama and diversity of this subject is reflected in the book’s structure: five chapters covering the main chronological phases of castle culture, followed by ten individual case studies of representative examples, from medieval Bothwell to Iain Begg’s late 20th-century Raven’s Craig.

Renewing Old Edinburgh – the Enduring Legacy of Patrick Geddes
Jim Johnson & Lou Rosenburg
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £14.99 PB 9781906134495

Original research into the structure of Edinburgh’s Old Town. The same issues in Patrick Geddes’ era still resonate today in the field of modern development.


To Have and to Hold – Future of a Contested Landscape
Edited by Gerrie Van Noord
LUATH PRESS £15.00 PB 978-1-908373-10-6

NVA art agency sees St Peter’s seminary as a place charged with possibilities, stories and life. This book aims to dismantle the notion of ‘ruin’ as we know it and go beyond what is normally seen, to build a new whole from fragments which perpetually shimmer with potentiality.


Inspirations – a new series of introductory biographies of people of achievement from past and present.

Bob Dylan
Colin Waters
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781906134518

Nelson Mandela
Marian Pallister
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781906134525

Robert Burns
Bronwen Hosie
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781906134532

The Williams Sisters
Hugh MacDonald
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781906134549

Charles Dickens
Alan Taylor
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 97819906134679

Muhammad Ali
Hugh MacDonald
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 97819096134662

JK Rowling
Lindsey Fraser
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781906134693

John Lennon
Chris Dolan
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 97819906134686

Immortal Memories
John Cairney
LUATH PRESS £12.99 PB 978-1-905222-48-3

A compilation of toasts to the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns as delivered at Burns Suppers around the world together with other orations, verses and addresses from 1801 to the present.

Prelude to Everest – Alexander Kellas, Himalayan Mountaineer
Ian R. Mitchell and George W. Rodway
LUATH PRESS £20.00 HB 978-1-906817-74-9

Award-winning mountain writer Ian R Mitchell and scientist George W Rodway tell the tale of Aberdeen-born Kellas, who achieved the first ascent of several Himalayan peaks over 20,000 feet, but whose life was to end in tragedy as he became the first ‘martyr’ of Everest in 1921.

Jules Verne’s Scotland – In Fact and Fiction
Ian Thompson
LUATH PRESS £16.99 HB 978-1-906817-37-4

Jules Verne’s Scotland guides the reader through Verne’s journeys to Scotland, first in 1859 and again in 1879, where he witnessed the majesty of Edinburgh and the industrial buzz of Glasgow together with the unspoilt beauty of the Highlands and Islands.


More Granny Porage Stories
Jean Marshall
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781906134341

Three more cleverly illustrated stories for the under-eights.

Send for Granny Porage
Jean Marshall
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781906134556

The latest picture book in the Granny Porage series for the young.

The Boy Who Wouldn’t Swim
Kenneth Steven
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 97819906134730

Another adventure story from this successful and thoughtful author. For 2 to 8-year-olds.

Murdo’s War
Alan Temperley
LUATH PRESS £8.99 PB 978-1-906817-34-3

It’s February 1943 and the Nazis have a secret plan to invade Britain. Only 14-year-old Sutherlander Murdo stands in their way. This thrilling and dangerous adventure story chases over harsh Scottish terrain through freezing weather and the stakes couldn’t be higher.


The Scots Crisis of Confidence
Carol Craig
ARGYLL PUBLISHING, £9.99 PB 9781906134709

A new edition of Carol Craig’s successful exposition of Scots’ attitudes to and predilection for negativity. She offers a refreshingly different analysis of the big themes of Scottish culture. Rewritten in parts and brought up to date.

The Trial of Helen Percy
Helen Percy
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £9.99 PB 9781906134747

In 1995 Helen Percy, a young Church of Scotland minister in an outwardly idyllic rural parish was raped by one of her congregation. This book is her revealing, remarkable and candid story – a beautifully and powerfully written testament to the strength of the human spirit and a burning indictment of conservative forces in Scotland’s national Church and among popularly held attitudes.


Burnscripts – Dramatic interpretations of the life and works of Robert Burns
John Cairney
LUATH PRESS £14.99 PB 978-1-906817-72-5

Burnscripts, a collection of dramatic scripts by John Cairney interpreting the life and works of Robert Burns. Cairney, connected professionally to Burns as actor, author and writer for nearly half a century, is ideally-suited to present this collection of theatre plays, children’s drama and a full-length musical.


101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die
Ian Buxton
HACHETTE SCOTLAND £12.99 HB 9780755360833

101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die is a whisky guide with a difference. The book decodes the marketing hype and gets straight to the point; whether from India, America, Sweden, Ireland, Japan or the hills, glens and islands of Scotland, here are the 101 whiskies that you really want. Slainte!

The Sprouters Handbook
Edward Cairney
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £4.99 PB 9781906134754

New editions of bestselling and on formative guide to sprouting seeds. David Bellamy: ‘A must for every kitchen and a bonus for all who crave a healthy diet.’


A Gaelic Alphabet – a Guide to the Pronunciation of Gaelic Letters and Words
George McLennan
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £4.99 PB 9781906134334

Like its companion volume Scots Gaelic, an introduction to the basics, this handy book is of great help to learners and speakers.

Scots Gaelic – an Introduction to the Basics
George McLennan
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £4.99 PB 9781902831886

A new reprint of the successful Gaelic primer.

Slogans Galore – Gaelic Words in English
George McLennan
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £4.99 PB 9781906134488

A reference guide to Gaelic-derived words in common use.

The Essential Gaelic-English / English-Gaelic Dictionary
Angus Watson
BIRLINN £25.00 HB 978 1 84158 367 9

This combined dictionary is ideal for learners of Gaelic at all levels, and its generous coverage of vocabulary from fields such as business and IT makes it a valuable tool for all those who require an up-to-date reference work.


Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors
National Archives of Scotland
BIRLINN £12.99 PB 978 0 85790 077 7

Scotland has one of the best-maintained records and facilities of any country in the world for undertaking family research. This book details internet developments, including a chapter on family history on the web. It also points to traditional resources, explaining step by step how to research records of births, marriages and wills. Available on eBook.


Scottish Ethnicity and the Making of New Zealand Society, 1850-1930
Tanja Bueltmann

Uncovering Scottish ethnicity from the verges of nostalgia, this study documents the notable imprint Scots left on New Zealand. It examines Scottish immigrant community life, culture and identity and adds to the growing body of knowledge on the Scots abroad.

A History of Everyday Life in Medieval Scotland
Edited by Edward J. Cowan and Lizanne Henderson

What was it like to live in the medieval period? In what ways did extraordinary events affect the everyday? The first volume in the Everyday Life series answers these questions as it opens a window onto medieval Scotland from 1000 to 1600.

Scotland the Brief a short history of a nation
Christopher Harvie
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781906134617

A beginner’s guide from prehistory to the new Scottish Parliament.

River of Fire – The Clydebank Blitz
John MacLeod
BIRLINN £9.99 PB 978 0 85790 086 9

John MacLeod tells the story of the Clydebank Blitz and the terrible scale of death and devastation, speculating on why the tragedy has been so widely forgotten and its ordeal denied any place in national honour. Available on eBook.

The Kirk and the Kingdom – A Century of Tension in Scottish Social Theology 1830-1929
Johnston McKay

Many believe that the church was largely mute on the widespread poverty and deprivation which accompanied the rapid expanse of urban life in Scotland. This study shows that the church was not lacking in commitment to improving such conditions, through the example of theologian Robert Flint and the parish minister Frederick Lockhart Robertson.

Domination and Lordship – Scotland, 1070-1230
Richard Oram

Was Scotland dominated or the dominator in the twelfth and early thirteenth-century? Volume 3 of the New Edinburgh History of Scotland explores the key issues and themes of the time, placing this period in the wider context of the formation of Scotland the nation.

Edinburgh’s Colonies – Housing the Workers
Richard Rodger
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £11.99 PB 9781906134785

A well-illustrated narrative of the distinctive and charming ‘Colonies’ housing of Edinburgh. Of interest to Edinburgh citizens but also to students of social and housing history.

Great Scottish Speeches
David Torrance
LUATH PRESS £16.99 HB 978-1-906817-97-8

A collection of around sixty of the greatest speeches delivered in Scotland or by Scots, ranging from the political oratories of Alex Salmond, Margaret Thatcher and Donald Dewar, to the fictional words of Miss Jean Brodie, Macbeth and Trainspotting’s Renton.

The BBC in Scotland – The First 50 Years
David Pat Walker
LUATH PRESS £20.00 HB 978-1-908373-00-7

Former BBC Scotland assistant controller David Pat Walker delves into the history of Scottish broadcasting, with thrilling tales of coded war messages, the British predecessor to War of the Worlds and the advent of television.


Never Mind the Captions – An Off-Beat Guide to Scotland’s History and Heritage
Alistair Findlay
LUATH PRESS PB £7.99 978-1-906817-89-3

Scotland’s most iconic objects and works of art are given a voice of their own in this unique, amusing and thought provoking book as the author looks beyond the museum information cards to imagine what the exhibits themselves might have to say.

Last Tram tae Auchenshuggle
Allan Morrison
LUATH PRESS £7.99 PB 978-1-908373-04-5

A hilarious homage to the world famous Glasgow trams, featuring everyone’s famous clippie, Big Aggie MacDonald.

Why Me? The Very Important Emails of Bob Servant
Bob Servant with Neil Forsyth
BIRLINN £6.99 PB 978 1 78027 009 8

In these genuine emails, Bob Servant looks to the Internet’s worst con merchants and charlatans for answers to his many woes, from the author of the bestselling Delete This at Your Peril and Bob Servant: Hero of Dundee. eBook also available


Scottish and International Modernisms – Relationships and Reconfigurations
Edited by Emma Dymock & Margery Palmer McCulloch
ASLS £9.95 PB 9781906841072

This collection of essays, from fourteen scholars, illustrates the strongly international and modernist dimension of Scotland’s interwar revival, and illuminates the relationships between Scottish and non-Scottish writers and contexts. It also includes two chapters on the contribution made to this revival by Scottish visual art and music.


Glenlee – The Life and Times of a Clyde Built Cape Horner
Colin Castle & Ian MacDonald
BROWN, SON & FERGUSON £20.00 HB 978-0851745091

In the 10-year period beginning in 1882, 271 barques and full-riggers were built on the Clyde during which time the yards of Russell, Stephen, Connell, Lithgow and Rodger established a worldwide reputation for the construction of large sailing ships of outstanding design, quality and durability. Three-masted barque Glenlee was one such vessel. This is her fascinating story.

Bill Cumming
BROWN, SON & FERGUSON £55.00 HB 978-1849270137

Based on real people and events this is a gripping factual account of the background events and repercussions of the milestone launch of the world’s first 4-masted iron merchant ship in 1875.

The phenomenal success of this large square rigged sailing-ship, named County of Peebles, prompted R & J Craig of Glasgow to launch a further eleven fabulous jute clippers.

Half of Glasgow’s Gone
Michael Dick
BROWN, SON & FERGUSON £9.95 PB 978-0851745091

Glasgow, until recently, was a major European port and this publication describes its heyday, decline, neglect and subsequent redevelopment. Glasgow’s Harbour’s significant contribution to the 1939-45 war effort is also covered in some detail. The book records an important part of Glasgow’s heritage and a similar pattern of change, redevelopment and regeneration can be seen in other British ports whose roots lay in the 19th century.

Truly Clyde Built
William Kane
BROWN, SON & FERGUSON £60.00 HB 9781849270144

Scott’s of Greenock grew from a small family business building and repairing Herring Busses in 1711 to leading the world in both merchant and naval shipbuilding to the highest standards. The gates closed permanently in 1993 thus ending a great relationship between the people of Greenock and the Scott Family Enterprise. DVD with 2GB of documents, tables and photographs included.

Keepers of The Light
Malcolm MacPherson
BROWN, SON & FERGUSON £10.00 HB 9781849270113

There are well over 200 lighthouses positioned around Scotland’s breathtaking and energetic coastline. The author has captured 33 of these dramatic Scottish lighthouses in watercolour for this first volume of his original paintings. Each painting is accompanied by a brief description of the lighthouse giving details of location, dimensions, history, and technical information.

At The Sharp End
George H Parker
BROWN, SON & FERGUSON £19.95 HB 9780851746104

Provides an insight into the building and repairing of ships, on the Tay, on the Clyde, on the three rivers of the north-east of England, shipbuilding labour relations, and reasons for the decline of the industry. The late George Parker, the third generation of his family to build ships, writes about shipbuilding from the “inside”.

Last Dawn – the Royal Oak tragedy at Scapa Flow
David Turner
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £7.99 PB 9781906134761

A new (3rd) edition of the WWII story of the Royal Oak. Already the subject of a TV documentary, Last Dawn in now a text for the study of WW2 in schools.


Six Months Without Sundays – The Scots Guards in Afghanistan
Max Benitz
BIRLINN £16.99 HB 978 1 84341 052 2

Benitz reports from the frontline in a perceptive account of several months spent in Afghanistan.

Training and living amongst soldiers, who are also his peers age-wise, as they undertake their tour in Helmand province, gives an insight into the pressures faced by those who the Scots Guards in the most dangerous place on earth. eBook also available.


The Great Folk Discography Volume 2 – The Next Generation
Martin Strong
POLYGON £20.00 PB 978 1 84697 177 8

The Great Folk Discography Volume 2 examines the new legends of folk music from the 1970s to date, taking in such diverse acts as Billy Bragg, Midlake, Fleet Foxes, Nanci Griffith and the Proclaimers.


The Clydesdale – Workhorse of the World
Mary Bromilow
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £20 HB 9781906134655

A lovingly compiled story of this unsung Scottish export, the magnificent Clydesdale horse. Lovely photos, beautiful book.

