That Was The Year That Was: The Best Of 2019 Podcasts – Books…

For our Best Books of 2019 podcast Ali was once again joined by Publishing Scotland’s Vikki Reilly to have a chat about their year in books.

As well as discussing in detail their personal favourites they look at the writers who have left their mark, awards and award winners, festivals old and new, the healthy state of Scottish poetry, the continuing prosperity of crime fiction, what’s happening in the publishing world, the prevailing trends and themes of 2019, what to look forward to in 2020, and a whole lot more. Although they don’t quite manage to cover everything they give it a right good go and we hope you’ll find something to pique your interest.

This is always one of the most pleasant podcasts to record as the two geek out on their love of books. It’s also the perfect companion piece to our earlier post The Good Word: SWH!’s 10 Best Books Of 2019… where you’ll be able to link to reviews of many of the books and writers that Vikki and Ali discuss.

And don’t forget to check out the Books from Scotland website for more of the best of Scottish books (the latest issue has lots of suggestions for Christmas).

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, with Spotify, 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:

You can listen to our Best Music of 2019 podcast here, and the Best Films of 2019 will be with you soon…

The Good Word: SWH!’s 10 Best Books Of 2019…

I know there are plenty of ‘Books Of The Year’ lists around this time competing for your time and attention, but we like to think that Scots Whay Hae!’s selection is one for the more discerning book lover with something for everyone. It’s a good old-fashioned Top Ten which has short stories, sci-fi, historical fiction, crime, non-fiction, noir, comedy, and tragedy. There’s even some music to soundtrack your reading!

These are the publications which stood out against the stiffest competition. They will transport you back to the past and into the future, visiting, among many other Scottish stop offs, Paisley, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen as well as Belfast, London, Italy and the USA along the way. Taken as a whole they show the artistic diversity and cultural imagination at large in Scotland today and are proof that Scottish writing is in the finest fettle. Need further convincing? Here’s what we thought at the time:

Beerjacket – Silver Cords

For Beerjacket (Peter Kelly) dreams are the ‘silver cords’ connecting the creative and practical aspects of a person’s psyche, firing the imagination and inspiring an individual to create something from what occurs, whether in song, story, drawing, or poetry, all of which are a feature of this extraordinary book. It’s rare that an artist sets out a thesis on the importance of the creative process as clearly and then sees the resulting vision realised so fully. The best art makes you understand yourself better through other people’s thoughts, ideas and expression. With Silver Cords Peter Kelly has created a work so unashamedly personal that we should be thankful he has shared it with us. We’re all the better for it.

Silver Cords is published by Scottish Fiction.

David Keenan – For The Good Times

For all the artistry For The Good Times wouldn’t work without the characters being believable, especially when they are thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Keenan shows he has a keen ear for how people speak, but to do so in an accent other than your own throws in another ball to keep in the air. He also understands how people act in their different groups, and how they think and act when they are alone.

But more than anything else there is a truth at the novel’s core. Every sentence – every word – is there for a reason. Clearly written from the heart it will force you to reflect on the people and places which made you, for better and for worse. For David Keenan it is another magnificent, and memorable, achievement and cements his growing reputation as one of the finest writers around.

For The Good Times is published by Faber & Faber Books

Alan Trotter – Muscle

I often write notes as I read through a book which I’m going to review and the final one I had for Muscle simply said, “Begin Again”, and that’s exactly what I did. The second time around I read deeper and got more than I had the first time, and different than I got the first time. You’ll get back from Muscle as much as you are willing to put in, but effort on your part is required and so it should be. Alan Trotter has written a novel for people who are in love with fiction, who are in love with reading, and if that applies to you then you are in for a rare treat.

Muscle is published by Faber & Faber Books

David F. Ross – Welcome To The Heady Heights

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.

Welcome To The Heady Heights is published by Orenda Books.

Claire MacLeary – Runaway

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 earlier in this review, you’ll want to spend more time with. I can’t wait to find out what they, and Claire MacLeary, do next.

Runaway is published on the Contraband imprint of Saraband Books.

Ewan Morrison – Nina X

With Nina X (as with Close Your Eyes, to which ‘Nina’ makes a great companion piece) Ewan Morrison challenges readers to think about what writing is for, believing that an engaged writer has a responsibility to address difficult issues. Some may regard him as a professional contrarian, using his mastery of the written word and ability to understand all sides of an argument to push people’s buttons for his own pleasure, but that would be to underestimate him as a writer, and a thinker. Rather he challenges prevailing cultural trends and beliefs, no matter who holds them. If you have a sacred cow to hand you might want to secure it as Morrison takes great delight in running them through, which makes him one of the exhilarating and exacting writers around.

Nina X is published by Fleet.

Karen Campbell – The Sound of the Hours

Campbell uses the central relationship (between local girl Vita & ‘Buffalo Soldier’ Frank) to examine wider concerns. She looks at how carrying fundamental positions and prejudices, whether religious, political, or ideological, can tear families, and nations, apart – themes that have rarely been more expedient than they are today. She also considers the role of women in times of war, and how that alters family dynamics and relationships.

