Monthly Archives: August 2012


EIBF: Alice Oswald – Death Was Already Walking to Meet Them

‘Hold those bold boys back / Riding over the battlefield too fast’ are lines from Alice Oswald’s book-length poem Memorial, a lyrical homage to the two hundred dead soldiers in Homer’s Iliad. Dressed in a long green tunic, Oswald majestically recited the entire collection from memory, an incredible feat that lasted an hour and a quarter. Memorial is a reworking of the Greek classic which focuses not on Achilles’ contributions but on the fallen army whose names are listed epitaph-style at the beginning of the collection. Robyn Marsack introduced this gardener-poet, encouraging everyone to purchase Memorial, though cheekily added ‘but you can also borrow it from the Scottish Poetry Library’ where Marsack herself is director.

And then, the audience was left with Oswald’s performance. Never once did she look down at her text, nor did she noticeably stumble. Her voice was an undulating wave which continually evoked a lilting rhythm, like three keys on a piano. It takes much imagination to describe so many deaths and Oswald achieves this task with grisly images of blood, flies, spears and axed necks. These images were helped along by an incidental soundtrack of the tattoo’s low-flying jet and several passing ambulances. Much is achieved in Memorial, a text so closely intertwined with the Iliad, but is some of its poignancy lost in a one-shot performance? 

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EIBF: Andrew Keen with Ewan Morrison

Andrew Keen says that the internet was created by an unlikely alliance of counter culture, the military industrial complex and the United States Government. He’s not as concerned about that as he is about social media and Facebook in particular. Created by a child entrepreneur, Facebook promotes the cult of the ‘social everything’ and eschews all the complexities that ‘colour the human condition’.  Social networks generally claim to serve the public good but are essentially about making profit by selling data to advertisers. The internet and social media are the new reality says Keen, but the dangerous obsession with self revelation will only be mitigated if we learn how to lie and the internet learns how to forget.

The session was nicely facilitated by Ewan Morrison who opened by declaring himself a Keensian. Any partiality there was more than offset by an audience member who had not read Keen’s latest book ‘Digital Vertigo’ but thought that his argument had ‘banality at its core’. In case that was not clear enough, he added that he had read Keen’s first book ‘The Cult of the Amateur’ and it was ‘sloppy and full of errors’.

Less than a third of the audience admitted to being on Facebook which suggests that middle-aged Scots have yet to be indoctrinated into the internet socializing cult. Nobody asked whether there might be some contradiction in opposing one emerging industry by being part of another – Keen is not the only person in the ‘beware of social media’ business. Nor whether the speaker’s admission that he would consider self publishing his next book and selling it digitally to make more profit put him in an awkward position. 

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EIBF: Toni Davidson and Madeleine Thien ‘South East Asian Concerns’ (12/08/12

 ‘I was the sweaty foreigner’ says Scottish author Toni Davidson about his time spent in South East Asia. Against a bright red wall framed by two glowing ornamental trees, Davidson and Canadian author Madeleine Thien discussed their extensive research and time spent in the countries of Burma and Cambodia. With his contemplative face framed by longish locks, Davidson read from My Gun Was As Tall As Me, his sad but electrifying novel about Burma’s kid soldiers. Thien, hailing from Vancouver and now living in Montreal, promoted her Granta publication Dogs at the Perimeter, an elegant novel about a family torn apart by the Khmer Rouge army.  Dressed in light purple, Thien read gently and smoothly from the thrilling opening passages. The two authors, chaired by crime novelist Peter Guttridge, shared an intimate and amenable conversation and somehow never disagreed with the other. Almost in unison, they contended that research into violent topics could be overwhelming, they often felt a sense of dislocation in their visiting countries, and what they aimed to do most in their fact-based novels was to tell the truth. After describing her visits to the Tuol Sleng prison in Cambodia, also known as S-21, Thien said firmly, ‘Telling the truth is very important to me’. A serious evening spent discussing issues that may be far away in location, but universal to the human heart. 

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Allan Cameron is the publisher of Vagabond Books. He is also a translator and author whose books include The Berlusconi Bonus, In Praise of the Garrulous and On the Heroism of Mortals.

Joseph Farrell was Professor of Italian at Strathclyde University. He has translated and written a number of books, including a biography of Dario Fo. His latest book is about Sicily.

Rosemary Goring is Literary Editor of the Herald and the Sunday Herald. She is the author of Scotland: The Autobiography. A novel is in the offing. 

Kapka Kassabova is the author of the Bulgaria memoir Street Without a Name. Her book about the Argentine tango, Twelve Minutes of Love (2011), was short-listed for the Scottish Book Awards. She is also the author of two poetry collections and the novel Villa Pacifica (2011). Her residency at Clifford Chambers was a shared appointment between The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust ( and the Hosking Houses Trust (hoskinghouses.

Brian McCabe has published several collections of short stories, a novel, The Other McCoy, and five volumes of poetry. His Selected Stories appeared in 2003.

Lesley McDowell is the author of Between the Sheets: The Literary Liaisons of Nine Twentieth Century Women Writers. She is currently working on a novel based loosely on the life of a friend of Mary Shelley.

Harry McGrath is a writer, reviewer and editor. He taught at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia before moving back to Scotland where he is championing the  use of the .scot prefix with web addresses.

Rob A. Mackenzie publications include The Clown of Natural Sorrow and The Opposite of Cabbage. He is reviews editor for Magma Poetry magazine.

Susan Mansfield is a writer and journalist who has been covering the arts in Scotland for the best part of two decades. She has a particular interest in literature, theatre and visual art.

Brian Morton is a writer, broadcaster and journalist whose interests and expertise range from jazz to ornithology. In the past few years he has written books on Prince, Shostakovich and Edgar Allan Poe.

Theresa Munoz is an ORSAS scholar at the University of Glasgow where she has been working on a thesis on Tom Leonard. She recently published her first collection of poetry, Close.

Paul H. Scott is a former diplomat. Among his many publications is his autobiography, A Twentieth Century Life, in which he recalls encounters with De Gaulle, Castro, Bertrand Russell, Graham Greene and Muriel Spark.

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Volume 8 – Issue 3 – Classifieds…


Classified contains a listing of new titles submitted for inclusion by publishers in Scotland.

Advertisers in this section are:

Argyll Publishing 01369 820 229

Association for Scottish Literary Studies (ASLS) 0141 330 5309

Birlinn Ltd. 0131 668 4371

Brown, Son & Ferguson 0141 429 5922

Edinburgh University Press 0131 650 4218

Grace Note Publications 01764 655979

John Donald 0131 668 4371

Luath Press 0131 225 4326

Scottish Text Society

Polygon 0131 668 4371

Peirene Press 0207 686 1941

Olida Publishing

Gibson Square 020 7096 1100

Thirsty Books See Argyll Publishing

Candlestick Press 07500 180 871

Oxford University Press 01865 556767

Neil Wilson Publishing 0141 954 8007

Barrington Stoke 0131 225 4113

Biteback Publishing 020 7091 1260

Saraband 0141 337 2411

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Riverside Museum

Deyan Sudjic with Jim Heverin and Paul Weston


£4.95 PB 9781857597509

Designed by the acclaimed architect Zaha Hadid, Riverside Museum opened in 2011. This book examines the construction of the unique building, created to house the City of Glasgow’s world-famous transport and technology collections. It looks at the rationale for the overall design and the concepts behind the exhibition display. Available from and from the shop at Riverside Museum.


Gifted: The Tale of 10 Mysterious Book Sculptures Gifted to the City of Word and Ideas


POLYGON £9.99 HB 9781846972485

Over the course of a few months in 2011 an anonymous artist left book sculptures across the City of Edinburgh, love letters ‘In support of libraries, books, words and ideas’. In beautiful photographs and the artist’s own words their story is told completely for the first time.


Return to One Man’s Island: Paintings and Sketches from the Isle of May

Keith Brockie

BIRLINN £25.00 HB 9781841589749

The book nature lovers have waited over twenty years for. In a beautifully illustrated sequel to the classic ‘One Man’s Island’, Keith Brockie revisits the flora and fauna of the Isle of May.



New Writing Scotland 30: A Little Touch of Cliff in the Evening

Carl MacDougall & Zoë Strachan (eds)

ASLS £9.95 PB 9781906841096

This latest collection of excellent contemporary writing, from more than eighty contributors, features new work by – among many others – Lin Anderson, Ron Butlin, Valerie Gillies, Alasdair Gray, Andrew Greig, Agnes Owens, and the Glasgow comic-book duo metaphrog.



Echoes – One climber’s

hard road to freedom

Nick Bullock


The debut book by leading British mountaineer Nick Bullock. A prison officer for 15 years, Bullock discovered the mountains and subsequently shaped his existence around walking away from his life inside. A powerful and compelling exploration of freedom – and what it means to live life on your own terms.


The Last Burrah Sahibs

Max Scratchmann

STEVE SAVAGE PUBLISHERS £8.50 PB 9781904246381

Running a jute mill meant that Max’s dad was a boss, a ‘burrah Sahib’. A warm and witty look at the unofficial last years of British Colonial Life (as seen through the eyes of a small boy from Dundee growing up in the dissolving remnants of the British Raj).


Lifting the Lid: A Life at Kinloch Lodge, Skye

Claire Macdonald

BIRLINN £20.00 HB 9781780270470

The first forty eventful years of Kinloch Lodge on Skye and its journey from family home to luxury hotel and gourmet restaurant. With recipes through the decades from proprietrix Claire Macdonald.


The Importance of Being Awkward: The Autobiography of Tam Dalyell

Tam Dalyell

BIRLINN £9.99 PB 9781780270890

As he approaches eighty, Tam Dalyell looks back on over forty years as one of the most colourful and outspoken, yet deeply principled politicians of the modern era.


Way of the Wanderers: The Story of Travellers in Scotland

Jess Smith

BIRLINN £9.99 PB 9781780270784

This personal pilgrimage through the traditions and culture of a people for whom freedom is more important than security reveals the discrimination against Scotland’s travellers. From the author of the Jessie’s Journey Trilogy.