A Lone Furrow – The Continued Fight Against Wildlife Crime
Alan Stewart
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £9.99 PB 9781906134792

Britain’s foremost investigator of wildlife crime returns to the many crime scenes that still cover the countryside. First hand accounts of fascinating police investigations. Scottish Field: ‘Britain’s foremost wildlife detective.’


A Model Constitution for Scotland – Making Democracy Work in an Independent State
W. Elliot Bulmer
LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 978-1-908373-1-37

A Model Constitution for Scotland sets out a workable model for Scotland’s future and includes detailed constitutional proposals and informed discussion on the topic.


Caledonia Dreaming
John KV Eunson
HACHETTE SCOTLAND £8.99 PB 9780755318605

It would be hard to imagine getting through the day without using Alexander Cummings from Edinburgh’s invention – the flushing toilet. Glasgow’s William Cullen invented artificial refrigeration. Then there’s Dundee’s Janet Keillor (marmalade), Paisley’s James Goodfellow (the ATM) and Alexander McRae from the Kyle of Lochalsh (Speedos). Caledonia Dreaming tells the often frankly unbelievable stories behind these.


On Fire with Fergie – Me, My Dad and the Dons
Stuart Donald
HACHETTE SCOTLAND £8.99 PB 9780755319817

When at the age of 5, Stuart Donald found his elated Dad watching his team reach the Scottish League Cup Final with a dramatic 5-1 victory over Rangers, it was the start of an amazing relationship with Aberdeen FC. Stuart and his Dad watched Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen rise to the top of Scottish and European football, only to fall away…

We Are Hibernian
Andy MacVannan
LUATH PRESS HB £14.99 978-1-906817-99-2

A collection of real supporters talking about their real life experiences with one thing in common – the team they love! Including stories from some of Hibernian’s more high profile supporters such as Dougray Scott, Irvine Welsh and the Proclaimers.

Hands on Hearts – A Physio’s Tale
Alan Rae with Paul Kiddie
LUATH PRESS £14.99 HB 978-1-908373-02-1

Physiotherapist Alan Rae spent over 20 years tending to the injuries of Heart of Midlothian players. He now gives us a glimpse at life behind the scenes at a premiere league football club from a truly unique perspective.

The World History of Highland Games
David Webster
LUATH PRESS £25.00 PB 978-1-906307-48-6

The story of the games – Scotland and beyond! This is the largest and most comprehensive publication on the history and development of Scottish Highland Games, from its ancient roots to the present day.

Hibernian – From Joe Baker to Turnbull’s Tornadoes
Tom Wright
LUATH PRESS £20.00 HB 978-1-908373-09-0

The author narrates the great highs and painful lows of one of Scotland’s best loved football teams, with the hope that they will one day be resurrected to their former glory.


Cycling around Scotland
Nick Fairweather
ARGYLL PUBLISHING £9.99 PB 9781906134570

Light-hearted and informative travel writing at its best. All on a bike, on his own.

Walter’s Wiggles – The Random Thoughts of a Random Traveller
Walter Stephen
LUATH PRESS £12.99 PB 978-1-906817-68-8

The author takes the reader on a series of quests, to locations near and far, obscure and tourist-trodden. In discussion of his random places, Stephen works to examine his perception of the world we live in and how we act towards each other.


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Volume 7 – Issue 4 – Reviews


Eddie Linden
HEARING EYE, £7.50 53PP ISBN 978-1905082636

I hereby declare a fellow-feeling for Eddie (Sean) Linden, and could be thought to have shared certain situations with him in our respective fashions. We left the Lowlands of Scotland at about the same time. Together, as you might say, we crossed the border, bound for what was soon to be Sixties London, hoping to start magazines and to drop the name of poets, as he phrases it in this book. I once told him that he looked like Sir Matt Busby, the former and ever-popular manager of Manchester United, who came from a neighbouring mining village to Eddie’s, in Lanarkshire. He put up with that, though he may have preferred to be told that he looked like a poet. Not that his poems are exactly sold on the genus: he didn’t care for those located on stools in ‘intellectual’ bars, being geniuses and waving unpublished manuscripts. In London he entered the dark kingdom of the romantic poet George Barker, made friends with Elizabeth Smart and John Heath-Stubbs, and with Ian Hamilton, a very different kind of king.

He has been seen at many an intellectual pub and party, a little wraith-like, as one might imagine Scott’s Old Mortality, that keeper of the flame. Often silent, lonely-seeming, the least Liam Fox of Scotsmen, the least overbearing of literary men. He ran his magazine, Aquarius, from home, apparently, and was hated for it by his postman, he alleges.

Much of this gets into his volume of selected poems. The poems I’m drawn to are memories of family members and of London pals and postal districts. James Campbell’s celebratory foreword speaks of his upbringing as ‘a history of rejection that Dickens might have chosen to tone down’ and of the ‘tussles with drink and sex that appear to have stemmed from it’; it also suggests that sectarian brutality, with its murders and its scrawls and bawls (‘God bless the Rangers’), helped to send him south. An uncle is asked to greet loved ones in the next world in a poem which has a

warm word for James Kelman:

how’s Granny?

Tell Uncle Paddy I’ve

got a great book Greyhound for Breakfast

I am sure he can get it from God’s library.

And my last request – tell Mother not

to forget to say

a novena for her

mad son Eddie.

There can be no point in searching for ironies here, any more than in the poem to his father entitled ‘The Miner’, which shows a face that has never moved and bears the marks of hard work, etched ‘deep in blue’. These are poems which engage the mind that has a heart. Another poem that draws you is likely to be his best-known: ‘City of Razors’, addressed to dear old Glasgow town.

A woman roars from the upper window

‘They’re at it again, Maggie!

Five stitches in our Tommy’s face,


Eddie’s in the Royal wi’ a sword in his


And the razor’s floating in the River


This is a city which has needed the kind of archbishop praised here as having been a ‘beacon’ to Eddie’s life. James Campbell vouches for the sword, incidentally.

Memories of the editorial and freelance life are more satirical than fond, in contrast with the family material. The editor is pestered by people who want to be writers and who tear each other apart, and who are advised to go back to being miners. Down the pits are real people, it would seem, and so there are. There is in this area a piece called ‘Court Jester’, which causes a bit of uncertainty with its ‘you’s’ and ‘he’s’, and which describes a someone who might appear to include himself. This may be a soliloquy.

What is it going to look

like in forty years from now?

The pain, the fear from

day to day. Waiting for

the letter that never comes.

He sits there dropping poets’

names until one becomes

drunk and cannot hear

or see. Will someone rid me

of this pest that lingers

in our midst? O Christ take

away this painful fool.

God is one of those editors whose judgement can be suspect and who doesn’t always do what you want. But I’d like to think that this moving account of the literary life is already up there in his library, awaiting its author.

Karl Miller


Kapka Kassabova
PORTOBELLO BOOKS, £18.99 336PP ISBN 978-1846272844

Twelve Minutes of Love is a memoir, a poem, a philosophical meditation not only on tango but on life and love. It is a strangely moving book, Kassabova’s sensibility running throughout the pages like a melancholy tango melody. The author is intelligent, sensitive and romantic, and colours the content with her own elegiac perspective. With a variety of aphorisms and insights – tango always the overarching metaphor – she examines her own life with an objective wry humour. Nothing is under- or over-stated. The core of this book is a romance – a romance with tango and a romance with the illusion of love.

Her pursuit of dancing tango takes her all over the world from New Zealand where she grew up to Buenos Aires, from Berlin to Scotland. She follows her fascination with tango wherever it takes her. Her dancing becomes an obsession as she goes from milonga (a gathering of tango dancers) to milonga, having love affairs- platonic and otherwise – with the various unsuitable men she meets.

Tango is a dance of sex and longing where the sexes are sharply defined within the two roles of leader (male) and follower (female) and Kassabova seems to be seduced by the very narrowness of these parameters. It is a macho dance, the ‘cabezeo makes even a little man with a pot belly look simultaneously dignified and smooth’. She sometimes seems oddly passive in her relations to men and I wish she could break the occasional heart once or twice instead of having her’s constantly broken.

But tango is also the dance of loss and illusion (you will find in this book that tango is a lot of things) and she dances out this sense of suffering and pain not only throughout the tango halls of the world but in the details of her relations with men. Everyone wants something from tango, she writes. ‘Glamour, melancholy, erotic thrills, some other thing without a name.’

Tango is one long seduction, a cycle of ‘Longing, seduction, engagement, rejection, fall, longing.’ that she proceeds to enact in her own life too. When Kassabova hurts, she hurst badly and as she watches her ex-love Joshua dance the tango with his new ‘squeeze’ you do wonder why she doesn’t just get up and leave. But as she herself says, there is a fine line between stoicism and masochism and this book treads it. Tango, like life, is pitiless and non-judgemental. There is no morality to it. It just is.

And it is the heterosexual sensuality of tango that truly intrigues her. Moving into her personal encounters with tango instructors she writes, ‘Chicho and Lucia’s sacadas are feather-light, barely there, a suggestion of moving legs. “You sacada her very, very, very delicately,” Chicho says and invites Lucia to move her leg out of the way, out of the way, out of the way.’ Even the shoes are amusingly suggestive. ‘The open toe is to tango what the bikini is to swimwear, and there are variations of exposure, culminating with the G-string of the tango world, the tango sandal.’

Kassabova is expert at interspersing history with her personal life, the movement like the intricate dance steps of the tango. One seems to reinforce and shed light on the other. She has a perfect sense of timing, knowing when to bring nuggets of tango lore into the narrative of her life. Tango is multi-cultural a ‘hotchpotch of oddballs, cultural hybrids and shipwreck survivors’. The origin of the silence and frozen expressions of tango comes from the Kongo. Kongo dancing also favoured blatant sexual moves She tells of how certain invasive steps were invented in the late nineteenth century by men dancing with each other in the Buenos Aires slums, ‘unwashed men with knives and cowboy boots, dispossessed gauchos from the Pampa, deracinated working-class immigrants from Europe, desperado sailors and the descendants of slaves’. In other words there is an initial elision in tango between machismo and homoeroticism.

Kassabova’s book abounds with literary, philosophical and psychoanalytical allusions – Melville, Isherwood, the Bible, and Borges are all quoted. One of her many wise oddballs, ‘Lorca says duende is power but not work. Struggle but not thought. Like falling in love… It makes you happy and sad at the same time.’ Even Plato gets a mention. ‘Plato says there are three souls in humans. Mental soul, emotional soul and soul of desire. When there is too much of one soul, we are off-balance.’ And citing Freud she writes, ‘that the aim of psychotherapy is to replace neurotic misery with a common unhappiness. I had a psychotherapist. It didn’t work. But tango works.’

These allusions and references – literary and historical – give impressive, interesting substance to her personal history. But above all this book – in spite of the comforting rationality of its happy ending – is an entertaining hymn to her individual addiction. Her addiction to tango and her addiction to romantic love. ‘Tango addiction is when you’re crazy about tango – that’s everyone here, including me. Tango Fever, however, is when you act out your craziness to the full. When you live out the tango fantasy as if it’s real.’

Alice Thompson


Janice Galloway
GRANTA, £16.99, 352PP ISBN 978-1847082480

The strength of autobiography, that it is hewn from the raw material of its author’s life, can also be its weakness; to what extent, a thoughtful reader must ask, is the testimonial to be trusted? We all frame the narrative of our lives to satisfy our inner sense of events, following an emotional rather than actual chronology, as Janice Galloway tacitly acknowledges in her second ‘anti-memoir’, the teasingly titled All Made Up.

Galloway herself has described her work as a ‘fictional structure imposed on real life’, admitting that she could not write about the members of her family until she had changed their names. ‘The only way I could write it was to make everyone a character. It’s almost like how a director stages an opera,’ she said of her first memoir, This is Not About Me.

And what characters they are. Admirers have rightly praised Galloway’s recreation of her sister Cora (more prosaically named Nora in real life), whose glamour contrasted with her cruelty. The more powerful and moving characterisation, however, is that of her mother, Beth, who cleans and fetches for those around her, including the tyrannical Cora, and whose spirit in the face of economic and emotional dificulties falters only once, when she attempts to commit suicide.

All Made Up tells the story of Galloway’s teenage years, from her discovery of music and literature, sex and friendship, to her abortion at 17, whose most immediate effect is that she is finally given her own bed. Until then she and her mother shared. (It’s the stoic Beth who makes up a bed on the sofa.)

The power of both memoirs lies in Galloway’s sophisticated manipulation of different levels of meaning. One critic has decribed her as ‘an existential geographer, charting the inchoate territory that lies between inner voice and spoken word, between internal landscape and external reality’. It is with a child’s eye that she views the baffling, dramatic figures of the adults around her. They are described, though, not in the language of a child but as if by an anthropologist, albeit one with a gift for poetic observation and vivid dialogue. We are brought to an understanding of these characters in a way that young Janice can not, yet, know.

As Galloway progresses from almost pathologically passive child (her school forces her to undergo speech therapy) to clever, striving, sexy teenager, she explores the recurring patterns not just of her dysfunctional family but of the society around her. It was not unusual in 1970s west of scotland for young people to be discouraged from standing out from the crowd, for the bullying creed of ‘normality’ to dominate. Despite choosing such esoteric school subjects as Music and Latin, the teenage Galloway internalises the values of those around her: ‘Normal, that was what I wished for. I had an idea everything must be so much easier for those lucky buggers who counted themselves normal.’

She is particularly sensitive to the careful constructs underpinning femininity, in one memorable scene discovering her sister’s foundation garment ‘cast aside on a basket chair like the cast-off skin of a monster salmon’. Despite the hideousness of the image, it is Cora’s swaggering version of femininity that she yearns to inherit, a wish dashed when she discovers that her sister has thrown out all her ‘satin-effect, dirndl-skirted, boned-bosomed dresses… the most glamorous frocks in the world when I was a child’, in favour of simple little Jackie O shift dresses and boleros. She will never have one of these extravagant creations passed on to her. Instead, towards the end of the book, in a scene as heartbreaking as it is sparely written, Cora finally gives her a garment, an unworn, frilly nylon nightie with roses on the bodice. It is the night before Galloway goes into hospital for her abortion.

