Fowl Play And Finery: A Review Of Stuart David’s Peacock’s Alibi…


Two of the most challenging types of writing are crime and comedy. For the first you have to avoid repeating well-worn clichés while still making it as recognisably belonging to the genre. For the second, well, it’s got to be funny – perhaps the most difficult trick to pull off on the page. A successful crime/comedy, therefore, is something which is to be celebrated.

Christopher Brookmyre and Douglas Skelton are two writers who get the balance right, combining the dark side of life with the blackest of comedy, but they are rare. A worthy addition to that niche section of your bookshelves arrives in the shape of Stuart David’s latest novel Peacock’s Alibi. Set in Glasgow, and with an unerring ear for what the word on the street should sound like, Peacock’s Alibi is like a lost Taggart script as written by John Byrne. Like Byrne, David writes dialogue that isn’t how people speak, but how they wish they spoke – funnier, wittier, and with a better line in the last word.

Regular crime readers may find the name of David’s protagonist ‘Peacock Johnson’ DSC_0759familiar. It may be from David’s previous novel The Peacock Manifesto (right), but anyone who is an Ian Rankin completest will surely do so as Peacock appears in Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novel A Question of Blood (Rankin told the Guardian in 2012 that Johnson was his favourite guest character to appear in the series). 

How and why is a long story which you can find out about with a little bit of your own detection work (or, you could hear it for yourself at Stuart David’s Aye Write! event – details below*), but Johnson is fair put out by the whole thing, as he relates in this latest adventure. For Peacock Johnson, an “ideas man” who lives his life on the wrong side of the law, his literary fame has given him a reputation he neither wants or deserves.

This notoriety has made him a prized scalp for the police, particularly for Detective Inspector McFadgen who is nominally the Sherlock to Johnson’s Moriarty, or, perhaps more accurately, the Officer Dibble to his Top Cat. McFadgen has an obsession with Johnson which threatens to see him found guilty of crimes he didn’t commit. Add to that his wife Bev’s horror at the bridesmaid’s dress she has been asked to wear, and the constant grief from his disproving mother-in-law, and Peacock Johnson has his hands full and his ears well and truly bent.

Peacock Johnson is a memorable creation, one who fits perfectly the city in which he lives and avoids work. There are few places who build myths around, and make legends of, their criminals as Glasgow does, giving them nicknames such as “Godfather”, “Bananas” and “Iceman”, and consuming books about them at an alarming rate. It makes sense that this is the place where Peacock’s mythology is all too ready to be believed. It is also the perfect place for him to indulge his addiction – not drugs but duds. He believes there isn’t a situation which can’t be improved by some designer gear, but only the good stuff – a habit which isn’t cheap.

While the plot keeps you turning the page, it is the characters and the language which make Peacock’s Alibi stand out from the crowd. Peacock’s world is identifiable and believable, especially to those who know Glasgow. The references are spot on, and that gives those who inhabit it a credibility that they may not have had otherwise. Stuart David has written a novel which is firmly in the realms of crime fiction while at the same time playing with the genre’s conventions. It’s amusing, and a little meta, but in a manner which doesn’t pull you out of the story. It’s to be hoped that we get to read more about Peacock and his ideas as this is a character and a series which has the potential to run and run.

Peacock’s Alibi is published on the Polygon imprint of Birlinn Books.

* Ali will be in discussion with Stuart David as part of this year’s Aye Write! Book Festival at The University Of Glasgow Memorial Chapel, Thursday 15th March, 7.45 – 8.45pm. It would be great to see you there, and, you never know, Peacock may turn up as well to claim his cut…



Man Of Letters: The SWH! Podcast Talks To Aye Write! Programmer Bob McDevitt…



For the latest podcast, Ali spoke to Aye Write! Book Festival programmer, Bob 3G0X4Ir0_400x400McDevitt (right) in Glasgow’s CCA (which explains the background ‘atmosphere’). This year’s festival starts on Thursday 15th March, and the two discuss the history of the festival and how it has gradually spread its influence throughout the city from its home at the Mitchell Library. You also learn about what to expect this year, Bob’s personal highlights, the challenges of festival programming, his similar role for Bloody Scotland and the Pitlochry Winter Words Festival, and much, much more.

