Being funny on the page is notoriously difficult to pull off. There are good reasons most comedians don’t write comedy novels, or at least good ones. If they do write fiction it’s often to show their serious side (Rob Newman, Alexei Sayle and Stephen Fry being three of the best), or they are just not funny (Ben Elton). The most successful books by comedians are nearly always autobiographical, which says much on many levels. The writers which make me laugh the most are all writers first – Hunter S Thompson, Joseph Heller, Douglas Adams and Chris Brookmyre, to name just a few.
Although Chris McQueer made a name for himself on the spoken word circuit, he is undoubtedly a writer first and foremost. Hings is his first collection of short stories and before we go any further I can report it is funny. Properly, laugh-out-loud, funny. However, as you read you realise there is more going on.
As Ewan Denny suggests on the cover (see above), the influence of Limmy and Irvine Welsh is apparent in Hings, but more the former’s Daft Wee Stories and TV show than Trainspotting, and it is all the better for it. There are many who have tried in vain to recapture the lightning in a bottle which was Trainspotting, including Welsh himself, but it’s so much better for any writer to go their own way, and that’s what McQueer has done in some style. Continue reading
In the latest podcast Ali talks to writer J. David Simons, initially about his latest novel A Woman Of Integrity but also his ‘Glasgow To Galilee‘ trilogy (see bottom of page) and the near perfect An Exquisite Sense Of What Is Beautiful. It’s always interesting to talk with David, and the conversation turns to his life as a writer and the colourful and varied path he has travelled along the way. The two also discuss, publishing, promotion, and the problems with both, and there are questions from a very special reader/listener. All this and much more.
They also meant to, but clean forgot, discuss the Scottish Book Trusts’ Bookfellas initiative that, in the Trust’s own words, “..brings together 50 men and aims to raise £50,000 to ensure that everyone in Scotland has the same opportunity to thrive through reading and writing. We want to encourage more men to read for pleasure and highlight the importance of dads reading to their children”. You can find out just what David is doing along with many other writers, here, and Ali gives further details in the podcast intro. Continue reading
Sometimes you read a novel which catches you unaware – enough that you have to pause, take a breath, and start all over again, taking the time to calibrate to the language and imagery used. More often than not it is a sign of writing which isn’t afraid to experiment and take risks. Such a novel has to convince you that it is right and it’s up to you to adapt your expectations. All of the above applies to Helen McClory’s debut novel Flesh Of The Peach, and it pays back the reader prepared to engage in spades.
It’s a novel about grief and self-loathing in southwest America, and how dealing with those emotions is as difficult and potentially destructive as life gets. Flesh Of The Peach opens in New York where English artist Sarah Browne is left reeling from the end of an affair with the married Kennedy, a woman in whom Sarah had staked unrealistic hopes of happiness, not realising, or perhaps realising all too well, that this was a doomed relationship from the start. For someone who sees herself as a failure it is exactly the sort of liaison which will simply prove that beleif to be true once more. Continue reading
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’:
The novella is a form of writing which has fallen out of favour in recent times, and that’s as bewildering as it is unfortunate. We are constantly told that there is little appetite for epic fiction (fantasy aside). If you happen to have a novel on the go at the moment there is a good chance it is between 60-80,000 words long, something which is as much about finance as fashion.
Another trend from the last ten years has been the happy resurgence of the short story which is once more being taken seriously, especially in Scottish literature with Anneliese Mackintosh’s Any Other Mouth, Janice Galloway’s Jellyfish and Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart And Other Fairytales all featuring in the recent Books Of The Year lists. If the trend is towards shorter fiction in general, whither the novella?
It has a laudable tradition – longer than a short story but much more than simply “a short novel”, the best of them stand up against any writer’s longer work. Think of James Joyce’s The Dead, Dostoevsky’s Notes From The Underground or Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange – these are among the finest works of fiction ever written, yet some may continue to think of novellas as somehow a lesser literary form, as if quality is measured in quantity. If you are one of those you are missing out as well as wrong. Often concerned with a single idea or theme, novellas are tightly written and edited – clear in thought, intention and narrative. Continue reading
For the latest podcast, Ali headed to Edinburgh to talk to poet, writer and musician, Andrew Greig. The first topic of conversation is Clean By Rain, the CD of spoken word and music Andrew has recorded with musician Brian Michie.
