The Year Of Open Doors
May 18, 2013 § Leave a comment
Indelible Ink: Special Edition
‘Novels are full of padding, they’re clearly objectionable’, Paul Reekie ‘Submission’
The above quote is one of my favourites and comes from the 1996 short story collection ‘Children of Albion Rovers’. It is the way I feel about many novels, and neatly sums up why I have such a love for the short story. There is no sense of writer’s fulfilling a word count, or just filling. Some of Scotland’s greatest writers’ best work has been in short story form. Ali Smith, Anne Donovan, A.L. Kennedy, Alasdair Gray and Agnes Owens all have one or more collections that are must reads, and that’s just the ‘A’s. I still insist that James Kelman’s best work is to be found in his short story collections, yet some readers appear to view them as if they are a ‘lesser’ form, something writers do to fill time in between novels. Those people are wrong.
‘The Year of Open Doors’ is a new short story collection from Cargo Publishing. It features writers with varying degrees of profile and publications and it follows in a fine tradition of collecting some of the best contemporary writers’ work in one place. The aforementioned Kelman, Gray and Owens found a larger audience through the 1985 collection ‘Lean Tales’, but the inspiration for this anthology appears to be ‘Children of Albion Rovers’, the 1996 book that brought together, amongst others, Alan Warner, Gordon Legge and Irvine Welsh. There have been various Scottish short story collections published over the years, most notably by University of Glasgow’s MLitt in Creative Writing and the New Scottish Writing anthologies. While these are always worthwhile they never seem to reach a wider audience. This is a situation that Cargo, a new and innovative independent publishing company, seem determined to change.
There are a few links with ‘Children of Albion Rovers’ that give clues as to that book’s influence. Irvine Welsh has written the foreword, and there is a contribution from his contemporary Duncan Maclean, who is the writer of ‘Blackden’, one of Scotland’s great lost novels, and ‘Bunker Man’, just one of Scotland’s great novels. He’s better known these days as a playwright so it is great to have him back writing prose. It’s like having one of your favourite bands release something new. But his importance to Scottish writing is greater than just fiction. He was central to the formation of Clocktower Press, which was the forerunner of Rebel Inc, publisher of ‘Trainspotting’ and, yes, ‘Children of Albion Rovers’. Many of the Scottish writers whose work has been discussed in ‘Indelible Ink’ may not have been heard of without McLean and his compatriots’ determination to publish and be damned. This is the spirit that drives ‘The Year of Open Doors’.
There are a few other well known writers involved. Alan Bissett, author of this month’s featured novel ‘Boyracers’, Kevin MacNeil who you may know from his 2005 novel ‘The Stornoway Way’, and Suhayl Saadi whose 2004 novel ‘Psychoraag’ will feature on these pages in the near future. But this anthology’s greatest strength lies in the lesser known contributors who make up the majority of the book. Names such as Jason Donald, Ryan Van Winkle, Anneliese Mackintosh, Kabka Kassabova and Daibhidh Martin will only be known to a few, but the discovery of the new is always exciting, and this is a collection of real quality throughout.
According to Rodge Glass, the editor of the collection, ‘The Year of Open Doors’ entrance policy was simple; if it’s good enough it’s going in. This has led to the most eclectic and representative collection of writing in a Scottish context, not just of recent times, but of any time. I’m not going to give you my favourites; I’ll leave it up to you to make up your own mind (although just thinking about Aidan Moffat’s story ‘The Donaldson Boy’ brightens my day. Yes, that Aidan Moffat). But every story here is worth reading and it is the range of this collection that is its greatest asset. It cuts across nationality, class, culture, gender and genre. This is a confidant and assured book, one which I hope and believe is an accurate reflection of the current mood in Scottish culture.
The role of independent publishers is increasingly important. I think that where the music industry has lead, publishing and literature will have to follow. Just as the major record companies realised that they could make money with little effort by repackaging acts that were already established, so the few bookshop chains that are left feel that they can do similar. In that sense Dan Brown is literature’s Phil Collins. No one comes out well from that comparison.
But new music survives and thrives. In fact there is more good music out there now than at any other time, and access to it has never been better. Short story anthologies remind me of the free compilation CD’s that come with music magazines, or record companies’ samplers. You can discover the new, become reacquainted with the more familiar, and perhaps only listen to some tracks once. They are important as a taster as to what is out there and there is always the chance that you’ll discover a new voice that makes a difference to your life. Such a chance is always worth taking.
This collection should be seen as an opportunity, an example and perhaps even a test case. If ‘The Year of Open Doors’ is a success then it is to be hoped that others will follow, that publishers will take chances on these writers and others, but also that it inspires writers to do it for themselves. There is an audience out there for new fiction, it is a matter of making that audience aware of where to find it. Marshall McLuhan’s famous claim that ‘the medium is the message’ has never been more relevant. This is something that those involved with ‘The Year of Open Doors’ understand. As well as the book there is an audiobook created in conjunction with Chemical Underground, podcasts, live events, video blogs, downloads and an attempt to form a real artistic community. But this is not just a one way relationship. Both writers and readers have to adapt and change to find each other. Buy two copies, and give one to someone you care for. There’s a lot at stake here.