Only towards the end of All Made Up do we finally discover the full extent of the ruined life that has fuelled Cora’s violent, rage-filled behaviour – the hidden pregnancies, the discarded children. By then it is too late for Galloway to have a relationship with the woman who terrorised her childhood. When many years later Galloway has a child of her own, she writes to Cora and they meet for what she knows will be the last time. ‘It was when she turned away again I felt it, a surge in the chest that threatened to drag me down some awful drowning-well of rage and grief.’

Throughout the book Galloway has been questioning what makes a family, what blood ties mean, but most of all, how identity is constructed. The clever one in a non-academic family, the arty kid in a family of dogged, working-class wage slaves, she knows she has to leave to become who she is. As Camus said in his notebooks, ‘Nobody realises that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.’ Janice Galloway has opted for expending tremendous energy to create the abnormal – and it is abnormally powerful.

Jean Rafferty


John Burnside
JONATHAN CAPE, £16.99 336PP ISBN 978-0224061780

A Summer of Drowning, John Burnside’s seventh novel, is packed with unexplained deaths, vanishings, presences and premonitions, sinister letters, soul-capturing portraits, and even a bona fide Thing. At first glance, this looks like another literary novelist playing post-modern games with genre. In a recent interview, he spoke of his interest in ‘the Schrodinger’s cat novel’: a fiction in which two mutually-exclusive possibilities – the rational and supernatural – fail to cancel each other out.

The tale is set in a small community in northern Norway and recounted by Liv, now 28, looking back ten years to the summer after she left school. We know the facts from the start: three mysterious drownings. For Kyrre, the old man who is the closest she has to a father-figure, there is no mystery: the teenage brothers and the summer tenant of his beach-side hytte are victims of a malign spirit known as the huldra. Legend has it that the huldra appears as an unbearably beautiful girl but ‘at her back there is a startling vacancy, a tiny rip in the fabric of the world where everything falls away into emptiness’. Somewhat bathetically after this shiversome summary, we learn that she is a hideous troll with the tail of a cow under her bright red dress.

The Arctic Circle is set up as the metaphysical other to our shallow, frenetic, material world. It is summer, the season of white nights. Colour appears more intense. Time has ‘more or less disappeared’ or, at least, transmuted into an eternal present connected, by folklore, to the primeval. Norwegian words, as often as not referring to food, are dropped into the narrative like incantations. Midnattsol. SjØrØge. Gjetost.

Liv displays a greedy teenager’s preoccupation with the edible. (To her, even the huldra smells mouthwateringly of maple syrup, touched with dust and lanolin.) But she has no interest in boys.

Her lazy days are filled with sensual but strikingly-sexless pleasures: listening to the rain; watching the terns dive into the sea; browsing through old picture books; guzzling coffee, pastries and sweet creamy cheeses; and spying on her new neighbour, Kyrre’s summer tenant.

Intelligent she may be, but Liv has one major flaw as a reliable narrator. The self-denial evident in her dealings with the social world looks like the dysfunctional product of neglect or worse. Her secretive mother Angelika is a painter obsessed with the silent life of objects. Other than Kyrre, Liv has no friends and, she insists, no need of them. Her life is as aesthetically composed and as static as a painting, until the drowning of the brothers she knew at school and the arrival of a letter alerting her to the identity of the father she has never met.

One of the many felicities in this novel is Liv’s narrative voice: an earnest stream-of-consciousness that will take many readers back to their own knowing, bewildered adolescence. Her need to acknowledge every possibility, and her inability to make a choice between any of them, is maddening. But before long our thoughts are following a similarly looping pattern, as we try to make sense of the chain of lurid events, and of Burnside’s purpose in concocting it. Might Liv herself be the huldra? Or could it be her mother?

The plot is crammed with folkloric conventions. An innocent child-heroine with a dark twin. The death of a parent.

An evil that must be defeated (or at least, temporarily deflected). An act of sacrifice. A rite of passage ending in transformation. There’s a tendency for things to come in threes: three victims; a regal beauty to whom three suitors pay hopeless, ritualistic court.

For those who prefer to read the fairytale as a social worker’s checklist, Burnside gives us an abusive mother who may have psychopathic tendencies, damaged children, quasi-autistic dissociation and emotional breakdown. The sleepless white nights encourage panic and hallucination. Liv is a fragile, socially isolated teenager who leaves school with no idea what to do with the rest of her life: a personality ready to be tipped into crisis. But ultimately Burnside is too entranced by the gorgeously eldritch tapestry he has woven to give its workmanlike reverse side an equal chance. It seems that this novel is something more serious than a writerly exercise in ambiguity. Though the first 300 pages slip down a treat, some may find the ending harder to swallow.

But never mind. A Summer of Drowning offers other pleasures. It has thought-provoking things to say about voyeurism and art, and the need for selflessness, space and solitude in our narcissistic touchy-feely age. As is to be expected of a writer who has just won the Forward Prize for poetry, there are some exquisite sentences. Despite the potboiler plot, Burnside has written a coolly painterly novel. Its still, chill, arrestingly beautiful world will haunt the reader long after its shape-shifting evil spirit is forgotten.

Ajay Close


Carol Ann Duffy
PICADOR, £14.99, 84PP ISBN 978-0-330-44244-2

I can still remember Carol Ann Duffy in pre-Laureate days dressed in top hat and tails while reading to a capacity crowd at the Royal Festival Hall. Her performance, during which she recited poetry mainly from The World’s Wife, was stylish and funny, the poet as entertainer. She is back on lively form in The Bees, her first collection as Laureate. At the same time a strain of elegy is never far away, particularly in those poems about her mother, and anti-war verse such as ‘Last Post’, a farewell to the last-surviving British veteran of the First World War, and ‘The Falling Soldier’, inspired by Robert Capa’s famous photograph.

As she has done in previous collections, Duffy blends the modern and the mythological. In ‘Big Ask’, the myth of Sisyphus is combined with an attack on devious, repetitive government spinning. ‘The Shirt’ entangles an English football fan’s World Cup disappointment with the poisoned ‘shirt of Nessus’ which killed Hercules. ‘Achilles’, very much a tribute to David Beckham, refers not just to his vulnerable tendon, but also his redefinition of the ideal male.

Bees buzz through many of the poems, providing the collection with something close to a musical structure. ‘The Human Bee’ begins ‘I became a human bee at twelve’, the poet, here, revisiting her childhood. A ‘human bee’, of course, is near to sounding like ‘human being’. After the child associates ‘human’ with ‘humming’, she learns this ‘lesson by heart’ about the apples she picked in the orchard:

the ovary would become the fruit,

the ovule the seed, fertilized by my

golden touch,

my Midas touch.

Detached about sexuality, these lines speak of empowerment, suggesting, through childhood recollection, what it means to be human, not merely ‘what it means to be a woman’, or a man for that matter. The poet’s ‘Midas touch’ is that of her creativity, and it transcends her sexual identity. Other poems, like ‘Virgil’s Bees’, ‘Telling the Bees’, and ‘The Bee Carol’, extend the pastoral metaphors, with the latter repeating the phrase ‘winter cluster of bees’ in each of the four stanzas, the image emblematic of cheering warmth in the midst of a Christmas Eve setting.

Another ‘buzz’ is provided by Shakespeare. The bard is present both directly and allusively in many of the poems. ‘Ariel’ begins with the opening line from his well-known song in The Tempest, ‘Where the bee sucks’, but instead of flowers flourishing, what the ‘cowslip’s bell’ contains is ‘neonicotinoid insecticides’. ‘Luke Howard, Namer of Clouds’, a tribute to the little-known pioneer meteorologist, alludes most winningly to Hamlet making fun of Polonius when musing on the shapes of clouds. ‘Winter’s Tale’ blends Shakespearean allusion with a meditation on her mother’s final days. Garlanded with flower images like ‘violet, oxlip, primrose, columbine’, it poignantly concludes: ‘she wakes, moves, prompted by her name’.

Caring for her mother undoubtedly involved a distressing sense of impending loss, but Duffy also shows that the continuum of life, which goes on, is a kind of consolation. ‘Water’ was her mother’s last word, and the poem also highlights how much the offering of a glass of water can reveal about relationships between parents and children. ‘Premonitions’ scrolls back time by mentioning a bee ‘which swooned backwards out of a rose’, and recalls a happy time:

… And how I listened,

spellbound, humbled, daughterly,

to your tales, your wise words,

the joy of your accent, unenglish,

dancey, humorous

Perhaps Duffy was drawn to poetry at an early age because of her Irish mother’s storytelling abilities. In the quatrain ‘Spell’, which associates poetry with casting spells, it is highly likely her mother whom she recollects in the last line: ‘and so I write and write and write your name’.

Mario Relich


A.L. Kennedy
JONATHAN CAPE, £16.99 384PP ISBN 978-0224091404

Accepting the Man Booker Prize last month, Julian Barnes expressed admiration for his own winning novel as ‘a beautiful object’, regardless of its contents. He went on to suggest that the old-fashioned “physical” book can only compete with new-fangled electronic variants by promoting the virtues of the artistic values added by fine binding and jacket design.

A.L. Kennedy’s latest novel, which wasn’t even long-listed for that prize, is no less a pleasure to look at. The Blue Book arrives wrapped in colour like a gift box, its hard cover stamped with a gold palm-print, and the edges of the pages dipped in something darker than blue. Maybe purple, which is known in some cultures as the colour of death, and in spiritualist circles as the aura of ritual and ceremony.

This is the reader’s first hint of what is to come, or perhaps the author’s opening sleight-of-hand – the prose inside is tricky from the start, addressing you in second person, with a suspiciously seductive register. ‘And quite naturally, you face it,’ says the book, of itself. ‘Your eyes, your lips are turned towards it – all that paleness, all those marks – and you are so close here that if it were a person you might kiss.’

These advances may be unsettling, if you’re familiar with Kennedy’s work. She has her fans, but she is not really known as a pleasure-giver. Equally, she has never been one of those polite writers, like Barnes. Her ideas of intimacy are often subject to rude, gruesome, and invasive pathological analysis. There is much of this in the story that follows, which switches to third person as a woman named Elizabeth Barber boards a trans-Atlantic cruise liner with her new and ‘normal’ boyfriend Derek. Once the ship is underway, the sea grows stormy and Derek turns green, leaving the way open for a reunion with her ex-partner Arthur Lockwood. They used to form a fake psychic double act, conning the bereft and credulous in rainy post-industrial towns around the UK.

Arthur is still a fake medium, though clearly burning out after so many years of pretending to speak for the dead. It’s a dirty job, but he’s hardly a villain, and Kennedy’s subtle inversions of sympathy begin with the proposition that such a professional liar might even be serving his own sense of compassion. The most powerful passage of The Blue Book is an electric and deeply ambivalent flashback to Arthur’s finest work: ‘summoning’ the slaughtered husband and son of a Rwandan genocide survivor to bring the woman genuine relief.

‘That’s Arthur’s trick … he can love his enquirers into openness, trust. When he actively considers their frailty, it becomes irrelevant if he dislikes them, loathes them – because love is his only appropriate response. He loves them and they know it and that means they will let him burrow in.’ Elizabeth, for her part, is more inclined to hate the poor suckers that she once helped to dupe, the same class of silly, feeble, ordinary people who now surround her on the heaving ocean.

Like many of Kennedy’s characters, she has the author’s own knack for weary observational comedy – ‘Being annoyed in a queue is almost indistinguishable from being right wing’ – and a tendency toward the judgemental. Her struggle, and the struggle of the novel, is to feel the love, for lack of a better word, even if the word itself is ‘terrible’:

‘[You] can’t even say it without that sense of licking, tasting, parting your lips to be open to release whatever it is that slips between your breath … this invisible medicine, this invisible disease.’

As ever, Kennedy does not offer the reader any distance or relief from these interior and interpersonal torments, or provide the conventional satisfactions of a plot. Aesthetically speaking, her ability to render the self-disgusted banality of everyday thought and speech – ‘the naked, ridiculous things that we say’ – do not make for gorgeous streams of consciousness or sparkling exchanges of dialogue.

On the other hand, she shows such a care for language that none of her lines is throwaway, and even a passing description of sea-sickness sounds exactly right: ‘Derek breathes as if doing so annoys him.’

The most obvious reading of The Blue Book posits the novelist as another kind of fraudster, like a stage psychic or a sexual partner, consoling by means of deceit. ‘You’re a good person at heart,’ says the book. ‘You’re sure of this, and your book is sure of it too.’

A statement like that can only make you doubt yourself; Kennedy would never be so dull or obsequious as to tell you what you want to hear. Then again, that voice might not be the author’s. Or she might not be talking to you. And her refusal to make this clear until the very end might be a sign of faith in fiction that only a fellow believer would recognise. A.L. Kennedy’s kindness is easily mistaken for cruelty. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you. She just has a funny way of showing it.

Stephen Phelan


Maggie Craig
MAINSTREAM, £12.99 ISBN 9781845967352

In 1965 The Clydesiders was published. It was the work of a fine historian, Robert Keith Middlemas, and it introduced a new generation, including this reviewer, to the enduring and heroic legend of Red Clydeside. (It is, however, omitted from Maggie Craig’s bibliography.) Middlemas used a dramatic cover image of a long-haired and cadaverous Jimmy Maxton speaking to unemployed workers in Hyde Park in 1932. Craig and her publisher have also gone for a vivid cover, using the famous photograph of Glasgow’s George Square on 30 January 1919 in which a red flag rises above a sea of cloth caps as striking engineering workers rallied in support of their union’s call for a maximum 40 hour working week. 12,000 troops were in the city with tanks in reserve to contain what the cabinet’s Scottish secretary called ‘a Bolshevist uprising’. It was nothing of the sort though there were arrests and heavy-handed police action was brought down against the crowd. Just why the Clyde in 1919 did not have the potential to be Britain’s Petrograd, as John MacLean believed it could, is not really addressed in this book though the author does cite in her sources Ian MacLean’s revisionist work of 1983 which analysed with great care the strengths and weaknesses of the post-war Labour movement in Glasgow.

