Stranger Hings: A Review Of Chris McQueer’s HWFG…

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As Harper Lee, The Stone Roses, or Sam Raimi will tell you (and that’s a dinner-party I’d like to attend), it’s not easy following up a cultural touchstone. When your debut strikes a chord with a wider public and becomes higher profile than anyone expected then there’s bound to be added pressure to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. Chris McQueer’s short story collection Hings was just such a debut, one which found its way into the hands of people who don’t normally bother with literary fiction.

As with lain Banks’ The Wasp FactoryIrvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, and Alan Bissett’s Boyracers, Hings is a book with a reputation which spread in no small part by word of mouth, praised and quoted in the workplace and passed around the playground. It received mainly glowing reviews on sites such as this one, and in print, but so do many other books which don’t manage to achieve the profile Hings did.

In the age of social media such a reach can be more readily measured, with people posting pictures holding their copy on a variety of social media, often accompanied by messages professing that it’s the first book they’ve read in ages, a claim also made for those mentioned above. It feels as if Chris McQueer is reaching an audience outside of the usual Scottish literary scene in a manner not witnessed since Allan Wilson’s Wasted In Love received similar attention in 2011. But now we get to find out if McQueer can follow Hings. That’s the question which inevitably arises with the publication of his latest collection, HWFG.

And breathe… From the welcome reappearance of Big Angie on page one, it soon becomes clear that those of us who loved Hings can relax, safe in the knowledge that normal service has resumed.  To borrow from the book’s full title, Here We Fucking Go again. There are few other publications in which Kim Jong-un, Ian Brady, Nicola Sturgeon and Ayrshire’s original and best loyalist rock band, Huns & Roses, would all appear. In fact there are none, and when you throw in Santa, the FBI, a sentient moth, an interview with the legendary Shoe Guy, and an angel called Rebecca from Cranhill, you have a cast which is quite unforgettable.

McQueer’s stories are driven by his vivid and visceral characters. Individuals whose lives are rarely written about – mostly outrageous and often shameless. His growing army of followers can be reassured that these are further tales of the dark side of life – divine comedy so black that it’s often difficult to see. But don’t make the mistake of thinking this is writing to be dismissed as simply sensational or an exercise in excess. Yes, HWFG is a riot of acid trips and urban myths, infestation, masturbation, crime scenes and keech, but it’s also carefully crafted. These accounts of everyday events, with twists you don’t see coming, are as tight as a drum, the writing lean, sharp and succinct.

People get jobs, lose jobs, find love, lose love, discuss politics, get haircuts, fight world leaders, and take part in game shows to make ends meet. To those who say that McQueer’s writing is for Glaswegians only, I would suggest that these are all narratives which are at their heart universal – it’s in the telling that they become something else entirely. McQueer’s is a wild world, but it’s also a weird world, and it’s all the better for it.

With HWFG Chris McQueer proves that Hings was no one-off, but only the beginning for a writer who appears to have found his voice immediately. It also shows evidence that he is growing more confident in his craft, often addressing the reader directly, making for a more immersive read. After two superb short fiction collections I can’t wait to see what he does next – no pressure! And to those who remain unsure, have no fear – Chris McQueer is the real deal.

HWFG is published by 404 Ink

You can hear Chris McQueer talking to Ali on the SWH! Podcast.

HWFG has two Glasgow launches this week, one on Thursday 8th at Waterstones on Argyle Street, & Saturday 10th when Stereo will become Alan’s Shed for one night only.

 

Films & Festivities Down The Firth: A Preview Of The Dunoon Film Festival…

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Now firmly established as one of Scotland’s finest, the Dunoon Film Festival is back this coming weekend (9-11 November) with a fantastic line-up. Here is the SWH! preview, with 10 suggestions for you to ponder, but you can check out the full programme here.

Tickets are incredible value for money, either £5, £3 or free, with the option of getting a festival pass for £30 which lets you fill your filmic boots and see whatever takes your fancy.

As well as tremendous opening and closing films, there are free screenings, workshops, cinema for children, and even the promise of a scratch-&-sniff version of Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-RabbitIt’s well worth a trip doon the watter for the following reasons and more.

