‘Limmy meets Irvine Welsh’.
So says the blurb on the cover of Glasgow writer Chris McQueer’s debut collection of short stories.
Whilst Limmy is at least a side-splitting, surreal Glaswegian, the comparison to the one-time Edinburgh resident Irvine Welsh is a wee bit lame to say the least.
Sure, McQueer writes from a working class perspective and employs demotic Scots and choice language, but then so have many Scottish authors such as Robert Chalmers, Alan Bisset and Jim Kelman.
And considering Welsh’s recent appalling ‘conclusion’ to the Trainspotting saga, no Scottish writer worth their salt would surely relish such a comparison.
But I’ll hang with the Limmy reference as McQueer’s book is indeed very, very amusing.
Released in 2017 by the new independent publisher 404 Ink (who won eight awards last year including the #1 slot of The List’s ‘Hot Hundred’) this collection marks the transition from McQueer’s literary endeavours on the spoken word circuit (where he started out at events such as Interrobang?!) into the printed word.
I have never had the privilege of seeing McQueer perform (at least not yet, though I do intend to) but I can well imagine how some of these tales would have had their genesis as pieces to be read aloud, in particular the shorter ones such as ‘Pish The Bed’.
Nan Shepherd, Poet and Novelist
The morning: The Living Mountain; the afternoon: In The Cairngorms, now republished by Galileo Publishers, Cambridge, and with an introduction by Robert Macfarlane.
Nan Shepherd spent eternities walking in the Cairngorms and came to associate herself with this wild stump of a trillion ton mass of Devonina era magma.
Of our handful of great modernist writers in Scotland Anna (Nan) Shepherd is in the first rank
Similarly Nan Shepherd was a voracious intellectual and the commonplace books she kept from the age of 14 reveal the enormous breadth of her reading, which was poetic, historical, philosophical and religious.
Nan Shepherd's greatest artistic burst can be dated to between 1928 and 1933, during which time she published the three novels she is best known for today. These three novels are fittingly modernist, and are The Quarry Wood, The Weatherhouse and A Pass in the Grampians, although The Living Mountain, written in the last years of Word War 2 is possibly a superior work.
The Liberty Tree – The Stirring Story of Thomas Muir And Scotland’s First Fight For Democracy is by Murray Armstrong
In 2010, the Scottish Parliament was presented with a petition calling for a sculpture to the Scottish political activist, democrat and agitator Thomas Muir to be erected in the vicinity of Holyrood. In the petition, Muir was described as the “founding father of modern Scottish Democracy”.
Murray Armstrong was born in Airdrie, Lanarkshire. He was a journalist who spent the final twenty-one years of his career at the Guardian which he joined in 1987 as a features sub-editor.
He was Associate Editor at the time of his early retirement in 2008 which he took with the express intention of writing about Thomas Muir having nurtured an interest in the man and his times for many years.
'The Liberty Tree' is a historical novel about the life and struggles of the Scottish Radical Thomas Muir (25 August 1765 – 26 January 1799).
At the same time the author recreates events using the actual recorded words of the participants (eg. the famous exchanges between Braxfield and Gerrald during the latter's trial) and as such 'The Liberty Tree' also stands as a vivid, well-researched historical account of the life of Thomas Muir.
Published by Saraband
The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau by Graeme Macrae Burnet invites us to the Haut-Rhin department in Alsace in north-eastern France, and a dullish backwater which is momentarily roused from its slumber by the disappearance of a young and equally non-descript waitress.
It is a deeply atmopsheric read, with shades of Patrice Leconte's Monsieur Hire, and maybe a dash of Claude Chabrol in the style of Au cœur du mensonge or Juste avant la nuit — any of that creepy, expressive small-town-France stuff, where the quiet streets and nearby woodlands conceal a secret or two.
It's not a point that is stressed in the novel, but The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau is also presented in the form of a found manuscript, not a conceit much employed by crime writers but one that does surface now and then in the literary novel.
But while you don't feel like you're reading another actual book (touted as being written by a Raymond Brunet and presented as a bestseller in France, now translated by Graeme Macrae Burnet) you read Adèle Bedeau aware that there is a postcript, ostensibly by Burnet himself, and that in these 6 pages there may be some denoument or surprise.