For further information on ‘The Year of Open Doors’ and all the other projects that Cargo are involved in go to www.cargopublishing.com
Archie Hind’s ‘The Dear Green Place’
by Alistair Braidwood
There have been a few great Glasgow novels discussed on these pages; Alasdair Gray’s ‘Lanark’, Jeff Torrington’s ‘Swing Hammer Swing’ and James Kelman’s ‘Kieron Smith, boy’ are just three examples, but perhaps the most recognisable literary depictions of the city can be found in Archie Hind’s ‘The Dear Green Place’. Hind didn’t opt for the fantastical, surreal or unreliable as can be found in the above. His Glasgow is a much more realistic city, and as such what happens in the novel has a greater intensity and a profound impact on the reader.
It was Hind’s only novel published in his lifetime, but that’s perhaps not surprising once you’ve read the book. It has at its heart the difficulties that occur if your dreams are to live your life as an artist, and they are then placed against the need not only to feed yourself and family, but to fulfil the expectations of others. You get the feeling that Hinds poured his life onto these pages. This is a powerful novel with a story which will be recognisable to many.
The central character is Mat Craig, a young man who wants to be a writer, something his family cannot understand or accept. 1960s Glasgow plays an important role in the novel as its often bleak and unforgiving landscape seems to suppress Mat’s artistic leanings as much as the majority of people who live there. Both seem to be telling him, ‘know your place, and don’t get ideas above your station’. Becoming a writer, even suggesting it, is not macho enough for this city. The title of the novel becomes ironic, if not downright sarcastic.
Mat is pulled in different directions, not only by his family and friends, but by his own heart and head. Part of him feels it is his destiny and legacy to work with his brother, believing that blood, sweat and tears is the true nature of the working class, but he cannot shake the voice which says that he must pursue his dreams to be true to himself. Whichever route he chooses he will be betraying one or the other.
‘The Dear Green Place’ is perhaps closer in feel and subject matter to the kitchen sink dramas set mainly in the North of England than to other Scottish novels; films such as ‘A Taste of Honey’, ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’ and ‘A Kind of Loving’. They all share an urban realism and angst that avoids self pity or misplaced sympathy. What they reflect is lives where no decision comes without consequence when set against a background of poverty, and that the mythologized ‘swinging ‘60s’ were not as free and easy as some historical reflections would have you believe.
There are many songs dedicated to Glasgow, but one of its greatest commentators was Adam McNaughtan, a folk singer probably best known for his songs ‘The Buildings’ and ‘The Jeely Piece Song’. His was a Glasgow that he shared with Hind, and this makes his song ‘Dear Green Place’ even more apt: (Cheers peej http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=It5MsXhsZas )
And here is Archie Hind’s fellow writer, and good friend, Alasdair Gray reading from ‘The Dear Green Place’ and talking about the man himself: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6G9fuuI3Xw )
At the beginning of ‘The Dear Green Place’, there is a wonderful description of the River Clyde as it moves from the hills down through ‘Hamilton, Bothwell and Blantyre’ into Glasgow itself, following the twists and turns of the journey and detailing the history that occurred on and beside the river. It is a wonderfully vivid description, one that I have often thought would make a great opening to a film or TV adaptation, and Hind’s marvellous descriptions of people and place make me wonder why his novel has never been dramatised on screen.
The questions which ‘The Dear Green Place’ poses are as relevant today as they have been at anytime in the recent past. The idea of making a living from writing, or any other art form, is, for most people, as unrealistic as ever. The vast majority of writers ‘Indelible Ink’ has featured have had to have, or continue to have, other ways of surviving. Perhaps that is inevitable, but ‘The Dear Green Place’ reminds us that most people who follow a life in any of the arts are bound for a struggle, but how much would our lives be lessened if they did not do so. These books we read are not just hobbies, they are people’s lives, and we would understand our own much less without them. Same as it ever was.
The books that we deal with in ‘Indelible Ink’ can be bought from the Dear Scotland shop:
Next Month’s Novel: Scottish writing is awash with alcohol. This column alone has featured books such as last month’s ‘Mr Alfred M.A.’ (in fact everything George Friel ever wrote), ‘The Sound Of My Voice’, ‘Paradise’, ‘The Ossians’, ‘The Immaculate Heart’, ‘The Stornoway Way’, ‘Kill Your Friends’ and ‘Be Near Me’, all of which have alcohol as one of their central themes.
Laura Marney’s ‘No Wonder I Take A Drink’ is a blackly comic tale of a woman’s desire to escape, both mentally and physically, from her life. The subject matter may be familiar, but Marney’s style makes this one of the most surprising novels you will have read for some time.
- Laura Marney No Wonder I Take A Drink (Jun)
- Karin Altenberg Island of Wings (Jul)
- Des Dillon, Me and Ma Gal (Aug)
- Muriel Spark, The Driver’s Seat (Sep)
- Sophie Cooke, The Glass House (Oct)
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