There’s rare footage from one of Scotland’s finest filmmakers, a musical zom/rom/com/ where La La Land meets Shaun Of The Dead, Harry Dean Stanton in one of his final screen roles, a live score from The Badwills to a classic Italian silent movie, the Scotsman who paved the way for Charlie Chaplin, the master of stop-motion cinema, a documentary about one of Scotland’s greatest (if controversial) sportsmen, Josie Long’s eagerly awaited Glasgow-based debut, and the festival closes with a 2018 BAFTA winning feature. All this and a showing of SWH’s favourite film of all time (and you can read just some of the reasons why here) followed by an ’80s disco. Who could ask for more? Not us. See you on the dance floor…

Where I Am is Here: Margaret Tait 100 – Free Event – 12pm / Fri 9 November / Pier Building

Anna and the Apocalypse – 4.30pm / Fri 9 November / Studio Cinema

Lucky – 7pm / Fri 9 November / Studio Cinema

Silent Divas: Assunta Spina – with live score – Doors: 8pm, film: 8.30pm / Fri 9 November / Dunoon Burgh Hall

Billie Ritchie: The Man Who Made the World Laugh – Free Event – 11am / Sat 10 November / Pier Building

Ray Harryhausen: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Other Fantastic Tales – 4.30pm / Sat 10 November / Studio Cinema

Gregory’s Girl with 80s Disco! – Doors: 8pm, film: 8.30pm / Sat 10 November / Dunoon Burgh Hall

Time Trial – 12.30pm / Sun 11 November / Studio Cinema

Super November – 2.30pm / Sun 11 November / Studio Cinema

Nae Pasaran – 6.30pm / Sun 11 November / Studio Cinema

That’s a cracking selection, I hope you agree, and there’s so much more on offer. Since it’s inception in 2013, the Dunoon Film Festival continue to go from strength to strength.

Man Of Letters: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Chris McQueer…

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For SWH! podcast 101 Ali speaks to the writer Chris McQueer about his latest collection of short stories, HWFG. If you haven’t heard of or read Chris’ work, where have you been? His previous book Hings took the world of Scottish writing by storm announcing a fresh and exciting new voice. HWFG, (Here We Fucking Go, if you haven’t worked it out yet,), sees him build on the success of Hings introducing readers to new characters as well as bringing back firm fan favourites.

It was fascinating to hear what inspired Chris to write, his influences, the difficulty in HWFG-coverfollowing a hit, the highs and lows of being reviewed, the importance of writing not only what but who you know, the crucial relationship between writer and editor, how vital a great cover is (see right), and his plans to branch out from writing fiction. He also kindly reads ‘Brexit’, one of his new stories, which gives the uninitiated a great introduction to Chris McQueer and his work.

For those of a sensitive nature, I should say, the podcast contains the sort of language you might expect when discussing a collection with the full name Here We Fucking Go, for once fully earning the ‘Explicit’ tag iTunes often gives us, seemingly randomly.

HWFG has already received glowing reviews, and here is just a short exert of what SWH! thinks, with a full review to follow soon:

“With HWFG Chris McQueer proves that Hings was no one-off, but only the beginning for a writer who found his voice immediately. For his growing army of followers there are further tales of the darker side of life – divine comedy so black that it’s often difficult to see, but it’s always there. HWFG also shows a writer growing more confident in their craft, often addressing the reader directly, making for a more immersive read. Have no fear, Chris McQueer is the real deal”.
Ali Braidwood, Scots Whay Hae!

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back catalogue of podcasts for you to discover (100, to be exact). If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, on Podbean, 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:

We will be back with you very soon with the next podcast which we have already recorded. It sees Ali in conversation with the man behind the fabulous Viva La Rose, otherwise known as David Luximon-Herbert, and it includes two tracks from his album For She Who Hangs The Moon. See you back here soon for that one…

HWFG and Hings are published by 404 Ink

HWFG has two Glasgow launches this week, one on Thursday 8th at Waterstones on Argyle Street, & Saturday 10th when Stereo will become Alan’s Shed for one night only.

Heart of Darkness: A Review Of Liam McIlvanney’s The Quaker…

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The city of Glasgow has a complex relationship with real crime, one which probably explains the popularity of crime fiction not only in the city, but about the city. There are few places who aggrandise and almost celebrate its violent reputation, and those who are responsible for it, in the manner Glasgow appears to. Sicily and Chicago are two others which spring to mind.

