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.

Local Hero: The SWH! Podcast Talks To Henry Bell…

For the latest podcast Ali spoke to writer, editor and producer Henry Bell (right) about his biography of Scottish Socialist icon, John Maclean. If you haven’t heard of Maclean then this is a perfect place to start, and if you have then I’m sure you’ll learn something new about the man dubbed both “Hero of Red Clydeside” and “the most dangerous man in Britain” depending on which newspaper you read.

Henry explains how Maclean came to achieve such fame, the sacrifices he made, his links to Ireland and the Kremlin, and how he managed to hold both nationalist and internationalist outlooks, views which are still prevalent in Scottish politics today. It’s a fascinating discussion about one of Scotland’s most important historical figures, and one which you won’t want to miss.

You can read the SWH! review of John Maclean: Hero Of Red Clydeside here, but before you do you should listen to the podcast as the two work together well.

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, 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:

Henry Bell’s John Maclean: Hero Of Red Clydeside is out now on Pluto Press.
We’ll be back very soon with someone completely different….

Social Realist: A Review Of Henry Bell’s John MacLean: Hero Of Red Clydeside…

There are a couple of books which came out last year which have remained on the SWH! ‘must-read’ pile, and which will be reviewed on these pages in due course. One of them is Henry Bell’s biography of John MacLean: Hero Of Red Clydeside, which looks behind the mythology to reveal the man, his life, and offer comment not only on that time and place, but also on the politics of today.

Chapter One begins, perhaps surprisingly, with the subject’s death, and goes on to detail MacLean’s funeral and how widespread the mourning was. It’s an arresting opening which sets the tone for what follows with Bell’s ability to set a scene matched by his clear and concise way with a statistic. More than any other section in the book it shows just how important and iconic John MacLean had become to the people of Glasgow, and beyond. You are immediately made aware that this story is important and it encourages you to read on and learn more about the life which led to this.

Most of us will only know John MacLean, if at all, by his reputation as “Scotland’s Greatest Revolutionary Socialist” without having given too much thought as to who, how, and why. To some that description will immediately make him a hero, to others a villain. As always the story is more complex than that and, as with the the best biographers, Bell goes on to unpick that complexity and makes things more clear and balanced. John MacLean: Hero Of Red Clydeside is a profile of a man whose story demands to be read and understood more widely. It’s a thoroughly researched and engaging read which walks that fine line between giving the reader the facts and telling the story in an involving way.

It looks at MacLean’s Highland heritage and Calvinist upbringing, his life as a teacher (the belief in the importance of education for all arguably at the heart of everything he fought for), his incredible relationship with Communist Russia and the Kremlin, and his links to those involved with the struggle for an independent Ireland. It is little wonder that the UK government, and other western countries, took such a keen interest in this man – a skilled and charismatic orator who could command large audiences for his speeches. Some of the most powerful sections in the book are where Bell details MacLean’s time spent in jail as a result and the toll it took, especially on his health and family.

What is of particular interest is MacLean’s move from his belief in Marxist internationalism to socialist independence, at least where Scotland was concerned. He wasn’t the only Scottish figure to hold these apparently opposing beliefs – years later Hugh MacDiarmid would become a member of the Communist Party and the National Party of Scotland (and be expelled from both), and there are echoes of this complex political and idealistic view evident in Scottish politics to this day. If you want to understand better Scotland’s current political landscape it helps to know your history, and Bell’s book is an excellent place to fill in many of those gaps.

I’m not a great reader of political biographies, but I have read many concerning the lives of philosophers and John MacLean: Hero Of Red Clydeside works in a manner similar to Rudiger Safranski’s biography of Nietzsche, Ray Monk’s on Wittgenstein, Bernard-Henri Levy’s Sartre and, most appropriately, Francis Wheen’s biography of Karl Marx. As with all of those Bell strikes a balance between the subject’s life-story and their ideology – the personal, the political, and also, (as important for MacLean as any of the others), the philosophical.

Henry Bell makes it clear that while MacLean was a man of action, prepared to suffer and even die for his cause, he was also a man of ideas – an intellectual who often placed those ideas above all else. Radical, yes – but only in a society where individuals and groups were, and are, too willing to compromise what they believe. Now, perhaps more than at any time in the last 100 years, John MacLean has lessons for us all. Here begins the lesson.

Henry Bell’s John MacLean: Hero Of Red Clydeside is out now on Pluto Press.