Closing Time: A Review Of Louise Welsh’s No Dominion…

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There are always mixed feelings when a favoured series comes to an end. You want to see how things pan out, but there is also the terrible realisation that these characters you have come to know and care for will no longer be part of your lives. All you can hope for is a fitting conclusion to make that investment worthwhile. Louise Welsh’s ‘Plague Times Trilogy’ has reached its denouement with No Dominion, and while I have been waiting eagerly since 2015’s Death Is A Welcome Guest to find out what had happened to Stevie Flint, Magnus McFall and their new lives in Orkney, it is bittersweet to think that I won’t get to read what happens next. Luckily, Welsh sends them off in fine style.

After escaping the mainland, hopefully leaving the plague known as “the Sweats” behind as well, No Dominion begins seven years after the end of the last novel. Stevie and Magnus are integral parts of a small community on Orkney, a strange mix of adult survivors and local orphans who are attempting to play happy families while all time the sense of impending threat remains. Some of these children are now reaching young adulthood, which brings with it the normal teenage thoughts of familial and social rebellion combined with raging hormones, a dangerous coupling at the best of times, and these are not the best of times.

The Prologue sets out the nature of the community, and introduces a sense of foreboding that a price is about to be paid for what has been told to these children, and, more pointedly, what has been withheld. If knowledge is power, a lack of knowledge can act as an equally powerful incentive to discover your own the truth. If we believe John Lydon that “Anger is an energy” then the simmering tension that these teenagers have been harbouring was bound to explode, all it needed was a spark.

When strangers reach the island’s shore they threaten to break this uneasy alliance wide open. Things move up a pace when some of the children are taken off the island and it is up to Stevie and Magnus to find them and bring them back. This leads the two to come into contact with dangerous and desperate characters – men, women and children who are trying to survive by any means necessary in a post-Sweats world. It’s a place where laws and systems, both legal and moral, are no longer what they once were which forces the reader to consider what they would do in such circumstances, and where they would draw their own line.

The idea of democracy is examined. There is a quote from Aristotle’s Politics at the beginning of the book, where the claim is made that “..some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.” On Orkney they are trying to maintain something approaching the Athenian model of democracy, with various citizens voted in to fulfill the necessary roles. Meanwhile, in Glasgow, there is a more autocratic form of government in place, but one which those at the top still describe as “democratic”. Other, more feudal, systems are also encountered as Stevie and Magnus’s quest continues. Welsh has admitted that recent world events have had an influence on this third book, and it is interesting to read with that in mind.

Previous influences for the trilogy have included TV shows such as Threads and Day Of The Triffids, and left-field horror films such as The Wicker Man, Children Of The Corn and 28 Days Later. This time round you can detect the influence of Scottish literature – particularly Edwin Muir and Robert Louis Stevenson in terms of place and landscape. There are songs by Robert Burns, and at least one relationship that closely mirrors that between daughter and father Chris and John Guthrie in Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song. It is tribute to Welsh’s skill and vision that she has managed to weave these and other strands together across three novels and have it all come together by the end to become a satisfying whole.

If the first two novels in the ‘Plague Times Trilogy’ were driven by a powerful mixture of fear and hope, what drives No Dominion is love – the love of a parent for a child, but also that between friends and family. It simultaneously makes people weak and strong, and is what makes them break their own rules and act in ways which they wouldn’t have dreamt of previously. It’s perhaps surprising but ultimately heartening that at the end of the ‘Plague Times Trilogy’ Louise Welsh appears to be suggesting that all you need is love. That, and a small firearm handy – just in case.

You can listen to Louise Welsh in conversation with Ali on a recent SWH! Podcast, where they discuss No Dominion and a whole lot more.

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*Wilson Fillip: A Review Of Siobhan Wilson’s There Are No Saints…

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One of the more welcome musical trends of the past couple of years has been the return of the album. Long-playing records where every song works with and enhances the others, rather than just being a collection of vaguely related tracks. Just a few examples are Modern Studies’ ‘Swell To Great’, Ette’s ‘Baby Lemonade’, Louise Bichan’s ‘Out Of My Own Light’, Washington Irving’s ‘August 1914’ and The Great Albatross’s ‘Asleep In The Kaatskills’, and to those you can now add Siobhan Wilson’s ‘There Are No Saints’, an album so personal, poignant and simply beautiful that it’s not just a pleasure to listen to these songs, it feels like a privilege.