The Sound of the Hours is a novel to get lost in – one that transports you to another time and place, and you cannot help but become involved and emotionally invested with the lives of those who live there. It’s also a timely reminder that any discussion about the best contemporary Scottish novelists should include Karen Campbell.

The Sound of the Hours is published by Bloomsbury.

Jemma Neville – Constitution Street

Constitution Street is a book for our times, a socio-political work with humanity at its heart, and a timely reminder that there is more that unites than divides us. It’s a call to care, for ourselves and others, and where better to start than at your own front door. It’s a fascinating and intrinsically human approach to examining the practical applications and implications of social contracts in modern society. It learns from the past, examines the present, and looks to the future, offering the hope that by better understanding each other we will come to better know ourselves. How many books have you read lately which offer that?

Constitution Street: finding hope in an age of anxiety is published by 404 Ink

Catherine Czerkawska – A Proper Person To Be Detained

A Proper Person To Be Detained examines poverty, immigration, mental health, racism, and misogyny, all of which were inherent in everyday life in the late 19th/early 20th century, and unarguably still are today. As you read on you can sense your own anger growing with that of the writer as ever more hardships, tragedies, and injustices are visited upon her ancestors and those like them. Starting with the personal Catherine Czerkawska has written a powerful historical novel, arguably her most memorable to date. By looking at the past with an eye to the present she makes you realise that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

A Proper Person To Be Detained is published on the Contraband imprint of Saraband Books.

M.J. Nicholls – Scotland Before The Bomb

Scotland Before The Bomb is that rarest of literary beasts – a satirical, witty, and considered comic novel which is deadly serious at its core. Coming near the end of a varied and vibrant year for Scottish writing, Nicholls has delivered one of the very best examples of just why this is. While you’ll find your own touchstones it’s unlike any other novel you’ll have read before unless you have read M.J. Nicholls. And if you haven’t you absolutely should. He could just be your new favourite writer – you just don’t know it yet.

Scotland Before The Bomb is published by Sagging Meniscus Press

Just missing out on the top ten are Mandy Haggith’s The Amber Seeker, Douglas Skelton’s Thunder Bay, Doug Johnstone’s Breakers, Ross Sayer’s Sonny & Me, Helen Fitzgerald’s Worst Case Scenario, Alan Parks’ February’s Son, and David Cameron’s Prendergast’s Fall, but you should still click on those names, read their reviews and seek them out all the same.

Our review of the year in books podcast with Vikki Reilly will be with you very shortly…

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…

Write On: Scots Whay Hae!’s Top 10 Picks Of The Edinburgh International Book Festival…

Book_Festival_2017_566x205_festival_logo.jpg
From the 12th – 28th August in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square Gardens once more becomes the place for book lovers to meet, greet, and be merry as this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival takes up its annual residence. It’s an oasis of calm and conversation in a city gone daft, and it is one of SWH!’s favourite places to be. With that and much more in mind, and to help you find something just for you, here are Scots Whay Hae!’s Top Ten Picks of what to see at this year’s book festival.

We have tried to avoid the already sold-out and high-profile to give you an alternative and achievable schedule.

FICTION’S MASTER CRAFTSMAN: James Kelman
– Fri 18 Aug 1:30pm – 2:30pm
UnknownHaving said we have tried to avoid big names, the first pick is one of Scottish literature’s living legends. James Kelman is in town to talk primarily about his latest collection of short stories That Was A Shiver, and Other Stories. There is a body of thought, to which I belong, which believes that while Kelman is one of our great novelists he is an even better short story writer – a master of the art. It is a form which suits not only his style but also the content. What is unarguable is that this is a rare chance to listen to a true artist read and discuss his work. Astonishingly tickets still available at the time of writing, but I would get in there quickly to avoid disappointment. Continue reading

Isle Be There: A Review Of David F. Ross’s The Man Who Loved Islands…

DSC_0375.JPG

Those who have read David F. Ross’s first two novels The Last Days Of Disco and The Rise & Fall Of The Miraculous Vespas  will approach his third with anticipation, excitement but also a little regret as it promises to be the closing part of his “Disco Days” trilogy which means no more Max Mojo, Bobby Cassidy or Joey Miller and no more music from Heatwave Disco or The Miraculous Vespas. But put aside those fears for now and rest assured that if The Man Who Loved Islands is to be their swan song, they are leaving the stage in some style.

This is a more mature book than the other two in both content and approach. Having previously been taken back to the ’80s we are now in, or are at least quickly approaching, the present day, aside from some timely flashbacks to explain how we got here. While once the main characters had their life before them, for the most part full of promise and potential, Ross now concentrates on them as 50-something men reflecting back on their lives and finding them wanting. Continue reading

The Good Word: Scots Whay Hae!’s Best Books Of 2016…

dsc_0284

It’s the time for ‘Books Of The Year’ lists and we like to think that Scots Whay Hae!’s selection for 2016, while small, is beautifully formed and well worthy of your attention.