At a time when Print on Demand has prompted a plethorisation in poetry publishing, it's for the positive that Aberdeenshire poetry press Tapsalteerie have continued to make a virtue of the finished article - the book.
Handmade, often handbound, and always delivered crisp, their poetry collections from Calum Rodger, Ann MacKinnon, Stewart Sanderson and Tom McGrath have been neat, new and second to none.
Modest and yet jam-packed, the same is to be said of Postcards From Sulpicia, which are translations of a poet Sulpicia who is said to have lived in the rein of Augustus.
The discovery of Sulpicia will be as much of a revelation to most as it was the translator, Tristram Fane Saunders, who says that these translations were 'born of anger' - an anger at after having had ten years of Latin education and never having heard her name once.
A while ago now I read a poetry booklet called Know Yr Stuff by Calum Rodger and once I had satisfied my stalker's urge to know about the poet by finding him on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, I began to look at the publisher Tapsalteerie.
The book was handsome after all, well put together, and dare I say it a good deal firmer in the hand than the last few poetry pamphlets I'd read. It's a sad fact but some of these small publishers can't even wield a long arm stapler without fucking up.
This all led me to the website of Tapsalteerie, on which I discovered a wealth of excitement, including poems by Tom McGrath and a Doric poet Bill Thom.
Tapsalteerie are based in Bognamoon, which despite what you think is a real place, inhabited by real people, some of whom have a fine sense for the printed word.
It's actually near the Scottish Sculpture Workshop, which is in Rhynie, and which in itself is an important cultural locus.
Still not satisfied I contact Duncan Lockerbie of Tapsalteerie and asked him a few questions about publishing, poetry and life in the North East of Scotland.
Poetry Scattered Like Seed
Look out for issues of The Edinburgh Inch from publisher Richard Hanson of the Poems For All Project!
Since 2001, Richard has published not just poetry, but in this fashion, and generally in small stapled booklets, more than 1,000 poems have been published. Love poems. Beat poems. Bukowski wanna-be poems. Prose poems. Haiku. Concrete. Nature poems. Manifestos (little ones). Songs. Art. Graphic novels. Short stories. It has always been a pleasant surprise to discover just what can fit under such tiny covers.
Based in California, Poems-For-All has also taken root in Scotland. Richard has been scattering little books of poetry for the last several years during the St. Andrews International Poetry Festival (StAnza) and at other events and locations throughout the country.
It has been too long since we have had a boxer-poet in our midst.
I’m thinking of Arthur Cravan, whose tireless quest for attention led him up and down Europe until his mysterious disappearance and presumed death in 1918; and I’m thinking of Vernon Scannel, who died in 2007, and who published nearly 65 books and often wrote about what he called in 1975, The Loving Game of boxing.
Boxing and poetry are a great combination, largely I expect due to the contradiction between the most intangible and intellectual of pursuits meeting the most violent and visceral, and this is evident in The Heavy Bag, by Ross Wilson.
Many of the poems in The Heavy Bag by Ross Wilson feature boxing either directly, or as a backdrop.
Davie McCall - Scotland's premier crime saga
I’m familiar with the work of Douglas Skelton from his relentless pursuit of the facts concerning Scottish crime — he’s written definitive books on murderous women in Scottish history, Scotland’s crimes of passion and the ever-fascinating world of Glasgow’s criminal past.
Crow Bait, like Douglas Skelton's other fiction reflects this knowledge, but of course it’s not a given that just because you know a lot about something, that you can write a great novel about it also. But he doesn’t do half badly, and he should definitely be considered as one of Scotland's foremost crime writers.
Crow Bait is a follow up to the novel Blood City and reintroduces a character called Davie McCall, who has been in jail for ten years. The descriptions of life in jail are probably among the best written in the novel, and indicate if anything does the pedigree of Douglas Skelton’s research.
Even though Crow Bait is a follow up, it is possible to read it without having read the previous book, although you may find the beginning rather difficult as it assumes that you know the characters, and perhaps more problematically, it assumes that you know the era — which is 1990.