David Steel: The Biography

David Torrance

BITEBACK PUBLISHING £20.00 9781849541404

Description: The first fully authorised biography of one of the most influential politicians of the second half of the twentieth century. David Steel became the leader of the Liberal Party in 1976. Later, Steel became the chief proponent of the merger that would see the formation of the Liberal Democrats.


Traveller in Two Worlds Vol. 2: The Tinker and the Student

David Campbell

LUATH PRESS £14.99 HB 9781908373328

This tells the tale of how the young American music student Linda Headlea’s unlikely marriage to the Traveller Duncan Williamson took him from the Traveller’s tent to international acclaim.


Cellmates: Our story of cancer, life, love and loss.

Claire Wilson

SARABAND £9.99 9781908643179

This revealing true story tells of Alan and Claire’s experience of cancer, the eventual death of one, the grief and recovery of the other. The graphic honesty and real-time pace power you along their rollercoaster of despair and hope, denial and acceptance. Ultimately uplifting, this book is an extraordinary account of the myriad ways that cancer affects lives.


Stirring the Dust

Mary McCabe

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £9.99 PB 9781908931030

A superb mix of historical research, memoir and narrative, convincing in its detail of the lives of the author’s and our own forebears.

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When the Rains Come

Tom Pow

POLYGON £6.99 PB 9781846972065

In support of Malawi Under-privileged Mums charity, a traditional folk tale weaves through the story of three children being raised by their grandmother in Malawi. Full of dancing, love, colour and laughter.



Zoooo… Living Poetry for children

Hugh D. Loxdale


Zoooo… is the ninth poetry book by Hugh D. Loxdale, a book of 33 short poems about animals and plants, illustrated with wonderful line drawings by the well-known artist Rita Muehlbauer. Truly a colourful collection of verse, some humorous, many adventurous, others that will make you think. Just right for children aged five to ninety five.


Iris and Isaac

Catherine Rayner

LITTLE TIGER PRESS £5.99 9781848950924

Winner of the 2012 UK Literacy Association Book Award, Iris and Isaac is a warm and delightfully illustrated story about friendship. When two polar bears stomp away from each other in a huff, they soon realize that being together is more important than anything else…


The Very Noisy Night

Diana Hendry and Jane Chapman

LITTLE TIGER PRESS £5.99 9781854306098

Little Mouse is rather scared when he hears things going bump in the night; will he be brave enough to stay in his own bed? A sweet and reassuring story that has long been a bedtime favourite for children and their parents.


Boy Who Wouldn’t Swim, The

Kenneth Steven

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 9781906134723

Another adventure novel from this successful children’s author – aimed at 8-12 year olds.


A Granny Porage ABC

Jean Marshall

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 9781908931085

Now children who have enjoyed Jean Marshall’s Granny Porage stories can add fun and familiarity to learing to read.


More Granny Porage Stories

Jean Marshall

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 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.



Land Beyond the Wave

Paul Cuddihy.

CAPERCAILLIE BOOKS £8.99 9781906220686

Sequel to ‘The Hunted’, the adventure continues in 1920‘s New York where the main character although trying to lead a reformed life is drawn ineluctably into violent clashes with ethnic gangs and the assassins of Michael Collins, the Irish Republican leader, who have fled to America. This criminal underworld rubs shoulders with some shady political figures who subsequently rise to power. The endgame is chilling as much is at stake . . . Order a copy now at sales@ and get a copy of The Hunted free


The Time of Women

Elena Chzihova

GLAGOSLAV PUBLICATIONS LTD. £12.90 9789081823906 The Russian Booker Prize winning novel The Time of Women tells the story of three old women raising a small mute girl, Suzanna, in a communal apartment in the Soviet Union of the 1960s. Memories of hardship in first cataclysmic half of the century, as well as the loss of their own children, have receded in the background of everyday worries.



Zakhar Prilepin

GLAGOSLAV PUBLICATIONS LTD. £12.90 9789081823937

Novel-in-stories, Sin, has become a literary phenomenon in Russia.  It has been hailed as the epitome of the spirit of the opening decade of the 21st century, and was called “the book of the decade” by the prestigious Super Natsbest Award jury. Now available for the first time in English, it not only embodies the reality of post-perestroika Russia, but also shows that even in this reality it is possible to maintain a positive attitude while remaining human.


Hardly Ever Otherwise

Maria Matios

GLAGOSLAV PUBLICATIONS LTD. £13.40 9789491425127 The dramatic family saga, Hardly Ever Otherwise, narrates the story of several western Ukrainian families during the last decades of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and expands upon the idea that “it isn’t time that is important, but the human condition in time.” In Matios’s multi-tiered plot, the grand passions of ordinary people are illuminated under the caliginous light of an ethereal mysticism.


The Lost Button

Irene Rozdobudko

GLAGOSLAV PUBLICATIONS LTD. £13.40 9781909156043

The novel tells the story of young student scriptwriter’s encounter with a mysterious, femme fatale actress named Liza at a vacation resort in the Carpathian Mountains in Soviet Ukraine in the 1970s. Unable to let go of his love after getting lost with her in the woods for one beautiful night, the young man’s fascination with the actress turns into an obsession that changes his entire life.



Ales Adamovich

GLAGOSLAV PUBLICATIONS LTD. £13.40 9789491425158

Based on previously sealed war archives and rare witness records of the survivors, Khatyn is a heart wrenching story of the people who fought for their lives under the Nazi occupation during World War II. Through the prism of the retrospect perception as narrated by the novel’s main character Flyora author Ales Adamovich beholds genocide and horrific crimes against humanity.


Christened With Crosses

Eduard Kochergin

GLAGOSLAV PUBLICATIONS LTD. £15.00 9789081823999

The unforgettable story of a young boy’s dangerous, adventure-filled westbound journey along the railways of postwar Russia. Based on a true story of Kochergin’s amazing life, this book depicts the awakening of artistic talent under highly unusual Russian circumstances. It is the memoir of an old man who, as a boy, learnt to find his way between extortionate state control and marauding banditry.


Sunshine on Scotland Street

Alexander McCall Smith

POLYGON £16.99 HB 9781846972324

The latest adventures of Bertie, Bruce, Big Lou and all the other residents of Edinburgh’s most famous address, 44 Scotland Street. Book your summer holiday now! Sunshine guaranteed.


The Wigtown Ploughman: Part of His Life

John McNeillie

BIRLINN £8.99 PB 9781780270869

Sensationally published in 1938, this gritty novel follows Andy Walker – a poor labourer working for a series of corrupt and cruel land-owners – from farm to petty crime and back to the soil he should never have left.


Breeze from the River Manjeera

Hema Macherla

LINEN PRESS £10.00 9780955961816

Breeze from the River Manjeera is the powerful and inspirational story of Neela who arrives in England as a bride for the brutal Ajay. In a personal, moving way, the novel explores the issues surrounding the deep-rooted traditions of arranged marriages and how women like Neela struggle for independence and respect. Can she find happiness against the odds?


The Device, The Devil and Me

Stephanie Taylor

LINEN PRESS £10.00 9780955961847

A novel about two strong, original women – a mother with terminal cancer and a daughter who thinks she is possessed by the devil. Lauren Walker forces herself to wear the mask of a model citizen with strict, self-imposed rules but the pressure of living so many lies finds release in self-harm and bulimia. Just as she braces herself to tell her family and seek help, her mother discloses her own tragic secret. There is no self-pity in this sharp, blackly funny, laugh-out-loud novel.


The Missing

Juliet Bates

LINEN PRESS £10.00 9780955961823

In spring 1958, journalist Frances Daye is persuaded to follow the trail of yet another woman thought to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia. While searching for Ania through the streets of Paris, she is haunted by memories of her past and starts to relate her own poignant tale. The labyrinth of the beautiful city mirrors the twists and turns of the narrative as Frances wanders the streets searching for Ania and trying to make sense of her own memories.


Under an Emerald Sky

Olukemi Amala

LINEN PRESS £11.99 9780955961854

Two black babies are born five minutes apart in a UK hospital. Yewande is immersed in her rich Nigerian heritage and hears her ancestors’ voices – a double edged sword that heightens her spiritual awareness but alienates her sister and brings horrifying revelations about her family’s past. Mary is rejected at birth by her mother who has abandoned her African roots as she tries to blend into a small town in suburban Britain.


White Lies

Lynn Michell

LINEN PRESS £11.99 9780955961830

White Lies is about how we re-write history so that it doesn’t jar with the stories we tell ourselves. Eve is dutifully typing her ancient father’s memoirs of his time as a soldier in WW11 and in 1950s Kenya when the land-hungry Mau Mau rose up in bloody warfare against the colonials. With growing unease, she questions his account of what really happened. A completely different story of that time – of love and adultery – written by Eve’s mother, comes to light after her death.


Blue Eyes

Hema Macherla

LINEN PRESS £11.99 9780955961861

Set in Gandhi’s volatile India, the story opens with Anjali, aged eighteen, about to be burnt alive on her husband’s funeral pyre – the fate of many widows. After a dramatic escape, things go badly wrong and she embarks on an extraordinary, often terrifying, journey of discovery.  Saleem, Anjali’s childhood friend, is entwined in her destiny. As he searches for her, he is caught up in the violence surrounding India’s struggle for freedom.


James with a Silent C

Kerry McPhail

LINEN PRESS £11.99 9780955961878

Kerry McPhail’s tribute to her late husband Jim is a poignant, brave and funny portrayal of his remarkable life: growing up in poverty, becoming involved in drugs on the mean streets of Glasgow then remarkably turning his life around only to be tragically diagnosed with advanced Hepatitis C. It is a love story between two exceptional people. For those with Hepatitis C and their carers, this memoir will bring acknowledgment and recognition. All author royalties are being donated to the British Liver Trust.


