Call Me Ishbel: A Review Of Moira McPartlin’s Star Of Hope…

When you come to a trilogy at the end it can feel like you have missed too much to truly understand what’s going on. I can’t imagine seeing the The Godfather III without having seen I & II first, or, gawd help us, The Matrix Revolutions before The Matrix. However, that’s not always the case, and the best books and films in any series should work individually as well as part of the series, with the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy books, or Krzysztof Kieslowski’s ‘Three Colours’ films, being perfect examples.

After reading Moira McPartlin’s Star Of Hope, the final part of her ‘Sun Song Trilogy’, without having read the first two I can say that it passes the test of working as a stand-alone but one which also makes you want to spend more time with the characters, to discover fully how they, and their world, got to this point. If one of the characteristics of a good writer is to make you care, then Moira McPartlin does that in spades.

That’s partly because it’s a story that is all too believable – and terrifying. Set in the dystopian near future of 2089, Star Of Hope is close enough for many of its themes and concerns to be all too recognisable. Concerns over artificial intelligence, the distant between the have and have-nots (in this case the ‘Privileged’ and the ‘Natives’), genetics, the plight of the bees, and what happens when the lights go out, are all central to the story.

As with many such fictional worlds they increasingly feel like predictions rather than prose. In that sense Star Of Hope is similar in tone to Louise Welsh’s No Dominion, the third of her ‘Plague Times Trilogy’ in that both are about a final mission, or in this case missions, with groups travelling across the land. Along the way they encounter ever-increasing dangers, double-crossing, and death. Long-held beliefs are challenged and no-one reaches the end unchanged.

In Star Of Hope the story is mostly told in alternative chapters which focus on 16-year-old Sorlie and his aunt Ishbel. They undertake separate missions to find the legendary ‘Star Of Hope’ which, we are told, holds the key to returning to a better life, one which will benefit all and not just the few. Without giving anything away, while this proposed solution is not necessarily what you might expect, the world they encounter is just recognisable enough to believe that this possible world is worryingly probable.

Creating such a familiar world for her characters to inhabit allows McPartlin to have some fun with place and language. There is a visit to ‘Beckham City’, when people frown their eyebrows “pringle”, (a perfect image which I intend to use in future), messages are ‘pinged’ to each other, and there are lots of rumour and myth about the history of technology before the servers went down which emphasise just how, and how quickly, this world became the way it is.

There are no frivolities, nothing unnecessarily sensational, to sidetrack the reader. Sorlie and Ishbel’s missions are deadly serious, with nothing less than the very future at stake. But this is not the worthy and finger-wagging undertaking that it could have been. Sorlie and Ishbel are characters you care about, and I can only think this will be strengthened for those who have been with them from the start. However, there are plenty of other strong characters to invest in, from the taciturn and increasingly complex ‘Dawdle’, the damaged and confused ‘Noni’, the Machiavellian ‘Merj’, and the dependable ‘Reinya’. It’s a fine cast which gives not only the journey but its end a power it wouldn’t have otherwise had.

The final scenes are worthy of a Sam Peckinpah movie (or John Wick, for a more recent comparison), with bullets and bodies flying around and no-one sure what is going on. It’s a suitably dramatic ending to a novel which builds the tension right from the start and which never lets up (with a couple of notable and memorable beats for everyone to catch their breath). It’s one of the most exciting bits of writing I have read in some time, and a fitting conclusion.

Young Adult fiction, (or at least fiction with young people at its core), is thriving in Scotland – with some publishers having their own YA imprint, which speaks well for the future as well as the present. Recently memorable examples include Ross Sayer’s Mary’s The Name (his latest Sonny & Me is out now), Helen MaKinven’s Talk Of The Toun, Claire McFall’s Ferryman and Daniel Shand’s Crocodile, and Moira McPartlin’s Star Of Hope belongs in that company. Does it all end well? You’ll have to find that out for yourself, but it’s a journey well worth making.

