Every so often a debut novel comes along which confounds your expectations and enchants your sensibilities, making you marvel at a writer who manages to get it so right first time out. David Keenan’s This Is Memorial Device is once such book from earlier this year, and, against most odds, it as happened once again with Ever Dundas’ Goblin.
It’s a novel full of surprises, and which takes you in unexpected directions. After a few chapters I had it pegged as an urban fantasy similar to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, China Mieville’s King Rat, or even Clive Barker’s Weaveworld, with the young central character, the titular ‘Goblin’, making her way in a Blitz-torn London with various characters and creatures as her eccentric support group – a coterie of Devils, lizards and Monstas. As she gets older and her world gets bigger, Goblin becomes a different novel altogether, more reminiscent of Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon, following Goblin as she becomes a young woman, discovering more about herself and others as her experiences accumulate. Continue reading
On 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.
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
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
Glasgow and violence – writers have played no small part in making sure the two are seen as closely related. The 1935 novel No Mean City is perhaps the most infamous text, with its focus on the razor gangs of the Gorbals, but you’ll also find plenty of blood, sweat and tear-ups in the work of writers as diverse as Alexander Trocchi, Frank Kuppner, William McIlvanney, Louise Welsh and Denise Mina, and it’s a list which just goes on. In fact, it is not that easy to think of a Glasgow set novel which doesn’t reference the city’s reputation for being dark and dangerous in some form, and it has become increasingly difficult to find a writer with something new to say.
Michael J Malone’s latest novel, Dog Fight, does just that. Set against the backdrop of illegal underground fights, it is not simply about skelpings and square-go’s – cries of pain and the crack of bones, although there is enough of that to satisfy the most bloody-thirsty of readers. It also examines the reasons that men (and in this case it is men) are drawn to such a world – those on both sides of the ropes. Poverty, blackmail, threats of, and actual, violence are all understandable motivations to fight, but Malone also discusses mental-illness, self-punishment and the complexity of family ties. You may think that this is going to be a book where the good-guys wear white hats and the villains black, but there’s nothing as obvious as that. Motivations are complex, just as they are in real life, and outcomes are never certain. Malone may describe the extreme side of life, but the reasons people find themselves there will be familiar to many. Continue reading
The novella is a form of writing which has fallen out of favour in recent times, and that’s as bewildering as it is unfortunate. We are constantly told that there is little appetite for epic fiction (fantasy aside). If you happen to have a novel on the go at the moment there is a good chance it is between 60-80,000 words long, something which is as much about finance as fashion.
Another trend from the last ten years has been the happy resurgence of the short story which is once more being taken seriously, especially in Scottish literature with Anneliese Mackintosh’s Any Other Mouth, Janice Galloway’s Jellyfish and Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart And Other Fairytales all featuring in the recent Books Of The Year lists. If the trend is towards shorter fiction in general, whither the novella?
It has a laudable tradition – longer than a short story but much more than simply “a short novel”, the best of them stand up against any writer’s longer work. Think of James Joyce’s The Dead, Dostoevsky’s Notes From The Underground or Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange – these are among the finest works of fiction ever written, yet some may continue to think of novellas as somehow a lesser literary form, as if quality is measured in quantity. If you are one of those you are missing out as well as wrong. Often concerned with a single idea or theme, novellas are tightly written and edited – clear in thought, intention and narrative. Continue reading
In the latest podcast, Ali and Ian met up with writer Douglas Skelton, initially to talk about his Dominic Queste novels, The Dead Don’t Boogie and Tag – You’re Dead, but the discussion touched upon so much more.
They talk about Douglas’s ‘Davie McCall’ series of novels, his non-fiction, the importance of secondary characters, Glasgow’s fascination with crime, the influence of the novels of Ed McBain, Shane, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the greatest TV show of all time (TM) – Hill Street Blues.
As you would expect, if you have read Skelton’s recent work, there are plenty of cultural references and enough “film buffery” to keep everyone happy, or at the very least the people in the room.
