Engage in the future with Emerging Critics

Presented by Scottish Review of Books in partnership with Creative Scotland

The death of literary critics? Don’t write them off so easily.

Over the last 15 years over a third of Scots have stopped reading printed daily newspapers. Literary pages have been a casualty of cuts in many of these papers and yet book publishing is alive and well and healthy, with more books published than ever before.

At a time when we have never needed criticism more are our critics losing their voice? Look again. The literary pages that remain are robust and must be cherished. In Scotland we are fortunate with the pages in The Herald, The National and The Sunday Herald and The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday (fewer in number but still there). We have our own Scottish Review of Books, much loved by our readers, and other occasional literary reviews. Regional press including (but by no means only) the Press & Journal and the West Highland Free Press offer regular coverage.

New platforms for criticism are appearing and print media critics are enjoying a new audience. Critics with many years of experience of print and broadcast journalism are making the transition to online spaces – whether they be digital visitors or inhabitants, or indeed commissioners, writers or managers – with instant access to the public. Many of the online voices sharing in this vital exchange are new or newly liberated from more traditional platforms. They have something to share. Something fresh and fun in their approach. But online content is often unedited and unaccountable. Does that matter? Or will the intelligent reader seek out the criticism they want to read?

New and developing writers are engaging right now with some of the finest critics working in Scotland today. They are developing their skills and helping us to build a stronger future for literary criticism. LISTEN HERE to a Podcast recorded under the Emerging Critics programme.

If you are a book lover, you are among friends in a new programme run by Scottish Review of Books in association with Creative Scotland. During the summer, we held a public talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Many interested readers came along to hear a panel discuss the future of the critic and support the book coverage that is much required and matters to so many. And, almost 100 of you who are writing, or would like to write reviews, for print or online, applied for a place on the Emerging Critics mentoring programme.

Scottish Review of Books are currently delivering the Emerging Critics programme in partnership with Creative Scotland. We are grateful to the following for funding this ambitious pilot programme: Creative Scotland; The John S Cohen Foundation; The Edwin Morgan Trust;  New Park Educational TrustThe Northwood Charitable TrustThe Scottish Graduate School for Arts and HumanitiesDr David Summers Charitable Trust. And for their continuing support in kind, the Saltire Society. Without their support this would not happen.

In due course, we will report back on what the programme has achieved, let you read some of the new writing and look ahead to the future.

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Emerging Critics Mentoring programme – Improving your skills

Over the course of the winter months, 20 writers are working with mentors on the Emerging Critics Mentoring Programme. Mentoring is offered in small groups run by the following mentors: Alan TaylorRosemary GoringDavid RobinsonKaite Welsh; and Dave Coates. Mentees are receiving guidance on writing literary criticism for print and online platforms and receiving individual feedback. We hope to publish the best of the new writing on these Emerging Critics pages at the end of the mentoring period.

The mentoring programme is now underway. If you were unsuccessful in your application or would like to learn more but don’t think mentoring is for you, take a look at some of the books on the reading list below.

We hope to be able to offer mentoring again in the future. Check back to this page for further details in due course.

Emerging Critics Podcast

Editor Alan Taylor and Kristian Kerr discuss the Emerging Critics Programme, a partnership between the SRB and Creative Scotland, established to mentor new voices in cultural criticism.

You can listen to the podcat now via the player below:

Starter Reading List

Though the authors are American there is no better pocket-sized guide to writing lucidly, fluently and engagingly.

Seventy years may have passed since Orwell wrote this entertaining – and obviously heartfelt – essay but it still strikes a chord.

Have trouble distinguishing between story and plot and can’t quite figure out what the relationship is between character and incident? Forster’s – author of A Room With a View and A Passage to India – your man.

Consisting of extracts from the diaries Woolf kept from 1918-41, there is no better insight into the mind of a creative writer, reviewer and reader.

Most reviews have a shorter shelf life than fresh fruit; Clive James’s are an exception. Who but him could describe gold-costumed ice-skaters Torvill and Dean as looking like “two packets of Benson & Hedges cigarettes dancing in a fridge”? 

A record of a year’s reading kept by the recently-appointed National Librarian of Argentina, from Don Quixote to Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing.

A glimpse for non-writers into the trials and triumphs of a life spent wrestling with words. “I do not so much write a book as sit up with it,” reflects Dillard, “as with a dying friend.”

What do we mean when we say we ‘know’ a fictional character? What constitutes a telling detail? Why do most endings of novels disappoint? Who better to go for enlightenment than the New Yorker’s chief literary critic?

In 1973, Vidal decided to read all the top ten fiction bestsellers. This spikey, insightful essay was the result. What conclusion did the great iconoclast come to? “The authors prefer fact or its appearance to actual invention.” Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?

Was there ever a more acerbic reviewer? Or a wittier one? “Why,” she once wrote, “should readers never be harrowed? Surely there is enough happiness in life without having to go to books for it.”

First published in 1948 and reprinted countless times since, Leavis’s highly influential uncompromising association of literature and morality remains a landmark in modern criticism. Just five novelists passed muster: Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and DH Lawrence. The only Dickens’ novel he liked was Hard Times.

Go directly to page 154 of this splendid memoir where Amis passes on sage advice given to him by one his mentors, vis “never start consecutive paragraphs with the same word – unless you begin at least three paragraphs this way and the reader can tell you’re doing it on purpose”.

Is Winnie-the-Pooh subversive? Or Peter Pan? Or Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Of course they all are because all great children’s books are. Contentious or what!

A self-styled hack, albeit one with a formidable academic pedigree, Sage, who died in 2001, maintained a lifelong dialogue with books, unashamedly – and necessarily – writing for money in order to supplement her income.

Anyone who aspires to write about the movies must first make acquaintance with Kael of whom Woody Allen once said: “She has everything that a great critic needs except judgment. And I don't mean that facetiously. She has great passion, terrific wit, wonderful writing style, huge knowledge of film history, but too often what she chooses to extol or fails to see is very surprising.”

For tickets and further information please see individual book festival websites.
Reading list (check back as we add further recommendations)