Moira McPartlin’s Star Of Hope is published by Fledgling Press

Keeping It Corporeal: A Review Of Elle Nash’s Animals Eat Each Other…

As regular visitors to SWH! will know, 404 Ink have, in a fairly short space of time, come to be recognised as a reliable mark of quality, publishing books which are not only well written and enjoyable to read, but which challenge readers and the literary status quo, allowing for marginalised voices to be heard, loud and clear.

Recent publications include Nadine Aisha Jassat’s poetry collection Let Me Tell You This, the Queer words anthology We Were Always Here, Chris McQueer‘s second short story collection HWFG, Helen McClory’s The Goldblum Variations (the international rights to which have just been sold to Penguin Books) and the rightly acclaimed collection of essays Nasty Women. By any standard that is an admirable list, and it only scratches the surface.

Their latest is Elle Nash’s Animals Eat Each Other and it is a welcome and worthy addition. It’s a novel which hits you full in the face so hard it makes you fear for your front teeth. The arresting opening sentence sets the uneasy, and often queasy, tone which doesn’t let up till the last. A visceral read which is at times dreamlike as you become intoxicated by the sensual and sensory images and language. You may want to look away but you’ll find you can’t, desperate to know how things resolve themselves. However you’ll soon realise this isn’t about where the narrative is going, but why.

The writing is exemplary – lean and mean, reflecting the content – it’s where Ernest Hemingway meets Kathy Acker. It also pulls off the difficult trick of making you think you have experienced or read things which you haven’t. As with the infamous shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho, Nash makes you believe you have witnessed visceral acts of violence, and sex, when in fact she cuts away and lets your imagination run riot. In terms of editing as much as writing, Animals Eat Each Other is an example to all.

We are introduced to ‘Lilith’, although that is a name given to her by others, and which, she learns, is one rich in meaning and which comes to define her, and even shape her. Nash makes it clear that language is important, the things which are said and those that remain only thoughts, as well as how people are referred to and the way in which relationships are defined. The latter hold the promise of, if not happiness (which is rarely considered a possibility), escape, belonging, change, submission, and subsummation – the chance not only to be with someone else but to become someone, or something, else.

There are shifts in power and thought happening constantly, sometimes in the space of a single embrace. This is in no small part down to the fact that ‘Lilith’s’ is a mind never at rest, except when quietened by drink and drugs, or distracted by pain or pleasure. The world as she has experienced it has her constantly anxious which in turn has made her uncomfortable in her own skin – a skin she is, as with her identity, keen to shed, or to have others remove for her in the belief that psychological change can happen through physical manipulation.

Despite what you may initially think this is not a novel about sex and violence, but one which examines obsession, self image and worth, fantasy vs reality, want and the need to be wanted, and the complexity of human appetites and infatuation. You could say it is concerned with the politics of desire, the rules and regulations – some made clear, some unsaid – which play out in various, and arguably all, relationships. I have seen Animals Eat Each Other described elsewhere as ‘erotic’ but that doesn’t do it justice it at all as Nash digs much deeper than that. She is not concerned with the aesthetics of desire, but with the psychology – more Erica Jong than E.L. James.

If you are looking for recent points of reference then those of you who have read Helen McClory’s novel Flesh Of The Peach, Pauline Lynch’s Armadillos or Anneliese Mackintosh’s short story collection Any Other Mouth, will find similar themes in Animals Eat Each Other. With it Elle Nash has written the literary equivalent of a great Punk single – fast, furious, and unforgettable, one which sticks in your head and creeps beneath your skin. Animals Eat Each Other – you couldn’t ignore it if you tried.

Animals Eat Each Other is out now, published by 404 Ink.

You can still hear the SWH! Podcast with 404 Ink here

Storm Warning: A Review Of Douglas Skelton’s Thunder Bay…

A new novel from Douglas Skelton is always reason for cheer so the recent publication of his latest, Thunder Bay (Polygon Books) was welcome news. It’s another departure in terms of style and setting from Skelton, a writer who refuses to rest on his laurels, always keen to explore different literary approaches to writing crime fiction. A prolific writer of non-fiction books on crime as well, he is steeped in his subject area and brings all his knowledge and understanding to his fiction. The style may vary but the name Douglas Skelton is a guarantee of quality.