The Henry Experiment

Sophie Radice

LINEN PRESS £11.99 9780955961892

When Anna finds a little barefoot boy in a yellow mac on Hampstead Heath, she offers to walk him home. Expecting gratitude from his parents, she is surprised to be met with hostility.  Maternal Anna and Henry’s academic father who believes that today’s children are bubble-wrapped and that boys must be trained for physical freedom and splendour lock horns as Henry’s scary trials begin.


The Making of Her

Susie Nott-Bower

LINEN PRESS £11.99 9780957005006

The Making of Her is the TV makeover programme that Clara never wanted to produce, featuring the one person she never would have chosen. Add to the mix an errant husband, a barefoot counsellor and a reclusive rock star with his Glaswegian side-kick, and change is inevitable. Will The Making of Her prove to be the making of them all?


Nothing is Heavy

LINEN PRESS 9780957005037

Nothing is Heavy follows three characters

– Beth a chip-shop worker, Amber an erotic dancer and broken-hearted George dressed in a monkey suit – over the course of one intense Saturday night. A sudden, dramatic death forces the three characters to choose between relative safety and risk. Unaware that their lives are already intimately connected by a previous tragedy, their fates collide again with completely unpredictable results.


Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe

Adapted by David Purdie

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 978-1-908373-26-7

Ivanhoe is one of Sir Walter Scott’s finest historical novels. David Purdie’s inspired reworking of its complex characters, romance and high drama is an engrossing page-turner. His armour polished, his sword and dialogue sharp, Ivanhoe re-emerges alive for the modern age.


The Roost

Neil Butler


Spectacular first fiction from young Shetland writer. ‘It’s wonderful.’ Lucy Ellmann

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Scotland the Brave Land: 10,000 Years of Scotland in Story

Stuart McHardy

LUATH PRESS £7.99 PB 9781908373496

With the release of Disney-Pixar’s Brave the world’s attention is being drawn to Scotland and its fascinating history. But Brave merely scrapes the surface of Scotland’s rich storytelling culture. With its captivating and often gruesome tales of heroic warriors in battle, bold heroines, deceitful aristocracy, and supernatural creatures this is a journey into the cultural heritage of a nation.


Arthur’s Seat: Journeys and Evocations Stuart McHardy and Donald Smith

LUATH PRESS £7.99 PB 9781908373465

Arthur’s Seat, rising high above the Edinburgh skyline, is the city’s most awe-inspiring landmark. Although thousands climb to the summit every year, the history of the mountain remains a mystery; shrouded in myth and legend. Inspired by the NVA’s Speed of Light, this is a salute to the ancient tradition of storytelling, guiding the reader around Edinburgh’s famous ‘Resting Giant’ with an exploration of the local folklore and customs.



Sgeulachd Eile Mu Pheadar Rabaid

Emma Thompson. Illustrated by Eleanor Taylor.

GRACE NOTE PUBLICATIONS £12.99 HB 9781907676123

Sgeulachd Eile Mu Pheadar Rabaid is the Scottish Gaelic translation of The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit, a new tale written by Emma Thompson. In The Further Tale, Peter’s adventures take him beyond the boundaries of Mr McGregor’s garden all the way to Scotland. Here he meets the gentle giant Finlay McBurney, a distant Scottish relative, and in the Scottish hills his new adventure begins. Out by September 2012.


Sgeulachd Cailleach nan Gràineag

Beatrix Potter

GRACE NOTE PUBLICATIONS £5.99 HB 9781907676079

Scottish Gaelic translation of The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. As a child Beatrix Potter had known an old country washerwoman called Kitty MacDonald, the inspiration for the twinkly-eyed washerwoman who does Peter Rabbit’s laundry.


A Tàillear à Gloucester

Beatrix Potter

GRACE NOTE PUBLICATIONS £5.99 HB 9781907676055

Gaelic Translation of The Tailor of Gloucester. The tale is based on the true story of a tailor who left the unsewn pieces of a coat in his shop and found that the garment had been mysteriously finished for him in the night by the secret helpers skilful little brown mice.


Sgeulachd An Dà Dhroch Luch

Beatrix Potter

GRACE NOTE PUBLICATIONS £5.99 HB 9781907676062

Scottish Gaelic Translation of The Tale of Two Bad Mice. Potter uses her own two pet mice, Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca, as models for the principal characters. The doll’s house belonged to a little girl who was her publisher’s niece.


Sgeulachd Thòmais Piseag

Beatrix Potter

GRACE NOTE PUBLICATIONS £5.99 HB 9781907676086

Scottish Gaelic Translation of The Tale of Tom Kitten. Potter had owned her first Lake District farm, Hill Top in the village of Near Sawrey, when she began work on The Tale of Tom Kitten. She shows Tom and his sisters living in the farmhouse and getting into mischief amongst the flowers of the beautiful cottage.


Modern Scots Grammar: Wirkin wi Wirds

Christine Robinson

LUATH PRESS £7.99 PB 9781908373397

Dealing with grammar in a modern way, this book gives readers an understanding of how language works. It aims to give readers confidence in using the Scots language. Accompanying schools materials are available.


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.




Traditional Tales

Allan Cunningham; Tim Killick (ed)

ASLS £12.50 HB 9781906841089

A selection of folk stories steeped in the traditions of southern Scotland and northern England. Mixing the natural and supernatural, they blur the distinction between the oral traditions of the distant past and emerging ideas of literature and modernity. Originally published in 1822, these fascinating tales form an essential part of folkloric history.


Scotland: Mapping the Nation

Christopher Fleet, Charles W.J. Withers and Margaret Wilkes

BIRLINN £20.00 PB 9781780270913

Three expert authors explore the history of Scotland told from the innovative perspective of maps and map-making. Beautifully illustrated throughout with full-colour plates.


Churchill 1940-1945: Under Friendly Fire

Walter Reid

September 2012

BIRLINN £12.99 PB 9781843410591

The only book to give a complete study of Churchill’s relationships with his allies, both at home and abroad and the time and energy he devoted to fighting both the war and them.


Tales of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites

Stuart McHardy

LUATH PRESS £7.99 PB 9781908373236

Jacobite influences are often found in Scottish culture. Many of their stories and legends are still told today in some form or another. McHardy examines the Jacobite tales to create a vivid historical picture of Scotland’s Stuart past.


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.


The Clydesdale – workhorse of the world

Mary Bromilow

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £20.00 HB 9781906134655

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


Waverley Route – the life, death and rebirth of the Borders Railway

David Spaven



The story that says much about Britain’s railways in the late 1960s, and about the opportunities created by devolution of power in the last years of the twentieth century to right one of the great wrongs of the old model of London-based transport policy. A social history of the Borders as much as a transport book. Illustrated with numerous period and current photos never before published.



The Satire of the Four Estates/ The Satyre of the Threi Estaits

John McGrath and Sir David Lyndsay.

CAPERCAILLIE BOOKS £12.99, ISBN 9781906220679

A timely publication given the state of the Union and the questionable power of the media.



The Golden Years of the Anchor Line

Martin Bellamy and Bill Spalding


The Anchor Line was one of the great shipping companies of the Clyde, famed for its sleek, luxurious liners operating between Glasgow and New York. The book uses contemporary images and personal narratives from passengers and crew to give a compelling insight into the operation of this famous shipping line. Available from and from the shop at Riverside Museum.



David Hollett

BROWN, SON & FERGUSON £40.00 HB 9781849270298

Between the years 1830 and 1930 emigration from Europe to North America took the form of a mass exodus. During these years it is estimated that about 40 million people sailed from Britain, Ireland and Continental Europe for the United States, Canada, and other distant lands. The tragic story of the Irish and Scottish clearances and evictions, leading to disproportionately large emigrations from these troubled lands receive appropriate attention. One of the concluding chapters is dedicated to the loss of the White Star liner Titanic.


Back From The Brink

Jamie Webster

BROWN, SON & FERGUSON £9.99 PB 9780851748085

The fight to stop the closure of the Kvaerner Govan shipyard in Glasgow was the most high profile industrial campaign in Scotland since the UCS sit-in in the 1970’s. This is the inside story of that struggle, told in his own words by campaign leader, Govan’s yard convenor Jamie Webster.


Glenlee – The Life and Times of a Clyde Built Cape Horner

Colin Castle & Ian MacDonald

BROWN, SON & FERGUSON £20.00 HB 9780851745091

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 9781849270137

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 9780851745091

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 northeast 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”.

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A Handbook of Scotland’s Wild Harvests

Fi Martynoga (ed)

SARABAND £12.99 9781887354967

This inspirational guide is bursting with know-how on Scotland’s wild harvest, covering what, where, when and how you can use your bounty in sustainable ways – from the most useful and widespread of species to the less well-known, and from leaves and berries to saps, seeds, seaweeds, mosses and wood.


Aquaponic Gardening: A Guide to Raising Fish and Vegetables Together Sylvia Bernstein

SARABAND £16.99 9781908643087

Aquaponics is an amazingly easy way of gardening that is completely organic, hugely productive, resource-efficient, and there’s no weeding, watering or digging. This is the definitive do-it-yourself manual, giving you all the tools you need to create your own aquaponic system and enjoy fresh and healthy fruit and vegetables.




An Cuilithionn 1939: The Cuillin 1939 and Unpublished Poems

Sorley MacLean; Christopher Whyte (ed)

ASLS £12.50 HB 9781906841034

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. Forty-five other previously unpublished poems by MacLean also appear here for the first time, with facing English translations.


Collected Poems

Robert Rendall

STEVE SAVAGE PUBLISHERS £25.00 HB 9781904246367

Although Robert Rendall was one of Orkney’s most highly-regarded 20th-century poets, his poetry has long been hard to obtain. This collection contains his four published collections, together with many poems which were published in newspapers or survive only in manuscript. An opportunity to appreciate the breadth of Rendall’s poetic work.


The Magicians of Edinburgh

Ron Butlin

POLYGON £9.99 PB 9781846972362

A wonderful collection of poems by Edinburgh’s Makar, Ron Butlin, reflecting and inspired by the City of Edinburgh.