Middlemas’s book was sub-titled ‘A Left-Wing Struggle for Parliamentary Power’. Craig tries to capture something of this in a sometimes breathless narrative which recycles familiar anecdotes. She does do justice to the charisma of leaders like Maxton and MacLean but she could have made more of the role of John Wheatley. His style was lower key, but his organisational and legislative skills made him a vital figure prior to his early death in 1930. Craig sees off his great 1924 Housing Act in a single sentence and has little to say about his stance in Labour’s internal struggles in the 1920s or what side he might have taken over the Independent Labour Party’s fatal decision to disaffiliate from Labour in 1932.

In fact, her account of events winds down well before this and her last nine chapters are a loosely structured cultural history of the 1930s with a bit more politics thrown in. Perhaps her namesake Carol Craig’s book The Tears That Made the Clyde came out too soon for Maggie Craig to digest its disturbing reinterpretation of Glasgow’s history in terms of brutally unequal gender relations and a macho workplace culture. Maggie Craig’s response to this might have been worth hearing but she does give us one chapter on the campaign for birth control and Glasgow Labour’s ambivalent view of it. She needs though to make more strongly the point that Labour’s reaction was a product of its growing dependence on Catholic voters influenced by the unyielding position of their church on the issue.

This Catholic electorate greatly strengthened Labour, as Wheatley had predicted while he was still active in the United Irish League. It was also of course a product of Irish migration to Scotland which gets limited attention in this book. Maybe this is because Protestant Scotland’s hostility to it and the sectarian fault lines that resulted don’t sit easily with a celebration of working class solidarity.

Craig does allude to the attacks on Wheatley in 1912 over his espousal of Socialism which was whipped up within his own Shettleston parish. ‘The fuss soon died down,’ she tells us, but the trouble was that it didn’t, certainly not as far as Orange and Protestant Glasgow was concerned. Recurrent attacks on him, using his business interests as a pretext, intensified after he entered Parliament in 1922 and drove him to a costly and self-destructive libel action in 1927 against detractors who made no secret of their aversion to his Irish origins.

There is little space for this in Craig’s book which is strange, given the way that sectarianism has recently returned to centre stage politically in Scotland. She rightly has Willie Gallacher among her sources but not Tom Gallagher. Yet it was his path-breaking 1987 book Glasgow: The Uneasy Peace which opened the way to what has become a necessary area of study, the impact of Irish and Ulster settlement on modern Scotland.

Any book on the Red Clyde has by definition, to be about the emergence of Socialism within the working class, yet despite Labour’s breakthrough in the 1922 General Election and in Glasgow’s 1933 elections there was still a long way to travel. ‘Unionism’, culturally and politically in Glasgow and in Scotland as a whole remained strong. In 1914 and 1915 Glasgow workers in their thousands enlisted in Britain’s cause as the city’s George Square cenotaph reminds us.

Schooling, popular literature, and an entire culture of clubs, the Boys’ Brigade, churches and Orange Lodges, predetermined the choices of many of those who when war came joined Kitchener’s New Army or were already in the Territorials. Wheatley recognised the potency of this essentially Unionist working class patriotism. He attacked the way it was exploited but he never mocked it or tried to wish it away. This was part of the paradox that lies at the heart of the Red Clyde and still draws writers and scholars to it. Craig is entitled to celebrate a legend created by heroic activists and a community that sustained them but the reality was more complex than her book allows for.

Ian S Wood

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Volume 7 – Issue 4 – Gallimaufry


Ian R. Mitchell & George W. Rodway
LUATH PRESS, £20.00 304PP ISBN 978-1906817749

When a mountaineering expert and a scientist collaborate on a biography, the result is a mix of detailed expeditions and laboratory experiments. Ian R. Mitchell and George W. Rodway’s biography of Alexander Kellas is an enjoyable study of the Aberdeen-born climber and chemist. Despite the fact that Mitchell resides in Scotland and Rodway lives in Utah, a harmonised voice narrates the episodes of Kellas’ studies of high-altitude physiology, his trips to the Himalayas, and his tragic death as the first ‘martyr’ of Everest in 1921. Biography requires a blend of fact and narrative flair, which the authors dutifully provide. They tell of Kellas’ crowded upbringing as one of ten children born to James F. Kellas and his third wife, Mary Mitchell, and his teenage expeditions in the Cairngorms with his brother, Henry. Descriptions of Kellas’ academic career as a chemist at the University College of London and his work at Middlesex College Hospital follows, but the book really takes off when they authors discuss what meant most to Kellas, his Himalayan expeditions which began in 1907 and continued until his untimely heart attack. Glossy pictures, diary excerpts and newspaper clippings serve as supportive documents to Mitchell’s and Rodway’s meticulously researched and intriguing narrative of one of Scotland’s little known adventurers. TM


Morag Joss
ALMA BOOKS, £12.99 PP300 ISBN 978-1846881473

Morag Joss has been steadily building up both her reputation and the quality of her writing. This latest novel is a superb psychological narrative that has seen her compared in the US (where it was first published) to Alice Sebold, Alice Munro and William Trevor. Her prose is thoughtful and steady, giving her time to probe her characters’ deeper thoughts and emotions, but Joss also knows well enough, from a background in crime fiction, how to build an intriguing plotline. Ron is a professional driver in need of redemption after serving time for falling asleep at the wheel and accidentally killing several people. Silva is an illegal immigrant who loses both her husband and her child when a bridge collapses. An unnamed woman, pregnant although her new husband who doesn’t want the baby, takes advantage of the bridge disaster to assume a new identity. Set in the Highlands near Inverness, the novel brings together these three individuals and their secrets. Joss teases out their separate stories using different narrative methods. Reminiscent of Russell Banks’ The Sweet Hereafter, it is touching without being sentimental, beautifully simple without being obvious. LM


Nicholas Royle
TWO RAVENS PRESS: £9.99 300PP ISBN 978-1906120597

The mythology and symbolism of birds are the central motifs of Murmurations, an anthology edited by Nicolas Royle and published (appropriately) by Two Ravens Press. ‘Murmurations’ is a term that defines the aerial ballet of starlings during autumnal dusks. Such an arresting image encapsulates the book’s theme: birds are more capable and cunning than we realise. Certainly, in the opening story ‘Swallows Sleep in Winter’ by Adam Marek, the main character Sam is astonished when an enormous group of swallows settle on the riverbank. The swallows become a metaphor for Sam as he ponders whether or not to expand his family. Other stories comment on the relationship between man and bird, as seen in the quasi-horror story ‘The Candling’. A character holds the male peacocks in such high regard that he raises them and alters his bodyto become one. Birds also hold the upper hand (or wing) in Tom Fletcher’s ‘Huginn and Munnin’, a story about two friends who travel to Iceland in search of adventure. Fletcher intelligently weaves the ominous ravens of Norse mythology into this starkly written tale. Daphne du Maurier’s story ‘The Birds’, in which a family finds itself besieged by a huge, malevolent flock, closes the anthology on an ominous note. TM


Allan Beveridge
OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, £39.95 PP384 ISBN 978-0199583577

This excellent re-appraisal of the young Laing (he has been vilified for his controversial psychiatric work in the 1960s, which was based on his theories that madness needed to be understood more than explained) is both scholarly and accessible. Beveridge appreciates that ‘we cannot view Laing with an innocent eye’. He was assailed by his own mental problems, including depression, and those who knew him testify to a ‘mercurial’ and difficult character. He didn’t distinguish himself at university but his presence at philosophy clubs showed that his intelligence wasn’t of the kind ever likely to appeal to the establishment. Beveridge also conjures up a picture of an intellectually vibrant time in 1950s Glasgow, which Laing missed when he moved to London. By then he was also a family man with three children, and his alcohol intake was causing worry. Beveridge also traces his influences, the appeal of the Enlightenment’s ‘moral management’ approach to mental illness for him, as well as Freud’s theories. Plato’s view that madness and genius are related is one of the biggest influences on Laing’s approach to comprehending mental health, which led him into dispute with his colleagues. LM


Paul Cuddihy
CAPERCAILLIE BOOKS, £8.99 320PP ISBN 978-1906220426

Paul Cuddihy’s novel The Hunted is a sequel to his 2010 debut Saints and Sinners. Both novels focus on the lives of Irish immigrants in nineteenth-century Glasgow, with the fervent Costello family at the centre of both narratives. Cuddihy presents issues he feels are important to the Scots-Irish; Saints and Sinners describes sectarian tensions in Glasgow and The Hunted takes place during the Irish War of Independence of 1919–23. At the heart of the novel is Tom Costello, a competent marksman living in County Donegal. Despite the loss of his cousin during a recent ambush and his terminally ill mother, Tom obeys an order to assassinate a British general in Glasgow. While there he falls for Bernadette, a good-looking member of the local IRA group. Tom’s quest to kill his target is hampered by the fact that the British are aware of his presence, and have commissioned a certain Corporal Harrison to terminate Tom first. Cuddihy’s curt prose is suited for a political thriller; the action sequences are tense and entertaining. Cuddihy also enlivens the narrative with the interwoven perspectives of Tom, Bernadette and Harrison. However, it is difficult to believe the story takes place in post-WW1 Glasgow; Cuddihy’s modern language and lack of historical detail fails to convince that his novel is set in the past. TM


Tracey S. Rosenberg
CARGO, £9.99 PP221 ISBN 978-0956308351

Rosenberg’s debut novel is an original idea executed with care and assuredness. Her ‘heroine’ is one of Goebbels’ daughters, twelve-year-old Helga, who is caught with her family in Hitler’s bunker during the last days of the Second World War. She is ‘caught’ because although at first she is horribly complicit in the Nazi programme, revelling in her role as the Third Reich’s most famous daughter, she eventually realises she has been lied to: the sound of bombing overhead isn’t the Nazis making preparations for ‘Uncle Adolf’s’ final push to victory, but the beginning of the end. Rosenberg gives an excellent account of a confused young girl’s perspective, and her portrait of Helga’s parents,her deluded and physically frail mother and fanatical and emotionally cold father, is both convincing and compelling. The focus is a little narrow – I wanted Rosenberg to step back a little, give a broader picture of Helga’s surroundings – but that is a small complaint. Cargo is a new publishing venture that took a brave step with the book’s unpalatable subject and should be applauded. I’m not too keen on their typesetting for this title, though; I’m not sure it reflects the quality of the content. LM


Frederick Lightfoot
SANDSTONE PRESS: £8.99 288PP ISBN 1905207743

Frederick Lightfoot’s sixth novel describes the life of a girl growing up deaf in post-World War Two Britain. Abigail Sempie is grade-three deaf and suffers unfair treatment at the hands of her adoptive parents and teachers. Abby’s only solace is that there are two other girls close by who are also profoundly deaf, Judith and Grace. Considering the small population of their town and that they are all the same age, the girls believe they are related, and call themselves sisters. Surprisingly, the narrative is not in Abby’s voice but in Judith’s, her friend who returns to the same town at age twenty-five to enact revenge on those who were cruel to Abigail. Lightfoot’s prose is intense and evocative and successfully captures a female voice. He conveys well the struggles of a town in the wake of a war, and narrow-minded attitudes towards those with disabilities. Some episodes are upsetting and the misery that Abby endures can be unrelenting. Perhaps Lightfoot is only narrating experiences he has heard of through his job. With his background in general and psychiatric nursing, as well as his occupation in running drama workshops for people with learning disabilities and mental health issues, Lightfoot’s novel enlightens his readership on the struggles that some endure. TM


Ian Thompson
LUATH PRESS, £16.99 PP256 ISBN 978-1906817374


I’m ashamed to admit that I never knew Jules Verne had visited Scotland, or that he wrote several novels based on his love of the country and his visits here. He first came to Scotland in 1859, inspired by a Scottish ancestor of his own on his mother’s side, and the novels of Sir Walter Scott. It’s fair to say he wasn’t disappointed by what he saw, even if the poorer aspects of an industrial Glasgow and a rundown Royal Mile shocked this Paris-based bourgeois. Thompson comments with amazement on Verne’s reputed long-term illnesses, as they didn’t prevent him from undertaking the most exhausting daily excursions about both cities, both on this visit when he was an aspiring author, and twenty years later, when he could afford to arrive in style on his own yacht. This account gives a fascinating insight, too, into Scotland in the mid-nineteenth century, the favourite location of Victoria and suddenly much more accessible to visitors with its new railway network and steamers. Thompson also explores Verne’s Scottish novels, The Underground City proving particularly ripe for a new translation and publication with its Callander-set mystery and romantic adventure hero, Jack Ryan. LM

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Nights At The Boovies

Calling a narrative a story implies a termination point, an ending, happy or otherwise. The Story of Film, Mark Cousins’ fifteen-part chronicle of the cinema, has been a reliable highlight of the otherwise drossy Saturday night television schedules. But what kind of a story is the series telling? So far, it’s been a celebration, a history, an incitement to investigate cinema’s more obscure corners. The Story of Film arrives on the small screen towards the end of a year in which I’ve been writing weekly reviews of new releases for the SRB website. Attending the cinema, week in, week out, can be a melancholic rite for a fan of film, the films so often not being worth the time. If Cousins’ concludes film’s story in 2011, might his tale not end as an indictment of the cinema, as a coroner’s report even?