His characters are usually to be found pounding metropolitan mean streets, but the action in Thunder Bay takes place on an island off the coast of Scotland and Skelton manages to make this landscape as equally dangerous and disturbing, understanding that the threat is not in the place, but with those who live there. In doing so he brings to mind many influences including films such as The Wicker Man and When Eight Bells Toll, the Shetland TV series, as well as island novels such as Alan Warner’s These Demented Lands, Kevin MacNeil’s The Stornoway Way, and Louise Welsh’s Naming The Bones.

As with all of the above examples, Skelton understands that island life has a very particular, and, especially to outsiders, an often peculiar feel. Due to the necessary close-knit dynamic of such a community strangers are noticed and viewed with suspicion. Secrets are closely guarded but never forgotten, passed down through generations, and crime and recrimination are often two sides of a very similar coin.

Journalist Rebecca Connolly arrives into just such a community, travelling from the mainland to the appropriately named island of Stoirm in search of a story which will make her name. 15 years previously the island’s most infamous native, Roddie Drummond, was charged with the murder of Mhairi Sinclair but, in that singularly Scottish and often unsatisfactory manner, found Not Proven. This is a verdict which splits locals into factions which don’t heal despite Roddie leaving. His return for his mother’s funeral threatens to stir up all those old resentments and Rebecca is determined to discover the truth. What she finds is more shocking and sensational than she could ever have imagined.

Skelton understands people, both their strengths and flaws. He certainly understands the evil that men are more than capable of doing but manages to avoid making his characters monsters. He doesn’t simply divide them into white and black hats, they are more complex than that – sidestepping stereotypes while acknowledging types. He is also confident enough to have more than one storyline unfolding keeping the reader on their toes as to where the narrative is going.

Skelton proves once more that he is master of his craft. I can’t think of many, if any, other writers who bring such varied and distinctive styles to their books. With that versatility in mind, as well as his wry humour, a deft way with a cliffhanger, and a barely concealed anger at injustice, with Thunder Bay in particular the writer he most reminds me of is Iain Banks, especially the latter’s later novels The Steep Approach To Garbadale and Stonemouth.

From the Clydeside crime novels of his Davie McCall series, through the tales of Glasgow gumshoe Dominic Queste, his action-packed New York novel The Janus Run (a movie adaptation waiting to happen) and now Thunder Bay, Douglas Skelton shows that he is a writer who you can’t pidgeonhole or pin down. I, for one, can’t wait to see what he gives us next.

Thunder Bay is out now, published on the Polygon imprint of Birlinn Ltd.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Claire MacLeary…

Claire MacLeary

For the latest podcast Ali spoke to writer Claire MacLeary about her trilogy of Aberdeen set crime novels, Cross Purpose, Burnout, and her latest, Runaway (all published on the Contraband imprint of Saraband Books) . These novels introduced readers to Maggie Laird and ‘Big’ Wilma Harcus, two middle-aged women who join together to work as private investigators.

Claire and Ali discuss the central characters, how they are a refreshing change from the norm, other people’s reaction to their choice of career, and the development of the relationship changes over the three books. They also talk about the importance of research, the often dark themes of Claire’s writing, the importance of bringing something different to the genre, Aberdeen as a setting, and the distinctive way she approaches her work. It’s a must listen for anyone with an interest in books – crime or otherwise – one which gives a fascinating insight into the life of a writer.

You can read the SWH! review of Runaway here, but before you do I suggest you listen to the podcast as I think the two work together well to give you a clear idea as to Claire MacLeary and her work.

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back-catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, 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’ll be back soon with someone completely different. See you then…

Our Friends In The North: A Review Of Claire MacLeary’s Runaway…

One of the defining characteristics of most successful crime series is to have protagonists who readers look forward to spending time with. This is particularity prevalent in Scottish Crime Fiction. From Sherlock Holmes to John Rebus and beyond, the best crime writers have created characters who are undoubtedly flawed – arguably defined by those flaws – but who carry enough charisma, charm and intrigue to keep us on their side.