Ragas and Reels: A Visual and Poetic Look at some New Scots

Bashabi Fraser & Hermann Rodrigues

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781908373342

The intricate stories told in Rodrigues’ portraits are matched by the rhythms and imagery in Fraser’s poetry. This book offers an insight into the fusion of Eastern and Western cultures in today’s Scotland. By peppering her poems with both Scots words and Indian words, Fraser demonstrates the bi-cultural nature of many of today’s Scots.


Don’t Mention This to Anyone: Poems from India & Pakistan

Tessa Ransford

LUATH PRESS £8.99 PB 978-1-908373-18-2

Ransford takes the reader on a journey to explore the differences between ‘then’ and ‘now’, linking the reader to a world now lost to most. These poems question what it is to be both British and Indian, drawing on the author’s memories and experiences to celebrate and uncover an ‘Indian’ self.



John Hudson

LUATH PRESS £8.99 PB 9781908373366

This is a beautiful exploration of our dependence on our planet. Through a variety of different poetic techniques, Hudson skilfully blends form and content to ask the perennial question: What does it mean to be human?


A Rug of a Thousand Colours

Tessa Ransford and Iyad Hayatleh

LUATH PRESS £8.99 PB 9781908373243

Iyad Hayatleh and Tessa Ransford create a vivid tapestry of dialog exploring their different cultural backgrounds and views regarding religion, tradition and society. This is a powerful explanatory project between a Syrian/Palestinian poet who is now a resident in Scotland and an established Scottish poet, signifying a unity of imagination, experience and perception.



Gerry McGrath

CARCANET PRESS £9.95 9781847771162

‘McGrath marks the arrival of a new generation of Scottish poets.’ -New Statesman. Gerry McGrath’s second book of poems paints precisely the commonplace detail of human experience. Taking inspiration from outstanding writers in Eastern Europe, Kashmir and Spain, the follow-up to the critically acclaimed A to B (Carcanet, 2008) offers a perspective that is haunting and new.



William Letford

CARCANET PRESS £9.95 ISBN 9781847771926

‘The pleasure I have gained from William Letford’s poems…will, I am confident, stay with me for ever’- Nicolas Lezard, The Guardian. The highly anticipated début collection by an energetic young Scottish poet and roofer. Dubbed ‘the future of Scottish poetry’, Letford’s readings have become a YouTube sensation.  His poems are sure and strong, the words dance. Bevel will be launched from 8.30pm on 24th August at the Edinburgh Book Festival.


Small World

Richard Price

CARCANET PRESS £9.95 ISBN 9781847771582

‘Richard Price is by far the most gifted Scottish poet of his generation’- The Scotsman. The fourth collection by a Whitbread and Forward Prize shortlisted Scottish poet. Small Island offers a moving portrait of love under intolerable pressure, as the poet’s partner suffers a brain haemorrhage. Price was recently chosen to represent Great Britain in the Scottish Poetry Library’s Written World project.




Hubris: How HBOS Wrecked the Best Bank in Britain

Ray Perman

BIRLINN £20.00 HB 9781780270517

For over 300 years the Bank of Scotland was one of the most admired and successful banks in the world, but its crash as part of HBOS left it reviled and distrusted, and having lost £10 billion. What went wrong?


Arguing for Independence: Evidence, Risk and Tackling the Wicked Issues

Stephen Maxwell

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781908373335

By offering an assessment of the case for independence across all its dimensions, Arguing for Independence fills a longstanding gap in Scotland’s political bookshelf as we enter a new and critical phase in the debate on Scotland’s political future. With a foreword by Owen Dudley Edwards


Scotland: The Growing Divide: Old Nation, New Ideas

Tom Brown and Henry McLeish

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781908373458

This is the follow-up to Scotland: The Road Divides, released in 2007. Five years on, and many of the conclusions reached in The Road Divides have become a political reality. Now facing an imminent referendum on the independence of Scotland, the authors focus on the changing face of politics and what this means for Scotland and the UK.


Carnegie’s Call – developing the success habit

Michael Malone

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £7.99 PB 9781908931047

Recognising the achievements of emigré and man of achievement Andrew Carnegie, Michael Malone interviews Scots who have distinguished themselves and seeks to understand attitudes to success. He uncovers some fascinating insights into how we can develop the success habit.


Fags Booze Drugs + children – what parents need to know to keep children safe

Max Cruickshank

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £9.99 PB 9781906134983

The aim of this book is to inform, educate and empower parents or carers of young people about how drugs have the potential to damage their health and wellbeing. Factual, informative and rooted in years of experience as a youth worker.


Afternow – what next for a healthy Scottish society?

Phil Hanlon & Sandra Carlisle

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781908931054

The authors look at health and beyond health to the main social, economic, environmental and cultural challenges of our times.


The Great Takeover – how materialist values now dominate our lives and what we can do about it


ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781908931061

Where do these ideas come from and what can be done.


The New Road – community renewal

Alf Young & Ewan Young

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781908931078

A father and son take a journey to see some of the inspiring community action projects going on.


Scandalous Immoral and Improper – 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.


The Scots Crisis of Confidence

Carol Craig

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £9.99 PB 9781906134709

A brand 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.

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Athens to Zagreb: Hearts in Europe

Mike Buckle

LUATH PRESS £14.99 HB 9781908373410

A must-read for Hearts fans, Athens to Zagreb is the definitive guide to all matches played by the team in European competitions since 1958. Only the third Scottish team to enter the European Cup, this record of the team’s glorious history is told from the point of view of some of the people who were closely involved, and of course the fans themselves.



Scotland Mountain Biking – Wild Trails Vol.2

Phil McKane

VERTEBRATE PUBLISHING £15.95 HB 9781906148522

A compact and portable mountain biking guidebook featuring 24 classic routes across Scotland, suitable for riders of all abilities. Researched, ridden and written by Scottish Mountain Bike Guide Phil McKane, each route features clear and easy to use Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 maps, detailed directions and photography by Andy McCandlish.


The East Highland Way

Kevin Langan

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781908373403

A new, revised edition of the detailed and descriptive guide to the route developed by Kevin Langan in 2007. Beginning in Fort William and culminating in Aviemore, the trail forms a new walking route between the northern end of the West Highland Way and the southern end of the Speyside Way.



RON BUTLIN, the Edinburgh Poet Laureate and author of The Magicians of Edinburgh, CARLOS GAMERRO, author of An Open Secret, and ANDRES NEUMAN, author of Traveller of the Century, read at the Edinburgh Book Fringe 2012 Tuesday 21 August 2012, 1-2pm Word Power Books, 43-45 West Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9DB Free admission, donations welcome. Contact or  0131 662 9112

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Word Power

The editors of Scotland in Definition, A History of Scottish Dictionaries, Iseabail Macleod and Derrick McClure, have both spent most of their careers in the study of promotion of the Scottish languages, especially Scots. Macleod has worked for the Scottish National Dictionary since 1979 and from 1986 until 2002 as its Editorial Director. McClure was a lecturer in Aberdeen University from 1979 to 2002. He has written extensively about Scots and has promoted it in several organisations. The Saltire Society published  editions of his Why Scots Matters in 1988 and 1997.

Their introduction to this book is a masterly summary of the issues involved as far as Scots is concerned. (Gaelic is not their subject and it has its own strong team in part II of the book). They say that the great age of literature in Scots (from Barbour in the fourteenth century to Lyndsay in the sixteenth) was brought to an end by the introduction of printing because some of the first printers in Scotland were English. Then, as they say, ‘In the eighteen century, notoriously, a determined effort was made to excise all “Scotticisms” from speech’. Gaelic has had an even more violent history, with the defeat of the Jacobite Rising, the Clearances and the Education Act of 1872 which ignored the existence of the language. Even so its poetry remained in vigorous life.

It seems to me that this history of the neglect and the near abolition of both Scots and Gaelic needs more consideration. Was it simply that the overwhelming power and wealth of England (for a time the major power in the world) convinced the Scots that they should do their best to imitate them? Still, as this book demonstrates comprehensively, both Scots and Gaelic have been fighting back. Ruth Williamson has a chapter on the lexicography of Scots before 1700, and Derrick McClure follows with one on the 18th. It was then that Ruddiman published a glossary of about 3,000 entries to Gavin Douglas’s translation in verse of Virgil’s Aeneid. This became a fruitful source for subsequent lexicographers, including John Jamieson, the author of the first comprehensive dictionary of Scots. Susan Rennie has a chapter on this, but she has also just published a book which is the first detailed account of Jamieson’s life and work. She too is a lexicographer who has worked on both Scottish and English dictionaries, but she is also one of the founders of the Itchy Coo Books and she has written stories for children in Scots. Her latest book is a detailed work of research, but it is written in a fluent and lively style which makes it a pleasure to read.

John Jamieson was born in Glasgow in 1759 and grew up in a family of dissenters of the Scottish Secession Kirk. He entered Glasgow University when he was nine, remarkably early even at that time. His first appointment was to the   Secession Kirk in Forfar. After 17 years there he was appointed Minister of a Secession Kirk in Edinburgh where he served for 32 years. His major interest seems to have been, not religion, but the Scots language. He did say that Edinburgh was ‘much more favourable to literary research’, but even when he was in Forfar he made an extensive study of the Scots spoken there. He was interested not only in spoken Scots, but in the language of Scottish literature from the earliest times. This eventually became the content of his Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language published in two volumes in 1808 and of the further two volumes of Supplement in 1825. He worked on this for most of his life, even when he was ill.

One of the early influences on Jamieson was Grimur Thorkelin, an Icelandic scholar and Professor of History and Antiquities in the University of Copenhagen. Jamieson met him in October 1787 when he was on a tour sponsored by the Danish government to investigate evidence of Scandinavian connections. Thorkelin said that he had heard Scots words on his travels which were similar to his native Icelandic. Jamieson was delighted with this evidence that Scots was more than a dialect of English. On the title page of his dictionaries he said that they showed the affinity of Scots words ‘to those of other languages and especially the Northern.’ Jamieson never met Thorkelin again but they were in correspondence for fifteen years. Another influence on Jamieson’s ideas about the origin of many Scots words was the publication in 1786 of  John Pinker-ton’s Ancient Scottish Poems. This included a glossary of about 1,000   words and an Introduction which said that the Picts were a Nordic race and that their language was a dialect of Gothic.