Showing admirable restraint in terms of production, it’s an album that allows Wilson’s songs and vocals to be at the fore. The short opening title track sets the tone. It’s a simple yet intricate mix of piano and multiple harmonies which is over far too soon, but as it then moves into ‘Whatever Helps’, one of the best singles of the year so far, you soon forget that. ‘Whatever Helps’ has echoes of American songwriters of the ‘90s, such as Kristin Hersh, Aimee Mann and, particularly the god-like Liz Phair. The low-key grunge guitar and Wilson’s voice work together effortlessly to tell the tale of someone who is having difficulty moving on, and finding that the songs they listen to and books they read offer cold comfort, but comfort nonetheless. It’s all part of the process.

‘Dear God’ is a plea for a sign that there is someone there to listen, understand and forgive, even when the evidence is slim. Faith in the future can be as ephemeral as that in a higher presence, which makes the album’s title even more apt. ‘Paris Est Blanche’ is the first of two songs sung in French which retain that simple production, and, perhaps inevitably, reminds me of ‘Le Fil’ by Camille and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s ‘5.55’.

‘Disaster and Grace’ is devastating, with Wilson accompanied by piano which then makes way for strings and harmonies, before the singer lets her voice truly soar for the first time. Understated yet epic – it’s a song of memory, longing and loss that tells you enough to understand but with the knowledge that there is more left unsaid. ‘J’attendrai’ (‘I’ll Wait’) proves once more that Wilson is as equally comfortable singing in French as she is in English, but also that you don’t need to understand what is being said to comprehend the sentiment.

‘Incarnation’ again highlights the important decisions made when it comes to the production. The low-growling guitar is used to indicate the emotional shift rather than Wilson’s vocals, which other records would have done. She keeps her poise and control but you are left in no doubt as to the strength of feeling underlying the lyrics. ‘Make You Mine’ sees Wilson make a promise to herself and her potential dance partner, but unsure as to how to make good on that promise, and ‘Dark Matter’ is about the realisation that some things will remain unknowable about a lover. You may never find out all the “what’s” and “why’s”, no matter how much you may wish it to be otherwise, and acceptance of this is essential.

‘Dystopian Bach’ is an instrumental which starts with discord but ends in telling clarity, mimicking the moment when the mind moves from being almost overwhelmed with thoughts fighting to be heard, and then becomes quiet and clear once more. As well as being a summary of the album as a whole, or at least the central theme of moving on from heartbreak, it hints at interesting musical directions for the future. The album closes with ‘It Must Have Been The Moon’ which has the singer realising that there may be other factors involved in falling in love, and that something things are bigger than we often comprehend as we concentrate on our own lives. It’s the perfect end to a perfect album.

The albums I return to most often are those that empathise with and often intensify the emotions and sentiments that are central to ‘There Are No Saints’. They are filled with memories of something loved and lost, and which may never be found again, but where there is ultimately hope. The Blue Nile, side two of Bob Dylan’s ‘Oh Mercy’, Frank Sinatra’s In ‘The Wee Small Hours’, Elliot Smith’s ‘XO’, Liz Phair’s ‘Exile In Guyville’ Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds ‘The Boatman’s Call’, and many more – all records not to be taken lightly, and with which ‘There Are No Saints’ shares DNA.

But what makes the album stand apart is Wilson’s voice. It is an instrument all of its own – pure, cool and elegant, but which manages to convey more emotion in a phrase than most singers will ever manage. ‘There Are No Saints’ is clearly an album Siobhan Wilson had to make for herself. But, in doing so, she has written a record to remind us all that we are never truly alone, and that there is always someone who understands. The very definition of a must hear record.

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*A version of this article first appeared over at Product Magazine, the place for all your cultural information and needs…

 

The Hills Are Alive: Hit The North For Gigs At The Gallery…

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Want to see some of your favourite musicians in one of the most beautiful locations in Scotland? I know I do, and now we both can as The Braemar Gallery will be host to a series of gigs in the second half of 2017. After the success of the appearance of WHYTE, other musicians have decided that the idea of playing intimate gigs against the backdrop of Royal Deeside is too good an opportunity to pass up.