As those who live in or visit the city will know, Glasgow is (with well-known and notable exceptions) a generally friendly and supportive community, large enough for many diverse people and opinions, but small enough for most of the populace to find some sort of connection with less than six degrees of separation. However, a braggadocious attitude to the brutal is never too far away, perhaps best summed up by folk hero and baggage handler, John ‘Smeato’ Smeaton, who, after kicking a burning man in the ‘nads,  warned any other potential terrorists that, “This is Glasgow; we’ll set aboot ye”.

Many Glaswegian gangsters have become celebrities, if not exactly celebrated, and there is a penchant for giving those involved in crime nicknames – The Godfather, Blind Jonah, Fat Boy, Babyface, The Licensee. One of the city’s most notorious serial killers was known as Bible John, due to his use of quotations from the Scriptures, and he became a bogeyman like figure to Glaswegians in the late-’60s and the ’70s – his police composite drawing peering eerily down from walls and out of phone boxes. To this day the legend endures, not least because he was never caught, and the case remains unsolved. It’s a classic example of the blurring of lines between fiction and fact when it comes to Glasgow and crime.

And that is why the Bible John story makes the perfect inspiration for Liam McIlvanney’s latest novel The Quaker. Taking those infamous murders as his starting point, McIlvanney explores just how crime, particularly violent crime, can affect a community. Gangsters, by their nature, rule by fear, but they also purport to have some twisted form of code-of-honour. When a criminal doesn’t follow any rules then that’s when real fear takes hold, and in McIlvanney’s book his titular Quaker seems to choose his victims with no clear or easily understood pattern, and his ultra-violent methods point towards a psychopath.

The problem for the police is that it is difficult to catch such a person unless they leave clear clues, and the Quaker is too thorough for that. Initial mistakes have been made by investigating officers, which has led to outsider DI McCormack being assigned to discover the extent of the blunders and their consequences. Having to, and failing to, win over a sceptical squad room, he soon becomes obsessed with the case, despite many attempts to warn him off. What follows is a genuinely tense unfolding of one man’s fight to prove that the right result should always override other considerations, even when they are potentially personally beneficial. The truth may not be pretty, and The Quaker is grim and gritty, as you would expect a Clydeside crime novel to be, but it is also much more.

If you didn’t know that McIlvanney was a Professor of literature as well as a writer of crime then you can find clues throughout. The Quaker’s opening quotations are from Pulitzer prize-winning poet Charles Simic and T.S Eliot. Later he has McCormack referring to Francis James Child’s The English and Scottish Popular Ballads and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, and there is also mention of Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots, historian John Prebble, and further quotes from Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and King Lear. These literary references add another layer to The Quaker and although not knowing them will in no way affect a reader’s enjoyment of the book, it definitely gives a greater understanding of McIlvanney the writer and how he approaches his fiction.

If you know David Fincher’s 1995 film Seven, or 2007’s Zodiac for that matter, then you have some idea as to the tone of The Quaker. It is tough, dark, violent, and chilling, but also cerebral, thoughtful and clever. It also has more twists than a Chubby Checker convention – just when you think you have it solved McIlvanney pulls the rug from under you. The Quaker is fiction of the highest order no matter the genre. Of course comparisons will be made, and rightly so, to Denise Mina, Karen Campbell and Ian Rankin, but I am reminded of Frederic Lindsay’s Brond, or even Frank Kuppner’s A Very Quiet Street, a book which also took real crime as its starting point. Tense, terrifying and tremendous, The Quaker is exemplary modern crime fiction which deserves to be read far and wide.

The Quaker is out now, published by Harper Collins

Begin Again: A Review Of Douglas Skelton’s The Janus Run…

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As regulars to SWH! will know, crime-writer Douglas Skelton is one of our favourite novelists. He has been a guest on our podcast, and his most recent novels, 2016’s The Dead Don’t Boogie & 2017’s Tag – You’re Dead both featured in their particular years’ ‘Best Of’ roundups. They were taken from his series of Dominic Queste novels, which feature a Glasgow gumshoe obsessed with film, noir, and film noir. Skelton has Queste speaking and acting as if he roams the streets of Brooklyn rather than Barlanark, so it makes complete sense that he has chosen to set his latest, The Janus Run, (a departure from the Queste books), in New York. This move makes for his most exciting novel yet.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am a huge Dominic Queste fan, and I hope we hear more from him before too long, but The Janus Run is a proper page-turner thriller, pure and simple – enthralling from start to finish. It feels as if this Atlantic crossing has freed Skelton as a writer. Instead of having characters pretending to be in the movies, this time they are in them. It’s as if he has brought all of his influences to bear – the novels, the films, and the TV shows which he loves are still in evidence, but without the direct references which, while great fun, always felt more than a little knowing. This time round Skelton shows rather than tells.