It’s with that in mind that we can give a warm welcome back to private investigators Maggie Laird and ‘Big’ Wilma Harcus, whose flaws, while still evident, are less-sensational than an opium or whisky habit. They are back for round three in their fight against Aberdeen’s criminals in Claire MacLeary’s latest novel Runaway.

This time around we find Maggie and Wilma’s relationship beginning to fracture as cases are increasingly rare, often disagreeing as to the best way to go about their business. Imagine Cagney and Lacey, older, wiser, and wearier, but working the slightly less-mean streets of Mannofield rather than Manhattan, and you have some idea as to the women’s dynamic. Not love/hate, more love/exasperate.

When Scott Milne reports his wife Debbie as missing the police aren’t interested so he decides to go private, asking Harcus & Laird if they will help. The two argue as to whether this is a case worth taking on, with Wilma for and Maggie against. When they do it takes them to places which in turn remind them of their past, reassess the present, and make them fear for the future.

Runaway has a distinctly darker tone than MacLeary’s earlier work, commenting on homelessness, the lives of sex workers, and people-traffiking (something which appears to be rife in northern Scotland, also featuring in Douglas Skelton’s latest novel Thunder Bay as well as being central to the plot of the last series of Shetland).

But, as with Cross Purpose and Burnout, Runaway is as much about the drama of everyday living as it is about solving crime. The reason Maggie and Wilma are relatable is because they are so believable. Two suburban middle-aged women working as PI’s is a tricky scenario to pull off, but MacLeary clearly understands these women and their lives.

Whereas Ian Rankin’s Rebus, Christopher Brookmyre’s Jack Parlabane, or Douglas Skelton’s Dominic Queste all have lifestyles which allow them to play the loner, fulfilling crime/noir stereotypes as perfected by the likes of Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy, Maggie and Wilma have responsibilities which many readers will relate to – ones which they take seriously. Family, partners, friends and colleagues, for most of us these are ties which are not easily severed, and they fight for them despite often receiving disapproval, opprobrium, and often condemnation for what they do. Overcoming, or rather dealing with, such attitudes, often from their nearest and dearest, shows true strength and determination.

This recognisable humanity is what makes Claire MacLeary’s novels as notable as they are welcome. She makes nods to, and understands, the tropes and themes of crime fiction but adapts them to her characters rather than the other way round, avoiding cliche and stereotype. This also applies to the way people talk to each other. MacLeary clearly has an ear for how people argue, bicker, and tease, but also understands how they struggle to apologise, explain, or make-up afterwards. It’s as much about what remains unspoken as what is said, and the problems that result from this inability to communicate.

Both women’s life experience comes into its own and it’s their refusal to be overlooked and ignored which gives Runaway a vitality and verve which is rare. MacLeary uses who they are and how others may perceive them as a strength rather than suggesting any weakness, turning people’s prejudices against them. Being underestimated and patronised becomes one of the greatest weapons in their armoury.

What is often asked when you review a novel in a running series is, “Do you need to have read the earlier books?”. With Runaway the answer is two-fold – “No you don’t”, but also, “You should anyway”. Runaway stands on its own as a great crime novel, but I’ll bet that once you have made Maggie and Wilma’s acquaintance you’ll want to get to know more. In just three novels they have become two of Scottish fiction’s most engaging characters, who, as suggested at the top of the page, you’ll want to spend more time with. I can’t wait to find out what they, and Claire MacLeary, do next.

Runaway is out now, published on the Contraband imprint of Saraband Books.

Social Realist: A Review Of Henry Bell’s John MacLean: Hero Of Red Clydeside…

There are a couple of books which came out last year which have remained on the SWH! ‘must-read’ pile, and which will be reviewed on these pages in due course. One of them is Henry Bell’s biography of John MacLean: Hero Of Red Clydeside, which looks behind the mythology to reveal the man, his life, and offer comment not only on that time and place, but also on the politics of today.