They begin with Mark W. Georgsson and Barrie-James on the 26th July. Mark has featured in a few of SWH!’s musical roundups, and Barrie-James O’Neill will be known to many as the one-time singer of Kassidy. Together they promise to kick off the Gigs in the Gallery in style. As a taste, here’s Mark with ‘A Banjo Lament’:

Next, on August 2nd, Louise Bichan and Conor Hearn are in town. Conor is perhaps best know as one-third of Maryland based TriHearn, a trio which also includes his siblings Caitlin and Brendan, and it’s a real treat to have him playing some Scottish shows. Louise’s Out Of My Own Light album is one of the best of the last 12 months, and was rightly long-listed for this year’s SAY Award. Here is just a sample of the beautiful music you can expect:

On September 11th, US indie musician and comic book artist Jeffrey Lewis will appear with The Burning Hell. This is a rare chance to see a genuine musical pioneer who has influenced some of the your favourite musicians, you just may not realise it. A modern day Jonathan Richman, Lewis is one not to miss. Here he is with ‘Broken, Broken, Broken, Heart’:

Scottish musicians Salt House will be in the house on October 26th with their fantastic brand of alt-folk music. This promises to be the perfect mix of music and venue, as their sound is a blend of contemporary and traditional, much like the Braemar Gallery itself. Here they are with ‘The Road Not Taken’:

Lizabett Russo is another who has featured on the pages of SWH! before, with her album The Burning Mountain featuring in the best of 2016 music roundup. She’ll be appearing with one of Scotland’s greatest guitarists, and best-kept musical secrets, Graeme Stephen on 24th November. This will prove to be a night to remember, so get in early for tickets. To whet your appetite, here’s the title track of ‘The Burning Mountain’:

Finally for 2017, at least at the time of writing, Alasdair Roberts returns to Braemar on December 1st for a gallery gig. He was there in the summer of 2015 in collaboration with Ross Whyte for The New Approaches To Traditional Music project. A musician who is much in demand, it’s always a treat to see and hear Alasdair play. Here he is with ‘Pangs’, from his 2017 album of the same name:

I hope you agree that these are events which are well worth the extra effort to get to, and I hope to see a few of you there.

For further information you can follow Braemar Gallery on Facebook and Twitter, and can reserve tickets by emailing info @braemargallery.co.uk

If you can’t make any of them this time around then dinnae fash – there are due to be further Gigs in the Gallery in 2018.

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Going Underground: A Review Of Michael J Malone’s Dog Fight…

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Glasgow and violence – writers have played no small part in making sure the two are seen as closely related. The 1935 novel No Mean City is perhaps the most infamous text, with its focus on the razor gangs of the Gorbals, but you’ll also find plenty of blood, sweat and tear-ups in the work of  writers as diverse as Alexander Trocchi, Frank Kuppner, William McIlvanney, Louise Welsh and Denise Mina, and it’s a list which just goes on. In fact, it is not that easy to think of a Glasgow set novel which doesn’t reference the city’s reputation for being dark and dangerous in some form, and it has become increasingly difficult to find a writer with something new to say.

Michael J Malone’s latest novel, Dog Fight, does just that. Set against the backdrop of illegal underground fights, it is not simply about skelpings and square-go’s – cries of pain and the crack of bones, although there is enough of that to satisfy the most bloody-thirsty of readers. It also examines the reasons that men (and in this case it is men) are drawn to such a world – those on both sides of the ropes. Poverty, blackmail, threats of, and actual, violence are all understandable motivations to fight, but Malone also discusses mental-illness, self-punishment and the complexity of family ties. You may think that this is going to be a book where the good-guys wear white hats and the villains black, but there’s nothing as obvious as that. Motivations are complex, just as they are in real life, and outcomes are never certain. Malone may describe the extreme side of life, but the reasons people find themselves there will be familiar to many.

Local criminals are picking on the desperate to man their clandestine brawls, including those who have come to Glasgow seeking asylum, and men who are sleeping rough on its streets. The most-prized fighters are ex-armed forces, and they know just what to look for. The argument is that men trained to fight and kill but with little left to live for make the most entertaining and extreme participants, and with some fights being “to the death”, such individuals are sought after.

Kenny O’Neill is a Glasgow criminal whose brother, Ian, becomes involved in this world. Kenny has managed to get Ian work after he has struggled to cope with life-after the army, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Ian’s change in fortune sees him wanting to help one of his fellow brothers in arms, Dom, who is also struggling with life as a civilian. His depression and bouts of rage has seen him estranged from his wife, and only occasionally seeing his son. Ian is determined to see Dom is looked after and that he has someone he can now turn to when things are at their most desperate. They hold on to their friendship and each other as no one else truly understands.