Cinema is a vampiric art. It borrows heavily from literature, the visual arts and the theatre, as well as cannibalising its own past. The cinema is over 115 years old; one would have thought it would by now be confident enough to start telling stories of its own, instead of stealing (I do not use the preferred term of ‘adapting’) plots from novels. This year alone the local multiplex has served up Barney’s Version, Brighton Rock, Never Let Me Go, True Grit, Norwegian Wood, Submarine, The Eagle, My Dog Tulip, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two, Mr Popper’s Penguins, One Day, Powder, Jane Eyre, I Don’t Know How She Does It, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Everything Must Go, We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Help, Straw Dogs, The Rum Diary, Wuthering Heights, Breaking Dawn, Resistance, Sher-lock Holmes 2, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – all of them taken from books, many with the built-in name recognition studios reckon will tempt punters into paying to see. The list, incidentally, does not include comic book adaptations, plays, remakes or big screen versions of television shows.

Perhaps one could accept the cinema’s piratical nature somewhat more willingly if it had the good grace to admit how often it is simply derivative of other art forms, novels in particular. The writer Daniel Woodrell may feel the same. Woodrell is the author of Winter’s Bone which was turned into a creditable movie, Academy Award-nominated in January of this year. Woodrell complained that amidst all the Oscar-generated praise for the movie, ‘the book was completely left out of the awards and benedictions’. The same could be said of True Grit, which was also nominated for a Best Picture Oscar at the start of 2011. The Coen Brothers were congratulated on turning in another accomplished script. Yet not only is the plot lifted wholesale from Charles Portis’ novel, the film’s odd, Bible-flavoured language was drawn from the same source. You got the impression, reading the press, that the Coens themselves conceived the whole enterprise. If there was discussion of an earlier well-of-inspiration, it was of 1969’s stodgy John Wayne-starring first-go at Portis’ book.

Even Cousins’ partakes of this tendency to give undue credit to filmmakers. In the episode of The Story of Film dedicated to what we might call American cinema’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls-heyday, Cousin praises The Graduate. He interviewed its screenwriter Buck Henry who gave an insight into how one scene was made to work cinematically through the turning on and off of a light, the contrast giving the scene a rhythm it previously lacked. Interesting to learn, but what you don’t realise about The Graduate unless you’ve read Charles Webb’s source novel is the extraordinary degree to which the speech from the film is taken wholesale from the book. Practically all the famous dialogue from Mike Nichol’s adaptation (excepting the ‘plastics’ line) comes from Webb’s novel, which reads like a script in parts.

Think about it this way. Imagine an author ‘adapted’ a film into a novel. He or she would not be praised. If anything, the move would provoke puzzlement, a suspicion possibly it was done for money. There is a word for such transfers and it is ‘novelisation’; on the whole, authors do not proudly feature novelisations on their CVs. The only author of note whom I can think of who has written one in recent years is Dave Eggers, who turned his own script for Where The Wild Things Are into a long-form piece of prose fiction (although, of course, the script itself was based on Maurice Sendak’s picture book for children). The Wild Things is not regarded as Egger’s best work. Equally, theatrical adaptations of films are not taken especially seriously by critics. The proposed adaptation of The Ladykillers inspired a magnificently disapproving response by Michael Billington on the Today show.

There exists this notion that when a book is turned into a film, it’s a promotion somehow, or a vindication. This despite the fact the cinema is temperamentally unsuited to capturing a fair range of the complexities that make for a decently written novel. For a start, films are rarely long enough to do justice to the sweep of book. The last – and first – time Hollywood attempted to entirely transform a book into a movie took place in 1924 when Erich von Stroheim filmed every page of Frank Norris’s McTeague. The result, Greed, was over ten hours long, until the studio took it back from von Stroheim and hacked it down to two hours, their cuts doing comparable damage to the trajectory of the director’s career.

Since then, the best one can hope of a filmed version of a novel is a decent digest. Take this summer’s version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It was an enjoyable condensation of le Carré’s masterpiece. I gave it a positive review, but even as I did, I was aware I was judging Tinker Tailor relative to the quality of other films, not to the le Carrè novel or the acclaimed 1979 BBC adaptation, in the light of which the multiplex version was a simplification, necessarily, but a simplification nonetheless.

The Alec Guinness-starring TV series required five hours to get close to capturing the original’s knotty plot. There is a sense now that television rather than cinema is the place to go to for complex, adult drama. For example, the most acclaimed novel of the past decade, Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, is set to be turned not into a movie but into an HBO series. HBO, famously, spearheaded the transformation of Ameri-can TV which, it’s almost a truism to say, is currently enjoying a golden age comparable to the one American cinema enjoyed in the very late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. It is not that satisfying complex or mature films aren’t made anymore. The best film I’ve seen this year is A Separation, an Iranian film about a divorce that grows into a subtle and satisfying insight into Iran’s class system. One must also concede there is no one, as Cousin put it, ‘opening out the form’ televisually in the same way Scorsese did for the cinema in the first phase of his career. Television is often staid visually, due to constrained budgets and swift shooting schedules. Where film has fallen behind television is in thematic richness. I’ve spent 2011 watching, for the first time, every episode of The Sopranos, and the hype is true. The Sopranos is a significant achievement by any standards, a drama that builds, deepens and sustains its various plots and themes over 80 hours. Matthew Weiner, who was a producer and writer on The Sopranos, went on to create Mad Men, and it is not an extravagant claim to say there are no screenwriters in Hollywood (and in the UK too) who can currently match him.

Set next to an episode of Mad Men, a tony piece of chattering-classes bait like The Ides of March looks soft around the edges. My point isn’t that films aren’t as good as books or television. What I want to argue, as someone who adores films, and whose love has been stoked by Cousin’s series, is that cinema is failing; certainly that movies made for adults in the West are increasingly childish, and that critics in part abet this process by marking films relative to each other. We condescend to them. We give them a free pass. We bathe in the light, we take the quick pay-off of a dose of glamour. It’s the only way I can explain the corona of praise that glowed around empty spectacles like Drive.

I’ve been galled by the easy ride Ameri-can so-called indie films receive from critics. Although ‘indie’ is meant to refer to the mode of production – i.e. made outside the studio system – it has come to resemble a genre of its own. The indie film as it is currently constituted – examples from 2011 include Beginners or Jack Goes Boating – is irritatingly quirky, affects to have a grittiness missing from the bigger-budgeted while possessing a mile-wide sentimental streak, and is where biggish-name actors truffle for Oscars in roles that are nominally less sympathetic than the ones they usually take home a pay cheque from.

Jean Cocteau, a truly visionary filmmaker as well as a novelist and poet, once wrote that ‘the cinema will only become art when its raw materials are as cheap as paper and pencil’. While the money-men who control what is made and seen in the commercial context of western cinema are in charge, cinema cannot progress as an art form. Innovation, the benchmark by which Mark Cousin judges a film worthy of discussion in his Story of Film, will come to a halt. Perhaps filmmakers and critics should take this moment to pause and reflect upon what a twenty-first century cinema should do, what it should be about. As television and the novel handle the classic realist text to better effect than film, perhaps the next wave of auteurs need to return to the essence of cinema, the visual. In the play of its light, Cousin finds a spiritual quality exemplified by filmmakers of the last mid-century like Robert Bresson and Yasujir-o Ozu. The next part in the story of film may grow from a fruitful engagement with its earlier chapters. Otherwise it risks becoming a zombie art form.

The Story of Film shows on More4, Saturdays

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Paisley’s Picasso

A few years ago John Byrne said of himself, ‘I have many voices and many different colours of voice and different mimicking voices as well and I think at my time of life it’s about time to start on some serious business.’  Perhaps, however, all those different voices, and in so many different media too, already constitute pretty serious business. As Sandy Moffat has said of Byrne’s painting: ‘His refusal to cultivate a single style is in fact the main distinguishing feature of his work.’ The distinction also goes beyond his art however to embrace the dizzying variety of art forms in which Byrne has been successful.

He first became famous as author of the fast moving, dark and funny television dramas Tutti Frutti, first broadcast in 1987 and Your Cheatin’ Heart, broadcast in 1990. Before that success, he had written the three plays in The Slab Boys Trilogy (later made into a film.) He has written a good many stage and radio plays since then, too. He has also directed two films, written a novel and recently, with the publication of Donald and Benoit, he has become a children’s author. The lively, humorous illustrations he has done for that book are, however, a reminder that among his many talents, he remains first of all an artist.

Robert Hewison’s richly illustrated new biography John Byrne, Art and Life is therefore rightly an artist’s monograph in both form and title. Byrne is a painter, but he is also a prolific and inventive print-maker and along with the usual apparatus of a monograph at the back of the book, exhibition history, chronology, and so on, there is a catalogue of the prints he has made over the years with Glasgow Print Studio. As a monograph, this book will take its place in any library of Scottish art.

The book’s illustrations amply demonstrate how it is Byrne‘s gift as a superb and naturally gifted draughtsman that underlies all his art. This is most vividly seen, not in his familiar and often quirky paintings with all their fascinating riffs on the styles of modern art, but in the beautiful and unexpectedly straightforward drawings he has done of members of his family. Academic is the wrong word for them. More like Picasso in his classical mode, they reveal the artist without the defensive mask of irony that we see above all in his self-portraits, his default position as an artist. These are illustrated in the book in all their dazzling variety and there can be no doubt that variety is an intrinsic part of his self-image and so of his personality, but perhaps it is also a function of the fascinating life-story that the book tells.

Born in 1940, Byrne grew up in Paisley. His mother was schizophrenic and to put it mildly, life was not easy. His first employment was as a slab boy, a dead-end job grinding paint on a marble slab in a paint workshop, a dreary occupation, but a stage of his life later immortalised in The Slab Boys. The extravagant teddy boy fashions and the music that gave welcome colour to his life in Paisley at that time still feature in his art. Glasgow School of Art was his escape from all this. With David Donaldson in charge of painting, drawing was still highly rated there and Byrne’s talent was recognised. He won medals in his final year and, too, a travelling scholarship that took him to Italy.

His extraordinary talent for metamorphosis was also recognised at the School of Art. When he was still a student, G.W. Lennox-Paterson, Deputy-Director of Glasgow School of Art, said of him that he was one of the most able students the school had seen, but then added, ‘He is something of a chameleon. We have had paintings by him ranging from Bonnard to Picasso which the masters themselves could not have failed to admire.’ Mercurial might be a better choice of word than chameleon, reflecting his brilliance and elusiveness and his capacity to surprise, rather than any need to hide. As he launched his career as a professional artist, however, initial disappointment did indeed lead him to hide and under a typically ingenious camouflage. His first success as a painter came, not as John Byrne, but as Patrick.

Struck by the commercial success of naive painters, he adopted his father’s name and sent pictures to the Portal Gallery in London as a naive artist, Patrick Byrne. He later admitted the deception, but continued for a while to be two artists. Indeed, the figure of Patrick still appears as an alternative, emblematic self-image in his work as it does in pictures like ‘Love’s Arrow’, for instance. A painting from 2009, the classical imagery in it of the pains of love may reflect on the complexities of the artist’s domestic life at the time.

This kind of role playing has always been part of Byrne’s art. You see it constantly in his self-portraits. They are also a kind of autobiography, however, and autobiography seems often to lie on or just beneath the surface of what he writes, too. That was clearly the case with The Slab Boys, but is also apparent in his later work. It is as though in his art, in all its diverse forms, he has sought to define and redefine himself against the uncertainties of the collapsing old industrial order, or disorder, of the west of Scotland. As a painter in this he has much in common with Steven Campbell. Campbell was younger, but they were friends and shared a similar background. Byrne’s portrait of Campbell is remarkable and profoundly sympathetic. Campbell did not diversify his output quite as much as Byrne has done, but the narrative style in his painting was shaped as much by film as by the history of art. He too could find his way effortlessly through its styles and, like Byrne, he was constantly reinventing himself against a world whose dizzying flux is so eloquently reflected in the perfectly unreliable logic of his pictures.

In 1991, commenting on work by Byrne in a group show at the Scottish Gallery W. Gordon Smith wrote, ‘Scotland seems to have mislaid a painter of remarkable talent.’ As a painter, Byrne had indeed been mislaid. His artistic career lagged behind his other successes and between 1975 and 1991 he only exhibited theatre designs. In 1988, however, after the success of Tutti Frutti, he was commissioned to make a filmed self portrait for the BBC, Byrne about Byrne. In the film he painted a self-portrait. Thereafter his exhibiting career began to take off.

The idea of a fresh start that Byrne is contemplating in the quotation with which I began the essay followed the revelation that arrived in 2002, when, through a cousin, he learned his mother had been abused by her father and that she had on her sister’s birth and until her own marriage taken her mother’s place in his bed. For all its horror, this deathbed revelation came as a huge relief to Byrne suggesting as it did the source of his mother’s schizophrenia and lifting the burden of anxiety that it might have been hereditary. Byrne’s partner for many years, Tilda Swinton, commented more ambiguously on his state of mind. ‘I have lived alongside a polymath and have always been intrigued by his integrated schizophrenia,’ she said in 2003. Integrated schizophrenia is a curious way of putting it, but perhaps it does describe the constant self-analysis in his art, the string of self-portraits in which, nevertheless, somehow he remains elusive.

Certainly, it would be wrong to suppose that all this self-imagery is mere narcissism, any more than it was for Rembrandt. Indeed perhaps Narcissus himself is misrepresented by the way we use his name. Maybe it was not self-love that brought about his melancholy demise, but perplexity. Like Hume contemplating the elusiveness of the self, the more Narcissus gazed, the less certain he was of what he actually saw in the reflecting surface of the pool in which he drowned. As for individuals, so for nations, Byrne’s voyage through such a perplexingly fluid identity matches that historically, first of Glasgow, and then of Scotland itself. Collective identity is not born of grand generalisations, but from the convergence of countless individual identities. His exploration of individual identity in so many ways and from so many angles has been a crucial part of Scotland’s second growing-up. I hope it’s not too optimistic to speak that way. If it isn’t and indeed we are recovering a more adult sense of ourselves since the advent of devolution, then John Byrne is one of those whom we must thank for it. He is a man of and for our time. Now Robert Hewison’s excellent book gives us new access to this brilliant and mercurial modern Scot.


