Volume 8 - Issue 4 - Editorial

THE PUBLISHING SENSATION of the past few months was apparently J.K. Rowling’s first novel aimed specifically at adults. Having read The Casual Vacancy from cover to cover we are fairly confident in saying – in the words of Norman MacCaig – that ‘it was okay, as far as it went’. Had it been by any other author – we are also fairly confident in saying – its publication would have passed without buildings shaking and the earth moving. As it was, it was received with the kind of hysterical response which once attended the final installment of one of Dickens’s more mawkish serial novels.

If nothing else this was a triumph of modern marketing. How much it happened with Rowling’s blessing we know not. What we do know is that early copies of her novel were delivered by hand to reviewers while several journalists selected to interview the author had to read their copies in an empty office while vowing not to disclose a word of its contents before an agreed time and date. Unless one is a guest of Her Majesty this cannot be the most comfortable of circumstances in which to read a novel which stretches to 500 and more pages.

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For the Good Times - Thomas Devine

At the beginning of the 1960s I was a 15-year-old schoolboy in the middle of studies at a selective all boys Catholic ‘senior secondary’ in Motherwell. It drew pupils from all parts of Lanarkshire: Shotts and Harthill to the south and Bail-lieston, on the outskirts of Glasgow, to the north. In the playground could be heard a cacophony of local accents, all of them Scots but also recognisably different. We were regarded as the intellectual crème de la crème of Catholic Lanarkshire, a tiny elite who had secured the right to six years of secondary education by passing the Eleven Plus examination; and then for an even smaller group, perhaps the glittering prize of a university place. The exam was the dreaded mechanism designed to deliver what the educationist, H.M. Paterson, called ‘the sieving of the working class’ through the selection of an absurdly small number of pupils deemed capable of academic study. At my own primary it had done its work with brutal efficiency. From the two final year classes three boys but not one girl emerged with a pass which alone secured entry into the senior secondaries, the schools which provided courses leading to the Highers. The vast majority of my contemporaries were consigned to the ‘junior secondaries’ and so denied any possibility of gaining entry to university. The abolition of the examination in 1965 was lamented by few while for the many the coming of the comprehensive schools represented a new dawn of educational opportunity which in the longer run transformed access to higher education.

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Crimes Against Fiction - Alan Taylor

Why do people read detective stories?’ asked Edmund Wilson in the New Yorker as the Second World War was beginning to show signs of petering out. Wilson, a friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald who counted among his correspondents Vladimir Nabokov and John Dos Passos, was arguably the pre-eminent American critic of his age. What is beyond doubt is that he was a hard man to please, resisting, for example, the charms of  Joyce and Proust and Virginia Woolf. 

In his New Yorker essay Wilson disclosed that he himself was not a reader of detective fiction, apart, that is, from a few stories by G.K. Chesterton, presumably ones featuring Father Brown, for which he did not ‘much care’, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, to which he gave his seal of approval because of their ‘wit and a fairytale poetry of hansom cabs, gloomy London lodgings and lonely country estates….’ It was about time, Wilson reluctantly reckoned, to see what all the fuss was about. Almost everybody he knew was reading detective fiction and talked non-stop about it, leaving him out of the conversational  loop. Moreover, ‘serious public figures’, such as Woodrow Wilson and W.B. Yeats were suckers for the stuff.

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Another Side of Dylan - Brian Morton

Bob Dylan is that very rare thing, a completely genuine charlatan. He is defined by a peculiar kind of knowingness. He knows; we know he knows; he knows we know he knows. He always knows a little more than us, and specifically, he knows where he’s going next. The other thing that defines him is movement. He may not have started out as an authentic hobo, like the old bluesmen were supposed to be, like his twitching mentor Woody Guthrie, but he has been one ever since. 

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Aye But... - Michael Russell

Over the last 20 years.’ says Stephen Maxwell in his introduction to Arguing for Independence, ‘the number of books dedicated to elaborating a case for Scottish independence can be counted on the fingers of two hands.’  He is right.  The reluctance of the national movement in Scotland to produce a literature to match its aspirations is a problem. In part, the blame lies with publishers who have been neither  assiduous nor enthusiastic about developing a list that some fear would be seen as ‘too political’.  Luath Press therefore deserves much praise for having been the exception to that rule, with almost half of the  ‘fingers of two hands’  volumes appearing under its imprint including this new  one which appears some five months after Maxwell’s untimely death.  

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Orhan Pamuk: The SRB Interview

When Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006, the Swedish Academy credited him with discovering ‘new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.’ That same year a Turkish court dropped charges against him, ending a well-publicised trial that had caused international outrage and cast a shadow over the country’s commitment to freedom of speech. Pamuk’s prosecution came after he gave an interview to a Swiss newspaper in the course of which he said: 

‘Thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares to talk about it.’

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What's The Score? - Kevin McKenna

The friendly lady at Glasgow’s Waterstone’s store was intrigued as I purchased a copy of what will probably be the biggest-selling sports book in Scotland this year. 

‘Oh, we’ve only just decided to sell that book,’ she said, conspiratorially. ‘Was there a problem with it,’ I asked her. This was a little bit disingenuous of me, as I knew that there had been plans to serialise the same book in the Scottish edition of the Sun the previous week before the newspaper’s editor abruptly pulled out of the agreement because he’d recently discovered that the author ‘had been tainted with the sickening brush of sectarianism’. That the paper’s switchboard and assorted on-line facilities had encountered a meltdown through the unprecedented volume of adverse responses to the proposed serialisation may also have played a part in the editor’s sudden volte-face. Subsequently, the book’s author has been threatened, the publisher has had his home address revealed on the internet, and even the journalist employed to edit it for serialisation has been subjected to on-line abuse. And so, before attempting to examine the book’s merits, some context is required. This is especially so for those who may be uninitiated in the tastier elements of the religious, political, social and cultural tribalism that has characterised the rivalry between Glasgow’s two biggest football clubs, Celtic and Rangers.