There are mentions for individuals as diverse as Brett Anderson, Gail Honeyman,  Sir James MacMillan, Chris Bonington, Scotland’s Makar Jackie Kay, Dr Adele Patrick, and even some Men In Kilts.  As a precursor to Aye Write! 2018 it’s the perfect listen, especially when married to the SWH! preview which is over at the website right now.

And Scots Whay Hae! is delighted to be involved in Aye Write! this year, with Ali chairing events with Stuart David, Ten Writers Telling Lies, Mark Cousins, and Alexander Newley. If you make it to one of these events please come and say hello.


If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes or by RSS (but you’ll need to have an RSS reader to do so). You can also download the podcast by clicking on the relevant link to the right of this post, or, if you want it right here, right now, you can listen on SoundCloud

…or on YouTube:

There’ll be relevant book reviews and updates throughout the festival at SWH!. To keep up to date with those, follow us on Twitter & Facebook

00691 -AW Collage Twitter

Talking Books: A Preview Of Aye Write! 2018…


For 10 days in March (15th – 25th) Glasgow’s Book Festival Aye Write! is the only show in town for lovers of fact, fiction, food, poetry, prose, biography, comics, and any other form of writing that takes your fancy.  While the majority of events remain at the festival’s spiritual home of The Mitchell Library there is also plenty occuring at the CCA, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Tramway, City Halls, GFT and Glasgow University Chapel. But it is only right that Glasgow’s most famous library is the focus point for a book festival which is international in scope, but has its roots firmly planted in the city.

Here are SWH!’s carefully selected daily highlights to give you something to think about, but you can peruse the full programme at your leisure here.

You can also keep up to date with events as they unfold by following @AyeWrite on Twitter or on Facebook. Tickets can be bought here and you can click the links below for further details on the individual events.

619at83IyAL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Thursday 15th – Stuart David, 7.45 – 8.45pm, University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel
Ex-Belle & Sebastian and current Looper, Stuart David is arguably better known as a musician than a writer, but his debut novel Nalda Said is one of the most-underrated Scottish novels of the last 20 years, and his memoir about his time in Belle & Sebastian, In The All Night Cafe is a must for any Scottish pop music fan. Now his latest novel, Peacock’s Alibi, is being published by Polygon, and SWH!’s very own Ali Braidwood will be in conversation with Stuart on the 15th to discuss the new book, the true story of Peacock Johnson, the Ian Rankin connection, and so much more. If you have a burning question you’ve always wanted to ask Stuart please come along as this is your chance to do so.

Peacock’s Alibi is published by Polygon Books, and you can hear Stuart and Karn David talking to the SWH! Podcast back in 2015.

image.phpFriday 16th – Stuart Cosgrove, 6 – 7pm, University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel
And talking about previous SWH! podcast guests, one of our favourites, writer and broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove, will also be at Glasgow’s University Chapel on Friday to talk about his fantastic book Memphis ’68, (one of SWH!’s Best Books of 2017) the second in his acclaimed ‘Soul Trilogy’. Cosgrove knows his subject inside out, and is one of the most engaging speakers on all sorts of subjects, so it will be fascinating to hear him talk about this pivotal year in America’s history, both culturally and politically.

Memphis ’68 is published by Polygon Books, and you can hear him on the SWH! Podcast talking about Detroit ’67.

61Bhmo+f7mLSaturday 17th – Peter Ross, 11.30am – 12.30pm, Mitchell Library
On Saturday morning, journalist Peter Ross will be talking to historian Daniel Gray about The Passion of Harry Bingo, Ross’s second volume of journalism from and about the lesser traveled corners of Scotland. It’s a brilliant read, which was shortlisted for the Saltire Society Non-Fiction Book Of The Year (& was another of SWH!’s Best Books of 2017), and it will be a real treat to hear the two discuss and swap tales of a country and its people which many think they know, but Ross’s reports prove that is far from the case.