It is this relationship brings Ian into contact with those who organise the fights, and it means Kenny, an experienced Mixed Martial Arts fighter, is soon embroiled as well. He infiltrates the gang to save his brother and end the threat to others close to him, but he cannot deny that there is no small part of him which is looking forward to testing himself in the most unforgiving of arenas.

That’s the backdrop, but where Malone takes the book to another level is in the depiction of post-army life for Ian, Dom and others. Often left to cope with PTSD and related mental health problems, and returning to a society which has health and benefits systems which are structured in such a way that such individuals will inevitably fall through the cracks, it is completely understandable that some will struggle to cope. When Ian explains to Kenny how difficult it is to negotiate the forms and formality of the DSS it’s as damning as it is believable. It’s the weakest in society, the ones who need looking after but who are too often ignored, who end up at the extremes, doing what they have to to survive, and that’s at the heart of Dog Fight. 

Michael J Malone has written a terrific thriller – taught, tense, funny and fierce, it races you through a world which most readers will be thankfully unaware. But, the sense of unease it leaves is more to do with the predicaments in which the characters find themselves rather than any actual violence. Those expecting a Glaswegian take on Fight Club will discover something much darker, and deeper. Dog Fight is a tale which is all too believable, and that’s the really scary thing.

Dog Fight is out now, published by Contraband, an imprint of Saraband Books.

Three Is The Magic Number: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Louise Welsh…

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The latest podcast is an interview with one of our favourite guests, the writer Louise Welsh. Previously she has been on to talk not only about her earlier fiction, but also the joys of reading Robert Louis Stevenson, and all thing Empire Cafe. Her latest novel, No Dominion, is the final part in her Plague Times Trilogy which began back in 2014 (not, as Ali suggests, five years ago) with A Lovely Way To Burn, and continued in 2015 with Death Is A Welcome Guest.

The conversation focuses on the central themes in the trilogy, which include family, Louise_400x400morality, society, and what could happen in the face of a global pandemic threat. Just the usual. Louise also reveals the influences on each book, including the Scottish literary connections in part three, and admits that recent political events, at home and abroad, had some bearing of the final draft No Dominion. There is also talk of ghost stories and opera. What more do you want from a podcast?

This is the 83rd SWH! podcast, so if you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back catalogue 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…

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..or on YouTube:

As a little podcast post extra, here is Louise reading the aforementioned Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘The Bottle Imp’ which she recorded for Scots Whay Hae! and the ASLS as part of the Strange Tales collection:

McQueer’s Folk: A Review Of Chris McQueer’s Hings…

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Being funny on the page is notoriously difficult to pull off. There are good reasons most comedians don’t write comedy novels, or at least good ones. If they do write fiction it’s often to show their serious side (Rob Newman, Alexei Sayle and Stephen Fry being three of the best), or they are just not funny (Ben Elton). The most successful books by comedians are nearly always autobiographical, which says much on many levels. The writers which make me laugh the most are all writers first – Hunter S Thompson, Joseph Heller, Douglas Adams and Chris Brookmyre, to name just a few.

Although Chris McQueer made a name for himself on the spoken word circuit, he is undoubtedly a writer first and foremost. Hings is his first collection of short stories and before we go any further I can report it is funny. Properly, laugh-out-loud, funny. However, as you read you realise there is more going on.

As Ewan Denny suggests on the cover (see above), the influence of Limmy and Irvine Welsh is apparent in Hings, but more the former’s Daft Wee Stories and TV show than Trainspotting, and it is all the better for it. There are many who have tried in vain to recapture the lightning in a bottle which was Trainspotting, including Welsh himself, but it’s so much better for any writer to go their own way, and that’s what McQueer has done in some style.

There are other comparisons to be made as the stories unfold. There is surrealism similar to The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson by Douglas Lindsay (‘Alan’s Shed’ & ‘Pat’), the black, but never bleak, humour of Agnes Owens’ Gentlemen Of The West, (‘The Dug’ & ‘Scudbook’) and even the easy and sudden violence that can be found in the fiction of William McIlvanney (‘A Fistful Of Coppers’). I’m sure you will make your own connections, but what unites the stories, and makes this a true collection, is McQueer’s voice which is irrepressible and undeniable as his style and irreverent sense of humour is evident on every page.

