The Good Word: Scots Whay Hae!’s Best Books Of 2017…

 

dsc_06491.jpgYou may have had your fill of ‘Books Of The Year’ lists, 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 stiff competition in 2017. The list could easily have been longer but we like to stick to a traditional Top Ten. Consisting of five novels, two short story collections, a musical/historical biography, a collection of journalism, and a peerless book of essays, they take you to Memphis, Airdrie, Springboig and the Alsace, with detours to Firhill, London during the Blitz, New Mexico and Millport along the way. 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:

DSC_0382David Keenan – This Is Memorial Device

This Is Memorial Device is spot on in terms of time and place, but it’s so much more than that. It’s rare for a writer to capture both in a manner which avoids nostalgia and feels relevant, but Keenan manages to do so. This is a novel which is about what it means to be young, about the hows and whys – the when and where is less relevant. It’s about youth. Real youth, not the sort of arrested development that is all too common these days. I’ve read it twice and will do so again before too long. At the age of 46 it’s had a palpable effect on me. If I had read it when I was 15, (as happened with The Busconductor Hines and The Wasp Factory),  there’s every chance it would have changed my life. That’s your definition of a cult novel right there.

You can hear David Keenan talking about This Is Memorial Device on the SWH! podcast. Continue reading

Happy Accidents: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talk To Graeme Macrae Burnet…

DSC_0540.JPGOn the latest podcast Ali speaks to writer, and returning guest, Graeme Macrae Burnet. The primary reason was to discuss his latest novel, The Accident On The A35, but the conversation turns to the work of George Simenon, existential fiction, home-town chauvinism, the importance of character, the formative nature of teenage years, the writer/publisher relationship, different approaches to writing, and a whole lot more.

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Graeme also looks back on life since his second novel, His Bloody Project, was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, and all that has entailed. As mentioned, Graeme was on the podcast back in December 2015 with fellow Saraband/Contraband author, Graham Lironi.

On it he spoke about His Bloody Project, which had only just been published, and it’s fascinating to hear what has happened to writer and novel since then. We’re calling the latest podcast a must-listen for anyone with an interest in books, writers, and writing, and we wouldn’t lie about something like that. Continue reading

The Road Less Travelled: A Review Of Graeme Macrae Burnet’s The Accident On The A35…

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How do you follow a cultural touchstone – something which captures a moment, stands aside from what’s around it, and which moves from the reviews to the news section of the papers? If you’re The Stone Roses, after a seminal debut, you lock yourself away for five years in the studio. If you’re Sam Raimi, you basically remake your breakthrough film, Evil Dead, with a bigger budget and call it Evil Dead II. And if you’re J.D. Salinger, challenged to write a sequel to Catcher In The Rye, you admit defeat.

Graeme Macrae Burnet is faced with following his Man Booker shortlisted His Bloody Project, which, partly due to the fact it was published by Scottish indie publisher Saraband, became arguably one of the most famous contemporary novels in the English-speaking world for a time last year. For many this daunting task would be overwhelming, but Macrae Burnet has tackled this potential problem in style by writing his own sequel, and a fine one at that, but to his debut novel The Disappearance Of Adele Bedeau rather than its more famous successor. 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

Dance Macabre: A Review Of Douglas Skelton’s The Dead Don’t Boogie…

DDB_CoverLast year we recorded a podcast with Graeme Macrae Burnet and Graham Lironi, both of whom had written novels which could be described as crime fiction, but which were vastly different from one another, or anything else published last year. During the discussion both spoke about the problems they had with their work being labelled as in any way ‘genre’.

If this subject interests you, you can still listen to the full podcast here,  but the short version is this; on the one hand, if you can be categorised as a genre writer it will arguably help booksellers to market you, and perhaps gets your books into the hands of those who otherwise may not have read them. On the other hand, you risk assumptions being made about your writing which are unfair,  or just plain wrong, and which may put off another group of readers. Although you would hope the quality of work would speak for itself, there are prejudices at play, married to the economics and practicalities of selling books, which can be hugely frustrating for writers.

