The Write Stuff: Scots Whay Hae!’s Top 10 (+1) Picks Of The Edinburgh International Book Festival…

From the 10th – 26th August, Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square Gardens (and George Street) once again becomes the place for book lovers to meet, greet, and be merry as the Edinburgh International Book Festival takes up its annual residence. It’s always an oasis of calm and conversation in a city gone daft, and it is one of SWH!’s favourite places to be.

There’s a lot of great events to choose from, so 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 (with a bonus extra because, like a Nigel Tufnell amp, this Top Ten goes up to 11).

This is Memorial Device by David Keenan – Saturday 10 August 15:30 – 17:00

Early 1980s Scotland in Airdrie, a former mining village. This is the setting for David Keenan’s achingly evocative fictional history of local post-punk band Memorial Device. It’s a hallucinatory love letter to the shipwrecked youth of this Central Belt hinterland whose lives contained little other than music – and Benny’s chip shop.

In partnership with the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and writer-director Graham Eatough we present a theatrical response to Keenan’s cult hit, featuring music selected by Stephen McRobbie from Glasgow band The Pastels. After the 45-minute performance, the creative team is joined on stage by Keenan to discuss This is Memorial Device.

You can hear David Keenan discussing This Is Memorial Device with SWH! below:

Chris McQueer & Russ Litten – Saturday 10 August 20:30 – 21:30

Chris McQueer’s short, side-splitting stories keep coming in HWFG, the follow-up to debut Hings. Nurtured in Scotland’s spoken word scene and described as ‘Charlie Brooker on Buckfast’, his stories illuminate lives on the margins. Novelist Russ Litten foregrounds working class lives in We Know What We Are. His first story collection centres on Hull in its City of Culture year, and has drawn comparisons to James Kelman.

You can hear Chris McQueer in conversation with SWH! below:

Karen Campbell & Marcus Malte – Tuesday 13 August 13:45 – 14:45

Ex-police constable Karen Campbell is back with The Sound of the Hours, a book about love and loss set in an occupied Italian town during the Second World War. French author Marcus Malte brings us The Boy, his award-winning historical novel which follows the tale of a feral child’s episodic journey through variations of early 20th century society. Two emotional tales of family, passion and war. Chaired by Jenny Brown.

You can read the SWH! review of The Sound of the Hours here…

Outriders: Jenni Fagan & Harry Josephine Giles – Wednesday 14 August 13:45 – 14:45

In 2017, we sent ten writers across the Americas for Outriders, a project of complex journeys, exploring controversial themes during which the writers exchanged ideas. Ahead of Outriders Africa later this year, Jenni Fagan and Harry Josephine Giles return to discuss how their journeys influenced them. Their work since includes Fagan’s poem ‘Truth’, written while travelling the USA, and Giles’s ‘Traveller’s Lexicon’, responding to their journey from Montreal to Churchill.

Jenni Fagan’s There’s A Witch In The Word Machine was one of SWH!’s Best Books of 2018…

Kate Hamer & Doug Johnstone – Friday 16 August 13:45 – 14:45

The tenth crime novel from Edinburgh’s Doug Johnstone, Breakers follows a teenager trying to escape his dysfunctional family whilst implicated in the assault of a crime-lord’s wife. In Crushed, Kate Hamer’s follow-up to the bestselling The Girl in the Red Coat, can Phoebe control events to such a degree that when she thinks about murder, carnage occurs nearby? Meet two accomplished writers of lively lawless tales in conversation with writer and broadcaster James Crawford.

You can read the SWH! review of Breakers here…

Stuart Cosgrove – Friday 16 August 20:45 – 21:45

Broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove rounds off his superb 60s soul trilogy with Harlem ’69. The area at the heart of the Black Panther movement became a byword for crime, but was also a furnace for black creativity that defined popular music for decades, producing icons like Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone and Jimi Hendrix. Hear about these conflicting legacies in an unmissable event for music lovers.

You can read the SWH! review of Harlem ’69 here…

Beerjacket – Saturday 17 August 18:30 – 19:30

Glasgow alt-folk musician Beerjacket (aka Peter Kelly) has played with some of the biggest names in music, from Frightened Rabbit to The National, thanks to his rich songwriting style. With new album-book combination Silver Cords, he has paired each song with a story spun from the lyrics. They act as a bulwark against the impermanence of digital music and Beerjacket shares them with you in this event.

You can hear Beerjacket in conversation with SWH! below:

Nadine Aisha Jassat, Mariam Khan & Amna Saleem – Saturday 17 August 19:15 – 20:15

In a time of heightened Islamophobia, racism and the misrepresentation of Muslim people, writer and activist Mariam Khan lets Muslim women speak for themselves. It’s Not About The Burqa is the stunning result: a landmark anthology of essays by and about seventeen Muslim women. Join Khan and contributors Nadine Aisha Jassat and Amna Saleem for an illuminating and powerful event.