Robert Hewison
LUND HUMPHRIES, £35.00, 128PP ISBN 978-1848220478


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Nobel Thoughts

There’s nothing quite like a Nobel announcement for showing up the arts media at their sour and ignorant worst. Reactions to Tomas Tranströmer’s 2011 win of the literature prize ranged from a flat “Who?” in the New York Times to the suggestion, repeated in several places, that giving the award to a Swedish poet amounted to insider trading on the part of the Swedish Academy. One British paper offered ‘Ten Things You Never Knew About the Poet You Never Knew’, but then rather spoiled the joke by confirming that Tranströmer is translated into some fifty languages, so no real excuse for not knowing him.

A further nine things to bring us up to speed might include that he was born in 1931, and raised by his divorced schoolteacher mother; that he began writing poetry in his teens and published his first book 17 dikter in 1954; that he trained as a psychologist and worked in that capacity at the Roxtuna borstal, writing poetry on the side; that he is a skilled pianist who has performed internationally; that in Sweden he is known as the “buzzard poet” for his seeming ability to view the world from aloft, though lest this implies indifference to human suffering he did also take part in a poetry reading outside the stricken Bhopal plant in 1984 to show solidarity with victims of a devastating explosion and chemical leak; that he suffered a stroke in 1990 that left him partially paralysed and speechless, but still able to write verse (and to play one-handed piano). One American paper even managed to imply that giving such a large prize to a sick old man who couldn’t even say thank you let alone deliver a rousing acceptance speech was, well, a bit of a waste.

In truth, Tranströmer is one of the more deserving literature laureates of recent years and of unimpeachably “ideal” intention, as the Nobel citation prescribes. He has long been available in English, translated by the Scottish poet Robin Fulton, who has lived in Scandinavia for many years (and in Ameri-can, translated by his friend Robert Bly). The Bloodaxe New Collected Poems, published in 1997 with a beautiful snow-angel cover, is set for update and republication in response to the Nobel award.

There is, then, no ground for controversy over the Academy’s choice. It is, after all, nearly forty years since a Swedish writer was so recognised. Admittedly, in 1974 there was some consternation over the giving of the literature prize to two Swedes, Eyvind John-son and Harry Martinson, who served on the Nobel committee and who were preferred to that year’s favourite Vladimir Nabokov, Saul Bellow (who won two years later) and that eternal also-ran Graham Greene. Cries of “fix” led to Martinson’s declining to speak at the award ceremony, and later attempting suicide with a pair of scissors. Ever since, commentators have routinely stated that neither writer was known outside his native country, this despite the fact that Martin-son’s strange, beautiful Nasslörna blomma, published in 1935, was at once translated into English, though inaccurately and misleadingly titled Flowering Nettle.

One of the further confirmations of Tranströmer’s fitness for the Nobel Prize is how readily – one oughtn’t to say ‘easily’ – he translates. Unlike, say, Per Lagerkvist, whose verse depends rather largely on specific cadences and resonances in the Swedish language, Tranströmer’s language has a glassy transparency. The imagery is pin-sharp and plainly stated, but it is also heavily metaphorical. Even when Tranströmer tries to convey a kind of synaesthesia in the 1996 collection Sorgegondolen (The Sad Gondola), the first book since the devastating stroke (which may explain the disruption of the senses), he does so with a sensuous immediacy to which everyone can relate. Could there be a better evocation of the lovely strangeness of being in the dark in not-quite-summer than these lines from ‘A Page of the Night-Book’:

I stepped ashore one May night

in the cool moonshine

where grass and flowers were grey but the scent green.

Or how about the chilly snapshots of ‘Six Winters’ from the earlier collection För levande och döda (For Living and Dead), published immediately before his illness: ‘3 / One wartime winter when I lay sick / a huge icicle grew outside the window. / Neighbour and harpoon, unexplained memory. 4 / Ice hangs down from the roof-edge. Icicles: the upside-down gothic. / Abstract cattle, udders of glass, and unforgettably, 6 / Tonight, snow-haze, moonlight. The moonlight jellyfish itself / is floating before us. Our smiles / on the way home. Bewitched avenue.’

Interestingly, for a poet who so consistently overturns the natural or familiar relationship between realms, perhaps from growing up in a country where summer is all light and winter all dark, where water is solid or the air continentally hot, Tranströmer has always reversed the usual imagery that applies to any coming into consciousness. Where most of us describe wakening as rising, and fresh awareness as a coming to the surface, Tranströmer almost invariably describes them in terms of a downward plunge, an immersion in reality. He creates striking effects with these reversals, as in the prose ‘Madrigal’, also from För levande och döda, which begins ‘I inherited a dark wood where I seldom go’. It is difficult not to read that as a reference to his own vast but lightly worn reading. He talks later in the same poem about graduating from ‘a university of oblivion’, forgetfulness in a world in which the usual moral compass has reversed its magnetism: ‘The most serious crimes will remain unsolved in spite of the efforts of many policemen.’

Perhaps as a reminder that even internationally read and appreciated authors are not necessarily read in quite the same way at home, almost every British commentator referred to the plain, almost pictorial nature of Tranströmer’s verse, while all the Swedish friends I spoke to after the Nobel announcement concentrated on his use of dream and metaphor. Saxophonist Mats Gustafs-son e-mailed an excited reaction ‘rockin’!!!’ finally after all the years a focus on a writer that can express real complex situations/ images in such a precise way, without overdoing anything’. This is spot on. There is no ‘metaphysical’ strain about Tranströmer’s use of metaphor, which always seems con-substantial (a good Lutheran concept) with the thing or state it is intended to describe.

The Swedes’ nickname for him is certainly not intended to imply a lofty disregard or a lack of interest in unaesthetic nitty-gritty. Again, he is a poet whose close focus does not militate against expansiveness. In the title poem of Sorgegondolen (and most people will have picked up the pianistic echo), there is a confident cosmopolitanism and culture:

Two old men, father-in-law and son-in- law, Liszt and Wagner, are staying by the Grand Canal

together with the restless woman who  married King Midas

the man who transforms everything he  touches into Wagner.

This is typical, not just for its mix of subject matter, real-life and mythical, music and place, but for the way that long, protracted first line leads us to expect prose and straightforwardness, only to be thrown off by the change of key and “poetic” metre of the second. His music is, always, a complex music, folkish at root but filled with improvisatory complexities. Small wonder that jazz musicians have been attracted to a jazz-playing poet. Another saxophonist, Jan Garbarek, has a record with a Tranströmer title, It’s OK To Listen To The Grey Voice. In that same e-mail Gustafsson reminded me of Tranströmer’s poetic definition of music as a house of glass on a rocky slope that remains unbroken even as the rocks fly through.

It works as a self-definition as well. Trans-trömer doesn’t offer too many aids to reading of his work or personality. There is in the poetry a typically Scandinavian opposition between seemingly empty landscapes and seemingly busy, but actually empty interiors. Think of all those Swedish canvases in which a whole blank landscape seems to be gathered round one tiny human light, signifying habitation, and how often people in Swedish paintings are shown from the rear, faceless but looking outward. Tranströmer makes some reference to this (or strictly to landscape-with-figures) in one of his rare long poems Östersjöar (Baltics) from 1974. In a prose poem from Sorgegondolen he seems to liken himself to the cuckoo that summers in Sweden and winters in Zaire: ‘I am no longer so fond of making journeys. But the journey visits me.’ It is poem about ageing and about narrowing personal horizons. ‘Always there is more happening than we can bear. There is nothing to be surprised at. These thoughts bear me as faithfully as Susi and Chuma bore Livingstone’s embalmed body right through Africa.’ Amazing! The only more explicit attempt to pin down his own nature comes in a chapter of memoirs appended to the collected poems in which, contrary to the usual Freudian “iceberg” model of the mind (which Tranströmer would of course be familiar with) he likens himself and his life and his way of processing experience to the course and composition of a comet, whose nucleus, the famous ‘dirty snowball’, is relatively insignificant but whose tail stretches across the sky, gas and dust illuminated by cosmic energy and unending movement. That is Tranströmer.

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The Real MacLean

When I agreed to be joint editor, along with Emma Dymock, of a new edition of Sorley MacLean’s collected poems published to mark his centenary, I underestimated the magnitude of the task which I was taking on. Admirable as the volume published during the poet’s lifetime, O Choille gu Bearradh (From Wood to Ridge), undoubtedly was, there could be no argument about the need for a replacement.

The love sequence Dàin do Eimhir (Poems to Eimhir) is generally regarded as marking the high point of MacLean’s achievement, though some might argue, especially since the publication by the Association for Scottish Literary Studies of the original, 1939 manuscript version, that An Cuilithionn (The Cuillin), a thornier and, initially at least, far less attractive proposition, represents an equally important peak. Anyone looking for the Dàin do Eimhir in O Choille gu Bearradh, or on the official website devoted to MacLean’s work, www., would have come away with the impression that the love sequence simply did not exist. Any items from it featured in either location have been shorn of their original context and presented as individual poems in their own right, each with a specific title. An Cuilithionn appears in a shortened, abridged version made half a century after it was written, from which almost a quarter of the original material has been excised.

There was an urgent need, then, to bring the collected poems up to date with the current state of publication regarding MacLean’s work, even when this meant going back on decisions consciously made by the poet himself later on in life. To this extent, we found ourselves working against the poet, against the form into which he chose to cast his work when rediscovered in the late 1970s and after, a situation that made for some uncomfortable moments and difficult choices.

In the case of the two major achievements, Dàin do Eimhir and An Cuilithionn, the question confronting an editor is, which version of the text should be privileged. Where the love sequence is concerned, the definitive version will of necessity remain a somewhat elusive concept. At a stage when the last four poems still had to be written, MacLean had already decided not to publish several items from earlier on. So it can be claimed that the sequence never in fact existed as a complete and consummate arte-fact. If his 1943 book Dàin do Eimhir agus Dàin Eile, which made MacLean so celebrated amongst an admittedly restricted circle of readers, omitted twelve items, it nonetheless retained the original numeration, in a manner which provocatively highlights the omissions. A passage from one of his letters to Douglas Young shows that MacLean himself proposed this solution, even though service in North Africa, a serious injury at El Alamein and subsequent hospitalisation meant he could not be directly involved in the last stages preceding publication.

Three of the missing poems came out in a magazine in 1970, six were recovered from manuscript in the 2002 Association for Scottish Literary Studies edition of the sequence, and two more were shifted back from the ‘dàin eile’ where they had, so to speak, appeared under camouflage. In March 2011, Ian MacDonald discovered a completely unknown item, a veritable jewel eight lines long, carrying the number XLVI, which had escaped my attention when examining MacLean’s papers in Aberdeen. The poet himself may have forgotten about it, as a different poem carries this number in the sequence. We included it in the new collected as XLVIa. Here, as with all items for which no version by MacLean is known to exist, an English version by one of the editors is printed face to face. Given that so much has survived, it is tempting to wonder if the only item from the sequence still not traced, VII, is an oversight on MacLean’s part. Could he have skipped this number by mistake? The hypothesis could of course be wishful thinking on the part of a frustrated editor. It can only be hoped that, if the poem was indeed written, and has survived, it will come to light sooner rather than later.

What continues to make MacLean’s celebrated love sequence such gripping reading? It catches with convincing sincerity and intensity a unique moment in time, the outbreak of a war which would shape Euro-pean history for half a century afterwards. Being very much a product of specific circumstances, it is balanced and paradoxically reinforced by a predicament which has a paradigmatic quality, and evokes centuries of love lyrics in a range of languages as far back as the Provençal troubadours, the appropriate priority for a speaker characterised as young, male and heterosexual. Involvement with a woman who has to all intents and purposes bewitched him, deliberately or otherwise, but who holds out scant hope of a relationship which will integrate them both into a social structure? Or the demands society makes on him as an individual seeking his place in it, and realisation through that? This is far more than a straightforward counterposition of the claims of love and war.

Behind the conflict lies a more subtle, and possibly deeper, question. To what extent can realising one’s talent as a poet lead to outcomes that are socially desirable, both for the individual and those around him? Will this always bring as consequence a degree of alienation? If love, however ill-starred, can nevertheless function as excellent fuel for the making of poetry, is the latter invariably destined to make a misfit of the poet himself?

One of the more convincing definitions of Weltliteratur (‘world literature’, the term originates with Goethe) is texts which are read and enjoyed in a quite different setting from that for which they were originally written. With respect to Sorley MacLean, this would mean that his poetry was read by a public for whom the fact of its being written in Gaelic, and the related issue of the survival or otherwise of Gaelic as a spoken language, were of secondary importance. To a significant degree the public MacLean’s work has won for itself among monoglot English speakers indicates that it has already been promoted to the status of ‘world literature’, however much one may regret that it has so far failed to make the additional leap into other European languages and cultures.

With An Cuilithionn, the editors made an opposite, perhaps contradictory, choice. My own feeling is that, with the passage of time, the original version of 1939, messier, more outspoken, daring and challenging, will take the place of MacLean’s 1989 adaptation, which is chastened and more consistent, with the satire on specific people toned down or excised and the political militancy somewhat muted. But the original version entered the public domain a matter of months before the new collected volume was due to appear. We decided it would be premature and unjustifiable to anticipate a consensus which needs to be gradually attained and widely agreed on. So the adaptation is reprinted as it stands from O Choille gu Bearradh, and a section of extracts from the earlier version inserted towards the beginning of the book.