Saraband Books have embraced this apparent dichotomy with their ‘crime/thriller’ offshoot, Contraband. They are the publishers of both Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project and Lironi’s Oh, Marina Girl, accepting both novels for what they are; brilliantly written, beautifully crafted, and original. Other authors published by Contraband include Neil Broadfoot, Matt Bendoris, and Shelley Day, and it is clear that what they have managed, in a relatively short time, is to become known as a place to find offbeat, interesting and quality fiction no matter how you label it. The fact that His Bloody Project has made the Man Booker Prize longlist this year suggests that how we categorise genre and literary fiction can, should, and perhaps is changing. The only question that should matter is, ‘Is the writing good?’, and this is what Contraband puts first. Continue reading

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

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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

Contraband Of Brothers: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks to Graham Lironi & Graeme Macrae Burnet…

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Graeme Macrae Burnet & Graham Lironi

In the latest podcast, Ali talks to writers Graham Lironi and Graeme Macrae Burnet about their latest novels (Oh Marina Girl and His Bloody Project respectively), both of which have been published on Saraband Books’ crime imprint, Contraband.

The three go on to discuss crime fiction and subverting readers’ expectations, genre fiction, the problem with labels, the DSC_0250importance of editing, unreliable narration, the health or otherwise of the Scottish writing community, and what’s really important in the life of a writer. They struggle manfully not to give away any plot spoilers, and just about manage it.

Clocking in at just over the hour, the time just flew by and we hope you enjoy the chat as much as we did recording it. We’re calling it “a must listen for anyone interested in reading, writing and all things bookish”, and we wouldn’t lie about something like that.

Already established as a name to trust, Contraband Books are consistently proving that crime fiction doesn’t need to be stereotypical, formulaic and one dimensional, and Oh Marina Girl and His Bloody Project are perfect examples of this.  Both feature in Scots Whay Hae’s  Best Books of 2015 list, and mark Graham Lironi and Graeme Macrae Burnet as among the more innovative and interesting writers around today, and Saraband as one of our best publishers.

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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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Claret And Anger: A Review Of Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project…

It is all too rare that contemporary Scottish fiction looks to its own rich past to tell us something new. James Robertson’s The Testament of Gideon Mack and John Burnside’s The Devil’s Footprints are two fine examples from the last 10 years which spring to mind, and there are echoes of both in Graeme Macrae Burnet’s latest novel His Bloody Project. Channeling Robert Louis Stevenson, James Hogg and even Arthur Conan Doyle, it’s a novel which leads you down deliberate and dark dead-ends as  Macrae Burnet takes great delight in wrong footing the reader at every turn. Because of that rather than despite it, it is also one of the most enjoyable and involving novels you’ll read this year.

The games commence immediately with the Preface, which has the present day ‘author’ (who signs himself GMB) relating how he came across the memoir of one of his ancestors, Roderick Macrae, written during the latter’s time in gaol at Inverness Castle in 1896. It relates to terrible events which scandalised the Ross-shire village of Culduie in August of that year, and to which Roderick Macrae has accepted culpability. He is asked by his sympathetic advocate, Andrew Sinclair, to commit his version of events to paper, as well as the reasons behind his actions and any mitigating circumstances which he can recall, as Sinclair hopes to prove his client ‘not guilty’ for reasons of insanity.

What follows is a wonderfully vivid and moving account of the life of the young Roderick Macrae, so eloquently written that it explains why many who read it at the time, according to GMB, believed the document to be a fake in the manner of James Macpherson’s Ossian (another nod to Scotland’s literary past). However, there is other evidence as to its veracity, and we are encouraged that what we are about to read is no fiction. What follows, with echoes of the structure of The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, are various statements, medical reports, and other testaments from some of the individuals  who are also involved in this tale to supplement and often contradict Roderick’s memoir. Sympathies shift with every differing point of view as Roderick Macrae’s nature, intellect and morality are examined and pulled in different directions.

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