In the course of Jamieson’s years of work on his Dictionary he met many people who, as Rennie says, ‘became lifelong supporters’ of his project.’ Among them from 1795 was the young Walter Scott . They became close friends and for years Scott suggested words for inclusion in the Dictionary. Rennie in an appendix includes a list of them of 15 pages.

On the other hand a potential rival also appeared on the scene. In March 1802 Jamie-son wrote in one of his letters to Thorkelin: ‘a clergyman, a native of England, Mr Jona-than Boucher, is compiling a dictionary of old English words and had proposed that he and I should put our works together, as he wished to include the Scottish as one of the Dialects of the English’. Jamieson, who was naturally concerned that such a dictionary would harm the sales of his own, made several proposals to Boucher, but he rejected all of them and eventually died without publishing anything.

When Jamieson was ready to publish his Dictionary he failed to find a publisher. He decided to do the job himself and bought two hand presses. As he said in a letter to Rich-ard Heber, ‘It was more than fifteen months hard labour’. The Dictionary was published in two volumes on 20 February 1808, and the Supplement in another two volumes in 1825. Jamieson also handled the sales and distribution himself. Scots therefore now had an Etymological Dictionary tracing its origin from early times. English had Samuel Johnson’s, but it was confined to current usage.

Since Jamieson, Scottish dictionaries have become more scholarly and elaborate. The first of them, The Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (DOST), was proposed by Sir William Craigie. After his education in St Andrews University and Oriel College, Oxford, he was appointed to the staff of the Oxford English Dictionary. He became its third editor in 1897 after another Scot, Sir James Murray. In 1925 Craigie was appointed Professor of English in the University of Chicago and began working on the DOST. The Chicago University Press agreed to publish it in 25 parts, each of 120 pages and they continued until 1981. Craigie died in 1952 and Jack Aitken took over as editor. The DOST was eventually completed in 62 parts amounting to about 8,000 pages. It was not completed until December 2000.

The chapter on DOST by Margaret Dareau is followed by one by Iseabail Macleod on the Scottish National Dictionary. She begins by saying that at the beginning of the twentieth century ‘there were gloomy views about the future of the Scots language, and indeed forecasts of its imminent demise’. Now, she continues, ‘with more enlightened attitudes to minority languages and some official support (though not enough) its outlook is not as grim as it was’. The long years of work on the DOST and the SND are perhaps an indication of belief in the value and future of the languages.

The work on these dictionaries was certainly long and intensive. The publication of the first part of the SND to the last took 45 years. Iseabail Macleod says that the fact it was completed in this time was due in large measure to the almost superhuman patience of the editor, David Murison. This is something which I witnessed from year to year. I was a subscriber to the Dictionary and the ten large volumes sit on a shelf above my desk as I write. At the time I was working abroad, but whenever I came to Edinburgh on leave I used to call on David in his office (or shall I say workshop) in George Square. You could almost be sure that he would be there because he worked long hours and took no holidays. He even failed to turn up at a dinner held to celebrate the completion of the task of editing the Dictionary. To my mind he is one of the real heroes of Scottish cultural endeavour.

Iseabail Macleod adds another chapter on the diversity of dictionaries which have been published using the material now available in the SND. They range from an official condensation, the Concise Scots Dictionary (of which Iseabail was one of the editors) to such light-hearted books as Scoor-oot, A Dictionary of Scots Words and Phrases in Current Use.

Part II of the book is devoted to Gaelic dictionaries. The authors are William Gillies, who was Professor of Celtic at Edinburgh University from 1979 to 2009, and Lorna Pike, who has been on the editorial team of both the Concise Scots Dictionary and the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue.

The first dictionary of Gaelic was published in 1741 by the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SSPCK) which is curious because one of the objects of the Society was to ‘root-out’ in the Highlands and Islands what they called the Irish language. Subsequent dictionaries were the work of enthusiasts for Gaelic.   The first was in 1780 by the Rev William Shaw. He met Samuel Johnson during his tour of the Highlands   with James Boswell and this encouraged him to produce a dictionary in two volumes, Gaelic-English and English-Gaelic. In 1825 Robert Armstrong produced what Gillies calls ‘arguably the first major dictionary in Gaelic’.

Many others have followed, but, so far, nothing on the scale and professionalism of the DOST and the SND for Scots. To meet the need a group, including Norman Gillies and Lorna Pike, met in May 2002 to discuss the way forward. They agreed that there should be a historical dictionary project, to be called Faclair na Gaidhlig (Dictionary of the Scottish Gaelic Language) and the Universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde and the University of the Highlands and Islands should be invited to participate. All agreed and a Strategy Committee for the project met for the first time in October 2002. Work proceeds and our authors are confident that Faclair na Gaidhlig will add ‘accessibility and dignity to Scottish Gaelic as a properly respected language in the world’.

It seems to me therefore a safe conclusion is that both Scots and Gaelic, with their admirable literatures and now the support of major dictionaries, are likely not only to survive, but to flourish.


Iseabail Macleod and J.Derrick McClure, eds

BIRLINN,  PP342, £25. ISBN: 978 1 90656 649 4


Susan Rennie

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, PP303, £70. ISBN: 978 0 19 963940 3

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Inwards And Outwards

Victoria Crowe,’ writes Guy Pep-loe from the Scottish Gallery in a foreword to this monograph, ‘has quietly emerged into a preeminent position in Scottish painting’. The key word in this sentence is ‘quietly’. In an age where art all too often courts drama and controversy, Crowe has achieved her place without much of either. Instead, she has simply applied herself with rigour and commitment to the issues which have driven her artistic practice for more than 45 years.

In this, the first complete book on her career, Duncan Macmillan traces the strands of her artistic development. What stands out most is their consistency. There are few tangents, cul-de-sacs or u-turns. She does not halt one line of exploration and suddenly begin another. Yet, over time, there is a kind of transformation. It is as if the questions she asked as a young painter at the Royal College in the 1960s are being answered in her mature work: how to create paintings which can deal with time and memory; how to bend pictorial space so that it becomes a vehicle for dreams, thoughts, imagination as well as representations of the visible world.

A Victoria Crowe painting typically starts with observation, very often of the natural world. It might contain elements of landscape, portraiture, still life and flower painting. But in her richly associative artistic language, the separate strands weave together to become more than the sum of their parts. Often, her paintings combine interior and exterior – consider titles such as ‘Within and Without’, ‘Garden Room – A View from the Interior’. She is interested in collapsing these boundaries, in looking inwards as well as outwards. It is no coincidence that she has painted portraits of leading psychoanalysts Winifred Rushforth and R. D. Laing. She is drawn to the landscapes of the inner world.

Victoria Crowe was born on V.E. Day in 1945, and was christened, in honour of the date, Victoria Elizabeth. She grew up in West London, went to Kingston School of Art at 16, then to the Royal College. She was raised Catholic, though, at the age of 21, she made a decision to turn away from formal religion. Her concern with the mysterious and the transcendental, however, has never left her.

Her work is steeped in it, illuminated by it.

An early manifestation of this was an interest in Russian icons, which she first saw on a college trip behind the Iron Curtain in 1964. An important early picture, ‘Self Portrait with icon’, shows her at 20, staring levelly out at us, Rublev’s majestic head of Christ at her left shoulder. Icons were the subject of her dissertation at the RCA, in which she wrote, revealingly: ‘Whereas Western artists have been obsessed by the visual aspects of the external world, the Russian painters were concerned exclusively with the inner vision which the contemplation of divine beings and sacred histories aroused in them.’ If Western religious art was determined, with its vivid depictions of saints and angels, to make the mysterious visible, Russian icons did the opposite. They tell us that such a thing is impossible, their simplicity keeps the sense of mystery intact.

Robin Philipson, recently appointed head of school at Edinburgh College of Art, saw Crowe’s degree show at the RCA in 1968 and immediately offered her a teaching post in Edinburgh. Her husband, Michael Wal-ton, whom she met as a student at Kingston, trained as a school teacher, but he too joined the staff of ECA a few years later. They settled in the hamlet of Kittleyknowe, a mile east of Carlops on the edge of the Pentland Hills. She had never been to Scotland before, but she explored her new landscape by drawing it. Always attracted to winter landscapes, she was soon painting dramatic vistas of the snow-covered moors.

Crowe became close friends with her next door neighbour at Kittleyknowe, shepherd Jenny Armstrong, who became the subject of Crowe’s much loved series of paintings ‘A Shepherd’s Life’, exhibited at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in 2000. Until then, Crowe’s Pentland landscapes had been largely unpopulated, and Jenny did not particularly want to be painted, but soon she began to creep into them, a tiny figure walking with her dogs or feeding her sheep against a wide white blanket of snow. As the years passed, and old age and infirmity confined Jenny to her cottage, Crowe’s attention turned indoors. The final paintings are a series of interiors painting after Jenny’s death in 1985.

Crowe’s friendship with Armstrong came at a crucial time. Raising two young children, and wondering how she could continue with her art, she was bolstered by shepherd’s sense of her self, the way she had made a life for herself in harmony with the landscape and seasons. It was also deeply important for her as an artist. In the ‘Shepherd’s Life’ pictures, she was bringing together objects and landscape, interior and exterior. In Greece, she had seen votives, objects hung before an icon and invested with hopes, fears, prayers, stories. In her last paintings of Armstrong’s cottage, she began to invest objects and trinkets with a similar significance; the ordinary became imbued with the sacred.

