Not Waving But Drowning: A Review Of Christina Neuwirth’s Amphibian…


The workplace has long been a rich source of material for writers. A publishing house in Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry From Kensington, the bus depot in James Kelman’s The Busconductor Hines, a Post Office in Charles Bukowski’s novel of the same name, or even George Orwell’s Animal Farm – they are all used to reflect the society and politics of the time.  However, the everyday drudgery of modern office life is rarely portrayed in literature, perhaps for the very reason that it is seen as a place where the dramatic is often hard to find.

Christina Neuwirth understands this and subverts it brilliantly with her novella Amphibian. It is the perfect parable for our times, with themes of corporate control, individual apathy and uncertainty, and a general dissatisfaction with modern living, told with wry humour and a gentle surrealism that doesn’t intrude but only enhances the story.  Not so much magical realism, more a commentary on capitalism in a modernist style. If Kafka had worked for an Edinburgh finance company this is the book he would have written. Continue reading

Lessons From History: The SWH! Podcast Talks To Donald S. Murray…


For the latest podcast Ali met up with poet and writer Donald S. Murray in Waterstone’s on Sauchiehall Street before the Glasgow launch of As The Women Lay Dreaming (Saraband Books), his novel which examines the Iolaire disaster of 1919 and the impact it has had on a community through the generations.

The two discuss the book (right) in detail and why this story of one of the worst peacetime maritime Dk4Wu2BXsAA3yAwdisasters remains largely unknown outside of the Highlands & Islands. They also examine the way Murray uses it as the starting point to say much about Scotland as a whole, covering themes which include language, religion, class, art, guilt, and family.

Donald also talks of the importance of the memory of the senses when it comes to recalling the past on the page, the crucial role of an editor, and others, in helping to see your own work more clearly, his struggles with structure, and the current healthy state of writing in and from the Highlands & Islands. Continue reading

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


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

American Horror Story: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Andy Davidson…


For the latest podcast Ali met up with the American novelist Andy Davidson before his event at The Edinburgh International Book Festival. In an ironically dreich Charlotte Square the two discuss Andy’s terrific debut novel In The Valley Of The Sun which is among the best of the year so far.

DhhU22jWAAAKJSQPublished on the Contraband imprint of Saraband Books,  In The Valley Of The Sun is set in the small towns of the Texas desert. We’re calling it a vampire thriller unlike any other, but, as you’ll hear, that’s not necessarily how Andy sees it.

If you want a point of reference think Kathryn Bigelow’s 1987 film Near Dark, or even Jim Jarmusch’s 2013’s Only Lovers Left Alive, among many other cinematic and literary influences. Dripping with blood, sweat and tears, it is as shocking as it is compelling, and in Travis Stickwell Davidson has created an anti-hero for the ages. If you are a fan of horror and/or crime fiction then you don’t want to miss out on this one. Continue reading

The Vital Spark: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Celebrates The Life & Work Of Muriel Spark…


In the latest podcast we look at the life and work of Muriel Spark with our guest Dr Colin McIlroy who is the Muriel Spark Project Curator at the National Library of Scotland, and who was instrumental in their recent The International Style of Muriel Spark Exhibition.

This year is the centenary of the birth of Spark, and the exhibition was just part of DSC_0789the #MurielSpark100 celebrations which are ongoing throughout 2018. Colin tells us all about the exhibition, before he and Ali talk about the novels, Spark’s unconventional life, her other writing, and so much more.

If you are a newcomer to Muriel Spark, or think that she begins and ends with The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, this is the perfect podcast to persuade you to investigate further. Even if you are already a fan you’re bound to find something new to interest you.

If you want to keep up to date with all the events which are part of the Muriel Spark centenary celebrations then go to the Muriel Spark 100 website which has all the details you need, as well as how you can get involved. You can also keep in touch with them on Twitter and Facebook. Continue reading

Get Connected: SWH!’s Pick Of Celtic Connections 2018…


“January, sick and tired you’ve been hanging on me”, sang Edinburgh’s Pilot in 1975 and even if you’re not quite sure what it means, you get the gist. For me, a year doesn’t get going properly til Celtic Connections begins. A festival which never fails to deliver, and which continues to grow in terms of number of gigs, breadth of music, and international stature – deep, and wide and tall.

This year is the 25th anniversary, which is worth celebrating in itself, but which would mean little if the quality wasn’t maintained. Have no fear as Celtic Connections shows no signs of slowing down.

As always, we’d like to point you in the direction of lesser known gems which can be found at the festival alongside the headliners and more well-kent attendees, which this year include Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, Kate Rusby, Shawn Colvin, Kathryn Williams, Beth Orton, Joe Henry and The Mavericks!