The Passion Of Harry Bingo is published by Sandstone Press, and you can hear Peter talking to Ali on the SWH! Podcast from last year.

35249020Sunday 18th – Jon McGregor Introduces… Chris Power & Chris McQueer, 8.15 – 9.15pm, Mitchell Library
If you like your writers to be called Chris, then you are in for a treat on Sunday night as two of the very best short-story writers of any name talk to novelist Jon McGregor. If you haven’t heard Chris McQueer read his tales of Glasgow living then you are in for a treat as he is one of the most charismatic and entertaining performers around. His debut collection of stories, Hings, is funny, moving and poignant. If you think there aren’t any good new writers out there, this is the event to prove you wrong.

Hings is published by 404 Ink.

frontcover-zz-lst241113_thumbWednesday 21st – Ten Writers Telling Lies, 6 – 7pm, Mitchell Library
One of the most interesting literary and musical collaborations of recent years has been Ten Writers Telling Lies. It has stories and poetry from Pat Byrne, Samina Chaudry, Stephanie Brown, James Carson, James Connarty, previous podcast guest Pauline Lynch, Calum Maclean, Gillian Margaret Mayes, Michael Norton and Stephen Watt, and each has an accompanying and corresponding piece of music which the writers worked on with musician Jim Byrne. This will be an evening of spoken word and song unlike anything else at this year’s Aye Write!, and SWH! are delighted to be involved once more with Ali as the MC.

You can hear Pat, Jim and Samina talking about Ten Writers Telling Lies on the SWH! Podcast from last year.

A1wJeOOld0LThursday 22nd – Martin Fitzgerald & Chris Deerin, 7.45 – 8.45pm, CCA
One of the more intriguing events of the year’s festival – the concept behind the Ruth and Martin’s Album Club blog is a beautifully simple one – make people listen to a classic album they’ve never heard three times, get them to explain why they never bothered with it before, then ask them to review it. The blog has featured some re-markable guests: Ian Rankin on Madonna’s Madonna, JK Rowling on the Violent Femmes’ Violent Femmes and Richard Osman on Roxy Music’s classic For Your Pleasure. There is now an accompanying book, and Martin will be joined on stage by Herald and New Statesmen journalist Chris Deerin. Come along to find out which albums they will be discussing and see if you agree with their assessments.

Cover_Air_Cuan_Dubh_DrilseachFriday 23rd – Tim Armstrong, David Eyre and Iain F. MacLeod – The New Wave of Gaelic Sci-Fi, 7.45 – 8.45pm, Mitchell Library
Ciamar a nì thu saoghal ùr sa Ghàidhlig? Ciamar a chruthaicheas tu facail leithid stèisean-fànais, luathas-teichidh no saibeirneatach? Thig còmhla ri Tim Armstrong, Dàibhidh Eyre agus Iain F. MacLeòid, a bhios a’ còmhradh air ficsean saidheansail ùr sa Ghàidhlig is mar a thèid a’ ghnè a bhrosnachadh is a leasachadh san àm ri teachd.

How do you create a new universe in Gaelic? How do you come up with Gaelic words for ‘space-station’, ‘escape velocity’ or ‘cybernetic’? Join Tim Armstrong, David Eyre and Iain Finlay MacLeod as they discuss the new wave of sci-fi writing in Gaelic and how they see the genre progressing in the future.

Simultaneous translation will be provided at this event for non-Gaelic speakers.

the-story-of-looking-hardback-cover-9781782119111Saturday 24th – Mark Cousins, 1.15 – 2.15pm, Mitchell Library
Ali B: I am forever in filmmaker and writer Mark Cousins debt as he helped shape my film education by introducing me to many of my favourite films, (including the incomparable La Haine), on the late lamented Moviedrome, a TV show he presented, after the Alex Cox’ years, in the ’90s, so I am delighted and honoured to be in discussion with him at this year’s festival. He is in town to talk about his latest book The Story of Looking, which takes a look, in words and images, at how our looking selves develop over the course of a lifetime, and the ways that looking has changed through the centuries. From great works of art to tourist photographs, from cityscapes to cinema, through science and protest, propaganda and refusals to look, this book illuminates how we construct as well as receive the things we see. This promises to be, arguably, THE highlight of this year’s Aye Write!.

