by SRB

Volume 8 – Issue 3 – Editorial

June 8, 2012 | by SRB

The Edinburgh writers’ Conference, held fifty years ago this month, has become the stuff of legend and not a few myths.

It was ‘curated’, as we say in this age of weasel words, by John Calder, a scion of the brewing Calders of Perthshire, who as a publisher was responsible for introducing many great European authors to an English readership. Blessed with demonic energy, peerless connections and barefaced cheek, Calder amassed a group of writers in Scotland’s dozy capital the like of whom will surely never be eclipsed.

In his no-holds-barred memoir, Pursuit, he recalled how he gathered the throng and the near chaos that threatened to kibosh his plans. Famously, Hugh MacDiarmid denounced his fellow Scot, Alexander Trocchi, whose work he had probably never read, as ‘metropolitan scum’, while other writers argued fiercely about whether describing homosexual acts was a fit and proper subject for fiction. William Burroughs, who was among the delegates, noted that there was ‘no ostensible central issue’ at the conference, though he remembered MacDiarmid (‘a frosty old Scots poet, quite a local celebrity’) saying that people like him should be in jail instead of on the lecture platform.

This year’s Edinburgh International book Festival is revisiting Calder’s conference. Among the topics scheduled for discussion are Should Literature Be Political? (perhaps), Is There a ‘National Literature’? (it depends what you mean by ‘national’), Censorship Today (like the poor, it will always be with us), Style vs Content (a bit of both is recommended) and The Future of the Novel (uncertain – as ever). We hope, of course, that there will be some fireworks and that a few writers will take the opportunity to vent their spleen. Otherwise what is the point of such a gathering? Whether there will be much in the way of enlightenment is another matter.

The edinburgh writers’ Conference, held fifty years ago this month, has become the stuff of legend and not a few myths.

It was ‘curated’, as we say in this age of weasel words, by John Calder, a scion of the brewing Calders of Perthshire, who as a publisher was responsible for introducing many great European authors to an English readership. Blessed with demonic energy, peerless connections and barefaced cheek, Calder amassed a group of writers in Scotland’s dozy capital the like of whom will surely never be eclipsed.

In his no-holds-barred memoir, Pursuit, he recalled how he gathered the throng and the near chaos that threatened to kibosh his plans. Famously, Hugh MacDiarmid denounced his fellow Scot, Alexander Trocchi, whose work he had probably never read, as ‘metropolitan scum’, while other writers argued fiercely about whether describing homosexual acts was a fit and proper subject for fiction. William Burroughs, who was among the delegates, noted that there was ‘no ostensible central issue’ at the conference, though he remembered MacDiarmid (‘a frosty old Scots poet, quite a local celebrity’) saying that people like him should be in jail instead of on the lecture platform.

This year’s Edinburgh International book Festival is revisiting Calder’s conference. Among the topics scheduled for discussion are Should Literature Be Political? (perhaps), Is There a ‘National Literature’? (it depends what you mean by ‘national’), Censorship Today (like the poor, it will always be with us), Style vs Content (a bit of both is recommended) and The Future of the Novel (uncertain – as ever). We hope, of course, that there will be some fireworks and that a few writers will take the opportunity to vent their spleen. Otherwise what is the point of such a gathering? Whether there will be much in the way of enlightenment is another matter.

Then there is cyberspace which we all have little alternative but to embrace. Email, we’re told, is a wonderful thing, because we can contact instantly someone in the Falklands or Fiji or Falkirk. How we got by without being able to do this is beyond our ken. Nowadays, it seems, you won’t be taken seriously as an author if you don’t have your own website, tweet (or floss as we prefer to call it) daily, keep your Facebook page constantly updated and blog incontinently. To suggest that all of this is just noise of another kind is to invite derision. Thus writers who in bygone times were rarely seen in public and never heard of between books are constantly present, filling in what used to be fruitful silence with incessant chatter and humiliating and boring puffs for themselves. It’s what might be called the banality of the e-world.

Some writers, however, are resistant to all this flapdoodle. One such is Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, who has never appeared at the EIBF, possibly because he has better things to do with his time. Kundera is not a fan of ebooks and has had it written into his contracts that his books should not be made available in this ghastly form. For this he is to be applauded and we hope others will have the courage to join him.

In the meantime, however, and for no other reason than because it seems such a contrast with the ethos of here and now, we would like to remind readers of the case of JL Carr, who wrote his gemlike novels (A Month in the Country, How Steeple Wanderers Won the FA Cup, The Harpole Report, etc) while simultaneously running a small publishing company which specialised in historical maps and poetry booklets. When he couldn’t pay his butcher’s bill Carr offered by way of barter remainders which the butcher was pleased to accept. Whether he gave mince or steak in exchange we are unable to confirm.

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From this Issue

Evil All Around

by Lesley McDowell

Thrust: A Short Story

by Brian McCabe

Word Power

by Paul Henderson Scott

Inwards And Outwards

by Susan Mansfield

Let The Presses Roll

by Alan Taylor

Blog / Discussion

Rusticated… (II)

by Brian Morton
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