There’s police procedure and patterns of speech reminiscent of those found in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels or TV series such as NYPD Blue, a nod to the mob movies of Scorsese and The Sopranos, government conspiracies with echoes of the Bourne films or No Way Out, and bloody shootouts which would make Tarantino blush. If you’re like me you’ll enjoy casting a fantasy (but, in a perfect world, surely inevitable) film version; a top-of-his-game Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper are two names which I can’t shake. I’ll let you decide on which roles they would take on. With enough twists and turns to give you Vertigo (and yes, there is definitely some Hitchcock in there as well), you’ll be wondering what’s going on, and who has done what (and, indeed, who is who), before you realise you’ve just been told the answer. It’s a novel which guards its secrets well.

It begins with two words, “Dagda awakens”. And most of the novel deals with the result of that resurrection. As you might expect from the title, there are double-lives and double-crosses, as well as pseudonyms, psychopaths, secrets, and lies. A suspicious and troubling death results in people returning to lives they thought they had left behind, resulting in unlikely alliances and suspicion reigning supreme. No one trusts anyone completely, and as such it is terrific fun to read. As you do you can’t escape the feeling The Janus Run was a real labour of love for Skelton – that perhaps this is what he’s been wanting to write all along and he is grabbing the opportunity with both hands.

Most depictions of the Roman god Janus have two faces, representing looking to the future while simultaneously looking at the past. After the Dominic Queste novels, (and trying hard not to labour the point), The Janus Run shows us another side to Douglas Skelton, one where, while not exactly being deadly serious, (although it’s definitely deadly) he reigns in the pop culture references and the Spillane-like one-liners and lets his characters just be who they are, even if who they are are cold-blooded and highly-trained killers. To call it gripping is understatement writ large. But perhaps all you need to know is this – while reading it on the train I missed my station, completely absorbed by what was unfolding, which is the first time that has happened. Risk going further than you mean to and get your hands on The Janus Run because Douglas Skelton has written a thriller truly worthy of the name.

The Janus Run is published by Contraband Books, the crime imprint of Saraband.

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

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It’s been a hell of a year for Scottish music so far, with many, many great albums (from the likes of Zoe Bestel, Roberts/Skuse/McGuinness, Modern Studies, The Scottish Enlightenment, Kathryn Joseph, L-Space, The Gracious Losers, Carla J. Easton, Starry Skies, & I could go on) and with the promise of more on the way. There’s also been a fantastic SAY Awards, all of the incarnations of Rip It Up: The Story Of Scottish Pop (exhibition, book, radio, TV and podcast), and then there’s the recent announcement of the nominees for the SAMA Awards, which again show the depth and breadth of talent around.

Add to that some amazing live gigs and we can only reach the conclusion that we are in something of a Golden Age. The music you’re about to hear only makes that argument stronger. It’s a mixture of the new to SWH! and the welcome return of old favourites, just as it should be. There is diversity, style and craft on show – and an unshakeable sense that for most of them they are only just getting started. This is the story…

We’re going to open with Hairband. If they are not the best live band in Scotland at the moment, then they are so close as to require a photo finish. With their self-titled debut EP out on Monorail Records they prove that their inimitable sound works just as well recorded. It is a sublime record – funky indie-pop which is tight yet loose, and harmonious in every sense of the word. This is clearly a band having the time of their lives playing together. Put simply, Hairband make the world a better place to be, and don’t we all need that right now? From Hairband, this is ‘Flying’:

Every so often a record arrives which takes your breath away, and that was the case with Vive La Rose‘s album For She Who Hangs The Moonso much so that I got in touch with David Luximon-Herbert (for it is he) to arrange to record a podcast as I want to discuss this beautiful music that he has made. If something can be said to be an instant classic then For She Who Hangs The Moon is exactly that.