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The Other Livingstone - Susan Mansfield

In 1863, Mary Livingstone found herself heading up the Zambezi on board the steamship Pioneer with two other women: Miss Ann Mackenzie, the unmarried sister of Bishop Mackenzie, leader of the frontier mission at Magomero, and Mrs Henry Burrup, the young wife of one of his recruits. Miss Mackenzie had brought her piano and a pet donkey called Kate.

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The Outsider - Colin Waters

When did authors become so boring? That question zipped through my head several times in August while I read reports of the Edinburgh International Writers’ Conference. This parliament of penmen was convened to settle the Big Questions facing literature in the digital era. The excuse was that 2012 marked the 40th anniversary of the original EIWC, the forerunner of the modern Edinburgh International Book Festival, in the way that the Beatles were the forerunners of Oasis or that Jane Austen is said to have inspired today’s plague of chick-lit. A fair amount of fantasising went on beforehand, with hacks speculating about re-enactments of the original EIWC’s famed ruckus – MacDiarmid ragging on Trocchi and so on – and the delegates perhaps hoping to boost their profile in the way Burroughs was said to have, only with homosexuality and heroin replaced by the hot-button issues of Twitter and Kindles.

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Going For Broke - Ian Fraser

It was intended as a memorial to the Scots who died in the Napoleonic Wars. But it wasn’t long before the incomplete replica of the Parthenon on Calton Hill was labelled ‘Edinburgh’s disgrace’. This was because the so-called National Monument was left half-finished, with just twelve Doric columns before the money ran out in 1829. However, the ersatz temple doesn’t seem that ignominious any more. Perhaps it is time to transfer the epithet to two Edinburgh-based institutions that are perhaps more deserving of the name – HBOS and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Both were founded nearly one century before the abortive memorialising of the Hanoverians. For most of their existence they were reasonably civilised firms. During the 1980s and 1990s both the Bank of Scotland, headquartered on the Mound, and RBS, headquartered on St Andrew Square, were well-managed, innovative and reputable. After undergoing internal ‘cultural revolutions’, involving job losses, greater use of technology, and the centralisation of decision making and credit processes, both banks were able to successfully outpace their English rivals in terms of profits growth, without losing sight of the interests of customers and staff. 

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From Page To Stage - Joseph Farrell

Some years ago, a Scottish playwright objected to the sheer number of adaptations of novels which were being staged across the country. Such works were valid enough, he agreed, but they should be rare and exceptional visitors to our theatres, since the vitality of theatrical life was determined by those original works which were the product of the mind and imagination of a writer. He also suggested darkly that such activity appealed particularly to so-called men of letters or to theatre directors who, whatever their other abilities, lacked genuine creativity but wished to cling onto the coat tails of more gifted individuals.

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Hello There Vagina! - Lucy Ellmann

As anyone who’s seen that dispiriting film, Hope Springs, will have gathered, the world is full of sexually frustrated women. According to Naomi Wolf, there’s an ‘epidemic’ of female sexual unhappiness in the West. The Victorians were bad enough, dishonouring both male and female sexuality by persuading people that women don’t want or need sex. But things are worse now – porn and its addicts have reduced female pleasure to a caricature of irrelevance, and made female ejaculation the new G-spot! You may have mastered both the vaginal and clitoral orgasm, girls, but if you can’t ejaculate a bit as well, you’re nobody. 

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Poems - Rob A. Mackenzie

CUSTOMER SERVICES CALL CENTRE

Fleck avoids mixing daylight and alcohol,
guffaws at jokes hours late, buttonholes
friends to balance the twin securities of life
assurance and certain death.

His favourite phrase is, ‘Give me a break.’
He has never thought himself idle.
His right eye, when not blinking,
keep guard over the B-road to hell.

Every time an outstretched palm
rises from the monetary myth-pool,
the fingers are Fleck’s, replacing
a row of dodgy meat hooks.

Imagine his voice, reassuring subprime
mortgage holders, call after call,
necks swinging which have never
conceived of nooses their size.

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Sandy and Obama: Diary of a Student of the Haar - Benjamin Morris

The timing was almost too auspicious. Seven years almost to the day and I was on a plane back from Edinburgh to Mississippi, where a hurricane was bearing down on my hometown and my family. In 2005, the storm was named Katrina, and in the days that it had formed in the Atlantic and passed through the Gulf of Mexico, making landfall outside New Orleans on August 29, I had been finishing my master’s thesis at the University of Edinburgh. In 2012, the storm was named Isaac (Hebrew for ‘he will laugh’), and in the days that it moved through the Gulf, making landfall on the exact same day seven years later, I was no longer studying at the university. I had a job there. Something had happened in the meantime, but in all honesty, it’s hard to remember what.

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Set In Stone - Brian McCabe

It may seem strange that a book like this should not have been brought out by a Scottish publisher long before now, but it is perhaps fitting that it is published in America, as part of a series called ‘Poets for the Millennium’, featuring the work of such luminaries of the avant-garde as Andre Bréton, Paul Celan and Gertrude Stein. Though his work may not have much in common with theirs, Finlay belongs firmly in the context of the international avantgarde. Furthermore, it would be difficult to think of an artist more misunderstood – and many would argue, more undervalued – in his own country during his lifetime: vilified by older, more established poets such as MacDiarmid, threatened with court cases and poindings by local councils, Finlay was squeezed out of the mainstream to live a life of isolation and poverty.

Read more: Set In Stone - Brian McCabe