Chapter One begins, perhaps surprisingly, with the subject’s death, and goes on to detail MacLean’s funeral and how widespread the mourning was. It’s an arresting opening which sets the tone for what follows with Bell’s ability to set a scene matched by his clear and concise way with a statistic. More than any other section in the book it shows just how important and iconic John MacLean had become to the people of Glasgow, and beyond. You are immediately made aware that this story is important and it encourages you to read on and learn more about the life which led to this.

Most of us will only know John MacLean, if at all, by his reputation as “Scotland’s Greatest Revolutionary Socialist” without having given too much thought as to who, how, and why. To some that description will immediately make him a hero, to others a villain. As always the story is more complex than that and, as with the the best biographers, Bell goes on to unpick that complexity and makes things more clear and balanced. John MacLean: Hero Of Red Clydeside is a profile of a man whose story demands to be read and understood more widely. It’s a thoroughly researched and engaging read which walks that fine line between giving the reader the facts and telling the story in an involving way.

It looks at MacLean’s Highland heritage and Calvinist upbringing, his life as a teacher (the belief in the importance of education for all arguably at the heart of everything he fought for), his incredible relationship with Communist Russia and the Kremlin, and his links to those involved with the struggle for an independent Ireland. It is little wonder that the UK government, and other western countries, took such a keen interest in this man – a skilled and charismatic orator who could command large audiences for his speeches. Some of the most powerful sections in the book are where Bell details MacLean’s time spent in jail as a result and the toll it took, especially on his health and family.

What is of particular interest is MacLean’s move from his belief in Marxist internationalism to socialist independence, at least where Scotland was concerned. He wasn’t the only Scottish figure to hold these apparently opposing beliefs – years later Hugh MacDiarmid would become a member of the Communist Party and the National Party of Scotland (and be expelled from both), and there are echoes of this complex political and idealistic view evident in Scottish politics to this day. If you want to understand better Scotland’s current political landscape it helps to know your history, and Bell’s book is an excellent place to fill in many of those gaps.

I’m not a great reader of political biographies, but I have read many concerning the lives of philosophers and John MacLean: Hero Of Red Clydeside works in a manner similar to Rudiger Safranski’s biography of Nietzsche, Ray Monk’s on Wittgenstein, Bernard-Henri Levy’s Sartre and, most appropriately, Francis Wheen’s biography of Karl Marx. As with all of those Bell strikes a balance between the subject’s life-story and their ideology – the personal, the political, and also, (as important for MacLean as any of the others), the philosophical.

Henry Bell makes it clear that while MacLean was a man of action, prepared to suffer and even die for his cause, he was also a man of ideas – an intellectual who often placed those ideas above all else. Radical, yes – but only in a society where individuals and groups were, and are, too willing to compromise what they believe. Now, perhaps more than at any time in the last 100 years, John MacLean has lessons for us all. Here begins the lesson.

Henry Bell’s John MacLean: Hero Of Red Clydeside is out now on Pluto Press.

Tell It Like It Is: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Nadine Aisha Jassat…

For the latest podcast Ali spoke to the poet Nadine Aisha Jassat about her new collection of poems, Let Me Tell You This. It starts with a reading from Nadine, and the conversation is interspersed with further examples throughout which should give you a clear idea as to what makes this book so special.

During their discussion the two touch on narrative, family, the possibilities for poetry, the importance of rhythm, voice & language, why she is glad to be published by 404 Ink, and what these poems mean to her, and others. It’s one of the most engaging podcasts to date, and we hope you will be inspired to investigate Nadine’s work for yourself, and consider it with the care and attention it deserves.

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

And, as discussed in the podcast, here is Hopscotch, the short film based on Nadine’s poem of the same name:

Be here soon for the next Scots Whay Hae! Podcast, which, undoubtedly, has a lot to live up to…

Mono Mania – A SWH! Podcast Special: The Glasgow Launch Of David Keenan’s For The Good Times…

Ali & David Keenan: Photo Credit Imogen Pelham

Last month in Mono there was the Glasgow launch of David Keenan’s latest novel For The Good Times. A night of two-halves, SWH!’s own Ali Braidwood was on chairing duties as first Chris McQueer (below) then David himself (above) read from HWFG and For The Good Times respectively before talking in depth about their latest work. It was a really special night and if you weren’t able to make it we hope what you are about to hear is the next best thing.

