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Harry McGrath

Harry McGrath

Harry McGrath is a former Coordinator of the Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. He returned to Scotland in 2007. He is Chair of the DotScot registry which was set up to establish a top level internet domain for Scotland, the Edinburgh based Special Adviser to Simon Fraser University's Scottish Studies and advises Scottish Development International on its work in Canada. He writes the only column in Canada regularly dedicated to Scottish affairs and is a book reviewer for the Herald, Sunday Herald and SRB.

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Plays featuring body-swapping, the theft of Albert Einstein’s brain and Medieval Scottish kings have been shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for Drama.

The three nominations have been selected from more than 180 entries world-wide. The shortlisted dramas from playwrights based in Scotland, England and the United States, are:

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Posted by on in Features

 

THE SOLUTION

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. 
Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another? 

Bertolt Brecht 
 
Written after the East German rising of 17th June 1953

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In this age of instant communication the idea of the midnight letterbox – posting a letter in the dead of night to ensure its early collection in the morning – seems almost quaint. Edwin Morgan uses the expression only once in more than 500 pages of collected letters. Many of them were doubtless posted under different circumstances, but it is easy to see why ‘midnight letterbox’ caught the eye of editors James McGonigal and John Coyle. It conjures up an enduring image of Morgan emerging into darkness from the Whittingehame Court flat in Glasgow (his home for forty years) and dispatching letters to “artists, filmmakers, composers, editors, academics, and readers young and old...”

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What a piece of work was James Boswell! His father, Lord Auchinleck didn’t rate him, objecting to his incessant journaling in particular. His mother was prone to mollycoddling and strict Calvinistic doctrine in equal measure. The son they raised was a welter of contradictions: vain and self-doubting; retenu and debauched; high spirited and prone to debilitating melancholy; physically courageous and terrified of ghosts. This, of course, is why he is so fascinating.

It is also why there is a frisson of doubt when Robert Zaretsky announces the plan for his book: “I have chosen to trace one particular aspect to the Scots life: his struggle with the great questions dealing with the sense and ends of life brought into being by the Enlightenment.” Boswell was not always at his entertaining best when he struggled with the big issues. In fact, the giant thinkers into whose lives he was invited, or insinuated himself, sometimes lost patience with his eternal nattering on the eternal questions.

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Posted by on in Features

In the first chapter of Disunited Kingdom, Iain Macwhirter says “The thesis of this book is that, while constitutional optimists like Jonathan Freedland are right, and that the unitary United Kingdom as we understand it, is all but finished, it could still take a long time to die. And in the meantime the Scottish Question remains unanswered by the referendum.”

That’s not a thesis in the conventional sense, but it is a promising basis for the book. The No victory was “Pyrrhic”, says Macwhirter, because Scotland has changed enough to ensure that independence remains an active issue.

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Donald Paton with Provost of Perth Elizabeth Grant

Until recently I had spent as much time in Perth, Ontario as in Perth, Scotland and my vague notion of ‘oor’ Perth was based on two things. The first was the testimony of a young man I coached in Canada who became a professional footballer in Scotland. He played for five different teams, the first of which was St. Johnstone. He told me that walking around Perth after dark produced a heightened sense of physical threat in him that no other Scottish town could match. In 2013 I finally visited Perth myself to speak at the Burns Club annual dinner. From the convivial confines of the Salutation Hotel (commonly referred to as ‘the oldest hotel in Scotland’) it was hard to imagine the danger supposedly lurking in the streets and vennels outside.

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Owen Jones has been described by Russell Brand as ‘our generation’s Orwell’. It is hard to imagine Orwell opening paragraphs with sentences like ‘Other depths were plunged’ as Jones does in a chapter in The Establishment that investigates ‘the boys in blue’. Perhaps writing style is not what Brand had in mind.  

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A play dealing with the consequences of war and the nature of love – which charts the story of a young farmer’s wife forced to flee her home during a conflict – has won the James Tait Black Prize for Drama.

Cannibalsis British playwright Rory Mullarkey’s first full-length play and the second work to win the drama category for Britain’s oldest literary awards.

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Booker Prize winning  author Margaret Atwood has been awarded an honorary degree  from the University of Edinburgh. 

The award-winning  writer was one of four prominent Canadians from the fields of  literature, politics, law and business to be honoured by the University at a  ceremony in Toronto on Friday.  Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin; former Chairman of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning,  General  John De Chastelain; and investment banker Garret Herman also received honorary  degrees. 

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Posted by on in Features

 

Scottish Book Trust has announced that applications for the New Writers Awards 2015 are now open, providing a unique opportunity for 10 unpublished writers who live in Scotland to pursue a career as a published author.

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Posted by on in Features

The Bus Party

 

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Posted by on in Features


An international line-up of respected novelists forms the shortlist for Britain's oldest literary awards, the James Tait Black Awards. 

Novels based around an 18th century English village; a family's response to a terminal illness; a young woman's obsession with motorcycles; and the daily toil of a shepherdess are contenders for this year's James Tait Black Prizes.

Works by American authors Kent Haruf and Rachel Kushner join the latest books by acclaimed British writer Jim Crace and Australian novelist Evie Wyld in the shortlist for the £10,000 fiction prize.  

Contenders for the £10,000 biography prize include fascinating accounts of Joe Ranz and fellow members of the 1936 Olympic rowing team, Empress Dowager Cixi, who ruled China for almost half a century until 1908, Booker prize-winning novelist and biographer Penelope Fitzgerald; and an account of the biographer's aunt, a young woman in Nazi-occupied France.

Two prizes are awarded annually by the University of Edinburgh for books published during the previous year - one for the best work of fiction and the other for the best biography. The 
winners will be announced at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August. 