Some marvellous lyrics from the 1943 volume whose omission from O Choille gu Bearradh is hard to justify were inserted in the appropriate place. Emma Dymock took on the task of rounding up all those items which were published but uncollected, so that little-known, but considerable, achievements, such as two poems for the Gaelic Society of Inverness, and a splendid item written in honour of Professor Angus Matheson, can now take their place alongside more familiar pieces they in many respects surpass. The difficulties of coming up with adequate English versions highlighted the complexities, the richness of reference, resonant lexis and intricate poetic thought which mark these pieces out. Emma also unearthed, in the National Library of Scotland, the Gaelic text of sections from Parts 4 and 5 of ‘Uamha ‘n ‘Oir’ which had previously appeared in English only, in the magazine Chapman edited by Joy Hendry, and are now included in our volume.

Features of the book which may strike readers as negligible nonetheless cost the editors considerable thought and not insignificant effort. It was agreed that, differently from in O Choille gu Bearradh, the Gaelic text should be placed on the privileged right-hand page, quietly underpinning our view that these are Gaelic poems with facing English versions, there being no question of any bogus equivalence in terms of literary value or significance between the texts in the two languages. So as to make the book as reader-friendly as possible, given our not unreasonable aspiration for this new collected to initiate a further stage in the enjoyment and study of MacLean’s achievement, lists of titles and first lines, in Gaelic and in English, are appended. Notes on the poems are far more detailed and generous than those MacLean himself supplied. Here we were careful to indicate the source of all the texts printed. Where our selection from the poems remaining in manuscript after MacLean’s death was concerned, we simply referred, however, to the Association for Scottish Literary Studies publication where these first appeared. Last but not least, we worked hard to supply as complete as possible a glossary of the place names which play a crucial in colouring and, as it were, grounding MacLean’s poems, in giving its texture to his verse.

Emma’s proposed title, Caoir Gheal Leumraich (White Leaping Flame) from Dàn do Eimhir XLVI was enthusiastically adopted by all concerned. Like the photographs chosen by his daughter Ishbel for the cover, this shifted the emphasis from the older MacLean so many knew and loved to the troubled, younger genius who penned some of the finest poems. Throughout their work on the edition, the editors were able to call on the expertise, not just linguistic, of Ian MacDonald, who made his time and talents available with a generosity it would be only a slight exaggeration to call heroic.


Sorley MacLean
Edited by Christopher Whyte  and Emma Dymock
POLYGON, £25.00, 524PP ISBN 978-1846971907

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The Sins of The Father

The trial in Jerusalem in 1961 of Adolf Eichmann was what we have learned to call a media circus. Between 1941 and 1945 Eichmann was directly responsible for the transporting of over two million Jews to their deaths in Auschwitz-Birkenau and other death camps. By the late 1950s, however, he had sunk into semi-obscurity in Argentina, a favourite hiding place of fugitive Nazis. As his biographer, David Cesarani, acknowledged, he was ‘a colourless administrator of mass murder’ and may well have remained so had the head of the Israeli Secret Service not received a tip off as to his whereabouts.

It was Hannah Arendt who first portrayed Eichmann as just another efficient cog in a wheel that was madly spinning. Far from being unusual or unique, Eichmann, at least to Arendt, was an ordinary man, easily replaceable, unimaginative, the embodiment of her resonant phrase, ‘the banality of evil’. He had never himself physically murdered anyone.

Thus, as Cesarani has acknowledged, ‘From the mid 1960s to the mid 1980s the mass murder of the Jews was seen as the zenith of  modern bureaucracy, rather than as a throwback to barbarism. Nazi Germany was characterized as a super-centralised modern and hierarchical state in which power and authority flowed from the top downwards and officials decided the fate of millions. Mass murder was a “medicalised” process or an economic rationalization carried out by professional men, doctors and lawyers, in crisply pressed black uniforms, who consigned human beings to “Fordist” death factories on the basis of quasi-rational decisions derived from racial eugenics and economic planning. Eichmann, the bureaucratic desk-killer par-excellence, thus became a key to one of the most enduring approaches to the Nazi era and the “Final Solution”.’

Allan Massie was not the first Scottish novelist to recognize in the trials of Nazis which followed Germany’s defeat a subject rich in fictional potential. Muriel Spark, of whom Massie wrote a formative study, attended the Eichmann trial for five days at the behest of the Observer and later drew on the experience for The Mandelbaum Gate, which appeared in 1965. For Spark, whose father was Jewish, the sight of Eichmann dissembling and deferring to the bench, as he had once deferred to Hitler and others in Nazi hierarchy, was sickening and disturbing. She had recently completed The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, in which fascism is allowed insidiously to flourish in an Edin-burgh school, and here she was looking into its face. Yet she could not side wholeheartedly with the Israelis in their re-established homeland. In particular, she found their attitude to the Arabs whom they had displaced deeply worrying. All of this emerged in her novel in which the heroine, Barbara Vaughan, is made to think that, ‘Knots were not necessarily created to be untied. Questions were things that sufficed in their still beauty, answering themselves.’

Whether Allan Massie would subscribe to such a philosophy is debateable. What one can safely say, however, is that such knots as he presents in The Sins of the Father are not easily unravelled. Throughout a prolific career as a novelist and journalist, Massie has been concerned with rejecting pat answers or solutions. Quick fixes are not his default. Simple solutions to complex problems are relatively rare. History is worth consulting for precedents and guidance. But the past was no more black and white than the present. The story of human beings is that of choices and circumstances and relationships. Why we act in one way rather than another is freighted with possibility and danger. Sentimentality is as pernicious as deceit. Good men are capable of doing bad things and vice versa, especially, but not exclusively, in a time of a war. That is a fact, the denial of which is a denial of the truth. In the Second World War, there were good Germans and bad Germans, as there were good Jews and bad Jews, even in the concentration camps. Ultimately, we are all Jock Tamson’s Bairns.

In 1977, when he was 39 years old, Massie contributed an essay to a book of that title. In ‘Retrospective’, he looked back and forward, noting as he did so that, ‘The past I write down today is then the past for today.’ He also decried ‘the beastliness of Predestination’ while speaking up for Calvinism. ‘The image is the Kirk in the moorlands, man face to face with God: reductio ad simplicitatem. It is God felt as a pure Wind of Reason and also as something beyond reason.’

All of the above sentiments have found their way into Massie’s fiction and, in particular, The Sins of the Father. Interestingly, no overt mention is made in ‘Retrospective’ of World War Two. He was of course too young to have other than a bystander’s view of it. What he knew of it and what the effect on him was he does not say. Born in Singapore and brought up in a farming community in Aberdeenshire he would have been less aware of it than many boys of his age.

Of his early novels, The Death of Men is perhaps the best indicator of how Massie’s work was developing. Based loosely on the kidnapping of the Italian politician Aldo Moro in 1978, it combined elements of the thriller with a serious exploration of political and personal morality in the 1970s not only in Italy but across Western Europe, climaxing in ‘a grand orgy of hypocrisy’. Massie’s next novel in a similar vein was A Question of Loyalties, published in 1989, which can be viewed a loose-fitting prequel to The Sins of the Father. Set during WWII in Vichy France, its central character is Lucien de Balafré, an idealist with a deep sense of duty, his aim during the war being to serve France. But that proves not to be as simple as it sounds and Massie uses Lucien to demonstrate that in a time of war individuals, whose view of the bigger picture is not as clear as it could be, can find themselves on the wrong side at the wrong time fighting the wrong enemy and supporting an ideology that their old pre-war selves would have found abhorrent.

By the time The Sins of the Father opens, however, the war is already slipping from view. The novel begins in the 1960s in Argentina which not only helped Nazis escape pursuit but, under the regime of Juan Perón, consciously offered them succour and protection. It is some two decades since Hitler’s demise and in Buenos Aires it is as if the Holocaust had never happened. Franz and Becky are apparently in love and determined to be married. He is the son of a German engineer who is also a Nazi criminal; she is the daughter of a blind Jewish economist and a survivor of the concentration camps. When the two families are brought together by the impending nuptials, Eli, Becky’s father, recognises – by his voice – Rudi, Franz’s father, and sets in motion his apprehension and removal to Israel where he will be tried for war crimes, following in the footsteps of Eichmann who was found guilty and executed.

If that all seems too neat and symmetrical it is anything but. Nothing, save for Massie’s style, is tidy in a plot that is as intricate as it is raw and discursive. As Rudi sits in the dock, Becky discusses with Luke, a young Israeli novelist, the comparative horrors of the Holocaust and Hiroshima. For Luke, the Holocaust wins hands down, which, he says, cannot be understood if ‘you don’t realise that Hitler held out the offer not only of revenge’.

‘Revenge for what?’ asks Becky.

‘What you like,’ replies Luke. ‘Let us say for the humiliation of existence. Not only revenge, but hope. A clean sweep. A new purified beginning. You cannot understand it unless you are prepared to accept how attractive Nazism was in its early day… If I had been German, and not a Jew, I would, no, I might well have been a Nazi in 1928.’

This, then, is the crux of Massie’s intelligent, intellectually-challenging and disturbing novel. It is meant, of course, to make us think as well as to entertain us. What happened in Germany from Hitler’s rise to power until his craven suicide, we are led to believe, could have happened anywhere if the conditions were had been similar. The exercise and acceptance of power was crucial to the reality of the Holocaust. Who did what to whom and when was, in a sense, as banal as producing motor cars. Moreover, Massie appreciates that the scale of the killing was so outrageous that it was almost beyond imagination and therefore capable of being dismissed from our minds. For who knows what six million people look like? How much space do they take up? Later in his peroration Luke tells Becky that large numbers became playthings. He is talking, initially, about the calamitous collapse of the Ger-man currency in the 1920s. Then he adds, ‘Besides, it is easier to kill a million men than ten. The ordinary person couldn’t even bring himself to kill a single calf, but the slaughterhouse worker kills hundreds and goes home to a good supper.’

It is hard to read this passage and not think of the then prevailing view of Eichmann who for so long was deemed in the great scheme of things to be relatively insignificant. In that regard he is like Rudi, and much of what he – as a fictional character – tells us about himself is similar to much of the mythology that grew up around Eichmann. Like Eichmann, Rudi as a young man encountered Jews he hated. His life was going nowhere and he dreamt of killing himself. He had menial, dead-end jobs. Then, he tells Franz, he heard Hitler speak and it was as if he had been given a lifesaving injection. ‘He spoke to me, directly to me, in an audience of thousands.’ The Bible contains similar descriptions of Christ’s effect on those who saw him preach. ‘That was his genius,’ says Rudi of Hitler. ‘He spoke to those who had been isolated and who in their isolation had ceased to believe even in the possibility of their own existence. Unless you understand that, you understand nothing. I joined the party. Oh, moment of blessed release and fulfilment! I had become someone.’

Rudi’s conversion to National Socialism was religious in its intensity, as was Eichmann’s. In Hitler, they both found their saviour, someone to lead them to the Promised Land, where there would be lebensraum aplenty. But how men who had previously been nobodies could become mass killers is a mystery that has perplexed countless scholars and philosophers. What seems the most likely explanation is that somehow, without being specifically ordered to do so, they read his thoughts and gave him what he wanted. The sociologist Max Weber termed this ‘charismatic authority’, which he described as ‘power legitimized on the basis of a leader’s exceptional personal qualities or the demonstration of extraordinary insight and accomplishment, which inspire loyalty and obedience from followers.’ It is as if a whole population was not free to act individually and according to conscience. They were transfixed, mesmerized, automatized, brutalized, dehumanized. Their sin was made manifest in their inability to react, which makes The Sins of the Father a novel that continues to haunt our thoughts and force us to ask what would we do, what could we do, what must we do, if ever we are confronted with anything remotely similar.

Sins of the Father will be published early in 2012 by Vagabond Voices

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Call To Arms

Until I read Trevor Royle’s latest book, A Time of Tyrants, I’d almost forgotten how much my own family had been involved in World War Two. I had one cousin who navigated Lancaster bombers over Germany, another who fought his way up Italy with the Highland Light Infantry, another who manned a tank landing craft on D-Day, and yet another who was a gunner with the British/Indian army which hounded the Japanese out of Burma. A more distant cousin (with the same name as myself) was a paratrooper with the US 101st Airborne and dropped into Normandy behind the German lines. My father spent his war on a lightship perched on the edge of minefield at the mouth of the River Clyde in danger of being run down by troop ships or being attacked by U-boats.

The large number of Rosie relatives involved in the war effort, as Royle makes clear, was not unusual. It was probably the norm. World War Two was nothing if not inclusive. Just about every family in Scot-land had much the same story to tell, of (usually) male relatives serving in strange corners of Europe, Asia and Africa or on the Atlantic while the folk they left at home lived under the threat of German bombs. That threat was pretty remote on the northern edge of Edinburgh, but I do have a memory of hearing air-raid sirens and spending time with my mother in one of the air-raid shelters that sat in front of our tenement in the Lower Granton Road.

There have been wars since, of course. In the 66 years since WWII ground to a halt thousands of Scots servicemen and women have risked life and limb in a string of conflicts: Palestine, Malaya, Korea, Suez, Cyprus, Aden, Kenya, Yemen, Northern Ireland, the Falklands, Iraq (twice) and Afghanistan. Many were killed or maimed while the rest of us watched at a safe distance. But the six years of WWII were different. That was a time when we really were “all in it together”.

And that, it seems to me, is the great strength of Royle’s book. Where most ‘general-reader’ accounts of WWII lean heavily on military events, Royle pays almost as much attention to what was going on in the homes, factories, farms, and offices of Scot-land. The two strands of his narrative are interwoven, as they were at the time. Servicemen in the field worried almost as much about families and friends at home as families worried about sons and daughters on the various fronts. Whether on the home front or a foreign theatre of war, you were potentially in danger.