Kittleyknowe was changing: the older residents were fading, the property developers moving in. When the Crowes and their two teenage children moved to West Linton in 1990, Victoria needed a new landscape to fuel her artistic fires. An RSA scholarship enabled her to travel to Italy where she soaked up a richer palette of colours, and became absorbed in looking at the painting of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Perhaps, like Russian icons, these had a directness and simplicity which deepened their symbolic power. In her own paintings of this period, developments hinted at in ‘A Shepherd’s Life’ become more explicit. Her compositions become more layered, the structure softens, images and ideas associate more freely, physical space yields to metaphysical space.

In December 1994, the Crowes were rocked by the news that their son Ben, by then in his third year at university, had cancer. He died a year later. His parents coped each in their own way. Michael founded a charity, the Ben Walton Trust, to raise awareness and funding to tackle oral cancers in young people. Victoria painted. It would be trite to say that her painting deepened as a result of this tragedy, but the pictures from that time are remarkable, darker in hue than much of her earlier work, starred with flowers, dragonflies, portraits of both children; beautiful, sad, important works about the brevity and splendour of things.

These themes would continue to deepen in the years that followed. Her connection with Italy would deepen too. In 1998, she visited Venice for the first time. Avoiding the much-painted vistas of the city, she was drawn instead to the tarnished mirrors in its crumbling palazzos, the graffiti layered on its ancient walls. Always interested in notions of time, the ancient city which wears its past so easily on its sleeve enthralled her. She acquired a studio there and still paints there several months of the year.

A long interest in botanical drawing – she took over the class at ECA vacated when Elizabeth Blackadder retired – led to a body of work titled ‘Plant Memory’ for the RSA in 2007. These works illustrate how much she has moved towards mixed-media, incorporating screen print, etching and transfer printing alongside drawing, watercolour, impressions from actual plants, and snippets from early botanical books. Writing on that show, leading botanist David Ingram suggests that her studies in the Cambridge Herbarium were not unconnected to her love of Venice: both places fed her central themes of timelessness and fragility.

Duncan Macmillan is keen to make a case for Victoria Crowe as a ‘modern’ artist, as if her credentials in this area somehow needed bolstering. He argues that her desire to paint the inner life, ‘the ever-moving point of individual consciousness’, is one of the great engines of modern art. Certainly, the modern – if we take out, for a moment, the followers of Duchamp, intent on the individual expression above all else – is a search for meaning, for a greater understanding of what it is to be alive. In this sense, Crowe is modern indeed.

But she is also quite un-modern. She is part of a generation of artists whose training was traditional, founded on skill and genre, both of which are less than prominent in artistic education today. Like all the best artists, she bent these to her own purposes, but they were the foundations on which she built her career. And then there is beauty. Crowe’s paintings are beautiful, that much is unarguable, and that is out of step with much of what passes for ‘modern art’. As Michael Walton writes in his introduction: ‘Being in a world where the immediate and the new demand attention, beauty is perhaps questioned as an outmoded form.’

Beauty is important to Crowe, not as an end in itself, but as a philosophical concept, connected to another very un-modern idea, the concept of truth. Speaking about painting the objects on Jenny Armstrong’s mantelpiece, she has said: ‘It was important to record the truth’. That is the engine which drives the work’s integrity. Many contemporary artists would run for cover at the notion that they might be expected to address either ‘beauty’ or ‘truth’. Artists such as Victoria Crowe don’t undertake these lightly, yet they know, like the grain of sand in the oyster shell, they must worry at them, returning to them again and again.

This monograph must not be regarded as drawing a line under a career, however well spent. Crowe’s work continues. She is engaged in a major commission of a suite of paintings for an Italianate house in the Borders. Meanwhile, the Dovecot Studios is currently weaving one of the most iconic of the ‘Shepherd’s Life’ scenes from a palette of natural sheep’s wool. She continues to experiment with collapsing time and space: a Pentland landscape is glimpsed in a faded mirror in her Venetian studio; a self portrait by Raphael appears next to a very real twenty-first   century artichoke. The boundary lines grow comfortably fluid, between past and present, internal and external, known and imagined, the numinous and the everyday.


Duncan Macmillan

ANTIQUE COLLECTORS’ CLUB, 184PP, £35. ISBN: 978-1-85149-714-0

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What If There Is A God?

What are we to make of a novel that describes itself as ‘old-fashioned’? Not ‘timeless’ or even ‘traditional’, but ‘old-fashioned’? It’s a curious adjective; some might think it pejorative in certain cases. It is particularly strange when we see the term applied to The Heart Broke In by James Meek, a writer who has until now given the impression he was interested in writing that is edgy, uncomfortable. On the back of the book, we find it blurbed as ‘an old-fashioned story of modern times’, which it is. Does Meek’s fifth novel signal he has reached a new maturity? Or a new conservatism?

The Heart Broke In consciously, perhaps self-consciously, strives to elucidate the anxieties and appetites of early twenty-first century Britain. At the novel’s core are two scientists, Bec and Alex. Her work on parasites has taken her close to discovering a malaria inoculation. Alex is further away from finding a cure for cancer, but he has had promising results which also suggest there may be a way to extend not only life but youth. As these two leaders in their field move slowly towards a relationship with each other, a constellation of characters shifts around them, most of whom, whether they are aware of it or not, are engaged in a quest for immortality – a form of it.

Alex’s uncle and mentor, Harry, is dying from cancer. He has a ‘desire to be literally immortal’, and hectors his nephew into trying out an untested – and futile, anyway – treatment on him, which has consequences for Alex’s career down the line. Harry is deluding himself as to the efficacy of the treatment, his hopes based more on faith than fact. The leeway he allows himself as a scientist he does not show to bearers of other beliefs, specifically his son Matthew, a committed Christian. Harry and Matthew have the sort of helpfully symbolic relationship that allows authors with a point to make to dramatize their argument. Matthew won’t let his children see their grandfather because of his evangelical atheism. Harry’s inflexibility poisons his relationship with ‘the alternative immortalities he might have claimed’ through son and grandchildren. Meek lets that line go there, but generally is more questioning of what immortality might practically consist of. Is it a survival of genes or of values? If you believe it comes simply through offspring, then Harry and Matthew’s non-relationship stands as a counter-argument.

Meek must be congratulated for finding a way to write about faith today that isn’t merely another spoof of believers. The Heart Broke In is a religious novel, albeit one that reads as if written by an atheist. There is a note of anxiety that sounds at moments through the novel: what if the believers are right? Typically, Meek isn’t so much interested in theology, whether God exists; he’s more concerned with whether they have an evolutionary advantage. Meek doesn’t bring it up, but one recalls the survival rates of Orthodox Jews imprisoned in the concentration camps of WW2 were higher than those of secular Jews. Unlike the bed-hopping, angst-ridden childless metro-politans featured in this surprisingly broody novel, the religious get on with having kids and passing on their values. And it isn’t as if religious impulses don’t still find a way to express themselves, even in Harry, a militant Dawkinist.

Meek explores other ways of projecting ourselves into a future we won’t be around to witness. Perhaps we should invest our hopes in continuity, in the promotion of moral standards we consider eternal, as suited for tomorrow as yesterday. Bec is briefly engaged to Val, a Paul Dacre-ish newspaper editor much given to prattling on about ‘ordinary, decent, hard-working people’ while enjoying a ludicrously privileged existence, his talk of ‘tradition, common law and the ten commandments’ somewhat undermined by his sleeping with Bec before marriage. Rejected by Bec, he loses it, resigning his post to set up the shadowy Moral Foundation, a sort of celebrity secret police that uses McCar-thy-esque tactics, encouraging targets to inform on other C-listers’ foibles or else face exposure on Val’s website, a turn of events somewhat more convincing post-Levenson.

Bec’s brother Ritchie is blackmailed by Val. Ritchie is the epitome of (sorry to phrase it this way) the meeja wanker. He is the producer of a popular reality TV programme, Teen Makeover, a cynical take on The X Factor geared for adolescents. Fat and in his forties, but also wealthy and powerful within his industry, Ritchie at the time of the novel’s opening is sleeping with an underage girl he met through his show. Many men sleep with teenagers to recapture their youth; in Ritchie’s case, he is trying to recapture his wife’s youth. Before she retired to an afterlife as a yummy mummy, her personality was summed up in another rhyme: wild child. Ritchie and Karin, the wife, were in a passingly popular Britpop band, the Lazygods, sharing bills with Bowie and Bono. In his own way, Ritchie is staking his immortality on art or at least fame. Desperate to break out of his ‘lack of talent show’, he wants to make a documentary about the man who killed his and Bec’s soldier father, an IRA interrogator who tortured him to death for not revealing an informer’s identity. The murderer, having served his time in prison, has found a measure of redemption as a modestly successful poet. Ritchie deploys the language of reality shows to persuade his sister to sign off on his documentary (the subject of it won’t agree to filming unless Bec forgives him). Ritchie claims it’ll bring her ‘closure’. ‘That’s not atonement,’ Bec replies. ‘It’s entertainment.’

Practically all of the characters – and it is a substantial cast – are searching for a way to extend youth and life, be it through sex, children, religion, medicine, art, building monumental towers, making money, or, in Alex’s case, through being the scientist who discovers a cure for cancer. Characters multiply like the single-cell organisms Bec examines through her microscope. The cover of The Heart Broke In is an illustration of such mono-cellular spheres, although initially to my untrained eye, they resembled soap bubbles; and there is something soap opera-ish to Meek’s manoeuvrings of his characters. As a historical novelist turning his attention to the present, he has had to surrender many of the tools that fiction set in the past can employ to generate emotion, irony, danger, and tragedy. Indebted to Tolstoy (notice Ritchie’s wife’s name?), Meek tries his best to find a way to create drama in a world where adultery doesn’t end in suicide but a marriage counsellor’s office. Along the way we have to endure some lengthy and slightly ponderous conversations where the characters lay out the consequences of the sexual revolution.