Ali & Chris McQueer: Photo Credit Imogen Pelham

Thanks to Craig Stoddart who made these recordings while doing a fine job with sound and music on the night. Cheers to Stephen, Tara, and all at Mono for hosting us and making it such a special event, and to Faber & Faber for putting it together.

You can read the SWH! review of For The Good Times here, and Ali’s recent one-to-one podcast with David can be listened to by clicking here . We’re saying it’s one of the best yet, and so are other people, but you can make your own mind about that. However, not until you’ve listened to David, Chris & Ali talking books before a live and attentive Mono audience.

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

The next podcast is a fascinating interview with the poet Nadine Aisha Jassat which you won’t want to miss…

Book Now To Avoid Disappointment: A Preview Of Aye Write! 2019…

From today (14th) Glasgow’s Book Festival Aye Write! is the only show in town for lovers of fact, fiction, food, poetry, prose, biography, comics, and any other form of writing that takes your fancy.

While the vast majority of events are at the festival’s spiritual home of The Mitchell Library, The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall also has its fair share. But it is only right that Glasgow’s most famous library is the focus point for a book festival which is international in scope, but has its roots firmly planted in the city.

Here are SWH!’s carefully selected 10 highlights to give you something to think about, but you can peruse the full programme at your leisure here.

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

Robin Robertson – 14th Mar 2019  •  7:45PM – 8:45PM  •  Mitchell Theatre 
Robin Robertson returns to Aye Write! with the most decorated book of his career. Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize, The Roehampton Poetry Prize and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, The Long Take is one of the most remarkable – and unclassifiable – books of recent years.

The book’s protagonist Walker, a D-Day veteran, is brutalised by war, haunted by violence yet resolved to find kindness again, in the world and himself. As he moves from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco we witness a crucial period of fracture in American history, one that also allowed film noir to flourish.

You can read the SWH! review of The Long Take here

Stuart Cosgrove & Ken McNab – 15th Mar 2019  •  7:45PM – 8:45PM  •  Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
A momentous year in musical history has given rise to two new books. Stuart Cosgrove completes his trilogy with Harlem 69: The Future of Soul in which a Rabelaisian cast of characters including Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone feature in a tale of crime, gangsters and a darkly vengeful drug problem. 

Ken McNab’s And in the End is the story of the last acrimonious days of the Beatles played out in 1969, the year that saw the band reach new highs of musical creativity and new lows of internal strife.

You can read the SWH! review of Stuart Cosgrove’s Harlem ’69 here

Anna Groundwater – 16th Mar 2019  •  11:30AM – 12:30PM  •  Mitchell Library
Anna Groundwater is a cultural and social historian of early modern Scotland at the University of Edinburgh and acts as a consultant for historical television and radio programmes, appearing on Scotland’s Clans and In Our Time. 

Her book Scotland Connected is a user-friendly and thought-provoking guide to the key events in Scottish, British and World history, readily demonstrating the connections between the three.

SWH!’s Ali Braidwood will be in conversation with Anna Groundwater for this event which is must for anyone with an interest in Scotland’s history and heritage…

Stephen Millar & Alan McCredie – 17th Mar 2019  •  4:45PM – 5:45PM  •  Mitchell Library
Finding himself faced with a feeling of disconnection from his city of birth, Stephen Millar set out on a mission to capture the heart and essence of Glasgow, meeting with members of a remarkable variety of clubs and sub-cultures from pagans, to cosplayers and traditional musicians who make up the fabric of the city. 

His book Tribes of Glasgow moves beyond stereotypes and delves deeper into the origins of these tribes. Scottish photographer Alan McCredie brings these stories to life through a blend of portraits and candid snaps.