These are the books which stood out against a lot of stiff and perhaps better known competition. The list could have been longer but we like to stick to a traditional Top Ten. Consisting mostly of novels, with one remarkable collection of short stories, and one unforgettable musical (auto)biography, these are the books which have left their mark. Here’s what we thought at the time:

51xve7sbigl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Young Soul Rebels – Stuart Cosgrove

Stuart Cosgrove writes as he broadcasts – eloquently, forcefully and at pace, and as such he makes persuasive and forceful arguments. If you have a music fan in your life, then I would suggest this book is the perfect gift. If they are a soul fan, then it is a must. Anyone who has ever pored over liner notes, obsessed over b-sides, searched out limited editions and rarities, or cued hours for tickets or entry will recognise themselves at least in part on the page, no matter what their musical tastes. Stuart Cosgrove is here to remind you that while music may not be a matter of life and death (and there are poignant reminders of that in Young Soul Rebels) it certainly makes the former worth living. Continue reading

Creative Industry: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To David F. Ross…

david-rossIn the latest podcast Ali talks to writer David F. Ross ostensibly about his novels The Last Days Of Disco and The Rise & Fall Of The Miraculous Vespas and the forthcoming The Man Who Loved Islands, but the conversation veers off in many interesting directions.

They discuss the motivation behind this relatively new career as a writer, what inspired him to set his novels in Kilmarnock, the importance of remaining true to people and places, the golden years of mobile discos, the central importance of music in his work, architecture, and morality – and I don’t mean the 1981 OMD album.

All writers take different paths, but some are more different than others and it’s fair to say that David’s is unique. Any one who is interested in writing will find what he has to say on the subject fascinating. But there is something for everyone here, including tips for any budding DJs, a mutual love-in about Postcard Records, and the importance of creative subjects in education. Social, political, cultural, and artistic – all those boxes are ticked in this podcast. Continue reading

All Mod Cons: A Review of David F. Ross’ The Rise & Fall Of The Miraculous Vespas…

vespas-full-front-copy-275x423Two of the West of Scotland’s major obsessions are music and crime, so it’s a smart move on the part of David F. Ross to write about both in his second novel The Rise & Fall Of The Miraculous Vespas. Any one who has been involved in or around the music business will know it’s also fairly apt.

The Miraculous Vespas are an up and coming band led by the charismatic and unstable Max Mojo, known to his parents as Dale Wishart, who puts together a disparate bunch of misfits who bring their idiosyncratic personalities to a group determined to make it big, by fair means, but more often by foul.

Their rise (& fall) is set against the backdrop of localised criminal activity which is controlled and fought over by a small number of families all after the lion’s share of ever decreasing spoils. Imagine the Cosa Nostra on the Costa del Clyde and you have some idea as to what these families aspire to.

A lot of the comedy in Ross’ novel comes from the distance between the fantasy and the reality of crime in 1980s Scotland. Opening up video stores rather than casinos, sporting nicknames such as ‘Flatpack’ Frankie and Wullie ‘The Painter’, rather than ‘Lucky Luciano’ or ‘Spats’. Ross never shies away from the fact that threats and violence are never far away, and he is not glorifying such behaviour. Rather he is trying to give a realistic portrayal of a time and place, and the lengths some people would, and will, go to to make a living, often using methods which are not strictly legal. The thought that this may involve homo-erotic initiation ceremonies only adds to the overall sense that the serious and the absurd are never far from each other.  Continue reading

Wrapped Up In Books: A Preview Of Aye Write! 2016…

ZH9SWC-o

Stepping into its second decade with well-earned confidence and style, Glasgow’s Aye Write! festival is a must for all book addicts and lovers of literature, with this year’s programme promising something for everyone.

All life is here, with authors talking food, music, love, politics, money, evolution, revolution and Star Trek.

Here are a few selected 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.

One of Scots Whay Hae!‘s books of 2015 was Stuart Cosgrove’s Detroit ’67: The Year That Changed Soul Music, and when Stuart talked about that book on the SWH! podcast he also mentioned that his next venture was going to be a history of Northern Soul, one of his great loves. That book is called Young Soul Rebel, and he will be talking about it on Friday 11th March. Cosgrove is steeped in soul music and this is a must for all music lovers.

On the same day music journalist Barney Hoskyns is in town to talk about Woodstock and the musicians and characters drawn to that place. On Saturday 12th, Cosgrove and Hoskyns’ fellow NME alumni Paul Du Noyer will discuss his book on Paul McCartney which is based on a series of conversations the two have had over the decades. McCartney is sometimes portrayed as a figure of fun these days, but he is one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, and Du Noyer has had almost unprecedented access for this book. Continue reading