Soulful, bittersweet, fragile, yet with a power that is undeniable – it’s similar in tone to the music of Blue Rose Code, Boo Hewerdine, and even Martin Stephenson (with or without the Daintees). As I said at the top of the page, this has been an incredible year for Scottish music, and albums in particular, but this may just be the best of the bunch. From For She Who Hangs The Moon this is ‘Schiehallion’, but believe me – it is only a small, if perfectly formed, part of the bigger story:

There are few people’s musical opinions who I respect more than Podcart’s Halina Rafai, so when she suggested I listen to OK Button‘s debut single ‘The Message’ there was no fear at all that it was going to be anything other than excellent. It’s ethereal electropop with a sting in the tale, and reminds me of some of my favourite records of the ’90s and ’00s. There’s some Morcheeba, a little Zero 7, early Goldfrapp, & Nightmares on Wax, but it’s fresh as an April morning. One listen will not be enough, trust me. I’m well into double figures, and it’s not going to stop there.

Sometimes you hear one song from a band and you just know that we are in for something very special indeed. In recent times that has happened with SWH! favourites L-Space and Half Formed Things, and was proved right with both. I feel exactly the same way about ‘The Message’ and OK Button. But listen for yourself and you’ll see I’m no’ havering:

Next up are Pelts and their double A-Side single ‘Who Could Love Me Now?/Another Place’, two great tracks which show that this is a band who understand exactly who they are, and what they do. And they do it so well. There’s the classic Glasgow indie dream pop of Camera Obscura, The Pastels, The Gentle Waves, but also wider influences such as Trembling Blue Stars, Tallulah Gosh and Mojave 3. Look at those names – I don’t use them lightly, but it proves that Pelts are doing something very special indeed. This is ‘Who Could Love Me Now?’, but please go and listen to ‘Another Place’ as well. Don’t miss out:

Returning to these pages after too long away, Gary Stewart is back with a new album Oh My Weary WorldAs he proved previously with Mr​.​Gary Stewart & The Tin Foil Collective he is one of the finest singer-songwriters around, with a classic style reminiscent of Paul Simon, James Taylor, Neil Young, Jackson Browne – only the very best.

The title track, ‘Oh My Weary World’ is out now, and it gives you a taste of the rest of the record which is just packed with great songs, each one as good as the next. For those of you as yet unfamiliar with Gary Stewart’s work, this could just be the start of a beautiful relationship. This is ‘Oh My Weary World’:

One of the best gigs of last month was one of Last Night From Glasgow’s now legendary evenings. They put on three of their acts at Glasgow’s Old Hairdressers as part of the ‘3 Bands Tour‘ to promote single releases from the aforementioned L-Space, the equally fabulous Cloth, and in between the two were Domiciles, one of the latest LNFG signings (although it’s not easy to keep up with that situation at the moment!). It was a phenomenal night, with very different bands complementing each other perfectly.

Around a year ago SWH!’s Braemar branch got in touch to say we had to listen to Domiciles as they were the best new band they had heard in ages. They were right. Their sound plays with loops, effects and rhythms (they have the best drummer I have seen in some time), and they bring to mind early Verve, Chapterhouse, and the mighty Ride, sending me back to listen to all three. This is music to lose yourself in, and here’s ‘Only You‘ to prove it. Great music will always win out, and that’s what Domiciles are all about:

Raise your glasses and let the sky be black with hats for Beerjacket has returned, and the 0014433979_10fact that he is releasing his latest album Silver Cords on Scottish Fiction as a CD, but also with an accompanying book, (right) – well, nothing makes us happier. The first song released from it is ‘Cord‘ and from the opening familiar guitar sound and Peter Kelly’s unmistakable vocals it’s like he has never been away.

As you’ll have seen already we like to offer musical comparisons to give you an idea as to what a song or band sound like. Well ‘Cord’ sounds like no one else but Beerjacket, so the simplest thing to do is listen for yourself and find out just what that means. This is ‘Cord’:

You can contact SWH! in a multitude of ways to tell us about your music, most of which are listed somewhere to the right of this review. I promise we will always get back to you, even if it takes a while. Blaire Mackenzie did just that on Facebook. He’s the drummer with Gordon James and The Power and he thought we might like their new single ‘In Beauty & Form’. He was right, and so will you.