You can hear Nadine Aisha Jassat in conversation with SWH! below:

Henry Bell & Kenny MacAskill – Monday 19 August 15:45 – 16:45

January 1919, a world in turmoil: Ireland declared its independence, while Trotsky led the Red Army in Poland. Maybe that’s why workers’ demonstrations in Glasgow led the British establishment to roll army tanks into George Square. Henry Bell’s John Maclean: Hero of Red Clydeside and Kenny MacAskill’s Glasgow 1919 offer coruscating new perspectives on the major players and events in a key period in Scotland’s political history. Chaired by Ruth Wishart.

You can hear Henry Bell in conversation with SWH! below:

Sarah Henstra & Elle Nash – Saturday 24 August 20:30 – 21:30

Two novelists discuss timely, provocative books about youth, gender politics and violence with author Helen McClory. Sarah Henstra’s searing examination of rape culture on college campuses, The Red Word, won Canada’s prestigious Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction when it was first published in 2018. Elle Nash’s Animals Eat Each Other takes an unflinching look at obsessive love and has been described as a ‘heart bomb.’

You can read the SWH! review of Animals Eat Each Other here…

Andrew Crumey – Sunday 25 August 15:30 – 16:30

Acclaimed Scottish writer and critic Andrew Crumey talks to Stuart Kelly about The Great Chain of Unbeing – his collection of short stories that journey across space and time, taking readers from the Renaissance to the atomic age and off into far-flung futures in space. With echoes, repetitions and connections across the book and even into Crumey’s other novels, a larger story begins to unfold.

You can read the SWH! review of The Great Chain of Unbeing here…

You can peruse the full programme here, and follow the festival on Twitter & Facebook as well as YouTube & Instagram.

You can still read Scots Whay Hae!’s Top Ten Picks Of The Fringe for 2019.

The Ties That Bind: A Review Of Doug Johnstone’s Breakers…

As Scots Whay Hae! moves towards its 10th year one writer in particular has been with us most of the way – the estimable Doug Johnstone. Since 2011’s Smokeheads he has published novels at a rate of almost one a year (a fantastic run which should be celebrated) all of which have been reviewed on these pages, and, (along with Louise Welsh), he is the writer who has guested on the most SWH! podcasts to date. As such, a new novel is always eagerly awaited and welcomed, and with Breakers (his second with the excellent Orenda Books) he may just have given us his best yet.

You could argue that his novels can be split into two categories. First off there are the no-holds-barred joyrides of the aforementioned Smokeheads, Hit & Run, The Dead Beat, Crash Land and last year’s Fault Lines, each of which leave you breathless as the action unfolds at breakneck speed. It’s as if he has taken Tom Petty’s cri de cœur concerning rock music,”Don’t bore us, get to the chorus”, and applies it to those books.

The other strand of his work focuses as much on family drama as crime, and are arguably when his writing is at its most powerful. Certainly I would suggest that Gone Again and The Jump are his most affecting and memorable novels to date. With Breakers, however, he has managed to marry these two strands together as never before, taking the poignant and heartfelt familial drama of the latter and adding the thrills and spills of the former. As such it is the most ‘Doug Johnstone’ book yet, and suggests the best may be yet to come.

Breakers focuses on the life of Tyler, a 17-year-old whose home life is a Daily Mail reader’s’ worst nightmare/wet dream. His incestuous elder siblings use him as their own Artful Dodger when they go to work, which happens to be housebreaking around Edinburgh’s more salubrious areas. Tyler would leave this life, acutely aware as to what he is involved in and carrying the guilt that goes with it, although also acutely aware that those they target are the haves who have more than they could ever need.

But his reason for reluctantly accepting his terrible lot is that he can’t abandon his young sister to the uncertainty of a life with their addict mother, or to the mercy of the social services, a fate which is surely only a phone call away. Johnstone asks serious questions about what can push people to criminal behaviour, the pressures brought to bear, and asks us to consider what would we do in Tyler’s shoes. The answers aren’t easy, and nor should they be.

When a housebreak goes spectacularly wrong Tyler and his family face new threats, from the police, but more worryingly from one of Edinburgh’s most feared criminal families. With the turmoil that is his life just turned up many notches, Tyler picks a fine time to fall in love with the enigmatic Flick who, although living in the same city comes from another world entirely. Yet, as with the better John Hughes’ movies, they find that they have more in common than their backgrounds would suggest. While never trivialising or lessening the impact of the dark and disturbing themes in Breakers, their relationship offers hope and, for Tyler, a shot at redemption.