It’s quite a contrast with how Meek began his career as a writer. Then he was interested in complicating traditional narratives, not developing them. Take Drivetime, his second novel, which is structured around an increasingly surreal road trip that progresses deeper into a conflict-wracked Europe. With a hero called Alan Allen who is mistaken for someone named Gregor, you could see Meek’s influences were drawn from the satirical, low-lit, high-end of twentieth century Eastern European literature – Kafka, Nabokov, Bulgakov – as well as honouring the experimental strain of modern Scottish writing, Gray and Kelman in particular.

Propitiously, Meek’s writing career began to take off at the same time as Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting focussed media and reader attention on edgy new Scottish fiction, and Meek found himself bracketed with the likes of Welsh, Alan Warner, and Laura Hird, going so far as to contribute a story to the Children of Albion Rovers anthology that acted as a class portrait for that generation of Scottish novelists. Meek was in fact a foreign correspondent largely based in the Ukraine and Russia during this period, his geographical isolation underlining his thematic apartness. While his first novel, McFarlane Boils the Sea, has scenes set in a nightclub (which was to become de rigueur through the first half of the 1990s but was less so in 1989 when his debut was published), its protagonist is trying to leave that world behind. Interesting then to consider that Welsh and Warner also both have novels out this year, Skagheads and The Deadman’s Pedal, which revisit, respectively, Leith and ‘the Port’, their old fictional stomping grounds. The Heart Broke In has Scottish characters and settings too, but they’re low in the mix.

Meek confirmed and transcended his influences with his 2005 novel, The People’s Act of Love, which remains his best work. Historical fiction can be backwards-looking in form and values as well as in setting. Meek looked beyond Tudor England and the Western Front, finding in post-revolution Siberia a time and a place perfectly suited to the spirit of his writing. It had cannibals, castration cults, and a powerfully attractive villain, a diabolical provocateur that was a relation of both Dostoevsky’s Stavrogin and Hogg’s Gil-Martin.

Given the success of The People’s Act of Love, one would not have been surprised if he returned to the historical novel for its follow-up. Meek was attracted instead to a contemporary setting for We Are Now Beginning Our Descent, a post-9/11 romance that contrasted scenes of war-bashed Afghanistan with dinner parties in north London, the hypocrisy of an age funnelled through its journalist hero’s disastrous passion for a fellow reporter.

It is curious that Meek’s fiction is more radical when set a century ago than when based in the present. A latter-day setting blunts his imagination’s radical sympathies. The journalist in him appears, and feels compelled to make points, establish patterns, milk situations for significance. And The Heart Broke In is a journalist’s novel. There is a procession of weighty contemporaneous themes (third world poverty, celebrity, the role of religion), emblematic characters, and scrupulous research, especially evident in the lab-bound scenes (‘the basolateral domain of the hepatocyte plasma membrane’ and so on).

While several forms of faith and morality are challenged in the book, there is one shibboleth that goes unexamined, and that is whether the novel, or at least the classic realist text, is up to the task Meek sets it. Rather than preparing readers to endure life, might not novels, ‘old-fashioned’ ones, mislead? Traditional narratives are essentially comfort blankets, reducing our chaotic world to an understandable size, where character is consistent and comprehensible, and events have a beginning, middle, and an end which even if they’re not clear to the characters, are apparent to us. This is the faith at the heart of the novel which needs questioning; not whether religion still has something to offer or science is as prone to faith-based leaps into the dark as the belief systems it claims to trump, but whether the world is still comprehensible in the way ‘old-fashioned’ novels portray it. The James Meek of Drivetime would, I wager, have said no.


James Meek

CANONGATE, PP551, £17.99. ISBN: 9780857862907.

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SRB Diary: Leave Me Alone: Diary Of A Writer In Retreat

I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!

They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!

How public, like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!’

 Emily Dickinson

A writer is someone who is most alive when alone: I knew this to be true long before I was a writer. I knew it at the age of eight, when I was already a reader. All my life, I have wanted to be left alone with my book. My favourite time of the day as child, teenager, traveller and writer, has been when I could say ‘Good night’ and scuttle off to bed with a notebook.

Why is it, then, that thirty years later, I still struggle to be alone? That is to say, I struggle to get alone and stay alone. Always, there is noise. Always, there is someone clamouring for attention. Often, that someone is my own social ego, interfering like an ambitious parent or a party bore who buttonholes you with boozy breath.

 Well hello! my social ego says… Remember Facebook? You haven’t posted anything for weeks. It’s time to tweet something – don’t tell me you have nothing to tweet – or people might think you’ve fallen off your perch. Oh, and remember all those emails that need answering. And go on, Skype that friend on the other side of the world. Now is a good time because it’s morning there. Now. Do it now. If you don’t do it now, you will sink into obscurity. You will become nobody. Nobody, I tell you.

No! I yell. Leave me alone. Can’t you see the door is closed? I just want to scribble a little poem. Read this novel. Sit here staring at a fly on the window. Lie in the dark and breathe. Here is my dirty secret: I want to be nobody. If that’s what it takes.

But the social ego doesn’t care that too much activity makes me unhappy. That making myself available to loved and unloved ones every single day feels like I am less, not more. That my battery is charged when plugged into silence.

No. My ego offers a twist on the Sartrian statement ‘hell is other people’: in fact, hell is the need for other people, the anxiety to be heard and seen all the time. Hell is being in the company of those frenetic Facebook friends who are perpetually logged on and posting hourly photos of their baby. Or themselves. Or updates on their ‘status’, which comes to the same thing in the end. My social ego wants me to be in hell.

But I’ve got news for it: I am alone now. I write this from Church Cottage, the kind of rural hideaway Emily Dickinson would have enjoyed. There are English roses on my desk, as big as heads, the kind you inhale like opium. My neighbours are dead – that is to say, they are gravestones in the churchyard next door. The church clock strikes every hour. I have no watch and no mobile reception. On the rustic front door hangs a bag printed with the Penguin cover of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. There is a heavy glass ashtray in my bedroom, a wine-bottle opener, a bath with claw feet, a small writing table in case I feel like writing late at candle-light, tipsy with happiness – which of course I do – in other words, I am in writer’s heaven. And best of all, nobody knows, except a couple of people in my life who do need to know, so as not to report me as a missing person.

Welcome to Clifford Chambers, a cul-de-sac village near Stratford-upon-Avon, where I am spending some of the summer as writer in residence for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Hosking Houses Trust. Sarah Hosking is the remarkable woman behind this cottage (literally – she lives next door), and the cottage will be her legacy: a room of one’s own for women writers who need to be alone. Sarah has a dog and a polite rooster (‘one of the nicest men I’ve met’) and is that rare kind of woman who doesn’t age because she is full of passion.

‘Please promise me that you’ll never settle down,’ she says. ‘It’s always a euphemism, isn’t it. Other people have boring grandchildren duties, and I have brilliant writers in the cottage all year round. This is exactly how I want to be spending my retirement.’

And this cottage is exactly how I want to be spending my summer, all of it – in  the fertile shadow of the Bard.

I suspect that V.S. Naipaul was speaking for all writers when he said that the best of him is in the pages of his books (certainly true in his case). This is why the pages of my books is where I want to be, and where I want to be seen and heard. Not on Facebook, Twitter, lecture halls and festivals podiums. Not if I can help it.

And therein lies the problem. I can’t entirely help it. This is an Olympic, public kind of summer, and I can’t help croaking my name the livelong day. The problem lies not just between the writer and her social ego, between our need to be left alone and our need to be seen and heard. That would be easy – talk to a therapist and meditate; or alternatively, tweet every minute, whatever.

No, there is the very real problem for a writer to be heard and seen at all, amid the cacophony of self-celebrating voices that dominate our culture. Most of them have little to say, but what they have is volume and audience. For the writer, on the other hand, it goes like this: if you are not publicly heard and seen at all, then your books won’t be either. And it is no dirty secret that every writer – with the remarkable exception of Emily Dickinson – wants to be somebody. Preferably before they die.

* * *

The first reason George Orwell listed in his Why I Write essay is ‘sheer egoism: desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. […] The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class.’

I witnessed the embodiment of this last week, during the mammoth Poetry Parnassus gathering of world poets in London, a kind of poetry Olympiad but without the (overt) competition. Here were, in turn, some of the most stubborn, most idiosyncratic, most individualistic, most vain, most unpredictable people on earth.

Some of them were quiet, understated types, with much to say on the page – like the young Macedonian poet Nikola Madzirov who lives out of a suitcase and whose poems in Remnants of Another Age get to the heart of the European malaise. Others – identities must be withheld, despite the temptation – were deluded maniacs, the kind you have to drag off the stage to shut them up.

Many of us felt ambivalent about representing a nation, precisely because it is a public, official act, in contrast with the private, subversive act of being a poet. Being a poet is a state of mind, not a state of citizenship. The Cypriot poet said to me: ‘I have a difficult relationship with Cyprus. Cyprus is the place I grew up and had to leave in order to become the person I had to become.’ He has lived in Britain and Ireland for twenty years. The poet from Sierra Leone has spent half his life in the US. The poets from Samoa and Tonga live in New Zealand. I represented Bulgaria which I left twenty years ago. This is our world and our century.

Two hundred world poets in one place felt a bit like the Big Bang. Or in the words of the curator Simon Armitage, a mixture of ‘the Tower of Babel and the Eurovision Song Contest.’ Except that you will hear Eurovision next year, but you will never hear from most of these poets again because their voices will be swamped by the noise of louder egos and larger admiring bogs. This is why it was strangely moving to be there, immersed in poetry, and feeling that what we do matters in some fragile but lasting way. I embraced the poet from Hungary (who lives in Shef-field) and the poet from South Africa (who lives in London). The Francophone poet from the Republic of Congo crushed me in a farewell hug and somewhere inside it I left a lipstick smudge on his pink polyester shirt.

Then we all went separate ways, comforted by the knowledge that, while poetry has never been in fashion, it has never gone out of fashion. Why? Because it has something to say, even if the audience is small.