It’s a heartbreaking song which more than matches its enigmatic title. With harmonies, wonderful acoustics and precision playing all round, it sounds at once timeless but unlike what anyone else is doing at the moment, and that’s a very good thing. It’s also the perfect place to end such a varied and righteous music review as it will send you on your way with a skip in your step and a song in your heart. This song, to be precise – this is ‘In Beauty & Form’ and it’s gorgeous:

That’s yer whack for this month, but come back soon when more new music will be waiting for you…

Growing Pains: A Review Of Daniel Shand’s Crocodile…

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There are few more difficult aspects for an adult writer to get right than the voice of a child. Often they are given speech patterns which are older in tone and content than the intended age. In recent years, however, Scottish writing has had quite a few examples where a young central character’s voice, accents and actions have been utterly believable. They include Ross Sayer’s Mary’s The Name, Helen MacKinven’s Talk Of The Toun and P.K. Lynch’s Armadillos, and to those you can add Daniel Shand’s latest novel Crocodile, published by Sandstone Press.

It’s the story of Chloe who has come to stay with her grandparents very much against her will. It unfolds that this is an arrangement between Angie, (the girl’s mother), and her elderly and estranged parents. It’s an uneasy alliance which means that although the latter get to spend time with their granddaughter, and Angie gets the break from the responsibilities and burden of being a parent which she feels she needs, they all realise that this is far from an ideal situation. As a result Chloe’s wishes are of little consequence and she has to find ways to cope. She literally dreams of life back with her mother, remembering a version of events which she may be viewing through rose-tinted spectacles married to a lack of understanding of the adult world that comes with youth. What remains of her naiveté is all too soon lost.

After initial resistance Chloe begins to make a life in her new surroundings, finding some comfort in the well-meaning kindness of her grandparents and their neighbours, and making friends with Ally, Chris, and Darryl – a local gang of fellow outsiders who would not be out-of-place in a Stephen King novel. After initial mutual suspicion and even resentment, the four build dens, climb trees, get drunk, and become as thick as thieves. It’s a familiar and beautifully told tale which will have you reminiscing on your own childhood – the good, bad, and ugly. Just when things are settling down for Chloe (or “the girl” as she is known for most of the book) events conspire against her, both deliberate and accidental, which brings disruption and turmoil to her life once more.

Without giving away spoilers, it is the reappearance of her mother in Chloe’s life which throws everything in the air. As we get to know more about Angie it becomes clear that she is the immature one in this family – displaying selfishness, jealousy, insecurity and anger, often in a single sentence. It is strongly hinted that there is something in her own childhood, an event from her past, which could be at the root of this self-destructive behaviour which, in turn, is having such a detrimental effect on her daughter. And so it goes – familial secrets and lies raise their ugly heads as events progress, and everyone has to reflect on their actions, and inaction, to try to work out how they can move on, if that’s possible.

Daniel Shand’s debut, Fallow, won the Betty Trask Prize garnering acclaim from the likes of Alan Warner, Allan Massie, Joanne Harris and Rodge Glass. It’s often difficult to follow such success but he has done so by writing a coming-of-age novel which doesn’t pull its punches, beautifully setting out an individual childhood which will resonate with readers. Where Shand really shines is in the construction of his dramatis personae. He uses an economy of language to get to the heart of what makes his characters tick – a look, a touch, a stray thought, a wordless tantrum. By examining all too familiar failings, and the tricks the mind often plays to justify and even forgive them, he gives insight into the human psyche which does not always make for an easy read, but which is never less than a compelling one. With Crocodile Daniel Shand has cemented his position as one of Scotland’s finest and original literary voices.

Daniel Shand’s Crocodile is published by Sandstone Press.

The Music Man: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Vic Galloway…

DomOgcBWwAAmJh6.jpg-large.jpegFor our 100th podcast we thought long and hard about who to ask and we kept coming back to one name, Mr Vic Galloway. With the recent publication of his superb book Rip It Up: The Story Of Scottish Pop, written to coincide with the National Museum of Scotland’s exhibition and the TV show of the same name, it seems fitting to talk to a man who helps shape the nation’s musical tastes.