The four novels competing for the fiction prize are: Harvest by Jim Crace ; Benediction by Kent Haruf ; The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner; All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld.

The shortlisted works for the biography section are: The Boys in the Boat: An Epic True-Life Journey to the Heart of Hitler's Berlin by Daniel James Brown ; Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang ; Penelope Fitzgerald: A life by Hermione Lee; Priscilla: The Hidden Life of an Englishwoman in Wartime France by Nicholas Shakespeare. 

The nominations have been chosen from more than 350 books worldwide by English Literature academics and 25 postgraduate students at the University.  

The James Tait Black Awards, awarded annually by the University of Edinburgh's School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, were founded in 1919 by Janet Coats, the widow of publisher James Tait Black, to commemorate her husband's love of good books. 

Fiction judge Dr Lee Spinks of the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures said: 
"This is an exceptional short-list, showcasing four original prose stylists, each with a distinctive gift for narrative suspense and revelation.  Any one of these four novels would be a worthy recipient of the James Tait Black Award for Fiction."

Biography judge Professor Jonathan Wild of the School of Language, Literatures and Cultures said: "These biographies represent the cream of a truly remarkable year for writing in this field."

The prizes are the only major British book awards judged by literature scholars and students. The James Tait Black prize for drama, announced earlier this month, was launched last year. 
Past winners of the fiction awards include figures of global literary distinction, such as DH Lawrence, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Muriel Spark, Angela Carter, Cormac McCarthy, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan.

Last year, Oban-born author Alan Warner was the winner of the fiction prize for his book The Deadman's Pedal. 

Tanya Harrod, co-editor of the Journal of Modern Craft, was the recipient of the biography prize for her book The last Sane Man: Michael Cardew, Modern Pots, Colonialism and the Counterculture.  

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FORWARD-WINNER EMILY BERRY SHORTLISTS 11 FOR THE £1,400 MELITA HUME POETRY PRIZE 2014

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Gain a rare insight into the life and lore of one of the 20th century's most distinguished English-language publishers, John Calder, when his achievements are celebrated at the Traverse Theatre this April. 

John Calder, still writing at the age of 87 now divides his time between Edinburgh and Paris. A champion of radical and hugely influential writers such as Beckett, Miller, Burroughs, Marguerite Duras and Alexander Trocchi among many others, John was also a founding member of the Traverse Theatre in 1963. 

The two-day festival (18-19 April) is a powerful and not-to-be-missed celebration for lovers of Samuel Beckett, admirers of John Calder or fans of Barry McGovern and Hebrides Ensemble. 

On Friday 18th April, at the opening night concert, Scotland's premier chamber music ensemble, Hebrides Ensemble, perform Arnold Schöenberg's Pierrot Lunaire with brilliant young mezzo soprano Anna Huntley. For many years in the 1960s and 1970s John Calder presented Ledlanet Nights, regular festivals of opera, classical and folk music, theatre and literature. One of the outstanding performances marked the Scottish premiere of Pierrot Lunaire in 1964, performed by Pamela Smith with members of the Scottish Baroque Ensemble. This performance celebrates the many unforgettable festivals at Ledlanet and will be introduced by reminiscences from Patricia Hay and John Lawson Graham, two of Scotland's most distinguished singers. 

On Saturday, 19th April, the festival presents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to witness John Calder in conversation with Alan Taylor (Founder of the Scottish Review of Books and Deputy Editor of The Herald). This will encompass a wide ranging discussion on Calder's life and work, writers, publishing, music, progressive art, freedom of speech and the avant garde. 

The third event in the line-up, A Life in Books , showcases John Calder and Derek Watson reading a selection of prose and poetry from the authors Calder published during his renowned career. 

Rounding off the festival, Ireland's greatest Beckett interpreter, Barry McGovern, fresh from his acclaimed performances of I'll Go On at the 2013 Edinburgh International Festival returns to Edinburgh for this special night to perform an homage to Beckett, Calder's greatest writer and great friend, in Barry McGovern Read Beckett. 

To end the celebration join John and friends at a glamorous fun-filled party in the Traverse Theatre Bar on Saturday night

For full details on the four events browse our website now to learn more. Tickets go on sale at 12pm on Friday, 21 March from the Traverse Box Office. 

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Miha Mazzini’s novel Crumbs was first published in Slovenia in 1987 and ‘sold 54,000 copies in a language spoken by fewer than two million people’. According to Mazzini, the royalties that accrued to him from that initial publication just about bought a dinner for his family and a couple of friends.

Crumbs is set in an unidentified town in Slovenia prior to the breakup of Yugoslavia. The main source of employment is the local foundry. Those who don’t already work there live in a ramshackle settlement on the edge of town hoping for a job and the flat that comes with it. The town and the foundry are enclosed by mountains. It’s a hothouse in every sense.

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The Scottish Poetry Library announced that poet Michael Pedersen has been selected to receive a Rising Star Award from the John Mather Charitable Trust.  

Pedersen, whose book 'Play With Me' was published by Birlinn in July 2013, is a poet, playwright and performer who has been involved in collaborations with an impressive list of artists, film-makers and musicians. Having travelled the world and taught in Cambodia for a year, Pedersen writes verse that gives a vivid idea of what it is to be young, socially aware and irrepressibly optimistic in the melting pot of the twenty-first century.

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Harry and Puma at East Preston Cemetery, Edinburgh

 

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Benefit Reading for the Philippines Thursday 19th December, 2013

Tom Leonard

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Translation Transformed conference in Moffat, south Scotland 20-22 Sept 2013

By Elizabeth Roberts, 

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