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.

Pride & Prejudice: A Review of Karen Campbell’s The Sound of the Hours…

Sometimes a novel comes out of nowhere to delight and surprise you, not following any current trends or themes. That is the case with The Sound of the Hours, Karen Campbell’s latest. Set in Italy in 1943, just after the arrest of Mussolini, it uses an unlikely romance, set against the backdrop of World War II, to examine religion, politics, race, family, and what it means to belong. Perhaps the least surprising thing about it is that Campbell is the author as there are few writers who have the range of subjects and styles evident in their bibliography as she now does.

The Sound of the Hours is her seventh novel and, after her initial series of Glasgow-based police procedurals, she wrote This Is Where I Am, a powerful account of the relationship between a Somalian refugee and his mentor, (which was a BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime). She followed that with Rise, a novel that takes some of the familiar themes and tropes of Scottish literature and art and plays with them to great effect.

The Sound of the Hours is the first time Campbell takes her readers outside of Scotland (with a couple of notable exceptions)setting the majority of the story in Barga, a Tuscan town with strong Scottish connections to this day. She has clearly got a keen sense of the place and its history – knowledge that you suspect comes not only from time spent there, but also from extensive investigation.

This allows you to immerse yourself in this world, and you feel you could find your way around the streets, and to the houses, markets, churches, and graveyards that are portrayed, with little trouble. Yet, it’s a novel that wears such research lightly, getting the balance between entertaining and informing just right. As with all of Karen Campbell’s novels her characters are the key.

We are introduced to seventeen-year-old Vittoria ‘Vita’ Guidi and her family whose split loyalties and the tensions that result mirror the Italy of the day. It is a country that became disputed territory in the last throws of the Second World War, with German occupation under threat from an encroaching United States Army. Many Italians became pawns in this dangerous game, having to react to changes in who was in charge on a regular basis. Campbell captures the pressures on civilians as war rages around them, and how that heightens day-to-day living as well as emotions. Vita and her family are caught in the middle and have to find new ways to survive.

The other strand of the novel is the story of Frank Chapel, a ‘Buffalo Soldier’, the nickname for African American U.S. Army personnel. Frank is an educated liberal, a Berkeley College straight-A student who believes he is destined for officer status but soon finds out that the army is not going to allow him to reach the higher ranks, and he becomes a victim of institutional racism for the first time in his life. Frank has to quickly adjust his view of not only what the army has to offer, but also how his life may unfold.

Campbell puts us in the boots of men fighting for a country that does not let them vote. Even after swearing an oath to lay down their lives they find themselves eating and sleeping in separate areas from other soldiers. When even the army becomes segregated then it becomes clear where cultural priorities lie. Shipped to Italy to help liberate the country from German occupation, and make sure that Mussolini and his acolytes remain out of power, Frank finds himself in a strange land where his uniform creates one response, the colour of his skin another.

When Frank and Vita meet (an unforgettable scene) it is clear that theirs is a relationship that will have to overcome huge odds, and it unfolds beautifully with Campbell eschewing the easy and obvious route of love conquering all for a more nuanced and believable story. Rather it’s the other strands of their stories that are brought to the fore as they are separated almost as soon as they meet, making not only for a more interesting read, but adding a romantic tension and suspense that it would not have otherwise. Vita’s priority is to keep herself and her family safe, while Frank must negotiate fighting battles internally and externally as he tries to make his way back to her.

As I mentioned earlier, Campbell uses this relationship 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. As the boys play at soldiers the women have to not only patch them up, but also try and live as normal a life as possible all the while fearing the worst. Questions of heroism and sacrifice, and what forms they take, are never far from the surface.

If you can imagine Captain Corelli’s Mandolin meets Catch 22 you’ll have some idea as to what The Sound of the Hours is like. There is the romance of place and its people of the former, the absurdity and madness of war of the latter, and the clash of cultures of both. It’s 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.

version of this review first appeared on Publishing Scotland’sBooks From Scotland website.

The Sound Of The Hours is out now published by Bloomsbury, and the Glasgow launch is at 7pm, at Waterstones on Sauchiehall St, Tuesday 16th July.

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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Waking Up The Neighbourhood: A Review Of Neil D. A. Stewart’s The Glasgow Coma Scale…

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Last year, in a review of  Cathy McSporran’s novel Cold City for Gutter magazine, I suggested that, “There are just not enough great Glasgow novels”. I am going to have to retract that, at least partially, as recently there have been some really interesting and innovative novels based in Glasgow. In the last 8 months, as well as Cold City, there has been Jane Alexander’s The Last Treasure Hunt, Graham Lironi’s Oh Marina Girl, Douglas Lindsay’s The Legend of Barney Thompson (now a major movie, folks) and part of Karen Campbell’s Rise. To those you can also add Neil D.  A. Stewart’s The Glasgow Coma Scale, a novel which, like all of the above, avoids the common clichés which surround, and for some still define, the city.

Alasdair Gray famously stated in Lanark, with reference to Glasgow, that, “..if a city hasn’t been used by an artist, not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively.” Gray and his contemporaries James Kelman, Liz Lochhead, Jeff Torrington, Agnes Owens, and later on others such as Louise Welsh, Zoe Strachan, A.L. Kennedy and Ewan Morrison, all used the city well and perhaps we are now seeing their influence coming to fruition. Whatever the reason it seems  that how some writers imagine, and re-imagine, Glasgow is no longer the problem it was.

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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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Move On Up: A Review Of Karen Campbell’s Rise…

Anyone who has the slightest interest in Scottish literature will have had that question posed to them at some point, “What is Scottish literature anyway?” (for some reason, there’s always an “anyway”).  The argument goes, and has done for some time, that it is simply another branch of English literature and should be treated as such. I have all my answers to this down pat, so much so that I bore myself with them, and no doubt many of you regular readers, so I won’t repeat them here. However, a very neat solution has arrived. From now on I can simply hand them a copy of Karen Campbell’s latest novel, Rise, and say, “Read this”.

Following on from 2013’s memorable This Is Where I Am, this time round Campbell embraces the history and legacy of Scottish writing, influenced by the ancient and the contemporary, a very Scottish literary trope in itself. There are themes here which will be familiar to those who have even the most basic knowledge of Scotland’s literature. The supernatural versus the psychological, the urban versus the rural, the enduring pull of the land, the present day and the past, family secrets, the cuckoo in the nest, fatally flawed central characters, betrayal, duelling polarities, even some standing stones; all of these are brought together with a deceptively light touch.

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