Ali headed down Leith Walk to one of Edinburgh’s finest live venues and bars, The Leith Depot, to meet Vic and what followed was a fascinating chat about the genesis of the book, the structure, what Vic wanted to achieve and if he believes he did so, the joys of  record shops, the spirit of radio, the importance of indie record labels, the SAY Awards, and so much more – including mentions for The Dog Faced Hermans and TTF!

Vic’s radio shows, along with those of Roddy Hart and Nicola Meighan, are a sign of just how healthy the state of the nation is musically, and it was an absolute pleasure to talk all about it. We hope you enjoy  listening to the chat as much as we did recording it.

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back catalogue of podcasts for you to discover (99, to be exact). If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, on Podbean, 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:

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to listen to any of our 100 podcasts.

Old Morality: A Review Of Charles E. McGarry’s The Shadow Of The Black Earl…

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One of the most welcome literary surprises of last year was Charles E. McGarry’s novel The Ghost Of Helen Addison. It introduced the world to private investigator, and bon viveur, Leo Moran, whose gift of second sight is both a blessing and a curse. To say this is a Glaswegian gumshoe with a difference is ridiculous understatement writ large. Quite simply, you will never have met a character like Leo Moran. In the SWH! review we said, “With The Ghost Of Helen Addison Charles E. McGarry has presented a new voice to Scottish crime fiction, and a memorable character to match. I’m looking forward to seeing how these novels develop…”. Well, look no further as the man is back in The Shadow Of The Black Earl.

If you liked the first Leo Moran mystery you are going to love this one. After a particularly upsetting funeral the dapper detective goes to stay with his now firm friend, the extravagantly named Fordyce Greatorix, at his family home of Biggnarbriggs Hall. There he encounters a range of eccentric characters who would not be out-of-place in an Agatha Christie novel. What unfolds is a whodunit which delves into the world of the occult, masonic and pagan rituals, and police corruption, as well as touching on every one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and then coming up with a few more. If you didn’t read the previous novel you may think this is business as usual in terms of Scottish crime fiction. You’d be wrong. With this second outing what’s now clear is that Leo Moran mysteries are something entirely different altogether.

One of the most welcome things that McGarry does is to take Leo around the country to solve crimes in Scotland’s lesser known locations. The Ghost Of Helen Addison was set in Argyll, and this time round he finds himself in deepest, and, quite literally, darkest Galloway. It’s an inspired setting which adds an instant atmosphere to proceedings, in no small part due to the rich literary history of the area. Think of the supernatural Border tales of James Hogg, such as The Brownie of Bodsbeck and the epic The Three Perils of Man, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s superb short stories ‘Markheim’ and ‘Thrawn Janet’, as well as his masterpiece of a novel The Master of Ballantrae. All of these have a strong sense of a place where religion and superstition clash, and there is no doubt McGarry taps into this.

But, perhaps surprisingly, it’s another well kent Border writer who I was reminded of when reading The Shadow Of The Black Earl, and that is the Great Waldo himself. It’s not just the place which brings Walter Scott to mind, (he spent most of his time on the other side of the M74, so to speak), or that Briggnarbriggs Hall has more than a hint of Scott’s beloved Abbotsford about it in its grandeur and folly. It’s not even that the title has overtones of Scott’s 1816 novel The Black Dwarf. Comparisons are to be found in McGarry’s writing as well. Going against the grain of most modern fiction, never mind crime, this is a writer who will not be rushed. As with Scott he refuses to hurry matters, enjoying the diversions his characters make along the way. The idea that every sentence has to be a punch, or that action is all, is anathema. Like his protagonist, McGarry would far rather his reader stop and smell the roses.

His descriptions of the surroundings are often extensive, verging on the purple at times, but they completely suit the people and places depicted. In terms of the detective work think of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes’ novels, or even G. K. Chesterton’s tales of Father Brown. There is something distinctly out of time about the Leo Moran mysteries. In fact it is easy to forget you are in a contemporary novel until mentions of mobile phones and Facebook profiles break the spell. It’s another sign that this is a writer doing something different. You might even think he’s deliberately out to subvert the crime genre. Taking a Glasgwegian PI away from the side of the Clyde is just the start.