Hings is unapologetically a Glaswegian collection. As locals will know, for many it is a city of samurai swords (no doubt bought from the infamous Victor Morris), bowling clubs (see ‘Bowls – the longest, and best, story in this collection), ex-footballers driving taxis (‘Fitbaw’), Buckfast chilling in the freezer (‘Sammy’s Mental Christmas’), and lives chronicled in the real-crime magazine The Digger. There are scams (‘Pish The Bed’), dodgy clams (”Sammy’s Bag Of Whelks’) and overage bams (‘Top Boy’). No doubt some readers will find the scenarios extreme, but many others will nod in recognition.

The importance of these stories should not be overlooked. McQueer is writing about people and places which are at the best marginalised, more often ignored. It’s the real reason that Welsh’s Trainspotting was the success it was. Of course it’s a well written riot (and also a short story collection, by any other name), but it depicted an Edinburgh rarely, if ever, seen on the page before. And, more importantly, it portrayed people never written about before. You could make the claim that Chris McQueer is doing something similar for Glasgow. Places such as Springboig, Shettleston and Easterhouse are seldom painted, don’t have songs written about them, and almost never appear in fiction unless as the punchline to a lame joke. It’s refreshing to read about them from a writer who is clearly not a tourist, but who has genuine affection for his characters and where they live.

Short story collections can be hit-or-miss affairs, but with Hings the last story is as strong as the first. However, there are three standouts which should get special mention. The aforementioned ‘Bowls’, which chronicles the unfolding of a beautiful friendship between two women, (and which suggests that this is a writer who has longer fiction in him). There’s ‘Lads’, which is a love story to lift the lowest of spirits, and ‘Posh Cunt’ which manages, in only five pages, to say more about class division and family than many writers will ever manage. Chris McQueer may claim he’s only having a laugh, but there’s more going on here. Funny that.

Hings is published by 404 Ink and has a launch in Glasgow on the 27th July and in Edinburgh on the 28th July. You can follow 404 Ink and Chris McQueer on Twitter.

Here is Chris reading one of the stories from Hings, ‘Shiftswap’:

 

Simons Says: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To J. David Simons…

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In the latest podcast Ali talks to writer J. David Simons, initially about his latest novel A Woman Of Integrity but also his ‘Glasgow To Galilee‘ trilogy (see bottom of page) and the near perfect An Exquisite Sense Of What Is Beautiful. It’s always interesting to talk with David, and the conversation turns to his life as a writer and the colourful and varied path he has travelled along the way. The two also discuss, publishing, promotion, and the problems with both, and there are questions from a very special reader/listener. All this and much more.

They also meant to, but clean forgot, discuss the Scottish Book Trusts’ Bookfellas initiative that, in the Trust’s own words, “..brings together 50 men and aims to raise £50,000 to ensure that everyone in Scotland has the same opportunity to thrive through reading and writing. We want to encourage more men to read for pleasure and highlight the importance of dads reading to their children”. You can find out just what David is doing along with many other writers, here, and Ali gives further details in the podcast intro.

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Almost unbelievably, this is SWH! podcast #82, so if you are new round these parts there is a substantial back catalogue 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…

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..or on YouTube:

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American Beauty: A Review Of Helen McClory’s Flesh Of The Peach…

DSC_0450.jpgSometimes you read a novel which catches you unaware – enough that you have to pause, take a breath, and start all over again, taking the time to calibrate to the language and imagery used. More often than not it is  a sign of writing which isn’t afraid to experiment and take risks. Such a novel has to convince you that it is right and it’s up to you to adapt your expectations. All of the above applies to Helen McClory’s debut novel Flesh Of The Peach, and it pays back the reader prepared to engage in spades.

It’s a novel about grief and self-loathing in southwest America, and how dealing with those emotions is as difficult and potentially destructive as life gets. Flesh Of The Peach opens in New York where English artist Sarah Browne is left reeling from the end of an affair with the married Kennedy, a woman in whom Sarah had staked unrealistic hopes of happiness, not realising, or perhaps realising all too well, that this was a doomed relationship from the start. For someone who sees herself as a failure it is exactly the sort of liaison which will simply prove that beleif to be true once more.

This coincides with news of the death of her mother, a woman whose success and fame cast a long shadow over Sarah. This loss brings with it the promise of a large inheritance, a situation almost designed to marry guilt, sadness, anger and uncertainty. These significant events cause Sarah to reflect on her life to this point as she chooses to leave New York and take a Greyhound to New Mexico, rather than return to England. This choice is significant as it represents the idea that choosing otherwise could have made things go differently, when actually Sarah’s problems would follow her wherever. It’s not the choice which is important, but the person who chooses.