The Story Of Looking is published by Canongate Books.

61TPZwqfkfL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Sunday 25th – Alexander Newley, 3 – 4pm, Tramway
It’s always fascinating to hear new stories, and few people have as many to tell as artist Alexander Newley. The son of Anthony Newley and Joan Collins, Alexander was born into a family who were celebrities when that really meant something. Their life was one of almost un-paralleled privilege and glamour but under the gloss there were problems. His book, Unaccompanied Minor, tells the story of Alexander’s nomadic childhood; the disintegration of his parents’ marriage, and his battle to make sense of the past. Complementing Alexander’s vivid prose are more than twenty of his own artworks depicting the people who played a pivotal role in his early years. Another event chaired by SWH!’s Ali Braidwood, this is the event, more than any other, which has the potential to offer up surprising stories never heard before.

Unaccompanied Minor is published by Quartet Books.

That’s all folks, and if you do make it to one of the events Scots Whay Hae! is involved with, please come and say hello.


New Musical Success: A Review Of The Best In New Music…

L-space - Suneaters LQ

The hope is always that our monthly music reviews offer something of interest to all, but, without wanting to go overboard (although, “Why stop now?”, you may ask), this has been perhaps the most enjoyable to put together due to so much good music being released in the last month. It may be the multivitamins talking, but it feels like this could be the best New Musical Success…ever!

It’s certainly been difficult to reach a final eight. There’s some great tracks which just missed out, but hopefully that makes the final cut all the better. Featuring firm SWH! favourites, and with the warmest of welcomes to old friends and new, if there is a unifying theme to the music featured it is one of hope in these most difficult of times, and that should gladden your heart. But enough of this preamble – let the hyperbole begin!

Regular readers will know that our love for all things L-Space knows no bounds. They are a band who seem incapable of making anything other than magical music – a place where classic electronic pop meets the future. Their sound is as much influenced by movie soundtracks as other bands, lending it an epic, expansive feel which makes them stand out from the crowd. With each new release they give a glimpse of what is promising to be a wonderful bigger picture in the shape of their first album, due to be released on Last Night From Glasgow later in the year.

The latest single ‘Suneaters’ is the perfect example of this. Sci-fi dream pop at its finest, while it stands alone as a great single, when added to what has gone before, and what is surely to come, it only confirms L-Space as a band to see us through tough times. I’m a believer:

Another band who continue to live up to and surpass their early promise are Half Formed Things. ‘February’ is the first single from their album To Live In The Flicker and if ever a song fitted the times it’s surely this one, especially when you view the accompanying video from Unfolded Collective. Urgent and irresistible from the very start, it’s driven by drums, chiming guitars and an infectious piano loop before the vocal harmonies bring a warmth and emotion which catches you unaware. It’s a multi-layered sound which gives up more each time you listen, with an ebb and flow in a manner similar to Doves or Radiohead. This is ‘February’ and, without wanting to give away any spoilers, stay till the very end:

Following on from bands who made their mark in 2017, Megan Airlie is someone who has grabbed our hearts and minds in a similar manner from the first listen of her recently released debut single on Bloc Music Records, ‘After River’. Backed by a simple acoustic guitar and the lightest touch of electronica, Airlie’s breathtaking and unmistakably voice is out of time and ageless, reminiscent of (and I don’t make these comparisons lightly) Beth Gibbons and Hope Sandoval. However, Megan Airlie has not come to imitate,  but create music which is all her own and if ‘After River’ is any indication the future is hers:

