Monthly Archives: February 2014


Miha Mazzini, Crumbs

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

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

The narrator, Egon, is part Sick Boy, part Renton. Like Sick Boy, he is extremely successful in the sexual sphere and quickly racks up a series of energetic encounters. One involves romping around in cream before removing some suspect hairs from it and layering a birthday cake. He is also a philosopher with a streak of Rentonian nihilism and a similar line in satire and dark humour. Egon differs from Renton, however, in his willingness to express views publically rather than confine them to internal monologues.

He is more resourceful than the boys of Trainspotting and has to be in order to avoid working at the foundry: wearing a company uniform to pass as an employee and eat in the canteen, selling alcohol to workers through the exterior fence and searching the foundry’s vast used paper mountain (‘the National Library’) for anything he can sell or read. In between times he makes money by writing trashy romance novels under a pseudonym.

Egon lives in a kind of twilight world where night or day is of little consequence. He wanders from the foundry to the pubs to the woods. His acquaintances, with one exception, are never quite friends and often go by short, summative, nicknames like Boxer, Hippy, Noodle or Sherriff.  There’s ganja in the forest and beer-a-plenty but Egon’s circle finds different ways to escape. They dress as cowboys, worship Nastassja Kinski or cut strips from their own skin.

Egon is infatuated with a particular brand of expensive aftershave; the only still point in a manic world that has him moving between periods of high sexual or intellectual energy and enervating panic attacks. He is a secretive and not entirely reliable narrator who provides information on slow-release. It’s a while, for instance, before he reveals that he is known to the police.

It is tempting to read Crumbs as a Slovenian version of Scottish Grunge Lit. There’s no heroin supply to provide the ultimate opt-out, but the characters trapped by the foundry and the mountains interact in ways that are remarkably similar to those once stuck at the foot of Leith Walk. Mazzini orchestrates it all with great skill and sustains a quick-fire, fragmented narrative that might otherwise be chaotic.

A broader reading could also see this as a study of characters in limbo, both in the original capital L sense of the edge of Hell and the more general sense of a period of waiting. Yugoslavia is under strain and independent Slovenia is in the wings. According to the cover notes on the new paperback edition, Crumbs is ‘a fascinating and utterly unique commentary on the pathology of self-determination’. I have no idea what that means, but if it is the reason this engaging novel has been resurrected then it must be a good thing.

[Miha Mazzini Crumbs in published by Freight Books]

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Michael Pederson Wins Rising Star Award

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

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

The award of £1000 is intended to help support the poet as he enters the next phase of his career, following the publication of his first book.  

The Scottish Poetry Library supports poets in a variety of ways and believes that opportunities such as the John Mather Trust Rising Star Award are vital in order to help ensure that poetry continues to be written and read.  

Robyn Marsack, Director of the Scottish Poetry Library, says:

Everyone knows how difficult it is for poets to make a living from their writing, and an award such as this recognises the difficulty and buys time, an essential element for continuing to write. And of course it’s a recognition of early achievement, which is always welcome. We’re delighted for Michael Pedersen, and are very happy that the John Mather Trust chose to support poetry in this way.

Michael Pedersen, Poet and Awardee, says:


The arrival of this award is akin to a bright burning beacon lighting the way for the year ahead. It docks into my harbour on the very month I’ve decided to make the transition to full time freelance writer and literary events organiser. Awards of this nature are a piggyback for tired legs, or the foot-up and over that ten foot wall you were feart to climb; that’s to say, it makes this possible. Here’s to the space to ruminate this creates and the projects that fizz up and out of it.

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