Douglas knows of that which he writes as he has done the hard research for real-life crime books such as Glasgow’s Black Heart and Dark Heart, and as such the podcast is a must hear for anyone with an interest in crime writing, but will also appeal to a much wider audience, just as Douglas Skelton’s novels do. Continue reading
Among the more welcome returns in 2017 is that of Glasgow detective Dominic Queste in Douglas Skelton’s new novel, Tag – You’re Dead. If you read last year’s The Dead Don’t Boogie (which was one of our Books Of 2016) you’ll have been looking forward to this since turning the last page. If you didn’t that won’t affect your enjoyment of Tag – You’re Dead which works equally well as a stand-alone thriller. But you should.
That’s not to say that this novel is simply a retelling of the first. Genre fiction has some recognisable tropes which are expected, and which are part of the appeal, but Skelton manages to play with those themes and ideas while at the same time adhering to them. However, where The Dead Don’t Boogie was, at least in terms of plot, a detective and gangster novel, here Skelton introduces no little amount of horror, with a faceless killer on the loose with a taste for mind-games, torture, classical music, and possibly steak pies.
There are clues as to where Skelton is taking a story with the references he uses. In the previous novel they were mainly there to establish the character of Dominic Queste, with plenty of nods to Philip Marlowe and other noir fiction and movies. Those are still present, but the references are widened to include (amongst many others) Halloween, Scream, Silence Of The Lambs and Fallen to prove that Queste is as much pop-culture nerd as he is tough-guy gumshoe – in fact the former has a direct influence on the latter. He is creating his own persona in a manner not too far from The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, except Dominic Queste really commits to the role. Continue reading
Let’s begin at the end. On the final page of Kenneth Steven’s novel 2020 there is a significant Publisher’s Note which states, “Difficult though it may be to believe, the novel was not directly inspired either by the Brexit referendum or by the more recent events in Europe, the USA and around the world.” It is an interesting addendum, and understandable as there is little doubt that many would jump to the conclusion which it refutes. The reason being that Kenneth Steven has written a novel which so fits the here and now that it feels like his 2020 could be just around the corner.
I write this review the day a general election has been called, one which promises further division and increasingly extreme reactions to events and statements as people are preoccupied with individual political issues rather than along party lines, and it needs only a small leap of imagination to think that what transpires in 2020 could become prophetic. Continue reading
Is there a more unreliable narrator than one who is themselves a writer? The idea of a fiction within a fiction, of stories being told, are more pronounced. In Russel D. McLean’s latest novel, Ed’s Dead, struggling writer Jen Carter earns herself the title of “The Most Dangerous Woman In Scotland”, yet even she is unsure whether it is deserved or not. Is she discovering she has innate and previously unused skills as a cold-blooded killer, or is she simply and spectacularly unlucky? If it’s the latter, that’s a hell of a lot of broken mirrors.
It’s no spoiler to say that in Ed’s Dead, Ed dies. He is Jen’s boyfriend, a man who is at one-moment keen to seem her knight in shining armour, the next he is looking around for another potential conquest, doing so in plain sight. Jen is swiftly coming to the realisation that everything he does is what’s best for Ed – what makes him feel good and look good. As his associate Dave puts it, “He’s a dick. But he’s cool too, aye?”. At least one half of that statement rings true to Jen and she decides enough is enough. However she soon finds out that with some relationships, like the mafia, just when you think you’re out they pull you back in. Continue reading
For the latest edition of our now annual Burnscasts, Ali and Ian travelled to the Bard’s own country in South Ayrshire to talk to the writer Catherine Czerkawska about her latest novel, ‘The Jewel’. It’s a historical novel which examines Robert Burns’ relationship with his wife, Jean Armour, and does so from Jean’s point of view.
It’s a fascinating book which looks at a story rarely told, and Catherine talks in detail about how she approached the not inconsiderable task of getting to know more about Jean and Robert’s family life, and to try and get Jean’s ‘voice’. Continue reading