While we are talking about SWH! favourites, next up – well it’s only Modern Studies! They’re back with new music in the intriguing and deceptively complex shape of ‘Mud And Flame’. The song is taken from their forthcoming album Welcome Strangers. For those who fell for their previous record, Swell To Great, the wait for something new has been well worth it. Strings, vocal harmonies, and traditional, and not so traditional, instruments interweave to produce music which manages to be both melancholy yet heartening, harmonious yet with a sense of dissonace. Nothing makes the point better than the vocal harmonies of Emily Scott and Rob St John, whose voices work so well together they almost become one – almost, but not quite. Discordant harmony – that’s the phrase which kept coming to mind with every listen of ‘Mud & Flame’. It’s a difficult feat to pull off, but Modern Studies continue to get the balance right:

Errant Boy’s last single ‘Means’ was one of SWH!’s Tracks Of My Year for 2017, and confirmed they are one of the finest bands around. Continuing to fly the flag for the indie purist, their latest single, ‘We Like You’ visits ‘Brassneck’ era The Wedding Present, The Close Lobsters, The Monochrome Set, The Orchids – in fact many bands with a definite article to their name. Errant Boy’s music sparkles and shines like few others can manage, understanding that when it comes to great indie-pop less is almost always more:

One of the most recognisable voices in Scottish music undoubtedly belongs to Tracyanne Campbell, best known as the lead singer of the legendary Camera Obscura. She is back as one half of the duo Tracyanne & Danny alongside Danny Coughlan of Crybaby. Their self-titled album is due in May, but the first track released is right here, right now. It’s called ‘Home & Dry’, and from the opening lines you are reminded of all the reasons why Camera Obscura and Tracyanne mean so much to so many people. Brand new and magnificent, and with a mix of fragility and strength which is all too human, Campbell & Coughlan’s voices complement each other with rare ease and grace. ‘Home & Dry’ suggests that there is a new favourite record coming your way very soon. Stay tuned for further details:

We seem to have been flagging up new albums throughout this roundup, and we’re not going to stop now. Dante have I Wear Your Weight With Mine out on the 9th March, and to give you a flavour here is ‘Rose’, a song which is the perfect introduction to their mix of folk, rock and pop. Sounding like a Celtic Arcade Fire or Band Of Horses, like those bands they are not easily pigeonholed or categorised. Their music has been described as “subtly anthemic”, which may seem like a contradiction in terms until you hear the songs and then it all makes sense. Rooted in folk music but taking it to new places, their songs have a resonance and vitality which grows which each listen. Dante are a band who you cannot ignore:

SWH! was late to James Edwyn & The Borrowed Band and their 2017 album, High Fenceswhich had been heard and praised far and wide by the time it was playing round our way. However, it has proved to be one of the most enduring records of the last six months, rarely off the turntable for too long, and a new single, ‘Pushing Statues’, seems the perfect excuse to publicly declare our love for High Fences and help spread the word. Incorporating the best of Americana, such as old Crow Medicine Show, Calexico, Whiskeytown, The Handsome Family – basically many of our favourites bands of the last 15 years, they make their own distinctive and easily identifiable sound. If you haven’t heard James Edwyn & The Borrowed Band then ‘Pushing Statues’ is a great place to start, but I guarantee the relationship won’t end there:

Told you it was a good one. But before you go back to the top and play all over again, we want to thank everyone who sends music to SWH! for consideration. I can honestly say we listen to everything which comes our way, and, while the March roundup is filling up already, there is still space so if you have something coming out in the next month, or anytime, and you’d like it to be considered for review then email We couldn’t do it without you.

Tsars On Sunday: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s From Russia With Love…


As Boney M once exclaimed, “Oh those Russians”! Although this is Scots Whay Hae! my first literary loves are 19th century Russian writers, and I am a little obsessed with the culture of that place and time. This being the case, Scottish Opera and the National Opera Studio’s From Russia With Love, the latest of The Sunday Series of concerts. With libretti adapted from writers such as Pushkin and Gogol, and music from Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Mussorgsky, it was the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The Prelude to ‘The Golden Cockerel’ set the tone with a caricatured Donald Trump, in the exagerated style of Terry Gilliam, on stage lending things a modern and satirical twist, something which carried on throughout. There were visceral scenes of torture reminiscent of a scene from Reservoir Dogs (‘Kashchey The Immortal’), references to #MeToo (‘The Bear’), and demonic possession in the style of the Ringu films, or even The Exorcist (‘Khovanshchina’). You may have an idea of what opera is, but Scottish Opera make you think again, regularly proving that they are one of the most innovative and impressive companies around.