Continue reading

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


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

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

Continue reading

The Ties That Bind: A Review Of Ajay Close’s The Daughter Of Lady Macbeth


It’s a fear of many children that they are going to grow up to be “just like your mother/father”. This is often stated as a simple comment from people who likely mean it as a compliment, albeit one with a touch of mischief, but it strikes at the core of something vital in us all. Even if there is admiration and love, the fear is not that we are like our parents on some superficial level, but that we are doomed to share their failings and destined to repeat their mistakes. It’s a fear which says more about the child than parent, but which is passed down seemingly in perpetuity from father to son, from mother to daughter.

Ajay Close’s latest novel The Daughter Of Lady Macbeth deals with this fear in a manner which is as understandable and believable as it is heartrending. The mother and daughter at the centre of the novel are Lilias and Freya. Freya is trying to get pregnant with her husband Frankie, and we follow them through increasingly desperate visits to “The Everyday Miracle Clinic” and increasingly infuriating conversations with their friends Kenny & Ruth who have a child they call “The Afterthought”, and who thoughtlessly advise that “Kids are tougher than you think”. Meanwhile Freya and Frankie try every trick in every book, and sex has becomes the means to a very specific end. Continue reading

Judge Dread: A Review Of Philip Glass’s The Trial…


It’s difficult to think of a more apt time for Philip Glass’s take on Franz Kafka’s infamous 1925 novel The Trial to arrive in theatres. When a new American President is promising to refill Guantanamo Bay with inmates based on who they are rather than what they’ve done, the story of Josef K, a man who is arrested on his 30th birthday for a never specified crime, is one which carries a warning which will already be too late for some.

Glass’s ‘Trial’ is a co-production between Scottish Opera, Music Theatre Wales, The Royal Opera and Theater Magdeburg, and it is a great advert for European cultural collaboration. It opens in Josef K’s bedroom, a sparse set which will be subtly and inventively used throughout. Josef is awoken by two agents who appear to be the evil doppelgängers of Herge’s Thompson Twins from the Tintin books, with their bowler hats and wry moustaches. They are here to arrest him, but cannot tell him what for or who has accused him, something that Josef, after initial shock, takes lightly at first. But as the year unfolds, and his ‘trial’ begins, the seriousness of his situation begins to dawn. Is he an innocent man? Kafka asks which one of us can honestly claim to be, and that is part of the terror of this tale. Continue reading

A Very Good Year: It’s The Best of 2014 Scots Whay Hae! Podcast…

It’s time for the best of 2014 podcast, and it is a whopper, coming in around 1hr 40mins long. As always, it’s about quality rather than length, but, with that in mind we’ve split the pod into three manageable sections, with Ian’s now familiar Scots Whay Hae! guitar sting to signal a break.

The reason for all this a-yacking? Well, Ian, Chris and Ali hadn’t been together for a while, and so had a lot of films, music and books to talk about (and a lot of praise to rain down on one film in particular).Add in the yearly missive from the Falkirk massive, otherwise known as Dr Ronnie Young, to kick things off, and what you end up with is a fairly comprehensive round up of the best things on screen, on page, and in ears from 2014.

This year has been a historic one in Scotland, and that applies to cultural events as well as political and social ones, and we try to at least touch upon the main ones, as well as some of the lesser known. There is consensus about some matters, not so much on others, but things remain even handed, friendly and broadly positive, just as they should be at this time of year.

This was also podcast number 50*. Ian, Chris and Ali first gathered in the kitchen back on the 3rd August, 2011 to have a chat about a few of their favourite things with no idea if anyone would be listening. 49 pods later we have a lovely and loyal listenership which is apparently growing all the time, that is if Ian’s stats are to be believed, and we want to thank every one and everyone for taking a chance on the Scots Whay Hae! podcast and sticking with us. This year has seen us talk with some of the most impressive people involved in the culture of Scotland, and we don’t intend for that to stop anytime soon.

If you are a subscriber, the podcast will hopefully have already arrived in the inbox of whatever mode you choose to use. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or you can simply listen) at iTunes or by RSS. You can also download it by clicking on the relevant link to the right of this post, or, if you want it right here, right now, you can listen by clicking below: **WARNING – This video features images of Scotland’s Commonwealth Games outfits…

That was the best 2014, a year of the like many believe we will not see again anytime soon, but how about we make 2015 even better? We’ll at least try and keep our side of the bargain…

*Podcast #50 was sponsored by Spanish beer, for some reason…