Kelman v’s Jakey

The link at the bottom of this post takes you to Alan Taylor’s review in The Herald of James Kelman’s recent appearance at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Having seen Kelman at previous festivals I get the impression that he likes to shake up the mainly middle-class audiences that attend such events, and that they, in turn, expect him to do so. It’s a complicated relationship. His decision to read for 25mins from his 2001 novel Translated Accounts, easily his most difficult, is a classic example of this. It’s the equivalent of going to see Lou Reed and discovering that he’s going to play the whole of Metal Machine Music. Kelman’s choice of text is particularly perverse in the year that his brilliant novel Kieron Smith, boy was lauded and awarded.
This year he also had a thinly veiled pop at Ian Rankin and JK Rowling as he bemoans the publicity, and I assume the accompanying promotional budget, afforded their work: “As I argued recently,” Kelman added, “if the Nobel Prize came from Scotland they would give it to a writer of fucking detective fiction or else some kind of child writer or something that was not even news when Enid Blyton was writing the Faraway Tree because she was writing about some upper middle class young magician or some fucking crap.”
I’m a huge Kelman fan. I find that the more I read him the better he gets, and it warms me that he is a difficult sod, and, is rightly, pissed that his work is not more widely read. But I think what sours his mood most can be summed up by this appearance in Edinburgh. He wants his work to be read by the people he writes about; the busconductors, the chancers and the disaffected. The people who he grew up with, went to school with, their children and grandchildren. But they are more likely to read Rowling and Rebus, partly, as Kelman points out, because that is what is sold to them. Kelman is much more likely to be read by the sort of people who buy tickets for the Edinburgh Book Festival. And so he finds himself back there, year after year, looking at the same or strangely similar faces. No wonder he swears.

Reason for Living

This first post is a little mission statement as to the reason for writing this blog. Contemporary writing and commentary that deals with Scottish art and culture often obsesses over questions of inclusion and exclusion, questions that usually arise from the thorny issue of nation. This blog aims to, if not ignore such questions, demote them to the sidelines as all aspects of art and culture are discussed and dissected. I cannot deny that I am Scots, writing in Scotland, and will concentrate (although not exclusively) on Scottish writers, poets, music, films, TV, art, comedy etc, but ‘where and when’ is of far less importance to me than ‘what and why’. Discussions can be had elsewhere as to what is or is not Scots and often they become a barrier to the enjoyment of that which is under discussion.

And that is what this blog is really for, to celebrate, debate and enjoy art in its widest sense. To deal with the art itself, and allow discussion and comment that looks at the old and new anew. To not take too seriously something which I take very seriously indeed. We have an ongoing relationship with our respective cultures throughout our lives and it is important to remember the relationship as it was when first consummated. The joy, wonder and the reason we fell in love in the first place with bands, films, poems and books. Like all relationships it changes, becomes more ‘serious’ as time goes by, and although I cannot pretend that a wary, weary and cynical side will be suppressed fully, (nor would I wish it so,where is the fun in that) I want to focus on my belief that art in all its forms can give us a reason for living better lives.

My first post proper will be thoughts on John Byrne’s Tutti Frutti which I have just watched for the first time since it originally screened in 1987. What struck me is the way that Byrne created a thoroughly Scottish drama, one that wears its roots and knowledge lightly, giving reference to outside cultural influence without apology, and does so with a light touch and a self-mocking sense of humour.

It is in this spirit that I write this blog. Of course this may change at any time, but until it does please excuse the indulgence and read on…