Royle makes excellent use of official archives (from Edinburgh and London) to peer into just about every facet of Scotland at war: how the government was organised; MI5’s misgivings about Scottish Nationalists; the huge swathes of the country that were used to train commandos, spies and saboteurs; the performance of our crucial shipbuilding and engineering industries; the role of the “land girls” (farm workers) and the “Lumber Jills” (forestry workers); the regime of the (now) legendary Secretary of State for Scotland, Tom Johnston; even the poetry written by wartime makars.

He does a good job of reminding us how quickly the war came to Scotland. The first British ship to be sunk by a U-boat was the Glasgow-registered liner Athenia en route from the Clyde to Montreal, torpedoed on the day that war was declared. The first Ger-man aircraft to be shot down over British territorial waters was a Dornier flying boat which ran into trouble 20 miles off Aberdeen. The first victory for an RAF Spitfire was over East Lothian in October 1939. But that same month the Royal Navy suffered its first major blow when a U-boat crept into Scapa Flow, found its way through the block ships and sank the battleship Royal Oak, killing more than 800 seamen. They were the opening shots in a war that was to touch everyone in Britain.

One of the most interesting chapters in Royle’s book is the one entitled `Sikorski (and other) Tourists’ about the presence of foreign troops in Scotland. By far the biggest contingent was Poles, 120,000 of whom escaped the German invasion to make their way to Britain. Most were posted to Scotland where they manned the coastal defences around Fife, Angus and Kincardineshire. Many of them married Scots girls and are still here. There was also a large contingent of Norwegians, a few thousand Americans, and growing numbers of Italian and German prisoners of war. The POWs were held in 45 camps scattered around Scotland, the most notorious of which were the two “black” camps at Watten in Caithness and Comrie in Perthshire. These housed the hard-case Nazis, mostly SS men, U-boat crews and paratroopers. (As a seven-year-old I got know a few of them in my aunt’s washhouse in Wick where she used to ply them with tea and sandwiches).

It’s no criticism of Royle to say that most of the great military episodes he describes are well enough known: the so called ‘phoney war’ before the Germans struck; the rout of the British regiments in France and the capture of the 51st Highland Division at St. Valery; the airborne heroics of the Scots fighter squadrons posted south for the Battle of Britain; the battles that turned the tide against the Germans in North Africa; the invasion of Sicily and then Italy and the slog up the peninsula; the Normandy landings in June 1944 followed by the savage encounters in northern France and the Low Countries as the Allies ground their way toward Berlin; the hunting of the Japanese through the forests and paddy fields of southeast Asia until the Americans atom-bombed them into surrender.

Having said that, Royle has uncovered some telling fragments from regimental war diaries and personal letters. Here’s Second Lieutenant Donald Ritchie of the Gordon Highlanders having to surrender at St. Valery. ‘I was completely overcome by emotion. Tears rolled down my cheeks…. I’ll never forget platoon sergeant Herbie For-syth giving me a wallop on the back and a bottle of brandy to swig from and saying “It’s not your fault, sir.” It was a terrible thing and we were completely unprepared.’ But five years on, and in another part of the world, an armoured unit of the Gordon Highlanders was still fighting ‘and to their men falls the honour of being the last armoured regiment to come out of action in the war against the Japanese in Burma’.

They were the opening shots in a war that was to kill an estimated 26,000 Scots servicemen and women plus another 2,500 civilians. This makes a total of around 28,500 dead or just under 9 percent of the 320,000 British body count. Compared to the butcher’s bill that we were handed in World War One, the Scottish casualty figures, while bad enough, were relatively light. And as the English and Welsh cities took the brunt of the German bombing raids (Lon-don was blitzed 72 times) the proportion of Scottish civilian deaths was only 4.2 percent of the British total.

The worst that Scottish civilians suffered from German aircraft came on the nights of the 13th and 14th March, 1941 when waves of Luftwaffe bombers attacked Clydeside. They killed more than 1,000 people, injured another 3,000, destroyed or badly damaged around 12,000 houses and swamped the emergency services. Royle quotes an offi-cial report on Clydebank which records that ‘by the evening of Saturday the 15th March probably more than 40,000 persons or more than two thirds of the population had left the town. They left, however, in a quiet and orderly manner.’

These bombing raids inflicted ‘a huge radius of damage which stretched from Bar-head in the south to Balloch in the north-west and Cumbernauld in the east’. Police, fire services, ambulance crews, and especially hospitals were overstretched to the point of breakdown those nights on Clydeside. A few weeks later it was Greenock’s turn to suffer, although casualties were much lighter and the emergency services were prepared. The death rate might have been much worse had it not been for the intervention of a squadron of night fighters from Ayr which panicked some German flyers into dropping bombs too soon and a dummy built-up area around Loch Thom in the hills behind the town.

One of the many things I liked about Royle’s book is that he makes no extravagant claims for the Scots. He never suggests, as popular historians are prone to do, that we were somehow braver, better, more warlike, more tenacious, more enduring than anyone else. We had our heroes, it’s true, but we also had our share of weaklings. Most of the folk involved in that war were ordinary people who just put their heads down, did their best, and hoped to come out the other side.

The traces of that war lasted long after the fighting had stopped. In a primary school playing field near us sat a collection of Nissen huts and timber sheds called Lochin-var Camp. Well into the 1950s that dismal place housed Scots families and DPs (displaced persons) who had nowhere else to go. There were four such camps in Edinburgh. Like most kids in Granton I spent a lot of time roaming the shoreline, but under strict parental instructions not to touch anything metal that could be an unexploded mine. As a nine-year-old my pride and joy was 9mm Luger handgun (minus the magazine) that my father had brought back from somewhere. My little brother took it out to play cowboys and lost it.

I only have one criticism. I’d like to have read more about the men who manned Britain’s wartime merchant ships. Their casualty rate was awful and their working conditions were a disgrace; when a merchant ship was torpedoed the crew’s wages were stopped that very day. And no British shipping line suffered more than the Scottish Clan Line. On the Merchant Marine memorial on Tower Hill in London there’s a list of all the Clan ships that were sunk; Buchanan, Campbell, Ferguson, Forbes, Fraser, Macarthur, Macdougall, Macfadyen, Macfarlane, Macinver, Mackinlay, Macnab, Macphee, Macquarrie, Mactavish, Menzies, Monroe, Ogilvy. Eighteen ships, all from the same shipping line.

But that’s a minor complaint about what is a fine piece of work by an author and historian whose authority grows with every book. A Time of Tyrants is a handsome addition to Trevor Royle’s canon and a fitting sequel to his book on Scotland’s role in World War One, The Flowers of the Forest. As a one-volume history of six extraordinary years in Scotland’s history I don’t think it could be bettered.


Trevor Royle
BIRLINN £25.00 416PP ISBN 978-1843410553

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Beebus Scotticus

The Scottish playwright James Bridie, who makes an incidental appearance in this book, unconvincingly dressed as a woman, was often accused of being incapable of writing a third act.

For two-thirds of the evening he would beguile and provoke the audience. Then he would lose interest in his characters or his characters would lose interest in him, and the play fizzled out.

It could be said in Bridie’s favour that he did at least attempt a third act, however halfhearted the frustrating result. Pat Walker’s account of the BBC in Scotland pulls down the curtain in 1973, just as the plot was about to get interesting.

We are deprived of the thrilling denouement because the author has chosen to write a history of the first 50 years of Beebus Scotticus, yet with a little more effort he could have made it a diamond jubilee celebration rather than a golden one. If only he had stretched it to a sixth glorious decade, he would have had us on the edge of our seats, aghast as the bloody dagger of Queen Mar-garet Drive, a much-used implement, was plunged into the back of its most distinguished victim.

In 1973 the victim in question, Alastair Hetherington, was still editing the Guardian (Manchester Guardian as it was before he moved it south) and had not yet conceived the misguided notion of returning to Glasgow as controller of BBC Scotland. His appointment in 1975, his abrupt dismissal three years later, and all that happened between these symbolic events introduced a note of high drama, even personal tragedy, into the plodding long-running whodunnit known as public service broadcasting north of the border.

On the morning of his departure, I made my way along the corridor of gloom to the office of Ian Mackenzie, the head of religious broadcasting and perhaps the most original mind in the building, for a gossip. ‘When I was told Alastair had been made station manager in Inverness,’ Mackenzie began, ‘I thought for a minute he’d joined British Rail.’

The confusion was understandable. Hetherington, as soon as he was fired as controller, offered to take up the vacancy at Radio Highland, an unusual destination for a man who had edited one of the world’s greatest newspapers for 20 years. His Fleet Street colleague David English had warned Hetherington that the BBC would destroy him. So it turned out, although the victim professed to be happy in Inverness, the terminus of his career in journalism.

He had arrived in Glasgow at a strategic moment in the history of modern Scotland. The election of 11 SNP MPs the previous autumn had transformed the political landscape. Labour, after years of opposition to any form of self-government, was now supporting an assembly for Scotland; the Liberals had consistently done so; even the Tories were moving in that direction. Hetherington was convinced, not only that a parliament in Edinburgh was inevitable, but that it should be anticipated by the BBC with organisational reform and a greater degree of freedom for the Scottish outpost. It was called ‘mini-devolution’.

But when he asked for more money, more network exposure for Scottish programmes and more autonomy, he was confronted instead with a demand to notify 58 bureaucrats in the south before he was allowed to spend £800 on new titles for a programme. Even the purchase of an extra doorkey for an unmanned studio in Dundee had to be referred to London. Hetherington was ill-suited by temperament and experience to cope with this degree of obduracy. He became increasingly impatient, made some tactless moves, and was eventually isolated. He was never someone who would have bowed willingly to such demands.

You will not find the 58 bureaucrats – the sort of people who will threaten you with the sack for refusing to drive a car, as I was once threatened – in this history of BBC Scotland. Written by an insider with a generally benevolent view of the organisation he served for many years, the book is distinguished by its pleasant narrative, into which nastiness and thuggery seldom intrude. The Queen Margaret Drive dagger, so often in evidence during the Hetherington interlude, is kept in the cupboard. Were those of us who lived through this unhappy episode simply wrong about the BBC? Could it have been mostly sweetness and light before 1973? Were we a mere aberration? Possibly.

On closer examination, however, there are a few clues to the true nature of the beast. The overwhelming impression left by this book is of a tame, risk-averse operation in Glasgow, forever anxious to avoid offending the metropolitan masters who invariably knew better. In this narrow ambition to mind its own back, the BBC in Scotland succeeded all too well. ‘Reithian principles’ (whatever they amounted to) became a form of shorthand for obsequiousness.

The result was a self-serving complacency. When Roy Thomson launched STV in 1957, the BBC consciously failed to respond to the newcomer and attempted to make a virtue out of its disregard for something so vulgar as competition. A Kirk minister, the Rev Melville Dinwiddie, was the Scottish controller for quarter of a century, retiring just before the introduction of commercial TV. In his farewell speech – I found this from my own research, rather than anything I read in Pat Walker’s book – he was still fretting about the effect of television on ‘family discipline’ and lamenting the social effects of extending it.

Somehow, in this stultifying atmosphere, creativity did flourish up to a point. There is a photograph in the book of someone called Christine Orr, whose face of luminous intelligence made me curious about her. I searched eagerly in the text and found her on a dull list of producers of ‘Children’s Hour’; but no more. Who was she? What was the point of the photograph? I went digging on my own and discovered that Christine Orr was a brilliant Scotswoman: actress, theatre director, artistic entrepreneur, playwright. She does not deserve to be forgotten. It is a measure of this country’s capacity for neglect that she is.

I knew of some others. The producers James Crampsey and Howard M Lockhart are glamorous names from my childhood. I would have sacrificed pages of painstaking recording of committee decisions to learn more about them beyond respectful platitude. Robert Kemp, father of Arnold, was once employed by BBC Scotland. I wanted to know why he left.

Maybe the best people never found it a congenial environment. But it is an intriguing discovery, which emerges implicitly from the book, that BBC Scotland was not always a place for the narrow careerists who tend to work for it these days. People of more general distinction in Scottish life once earned a sort of living in broadcasting. Many of them were driven to the drink, of course.

Two of the most gifted practitioners were Pharic Maclaren and Finlay J Macdonald. Maclaren brought to the screen BBC Scot-land’s finest hour, or series of hours, the lyrical adaptation of Sunset Song, while the boy from Harris was as much an artist in the medium of documentary as he was in drama. Finlay J was a troubled soul – troubled, I think, mainly by working for the BBC – and never happier than when he left to write his books in a wee house in Kilsyth. Pat Walker is generous in his references to both, but neither of these outstanding figures bounces off the page. Character drawing is not one of the author’s strengths.

The book is sub-titled a ‘personal memoir’. It is not. There is nothing of Pat Walker in it, too little of anyone else, and a disappointing absence of indiscretion. James Bridie dressed as a woman one night in 1928 is probably the nearest we get to scandal and Bridie wasn’t even a broadcaster. The book has the flavour of an authoritative, fairly bland, impeccably sourced company history, compiled from access to minutes and records. It will be a reference work of value for as long as there is a BBC.

Perhaps someone will be inspired to write the history of BBC Scotland post-1973. I recommend as the starting point a dinner party attended by Magnus Magnusson (the face of Scottish broadcasting, but inexplicably omitted from the present book), the ‘iconic’ Mary Marquis, the rather sinister Andrew Boyle, and several other BBC journalists including myself. Our host, Controller Hetherington, said we should start imagining a scenario in which the SNP stood on the brink of power. What would the BBC do then? How should we react when the revolution came and Scot-land was about to achieve independence? Hetherington’s lads and lassies had few answers to these challenging questions. We just sat there bemused.

It seems that, 35 years later, we are still waiting for the answers. But if the day ever arrives, and Alex Salmond or his successor is clamouring at the door of BBC Scotland’s riverside citadel, no doubt the 58 bureaucrats will consider any reasonable request to hand over the key.

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