As you’ll hear, music has always been very important to Andrew, providing the spark which lead him into writing, and this latest project (& his next) provide a wonderful symmetry to his life so far.
The two also talk about his poetry and prose, particularly his debut novel, Electric Brae, and a favourite of Ali’s, Fair Helen, which prompts an unexpected musical interlude. It was an absolute pleasure talking to Andrew (right), and we hope you experience similar feelings while listening to what he has to say. Continue reading
The latest podcast is a fascinating conversation with two previous guests, the writer and artist, Alasdair Gray, and the driving force behind Songs For Scotland, Kevin Brown,
Kevin is curating ALASDAIR GRAY’s Life in Pictures: the Exhibition. Paintings, Drawings and Prints, 1951 – 2017 (27 July 2017 – 12 August 2017), which will feature a selection of Alasdair’s art at London’s Coningsby Gallery, and he tells us all about the what, why, when and where’s.
Alasdair discusses at length the trials and tribulations of his previous exhibitions, how many contemporaries felt the pull of London, what inspired him to illustrate his writing, the importance of protecting public art, and much, much more. He even gives us some insight into his latest project, a very personal take on Dante’s Divine Comedy. This is a rare chance to hear one of Scotland’s greatest artists talking in some detail about his life in pictures. Continue reading
Running two narratives throughout a novel can be risky. They have to be distinct and equally engaging or readers will rush through one to get back to their prefered story. It’s a delicate balancing act but when it works, as with Ajay Close’s recent The Daughter Of Lady Macbeth, then it gives you two stories for the price of one, each of which feed into and enhance the other.
J. David Simon’s latest novel, A Woman Of Integrity, gets the balance right as he moves between the early-mid years of the last century and the present day. Both narrative strands concentrate on women fighting to keep their dignity and self-respect and struggling to achieve their aims and ambitions in the face of mostly, but not exclusively, male betrayal, prejudice and deceit. As the book unfolds Simons makes social and cultural comparisons between the two ages, and it becomes clear that the more things have changed the more they have stayed the same.
We first meet Laura, an actress who has just been unceremoniously dumped by her agent and who believes her career is, if not very nearly over, then very really over. At a dinner-party held by an old-friend and rival (the two often one and the same in her world) she is offered the chance of her dream role, to play a Hollywood silent-movie star who went on to become someone who, through an extraordinary life, helped define the 20th century. Her name is Georgie Hepburn, and we learn about her as Laura does while she researches her life, loves, highs and lows. Continue reading
There are few things better than discovering a new writer who fills a gap in your life and on your bookshelves that you hadn’t realised needed filling. From early on, reading C.F. Peterson‘s novel Errant Blood felt like I was with the latest from a favourite writer. There was something reassuringly familiar about the style and content which made me feel in safe hands. That impression proved correct as themes of family, mortality, morality, love, and betrayal are examined in a fresh and invigorating manner.
I’ll be upfront about the main reason for this familiarity for me. Errant Blood is, at its best, reminiscent of Iain Banks, and I do not say that lightly. Banks is one of my favourite writers and it’s rare for me to raise his name when reviewing. Expectations are set high as I understand implicitly what that means, but in this case the comparison is unavoidable. There is a central character returning home who has a past, present and possibly a future to deal with. There are familial secrets and lies, childhood friendships and events which shape adult lives, local and historic fueds to be faced, criminals who demand satisfaction, and a second story strand which at first appears unrelated. All of these are motifs which could be found in the work of Banks, and Errant Blood reminded me of just what I have been missing. Continue reading
In the latest podcast, Ali and Ian met up with writer Douglas Skelton, initially to talk about his Dominic Queste novels, The Dead Don’t Boogie and Tag – You’re Dead, but the discussion touched upon so much more.
They talk about Douglas’s ‘Davie McCall’ series of novels, his non-fiction, the importance of secondary characters, Glasgow’s fascination with crime, the influence of the novels of Ed McBain, Shane, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the greatest TV show of all time (TM) – Hill Street Blues.
As you would expect, if you have read Skelton’s recent work, there are plenty of cultural references and enough “film buffery” to keep everyone happy, or at the very least the people in the room.
Douglas knows of that which he writes as he has done the hard research for real-life crime books such as Glasgow’s Black Heart and Dark Heart, and as such the podcast is a must hear for anyone with an interest in crime writing, but will also appeal to a much wider audience, just as Douglas Skelton’s novels do. Continue reading