If you are a fan of crime fiction then Doug Johnstone will always deliver the twists and turns that you are looking for, and there are few writers who do this with the brio he does. However, his writing always marries brutal honesty – and barely concealed anger – with compassion, eschewing simplistic ideas of good and evil, gods and monsters, to confront the more complex reasons why people do what they do. He understands people and how relationships work, and fail, and that very often it is the ties that bind families which can be the hardest to address.

Breakers is published by Orenda Books.

Pyroclastic Fantastic: A Review Of Doug Johnstone’s Fault Lines…

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Let’s lay our cards on the table before we begin – Doug Johnstone is not only one of SWH!’s favourite writers, but among our favourite people, holding the joint record for podcast appearances with the equally loved and admired Louise Welsh. As such, a new novel from the man is a cause for celebration round our way, so we have dug out the bunting out for his latest, Fault Lines, which is finally with us.

To say “finally” is admittedly harsh for such a prolific writer. From 2011-2016 he had written and published a book a year – Smokeheads, Hit & Run, Gone Again, The Dead Beat, The Jump and Crash Land  – a remarkable run of some of the most genuinely thrilling writing of recent times. 2017 was the first year with no Doug Johnstone novel for six, and while it is stretching a point too far to say we were suffering from withdrawal symptoms, he was definitely missed. This is because a large part of the appeal of his writing is that there are many traits of true noir/pulp fiction in his work – quickly devoured leaving a keen desire to read what comes next. Continue reading

Literally Literary: A Preview Of Aye Write! 2017…

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For 10 days in March there is only one place to be as Glasgow’s Aye Write! takes up its annual residency in the Mitchell Library between 9th-19th to cement its reputation as one of the best book festivals around. Pedants will point out that there are also events at the CCA, Kelvin Hall and Royal Concert Hall, 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 this city.

Here are a few selected highlights to give you something to think about, but you can peruse the full programme at your leisure here. They are all at the Mitchell unless stated otherwise. Continue reading

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

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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

Brace Yourself: A Review Of Doug Johnstone’s Crash Land…

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There are few things I look forward to more than a new Doug Johnstone novel. Over the last decade, beginning with 2006’s Tombstoning, he has produced a body of work which manages to be familiar yet absolutely individual, and has written thrillers which defy formula. Since 2011’s Smokeheads in particular it has felt as if this was a writer who had found his voice and a style which made him stand apart in a very busy marketplace. That style is literate and lean – Johnstone doesn’t waste a word in order to move the plot along. Legendary Motown Svengali Berry Gordy used to appeal to his songwriters, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus”, and it appears Johnstone has a similar approach to writing.

Taking his eight novels to date as a whole, you can begin to see two distinct threads emerge which can loosely be divided into domestic/family noir, and more straightforward thrillers. His latest, Crash Land, is definitely in the latter camp. It’s a breathless tale of “boy meets girl – boy and girl flirt and drink gin – boy and/or girl crash plane”, and it will delight fans of Smokeheads, Hit & Run and The Dead Beat in particular as it is a return to the breakneck action of those books, where an unsuspecting individual gets embroiled in life-changing events which are mostly of other people’s making. Continue reading

Word Up!: Scots Whay Hae’s Best Books Of 2015…

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You may have had your fill already of ‘Books Of The Year’ lists already, but we like to think that Scots Whay Hae’s selection is small, beautifully formed and well worthy of your attention.

These are the books which stood out against a lot of stiff competition in 2015. It could have been longer but we decided to stick to the traditional Top Ten. Consisting mostly of novels ,with a couple of music biographies thrown in, these books will take you to North Korea, Detroit, the Firth of Forth, the 17th century and Millport. Taken as a whole they are a testament to the breadth of artistic and cultural imagination at large in Scotland today. Need further convincing? Here’s what we thought at the time:

512+dd1NznL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_A Book Of Death And Fish – Ian Stephen

There is a geographically thorough representation of Scotland as well as a historic and cultural one as we are taken from Shetland to the Solway Firth, West Coast to East Coast, and all around the coast as well. The land and the sea; the one constantly affecting the other, and this relationship comes to define Peter MacAulay’s life… This is an epic novel in more ways than one, but then this is the story of a man from cradle to grave and as such it deserves due consideration. Some people may be put off by the scale, but the writing is concise, accessible and memorable. Give it your time and you will not regret it for one moment. You may well think back on your own life in a different manner as a result.