For fellow Russian lovers, expected themes were explored – love, pride, lust, regret, betrayal and jealousy – all the good stuff. The pivotal performances were from Stravinsky’s 1951 opera ‘The Rake’s Progress’, with ‘Anne’s Aria’ followed by ‘Tom’s Aria’. The relationship between the two lovers is relegated to second place by Tom’s desire for money. By the time he has his money he realises that what he desires is happiness, something he had with Anne. Love destroyed by greed, lust, the weaknesses of men, and the interference of others – Russian opera, and literature, is stuffed with such stories. I would argue nobody does it better.

The next in The Sunday Series is on 6th May, Aleko & Francesca Da Rimini, an adaptation of an Alexander Pushkin poem with music by Rachmaninov. If From Russia With Love sounds like something you would have liked then make sure you get your tickets for that. I guarantee it’ll be well worth it.

Here’s the trailer for From Russia With Love and a slideshow with stills from the performance (with thanks to Scottish Opera):


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You Have Been Watching…You Were Never Really Here.


Lynne Ramsay is to film what The Blue Nile are to music – discuss. She has made four films in 18 years, and it’s been seven between her last, We Need To Talk About Kevin, and her latest You Were Never Really Here. The Blue Nile released their four albums over 20 years, with the longest gap being 8 years between Peace At Last and High. Most importantly both proved to have put their time to good use, producing work which is of the highest quality in their respective fields.

You Were Never Really Here proves, if anyone were in any doubt, that Lynne Ramsay is one of the finest filmmakers around. From her unforgettable debut Ratcatcher, through Morvern Callar (one of the best ever film adaptations of a Scottish novel), to BAFTA & Global Globe winner We Need To Talk About Kevin, she produced a run of films to rival any other director. Could she keep it up? If you believed the recent rumours and hype surrounding Ramsay (leaving, or being asked to leave, various projects) then you may have thought this unlikely. However, if you simply look at the work – which is what matters – how could you doubt it?

You Were Never Really Here is a startling film in the best possible sense. It’s relentless, grabbing you from the first few frames and not letting go until the credits roll. It almost feels as if it is fly on the wall, “A Day In The Life Of A Hitman”, with Ramsay’s camera following Joaquin Phoenix’s ‘Joe’ as his life unfolds and unravels at speed. Joe is a killer-for-hire, whose weapons of choice are decidedly everyday, shopping, for practical and deeply psychological reasons, in hardware departments rather than gun stores.

It’s yet another mesmerising performance from Phoenix. There are few actors who use their physicality to produce an emotional reaction from an audience as he does. Tom Hardy and the young Russell Crowe are others who spring to mind, actors who you believe are more than capable of whatever they were asked to do on-screen. In You Were Never Really Here director and actor work together to create an unforgettable and nuanced character.

Joe has little dialogue yet is both believable, sympathetic, and complex. Ramsay asks the audience to do their share of the work as Joe’s background and current life are not explained explicitly (no Basil Exposition here). You have to keep watching as if you were to miss something, even a look or sigh, you risk losing part of the story. While it’s not easy viewing I found myself  transfixed with what was on-screen.

Which brings me to the violence. I’m not going to pretend that this is not a violent film, if one of the most beautiful ones you will ever see. The blood is almost alive! However, it’s not as graphically violent as it first appears. As, famously, Hitchcock did with the Psycho shower scene, Ramsay cuts away from most of the actual contact and killing, leaving your now traumatised imagination to fill in the gaps. Joe kills as a job, and is good at it, but there is an intense if damaged humanity at his core, (as with Psycho’s Norman Bates, Joe loves his mother).

The job is affecting him more than he realises, but you do sense that he has his own code of honour. This places him in the tradition of onscreen killers such as Forest Whitaker’s Ghost Dog, Tom Hanks’ Michael Sullivan in Road To Perdition, and particularly Jean Reno’s portrayal of Leon: The Professional who, as with Joe, finds his life changed by an unlikely relationship with a girl.

