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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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… Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Holiday From Hell: A Review Of Jonathan Whitelaw’s Hellcorp…

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If it’s true that the Devil has all the best tunes, He (and it’s almost always a He) tends to get all the best films, plays and books as well – with one notable exception. Milton, Marlowe, Goethe, and Byron all depicted versions of Satan/Mephistopheles/Lucifer, and in the last 100 years the representations are innumerable.

One regular narrative trope is where the Devil leaves Hell to visit us here on Earth, notably in films such as The Omen, Angel Heart and even The Witches Of Eastwick. The stories range from the sublime, (Dennis Potter’s Brimstone & Treacle), through the mawkish (Meet Joe Black), to the ridiculous, (God help us, Little Nicky – if you ever needed proof that neither deity exists then that film is surely it).

Jonathan Whitelaw‘s latest novel, Hellcorp, takes the above idea, runs with it, and has great fun with it. Whitelaw quotes Mark Twain at the beginning of the book, “Go to Heaven for the climate. Hell for the company.”, which gets to the heart of our fascination with all things Hellish – it’s where the fun is to be had. The reason that endures is a whole other conversation. Continue reading

An Indelible Event: A Review Of Donald S. Murray’s As The Women Lay Dreaming…

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It’s a well-worn argument, but the lack of Scottish history taught in schools has undoubtedly had a negative affect on the Scottish cultural psyche. To quote Sam Henry (then President of Scottish Association of Teachers of History) in The Scotsman in 2005 this situation means, “we are not doing justice to pupils and their grasp of their own heritage and their ability to come to terms with the world.” I won’t go into it much further here, except to say that a prime example of such gaps in many people’s knowledge of Scottish history, outside of the Highlands and Islands, is the sinking of HMY Iolaire on 1st January 1919 off the port of Stornaway. It was one of the worst maritime disasters in United Kingdom waters with over 200 out of the 283 aboard dying. They were returning from the First World War, so close to home they could almost touch it. The very definition of a national tragedy.

The first I heard of it was in song (in my mid-30s) and I found it embarrassing that was the case, if understandable. However, learning about it in this way does suggest that such stories told artfully can help fill in those gaps in people’s knowledge and awareness. So it is with Donald S. Murray’s new novel As The Women Lay Dreaming (Saraband Books) which gave me an insight into the Iolaire disaster which no history book could manage, in a manner similar to the way Iain Crichton Smith’s novel Consider the Lilies gives perspective to, and understanding of, the Highland Clearances. Murray’s is a powerful book, one which tells of a survivors’ story and the effect such a terrible event can have even through the generations. Continue reading