You can plug yourself into the largest screen on earth and broadcast a video of yourself tweeting. Millions might hear you and see you today, and it won’t mean very much. But in fifty years’ time, a handful of people will still be reading Nikola Madzirov’s poems and they will mean as much to them as they mean to me now, which is a great deal.

And now excuse me, I must make the most of my social ego sleeping on the sofa (it’s easily bored), and use the little writing table with the ashtray upstairs. Good night.

We are the remnants of another age.

That’s why I cannot speak

Of home, or death

Or preordained pain.

When time ceases,

Then we’ll talk about the truth

And fireflies will form constellations

On our foreheads.

(from Remnants of Another Age,

BOA Editions, NY 2011)

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Let The Presses Roll

Those who go in search of the archetypal Scot need look no farther than Arnold Kemp. He was, it must immediately be acknowledged, a romantic, which all true Scots are, and given, as all true journalists are, to intemperate and often ephemeral enthusiasms and antipathies. His love of the country in which he was born and bred and spent most of his working life was profound and at times pugnacious. He was argumentative, but never violently so, the kind of newspaperman who would not let the presses roll until a dispute over the relative merits of a comma and semi-colon had been settled. He liked a drink and sometimes several, which served chiefly to increase his thirst for debate. As  he himself conceded: ‘The lunch break became too leisurely, too pleasurable.’ Above all, though, he was curious, interested in everything, significant or trivial, as behoves the editor of a national newspaper, but particularly drawn to politics, sport and the arts. And, like every intelligent Scot, he was perpetually in a state of confusion.

‘Like my fellow countrymen,’ he wrote in The Hollow Drum, the only book he published in his lifetime, ‘I am a confused traveller, but I travel hopefully.’ Kemp was writing in 1993 when devolution, let alone independence, seemed a distant prospect. Separatism, as he surmised, was ‘theoretically remote’, not least because of the attitude of Scottish business community who, then as now, were fearful of any change to the status quo. With uncommon prescience, he noted the power of ‘foreign exchange dealers’ and ‘major industrial and commercial enterprises’ and the influence which they exerted over national governments.

‘Nationalism,’ Kemp concluded, ‘is no longer an adequate foundation on which to build the edifice of the state or to base a political programme. It is a matter of sentiment and identity; but its potency and its destabilising force are undeniable. A successful political Union must recognise that and find ways of accommodating it.’

It is almost two decades since these words were printed and much has changed. Politics lie at the core of serious newspapers and Kemp’s confusion was one he had to reconcile with the need to offer readers clarity and commonsense. Personally, he was nationalist in the mould of John Buchan, believing that Scotland is a nation with ‘its inalienable rights vested in the Treaty of Union.’ If anyone told him otherwise he bridled. On the other hand, he valued the Union and embraced the European Economic Community, championing the opening of a Herald bureau in Brussels. He looked to the Balkans and was discomfited, as so many sceptics of nationalism were and are. The resurgence of Scottish nationalism in the Thatcher years and in the early 1990s troubled him.

When Kemp died in 2002 at the age of  63 the devolution project was in its infancy. Many of the rookie parliamentarians behaved like children with attention deficit disorder and the debate over the debacle of its cost rumbled on fuelled largely by those in denial over its existence. For the last three years of his life Kemp was in exile, having been defenestrated as editor of the Herald from whose masthead he was instrumental in removing the word Glasgow in the hope of increasing its pan-Scottish readership. In his latter years as the Herald’s editor, he had been at loggerheads with his boss, Liam Kane. Indeed, the friction between the two reached such a pass that Kemp returned one evening to the office intent on murdering Kane. Ultimately, though, it was Kane who did for Kemp.

For many his departure to London and the Observer marked the end of an era in Scottish journalism that has come to be regarded, with some justification, as halcyon. Budgets were generous, staff plentiful and the internet and its implications lay in the future. As Kemp makes clears in Confusion to Our Enemies, a diverting, stimulating and treasurable collection of prose garnered from The Hollow Drum, the Herald, the Observer and elsewhere and edited with a running commentary by his daughter Jackie, he was an eyewitness at the journalistic equivalent of Rorke’s Drift, valiantly defending the industry in the days before it was grievously assailed. Re-reading his recollections of the Scotsman is to re-immerse oneself in a culture not far removed from that which Evelyn Waugh described in Scoop.

‘The old composing room,’ Kemp lovingly recalled in 1993, ‘with its smell of ink and lead, has gone from the industry now, but it was a place of genuine fascination. Surely no more beautiful or satisfying machine has ever been designed than the Linotype. Man and machine worked together in harmony and the machine’s long arm, grasping the brass matrices from the pot where they had been used to mould the type and returning them to the magazine above, moved up and down in human rhythm. An often agitated wee man went round with a piece of tape measuring the set as it accumulated. On the hour, every hour, he would communicate the news that there was not nearly enough type to see the paper away in time, and some fairly desperate stratagems, for example running the same picture on different pages or putting the results of the Scotsman’s own golf tournament on page one, were occasionally used.’

The son of the playwright Robert Kemp, Arnold joined the Scotsman 1959 after an academically undistinguished sojourn at Edinburgh University. He was taken on as a sub-editor and given a berth opposite ‘a gruff old communist from Caithness’ whose punctiliousness over stories about the Soviet Union was extreme. Every night, Kemp remembered, he would send the copy boy out to the chip shop for a steak pie which, when he bit into it, spilled gravy on to the paper he’d laid out in lieu of a table cloth and which he would lick clean before scrunching it into a ball and throwing it in a bin. ‘At New Year,’ added Kemp, ‘he would bring beer into the office in an old antifreeze can and share it with favoured colleagues.’ And what, one wonders, did he offer less ‘favoured’ colleagues? (Such behaviour lingered on. Some three decades later, when I was minding the shop, one young reporter turned up on Christmas day with a bagful of frozen chicken legs which he defrosted under the grill in the canteen and offered around. How no one died or even fell ill remains a mystery to this day).

Kemp’s early years at the Scotsman coincided with the editorship of Alastair Dunnett who, under the Canadian magnate Roy Thomson, was intent on resuscitating what had become a rather moribund newspaper serving the Edinburgh bourgeoisie, very few of whom seemed to be conscious. With nowhere for the circulation to go but up it rose from around 55,000 to almost double that. In 1972, when Eric Mackay took over the editorship, Kemp was appointed deputy editor, complementing his boss’s studied ennui with his youthful energy and irreverent enthusiasm. Mackay’s place in the annals of Scottish journalism has yet to be properly considered. In his book, Our Trade, Andrew Marr described his first encounter with him. Shown  into Mackay’s wood-panelled office after a rough night on the London sleeper, Marr muttered that he wanted to join the Scotsman in the hope of producing quality journalism.  ‘Quality journalism! Quality journalism!’ bellowed Mackay. ‘Laddie, no one out there [i.e. Princes Street] is interested in quality journalism. D’you not understand? It’s over. It’s all over…’

Unlike Mackay, Kemp could write, as this collection amply demonstrates, his style – wry, conversational, characterful – ideally suited to an intelligent reading public. But Mackay and Kemp were also often at loggerheads which the older man sometimes interpreted as impertinence or insubordination. Their parting of the ways was perhaps inevitable, not least because of the gloom that descended on the Scotsman after the failure of the 1979 devolution referendum, but it was the paper’s loss.

Kemp went west in his quest for editorial control and set about doing for the then Glasgow Herald what he’d done for the Scotsman. Based in Albion Street, in a building that recently metamorphosed into flats, Kemp was in his element, the sleeves of his shirt invariably rolled, a hand combing through his unruly thatch, wining and dining in his gregarious manner.

There was, as Harry Reid, his deputy editor, once said, something theatrical and dramatic about Kemp, as you might expect from the son of the man responsible for a brilliant stage adaptation of Ane Pleasant Satyre of the Thrie Estatitis at the 1948 Edinburgh Festival. Editor and deputy made an appealing and inspired double act, one Butch Cassidy, the other the Sundance Kid. Once, when I suggested, provocatively, that Morecambe and Wise might be a better analogy, Kemp said he preferred Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, though he didn’t say which part he’d take. What Kemp realised was that the Herald (renamed in 1992) need not be a  parochial Glasgow paper, speaking as it did for Scotland’s largest city which prided itself on unpretentious intellectualism.

The problem, as he undoubtedly saw it, was that there was a limit to the sales of a city-bound paper. The trick was to find readers beyond Glasgow without alienating the diehards. The Herald’s Edinburgh office in York Place was well-staffed and productive and short-term inroads were made to the Scotsman’s circulation. But if history has shown us anything it is that Glasgow and Edinburgh are temperamentally incompatible and that attempts by one to muscle in on the other are inevitably doomed to failure. In that regard, the idea of closing the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh and opening in its stead a new gallery of Scottish art in Glasgow is instructive. Where our two great cities are concerned it seems it is safer – if not economically sensible – to duplicate than usurp.

The hallmark of Kemp’s Herald was its sense of self and its confident voice. In a word, it exuded chutzpah. In its heyday, when the editor was fully engaged and hands-on, he made it look and read like a newsprint version of himself. Which is to say that it was not in the least parochial or chauvinistic or too serious or too lightweight. Rather it was sophisticated, fair-minded, stimulating, fun-loving, invigorating, like a night in a proper pub. Good newspapers are greater than the sum of their parts. The reporting must be accurate and revelatory, the comment acerbic, enlightening, humorous. This pertains in every section, be it sport, features or business. Kemp read the arts pages as avidly as he did the football coverage. Moreover, in his bailiwick, he was forever out and about, meeting and greeting anyone he felt could help further the Herald’s cause. The irony is that the best person to do that was him. When you received a phone call or a note saying how much he’d enjoyed a piece you glowed for days because you respected his opinion and cherished his counsel. He was a man you don’t meet every day.

Copies of Confusion To Our Enemies signed by Jackie Kemp are available to order prior to publication in September for £11.99 including p&p (UK only) exclusively to readers of the Scottish Review of Books. Call 0845 370 0067 quoting ‘Scottish Review of Books’. Major credit cards accepted.

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