You Were Never Really Here is a taught 85mins long, and it seemed to go by in half that time. It left me breathless, and yet wanting, despite the subject matter, to watch it again to see what I had missed, and to understand Joe better so as to better understand my reaction to the film. There is strong support but this is Ramsay and Phoenix’s film, the latter carrying it with a world-weary ease on his broad shoulders.

I also have to mention Jonny Greenwood’s score, which touches on the work of Vangelis and John Carpenter. I saw two films with Greenwood soundtracks last week, You Were Never Really Here & Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. They couldn’t be more different, they couldn’t have been any better suited to each film, and they show that Greenwood is the most interesting musician working in film at the moment.

Here’s the trailer for You Were Never Really Here:

As we have seen in her previous work, Lynne Ramsay is a filmmaker who finds beauty in the most unlikely places, but this time she had really set herself a challenge. The fact she pulls it off with such aplomb is a reminder that we should treasure her and her films, and if they are to be years apart then so be it. Slowly, yet surely, she is creating a body of work which marks her as one of the greats. I can’t wait for what she does next, but I will if I have to and, as any Blue Nile obsessive will tell you, the wait makes it all the sweeter when it arrives.

Here is Lynne Ramsay talking to the Glasgow Film Festival, where the film had its premiere:

Bon Accord: A Review Of Alan Taylor’s Appointment In Arezzo: A Friendship With Muriel Spark…

As mentioned in SWH!’s recent review of Olga Wojtas’ novel Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovarthis year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the writer Muriel Spark, and as well as all the events which are happening under the banner of #MurielSpark100, Polygon Books are republishing all 22 of her novels which, if you only know The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, (or nothing at all), offers you the chance to more fully acquaint yourself with the work of arguably the greatest Scottish writer of the 20th century.

However, not much is known about the writer herself. To help rectify this Polygon have also published journalist, and founding editor of The Scottish Review of Books, Alan Taylor’s Appointment In Arezzo: A Friendship With Muriel Spark, an account of his relationship with Spark in her later life. A notoriously private woman, the book is a fascinating insight into how she viewed the world, and how the world in turn viewed her.

Taylor makes it clear that what many thought reclusive behaviour was actually a consequence of not really giving a damn what others thought of her. A truly international citizen, while retaining a love for Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular, Spark had found peace in terms of place and people in Italy by the time Taylor got to know her. She had also had enough of the rumors, half-truths and downright lies which had been written and spoken about her and her relationships, and as such rarely engaged with the press, or the public. This alone makes Appointment In Arezzo an important publication.

That’s not to say that Spark was bitter. Taylor paints a picture of a happy home-life in Arezzo, Tuscany which she shared with her friend and confidant, Penelope Jardine. For anyone who is familiar with her writing, the Muriel Spark who is depicted on these pages makes perfect sense as she is full of life, humour, wit and a fierce intelligence, all of which are evident in her work.

But this is no hagiography. Taylor does not avoid controversy or the more difficult times in Sparks’ life, such as her failed marriage and the complicated relationship she had with her son. But while he is honest enough to address these issues you are never in any doubt that he is always on her side. A fan as well as a confidante, Taylor gets the balance between friend and journalist right, giving the reader something new and revealing while never betraying her trust or memory.

As well as being a personal recollection of Muriel Spark, Appointment In Arezzo also has plenty to say about the writer’s influences and attitude towards her work. There is plenty here for students of literature who want to know more about what drove Spark to write, and why. It also works as an excellent companion to the The International Style Of Muriel Spark exhibition currently on at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh (running till 13th May). Together they give a more complete picture of Muriel Spark than had previously been the case.

There will be those who would maintain that all you need to know about Muriel Spark can be found in her writing, and it is an argument which I think Spark herself may have favoured. But, as we celebrate the centenary of her birth, it is an important and timely reminder that her’s was a writer’s life, (she was still having poetry and fiction published in 2004, 47 years after her debut novel The Comforters) and, as Taylor attests, even when she wasn’t writing it was never far from her mind. We may not see her likes again, so a celebration of the life and work of Muriel Spark is not only in order, it is long overdue.