This event is chaired by Ali Braidwood from SWH! so please join all three for what will be a fascinating insight into Aye Write!’s, and SWH!’s, home turf…

David Keenan & Michael Hughes – 17th Mar 2019  •  6:30PM – 7:30PM  •  Mitchell Library
David Keenan’s For the Good Times follows Sammy and his three friends in the Ardoyne, an impoverished, predominantly Catholic area of North Belfast. It is a book about the devastation that commitment to ‘the cause’ can engender.

Country by Michael Hughes is set in 1996 when, after 25 years of conflict, the IRA and the British have agreed an uneasy ceasefire, as a first step towards lasting peace. But if decades of savage violence are leading only to smiles and handshakes, those on the ground in the border country will start to question what exactlythey have been fighting for.

You can read the SWH! review of For the Good Times here, and David was a podcast guest earlier this year which you can catch up with right now

Murray Pittock – 23rd Mar 2019  •  4:45PM – 5:45PM  •  Mitchell Library
Murray Pittock is Bradley Professor at the University of Glasgow and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Royal Historical Society. His latest book is a study of enlightenment in Edinburgh like no other. 

In a journey packed with evidence and incident, he explores various civic networks – such as the newspaper and printing businesses, the political power of the gentry and patronage networks, as well as the pub and coffeehouse life – as drivers of cultural change. His analysis reveals that the attributes of civic development, which lead to innovation and dynamism, were at the heart of what made Edinburgh a smart city of 1700.

SWH!’s Ali Braidwood will be in conversation with Murray Pittock for this event, and it would be great if you could join them, and join in…

Donald S Murray – 24th Mar 2019  •  4:45PM – 5:45PM  •  Mitchell Library
In the small hours on 1st of January 1919, at the entrance to Stornoway harbour, the cruelest twist of fate changed at a stroke the lives of an entire community. On that terrible night the HMY Iolaire smashed into rocks and sank, killing some 200 servicemen on the very last leg of their long journey home from war.
 
As the Women Lay Dreaming is a deeply moving novel about passion constrained, coping with loss and a changing world, it explores how a single event can so dramatically impact communities, individuals and, indeed, our very souls.

You can read the SWH! review of As the Women Lay Dreaming here, and Donald was a memorable podcast guest last year, a conversation which is still available for you to listen to

Shaun Bythell Introduces… Daisy Johnson and Alan Trotter – 24th Mar 2019  •  6:30PM – 7:30PM  •  Mitchell Library
Shaun Bythell, owner of the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland and author of Diary of a Bookseller introduces these two extraordinary debuts.

Daisy Johnson’s Everything Under turns classical myth on its head and takes readers to a modern-day England unfamiliar to most. As daring as it is moving, the novel is a story of family and identity, of fate, language, love and belonging that saw Daisy shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize in 2018. 

Drunk on cinematic and literary influence, Alan Trotter’s Muscle is a slice of noir fiction in collapse, a ceaselessly imaginative story of violence, boredom and madness

You can read the SWH! review of Alan Trotter’s Muscle here

Beerjacket – 29th Mar 2019  •  7:45PM – 8:45PM  •  Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Nearly five years since the release of his last album, Darling Darkness, Beerjacket returns with his most ambitious project and album to date, Silver Cords. 

Accompanying the 12 songs are a collection of 12 short stories; intertwined with the music The combination of sound and print creates an ethereal tone which binds the stories with a dreamlike, magic realism quality, and certain recurring themes of isolation, now-ness, interconnectedness, loss, and fear. 

Ali Braidwood is delighted to be chairing this event so why don’t you join Beerjacket & he for what promises to be a musical and literary treat.

You can read the SWH! review of Beerjacket’s Silver Cords here, and the man himself was a recent podcast guest which is still available for your listening pleasure

Charly Cox and Nadine Aisha Jassat – 30th Mar 2019  •  4:45PM – 5:45PM  •  Mitchell Library
In She Must be Mad, Charly Cox captures the formative experiences of today’s young women from the poignant to the prosaic in writing that is at once witty, wry and heartfelt. Written for every woman surviving and thriving in today’s world, for every girl who feels too much, her poems say ‘you are not alone’. 