As she travels to her destination it gives her time to consider the past that has shaped her, as well as ruminate on how she will spend her new wealth, and this only increases her sense of anxiety and dread. The darkness which Sarah feels is reflected by that at the heart of the American Dream. It proves to be a country where those who fail become invisible, as if failure was unpatriotic in itself, exemplified by the people Sarah meets in New Mexico. It is a place where she is destined to find few answers, only further complications. She starts a relationship with Theo, a man whose apparent quiet confidence offers her the calming and understanding influence she seeks, but it is one she idealises and fears simultaneously.

At times McClory’s writing put me in mind of the tough guy prose of Henry Miller, Mailer and Bukowski, but with a lyrical misanthropy replacing misogyny. You can imagine the latter in particular penning the lines, “Even bad wine puts everything in soft focus.”, or “What still holds true is that love letters burn so well.” The use of short, sharp sentences only back up such comparisons, but are also a reminder that McClory made her name as a short story writer (winning the Saltire First Book Of The Year Award for her collection On The Edges Of Vision, which I highly recommend).

However, it is in expressing Sarah’s emotional state where McClory makes you sit up and take notice. She is unflinchingly honest as she sets out Sarah’s insecurities, thoughts, and deeds, often in great detail reflecting Sarah’s busy mind, never able to turn off completely – forever anxious. It is telling that it remains a surprise to have a female character whose thoughts and fears are expressed in such a brutally forthright manner, and this adds to the ever-present sense of unease that something terrible is just a moment away.

I imagine that most readers will, if they are being truthful with themselves, identify with the anxieties and emotions which haunt Sarah, and it is only honesty on the part of both writer and reader that allow such similarities to be recognised. Rarely has pain and loss been expressed in such a disarming yet graceful manner. It is the central part of what makes the book so arresting.

If you enjoyed last year’s Armadillos, by Pauline Lynch, then you should read Flesh Of The Peach as they share a sense of place, space, and central characters who are, to quote McClory’s dedication at the start of her novel, “..unlikeable women in fiction”. But what sets McClory apart from anything else I have read this year is the prose itself. Her command of language is complete and it marks Helen McClory as a writer to look out for. A truly immersive experience, if your preference is for novels where the journey is more important than the destination then Flesh Of The Peach is for you.

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

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To recklessly misquote S. P. Morrissey, “Some months are better than others”, but this month is surely one of the best music reviews we have ever offered for your pleasure. It’s a mix of new music to make the heart sing and the future seem a warmer and more welcoming place, as well as a few of Scots Whay Hae!’s favourite musicians from the last 10 years – a potent combination. Looking forward, looking back.

Edinburgh bands feature strongly this month, and we’re going to start with one of the finest. Storm The Palace’s debut album Snow, Stars and Public Transport is out now on Abandoned Love Records. Last night saw the announcement of this year’s Scottish Album Of The Year, where Sacred Paws triumphed over a hotly contested short list. But the world can’t stand still and I’m going to suggest that Snow, Stars and Public Transport should be among the contenders for that title this time next year. Reminiscent of Lorraine & The Borderlands and Modern Studies, Storm The Palace have made a record which is sheer class from Track 1 to 10. Inventive with a strong sense of the tradition in which their music sits, this is baroque and roll at its very finest. As an example of what they do, listen to ‘La Lido’:

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You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket: A Review Of Louise Hutcheson’s The Paper Cell…

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The novella is a form of writing which has fallen out of favour in recent times, and that’s as bewildering as it is unfortunate. We are constantly told that there is little appetite for epic fiction (fantasy aside). If you happen to have a novel on the go at the moment there is a good chance it is between 60-80,000 words long, something which is as much about finance as fashion.

Another trend from the last ten years has been the happy resurgence of the short story which is once more being taken seriously, especially in Scottish literature with Anneliese Mackintosh’s Any Other Mouth, Janice Galloway’s Jellyfish and Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart And Other Fairytales all featuring in the recent Books Of The Year lists. If the trend is towards shorter fiction in general, whither the novella?

It has a laudable tradition – longer than a short story but much more than simply “a short novel”, the best of them stand up against any writer’s longer work. Think of James Joyce’s The Dead, Dostoevsky’s Notes From The Underground or Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange – these are among the finest works of fiction ever written, yet some may continue to think of novellas as somehow a lesser literary form, as if quality is measured in quantity. If you are one of those you are missing out as well as wrong. Often concerned with a single idea or theme, novellas are tightly written and edited – clear in thought, intention and narrative. Continue reading