For the latest up-to-date news on all the events this year go to Muriel Spark 100.

Whisky Business: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Rachel McCormack…

chasing-the-dram-9781471157233_lg.jpgFor the latest podcast Ali met writer and broadcaster Rachel McCormack at Glasgow’s Iberica restaurant to talk about her recent book, the excellent Chasing The Dram: Finding The Spirit Of Whisky.

Over a glass of wine the two discuss Rachel’s book, their first memories of whisky, the perception of the drink at home and abroad, the mythology which has grown around it, the numerous ways it relates to Scottish history and culture, and a whole lot more. Put simply, she separates the truth from the fiction, and there is plenty of both when it comes to our original national drink.

The talk also turns to food, travel, friends, family, memory, and how they are intertwined. It’s a fascinating conversation on how drink and food play a vital role in our lives beyond simply being fuel, and why it should be seen as culturally significant for individuals as well as on a societal and national level.

A food expert, with a special love and knowledge of Spanish cuisine, Rachel (below) is a regularMcCormack-Author-Cropped- panelist on BBC Radio 4s The Kitchen Cabinet and has broadcast on From Our Own Corespondent, the Food Programme as well as appearing as an expert guest on BBC Radio 2 on both the Simon Mayo show and the Chris Evans show.

She has also written for, amongst others, the Evening StandardBBC Vegetarian Food Magazine, New Statesman, the Financial Times, RED magazine and the Guardian. Bringing all that experience and knowledge to the podcast, it was a real treat to talk with Rachel and even if you’re not a whisky drinker we’re sure you’ll still find something to interest you. Continue reading

House Rules: A Review Of M.J. Nicholls’ The House Of Writers…


The last novel standing of 2017’s “must read/review” pile is M.J. Nicholls’ The House Of Writers, and it proves to be apt as it meant the year was bookended by two novels which shared a subject but differed in approach, (the first being David Keenan’s This Is Memorial Device).

Both novels look at the importance of art in society, but where Keenan creates a mythical musical scene for 1980’s Airdrie, The House Of Writers is set in a dystopian future Scotland, one which is trying to recover from societal breakdown, and which is now one enormous Call Centre called ‘Scotcall’. There are some authors left and they reside in a designated communal tower block. All genres are here, separated on a floor-by-floor basis, but no matter what they write they are viewed with anything between suspicion and outright contempt. Continue reading

Lights, Camera, Action!: A Preview Of Glasgow Film Festival 2018…


If it’s February in Glasgow it can only be the Glasgow Film Festival, the perfect place for the more discerning film fans to take shelter from the storm while enjoying the best cinema has to offer, old and new.

Running from 21st February – 4th March, it’s a festival which over the years has firmly established itself as one of the very best around.

Scots Whay Hae! will be bringing  you interviews as well as the usual reviews, but before we do here is our annual preview.

2018’s programme has so much to recommend it we couldn’t possibly do anything other than make some considered suggestions here, but you can and should download the full brochure, settle back, and peruse at your leisure.

However, before you do here’s a taste of what’s on offer:

As ever,  there are various categories and strands to guide you towards whatever may be your cup of tea. This year they include Behind The ScenesRebel Heroes, Ireland: The Near Shore, CinemastersLocal HeroesSound & Vision, Modern Families, Stranger Than Fiction, Future Cult, PoineerWindow On The World, Crossing The Line, Pure Baltic and the always popular FrightFest.

Add to those some very special events at appropriate venues, a surprise film, school discos, a wide-selection of Gala events, the Glasgow Short Film Festival, the Glasgow Youth Film Festival, and many Special Guest appearances and interviews.

You can keep updated throughout the festival on Facebook and on Twitter @glasgowfilmfest #GFF18 and you can sign up the the GFT Enewsletter which is not only essential for the festival, but all year round. Continue reading