916FbzrWB6LRise – Karen Campbell

Campbell is a writer who always manages to wrong foot you, seemingly for fun, and the results are never less than thrilling. She builds tension, often unbearably, as lies are threatened to be uncovered, and, even worse, so is the truth. All of her characters are fully developed and all-too believable, and this makes you take closer notice than you may have done otherwise as the various dilemmas unfold. You can not be a passive reader of a Karen Campbell novel. She refuses to let you. Rise is steeped in Scottish culture, but makes no big deal about it, just as it should be. Primarily it is a novel which is thought-provoking and involving, and never less than thoroughly entertaining. Spread the word; Karen Campbell has quietly become one of Scotland’s very best writers, and deserves to be considered as such. Consider it done.

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Dr In The House: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Doug Johnstone…

images-1The latest podcast sees Ali taking a break from all things festive in Edinburgh to talk to Doug Johnstone about his latest novel The Jump. In doing so they discover it’s not an easy book to talk about without giving away spoilers, but just about manage to avoid it. Their conversation touches on ‘domestic noir’, the need for serious research, why family dramas resonate the most, the importance of reading, and suggest that the real work of the writer is often in the edit.

Johnstone is one of the best thriller writers around, with a style which is deliberately lean and plot driven. The41oG8f2KpTL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_ Jump, as with most of his novels, grabs you from page one and won’t let you go until the final full stop. It’s a deliberate and considered approach to writing and as such it’s fascinating to hear about the process he goes through.

For anyone interested in the realities of writing as well as the craft  it’s worth staying to the end as he offers valuable insight to his life as a writer and the lessons he has learned along the way. It’s our third podcast with Doug and he’s always a pleasure to talk to, but this one felt particularly rewarding as there is no doubt that The Jump has been a challenging book to write, and has made him consider carefully how he now approaches each new novel, and why some are more draining propositions than others.

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The Importance Of Being Honest: A Review Of Doug Johnstone’s The Jump…

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Seven novels in and it seems like Doug Johnstone’s writing is developing two distinct strands. There’s the fast paced, pulp fiction of Smokeheads, Hit & Run and The Dead Beat which are steeped in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll with lashings of booze and self-loathing, and which have earned him a reputation as one of the best Scottish thriller writers around. But in 2013 he published Gone Again, a novel which focused on domesticated family life and what can happen when that life is torn apart.

He examines similar themes in his latest novel, The Jump, which once more looks at the devastation following the loss of a family member. The term “domestic noir” is one which has appeared recently, and these two novels, (as well as Helen Fitzgerald’s unforgettable The Cry) are classic examples of the genre. Mainstream thrillers concern things most people will never encounter (drug deals gone wrong, gangland shootings, private detection, etc…). Domestic noir novels are based around family dramas which are all too familiar to most of us, even if it’s only in our worst nightmares, carrying an emotional heft which more conventional  examples of the form lack. They are dealing with our most basic fears; that something terrible will happen to those we love the most.

The Jump begins with parents Ellie and Ben trying to deal with the suicide of their son Logan months earlier. Ellie has taken to making regular pilgrimages to where Logan died, increasingly undertaking feats which push herself physically, and getting tattoos as a form of remembrance, but also punishment as if they are a socially acceptable form of self harming. She is in a state of shock, and it seems that such behaviour is the only way she can feel anything any more, which she needs to do to remember. Ben has immersed himself in conspiracy theories which he believes may explain his son’s state of mind at the time. He needs a rational explanation to something he just cannot comprehend.

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We Have Lift-Off: A Preview Of The Edinburgh International Book Festival 2015…

image.phpFor the past decade or so, I’ve been counting down my years in Edinburgh Book Festivals rather than birthdays. It’s a much less painful system, it means over two weeks of celebration, and the real birthday is in there somewhere for traditionalists.

While the Fringe rages all around it, this festival is an oasis of bookish bonhomie populated by like-minded folk, all obsessed with the written word. The festival team know they have a formula which works, so don’t overly tinker with it. The secret of that success? Invite the best writers available and get them to talk about their books all in the one place. What could be better?

This year it all happens between the 15th – 31st August, and, as usual, there’s far too much of the good stuff to mention it all here. I suggest reading the whole programme at edbookfest.co.uk, but not before you’ve read Scots Whay Hae’s preview of this year’s festival.

Scotland’s greatest writers are out in force, with  Ali Smith and John Burnside leading the way on the opening weekend. If you have to beg, borrow and steal to see those two (and you may have to) then no jury in the land would convict you. Janice Galloway has a new collection of short stories, Jellyfish, which I highly recommend and she is always worth listening to.  Others include previous SWH! podcast guests Louise Welsh, James Robertson, and Karen Campbell whose latest novel Rise is one of the best of the year so far. Michel Faber appears on the 29th, the author of Under the Skin and last year’s unforgettable The Book of Strange New Things.  The day before, the equally charismatic Andrew O’Hagan will be talking about the inspiration behind his latest novel The Illuminations.

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