There is little doubt that McGarry has developed as a writer from The Ghost Of Helen Addison. This time round there are less detailed depictions of what Leo eats and what he wears, which personally I missed as I love food and clothes, but I think it was the right decision in terms of moving the plot along. More importantly, he makes far better use of his female characters in this novel, his relationship with Elaine central to proceedings. I would love to see even more of Stephanie – the one friend who seems to have his number – as I think they would make a memorable double act. Perhaps that’s being kept for Leo Moran’s third mystery. I certainly hope there is one. A character as ineffaceable and distinct as Leo Moran deserves a long literary life, and that goes doubly for Charles E. McGarry.

The Shadow Of The Black Earl is out now and is published by Polygon Books.

Tour De Force: A Review Of Scottish Opera’s Opera Highlights…

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For the last few years Scottish Opera have been taking to the highways and byways of Scotland with their Opera Highlights show. Last night was the premiere of the 2018 show, and it’s safe to say that they have surpassed themselves, with director Daisy Evans putting together the perfect programme to introduce opera to those who may not be familiar with the genre, while keeping the die-hard fans happy – and how.

The structure could not have been more suitable. A lone woman (non-singing actor Hannah Birkin) sits on stage at her laptop as the audience enter. The music began with an eclectic and entertaining run through a selection of tunes played by Jonathon Swinard, the show’s musical director. Then the four singers arrived, dressed unmistakably in the individual colours of the Google sign. They take the mystery woman, and the audience, through a tour de force of opera, answering, as they go, the most commonly asked questions by those for whom the ways of opera are a mystery.

The promise of a mixture of the old and new was upheld, with works from the well kent likes of Mozart, Handel, Beethoven, Britten, and Gilbert & Sullivan, but also a new work from Scottish Opera Composer in Residence, Samuel Bordoli. The performances, from Soprano Sofia TroncosoMezzo-soprano Sarah Champion, Tenor Richard Pinkstone, and Baritone Dawid Kimberg, were superb across the board. It is incredibly moving, and exciting, to be in a small theatre when talent like this is on stage. You realise that it is not simply the singing which makes a great opera singer, it is in the acting and the interaction, with each other but, most importantly, with the audience.

Handling the comedy and tragedy, and everything in between, in fine style, these performers had their audience in the palms of their collective hands. There were laughs, tears, and at times a revered silence with nary a rustle of a caramel wrapper to break the spell. I have seen the last two Opera Highlights shows, and this was the best yet. The good news is, wherever you are in the country, you don’t need to miss out as they head from Glasgow to hit the road, starting in Ayr on the 22nd. For the full list of dates, and how to buy tickets, go to the bottom of this page. Opera Highlights was the most fun I’ve had in a theatre for some time and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Here’s the trailer to explain more:

You can follow Scottish Opera in all the usual ways, on FacebookInstagram,  TwitterYoutube and, most appropriately, Spotify.

Here are some images from the show, with thanks to Scottish Opera and Credit to Sally Jubb Photography:

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OPERA HIGHLIGHTS – Touring Scotland Autumn 2018 

Gaiety Theatre AYR Sat 22 Sep BOOK TICKETS

Craigmonie Centre DRUMNADROCHIT Tue 25 Sep BOOK TICKETS

Wick High School WICK Thu 27 Sep BOOK TICKETS

Forres Town Hall  FORRES Sun 30 Sep BOOK TICKETS

The Macphail Centre ULLAPOOL Tue 2 Oct BOOK TICKETS

An Lanntair STORNOWAY Thu 4 Oct BOOK TICKETS

Aros Centre PORTREE Sat 6 Oct BOOK TICKETS

Memorial Hall LANARK Tue 9 Oct BOOK TICKETS

Victoria Hall Helensburgh HELENSBURGH Thu 11 Oct BOOK TICKETS

Gardyne Theatre DUNDEE Sat 13 Oct BOOK TICKETS

Inverurie Town Hall INVERURIE Tue 16 Oct BOOK TICKETS

Mearns Academy LAURENCEKIRK Thu 18 Oct BOOK TICKETS

Joan Knight Studio, Perth Theatre PERTH Sat 20 Oct BOOK TICKETS

Theatre Royal Dumfries DUMFRIES Tue 23 Oct BOOK TICKETS

The Brunton MUSSELBURGH Thu 25 Oct BOOK TICKETS

The Byre Theatre ST ANDREW Sat 27 Oct BOOK TICKETS