There is a perennial problem in the arts in that it sometimes becomes more about the event, or the party, and the art itself becomes secondary. I’ve been to countless openings in galleries or ‘spaces’ where lots of people attend, take full advantage of the free wine (of which I’m as guilty as anyone), and then the exhibition hangs in an empty room for a month before the next party is due. Similarly I have been to many an album or single launch where half the people are on the guest list (again, guilty) and then the band are left with boxes of CDs which they find hard to shift.
This is unsurprising as there is the widely held desire to always be moving on to the next new thing, but the problem with that is some people who are interested in culture don’t seem to give the time to that which they are supposed to be considering while they sup their warm beer. I can see this happening with literary events where we turn up, perhaps buy a copy of the book, even get it signed, and then said publication is added to a ‘to do’ collection as there is the première of the new Jobson movie at the Filmhouse tonight. Am I feeling cynical today, well perhaps a tad, but as a great man once said ‘life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it’.
Which brings me once more to the literary journal known as Valve. There have been the fund-raisers and the launch, all of which have been great, but don’t let them act as a full stop to the life of Valve. It deserves far better than that. I’ve been living with my copy for around a month now, dipping into it when I feel the desire rather than trying to consume in one sitting, and, considering this is the first publication for many of those involved, the quality of the writing is astonishingly high. There is fully formed short prose, exerts from novels, poetry that will make you laugh and break your heart, often within the same poem, and a small collection of journalism.
What is particularly interesting, if not surprising, is that the pieces which stood out when I heard them live have such a different dynamic when written on the page. Some improve when read, some work better in a live context. But it is the work which I had yet to encounter that most impressed, possibly for that very reason. What I realised was that those who had given us a sample of Valve’s contents hadn’t simply put forward the best work to lure us into a false sense of its worth, they were genuinely representative of the quality on offer.
There are too many highlights here to mention them all, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t flag up a few personal favourites. There is Stewart Brower’s schizophrenic ‘Loyal’, which shouldn’t work, but just does, Lesley McKeran’s poems, Gabrielle Bennet’s intricate, hyperrealistic, prose, Chris Beattie’s ‘The Film’, Catherine Baird’s visceral, and poetic, ‘Snare’ and Craig Lamont’s poignant and moving ‘In Threes’. But there is so much to enjoy here it feels slightly churlish highlighting individuals’ work. Anyway, you’re bound to disagree with me, and if you do then please let me know. I’d really love to know how others view Valve.
There is the feel of a new beginning here, but if that is to be the case then those involved, particularly readers, have to make sure that we engage with what we are bring offered. This isn’t a collection that should be praised simply for existing, it is more than worthy of attention and critical consideration. I truly believe that there are writers in this collection that we will be hearing a lot more from. Remember where you heard it first.
Here’s an excerpt from possibly my favourite piece. The reason for that is it looks at one of my favourite Scottish publications, one which I have written about in the past. It’s Marianne Gallagher’s ‘Born Free’, her excellent appreciation of the importance of Rebel Inc’s The Children of Albion Rovers:
Children of Albion Rovers, the first anthology to come from the Rebel INC. imprint, collected the work of a seminal group of writers together for the first time, to create a landscape of a new literary Scotland. Bringing together the writing talent of Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner, Gordon Legge, James Meek, Laura Hird and Paul Reekie, it capitalised on the growing scene in Edinburgh and spoke to people in voices that they recognised, about things they experienced themselves. It broke with tradition, eschewing the cosy landscapes of the literature that went before, and celebrated the vernacular and the filth of urban Scottish life – both looking for the light in-between the cracks and examining the darkness.
Rebel Inc. itself began life as a literary magazine. Inspired by the punk fanzines of the 1970’s which celebrated their D.I.Y. ethic and challenged the status quo of the conventional music press, Williamson aimed to take a “sledgehammer to the literary establishment”. This counter-cultural journal wanted a place to express the frustrations of a country post-Thatcher, and examine the raved-up and raved-out landscape of Scotland in the 90s. For 4 years it ran, staying true to its mantra of “fuck the mainstream!” with the publication of 1994’s “Ecstasy Interview” which recorded an unedited conversation between Irvine Welsh and Kevin Williamson whilst both were under the influence of the drug MDMA. This, somewhat understandably, brought massive attention to the magazine – both dismissive and approving – and marked it out as a challenging, provocative publication.
Gordon Legge brought the pop writing, Irvine Welsh the whack of reputation and the schemie slang. Laura Hird gave a tale of a teen Lolita and an aging, ogling teacher. From Meek, one of the more under-rated gems of the collection – the scheming and misbehaviour of Edinburgh traffic wardens was brought into sharp focus, by way of a new uniform and a Chinese board-game. Alan Warner brought the hallucinogens and the hallucinogenic imagery – lest we forget that we are in the grip of the ‘Chemical Generation’.
Although the alignment of music, film and thought saw the Rebel Inc philosophy tied up in a movement, the real success – and intention – of the anthology was in opening up doors. The many literary events and readings which continue on and around Scotland are testament to the ethos of this original team. Rebel Inc may have hung up its boots, but the ideas it brought to the game will continue to run and run.