Nadine Aisha Jassat was recently named as one of 30 inspiring young women under 30 in Scotland. Her spoken-word piece Hopscotch was made into a film in 2017, and Let Me Tell You This is her debut poetry collection.

Let Me Tell You This is out now, published by 404 Ink, and Nadine will be a guest on the SWH! podcast in the very near future…

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

That’s Entertainment: A Review Of David F. Ross’ Welcome To The Heady Heights…

It’s always a risk when a writer leaves well-loved characters and places behind to move on to something new. David F. Ross completed his ‘Disco Days Trilogy’ with 2017’s The Man Who Loved Islandsa fitting end but one which left both writer and reader questioning what he would do next. The answer to that is now with us in the shape of Welcome To The Heady Heights, (Orenda Books) and from the opening chapter it is clear that everyone can relax, sit back, and enjoy.

It’s a novel which gets to the heart of ’70’s Glasgow, capturing, and revelling in, the city’s wit, wisdom and widoes, and using them to examine human frailty and institutional corruption at its worst. Corporation busconductor Archie Blunt is a man with a mission, a proud Glaswegian who understands the city and those who bide there, and is glad to do so. When he find himself out of work and, at the age of 52, running out of time, he feels that life is in danger of passing him by. The one thing he has going for him is that he knows where the bodies are buried and who has dirt on their shoes, and starts to realise that such knowledge may be his best hope.

This set-up allows David Ross to turn his ever-so-dark humour and coruscating eye to the second city of the Empire and the decade of flares and Findus Crispy Pancakes, and it proves to be the perfect pairing. For those who are already a fan of his writing they will be familiar with the way he uses comedy, and often controversy, to examine and comment on matters serious. While having a ball with his memorable array of characters running amok, a central theme is the systemic abuse of minors by members, often well-loved, of the apparently respectable establishment, particularly with regard to the entertainment industry.

As much outraged as outrageous, you can’t shake the feeling that Ross writes in part to vent anger and frustration at the darkness and desperation of some people’s lives, and at those who would take advantage of them – often without a second thought. And while there is clear commentary on the highly-publicised sex scandals of Savile, Glitter, Clifford, et al., more current concerns are broached such as the continued march of celebrity culture, the myth that we are all due ’15 minutes of fame’, and how the spate of TV talent shows continue to exploit the young and vulnerable.

Archie becomes the driver to Hank ‘Heady’ Hendricks, a well-known TV presenter who, it quickly becomes clear, will never turn down the chance to debase and defile when opportunity knocks. He plans, along with other members of the mysterious ‘Circle’, to turn the landmark Great Eastern Hotel, (the infamous drop-in for Glasgow’s homeless and destitute), into the first Heady Hotel, a place to lure the unsuspecting and susceptible.

You may think this premise too outrageous to be believed, but when you consider the actions of those icons named above and their like, and how institutions and officialdom, knowingly and unknowingly, facilitated their terrible desires then, if anything, it is all too believable. These men see themselves as untouchable, above the law.

It is this hubris that Archie seeks to exploit, using the knowledge he has to help promote his hastily formed boy-band, The High Five – ‘Satan’s Bagpipes’ being sadly rejected as a name. This is his last chance of becoming a success, someone of whom his father could be proud, a desire which leads him to make a series of questionable decisions. As the stakes for everyone get higher the pace quickens and the tension ramps up to such an extent that you are left breathless by the end.

As evocative of the ’70s as Alvin Stardust riding a Chopper, Welcome To The Heady Heights is where those well-known Williams, Connolly and McIlvanney, meet. Ross uses Glasgow’s infamous No Mean City reputation as the backdrop to a story which lifts the lid on the worlds of showbuisness and politics and finds what lies beneath rotten. It’s one of the most thoroughly and unapologetically enjoyable novels you’ll read this year – riotous, courageous, and laugh-out-loud funny. It’s also gritty, gallus and Glaswegian to its core – with Welcome To The Heady Heights David F. Ross has given us a novel to revel in.

*This review is part of the Welcome To The Heady Heights Blog Tour, and you can read what other people think by visiting the blogs and websites mentioned below…