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Contemporary novelists and poets writing on Scotland's future
Editor: Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday
Publisher: Hachette Scotland UK, London. ISBN 978 0 7553 6000 0
Book review by
Filed 24 Aug 09
On first impression this promised to be a fascinating book: contemporary Scottish novelists and poets writing about Scotland's future. Was that likely to be credible?
Looking inside the cover, with its unfortunate but sadly fashionable printing of orange on white (to impede the legibility of key text), what was Scotland's First Minister doing getting in on the act with the Foreword? Ah. it was part of his sadly mistimed 'Scotland Homecoming' promotion.
Another worry. his Scottish Executive (or Devolved Government depending on your view from either side of the border with the auld enemy) is keen to abandon the Scottish Arts Council and take charge of arts funding directly. The risk there is clear. The politicians may use the arts in Scotland for their political ends, rather than for the sake of the arts per se in their various forms.
Thus the First Minister referred to the fact that the publication of this book, with its strangely obscure title, coincides with the tenth anniversary of devolution: and so presents an opportunity to consider how the Parliament has influenced and affected Scottish Society. Fine, but it is clear from the bibliography of most of the 24 contributors that they were well established long before devolution occurred. Indeed, most of them had received numerous prizes and other accolades long before 1999. The range and number of prizes for authors seemed to be legion. Are there enough authors for all these prizes that seem to have been on the go for decades?
Trumpeted - on the front cover, no less - is the statement that the writing contained in the book was concerned with Scotland's future. But sadly I could not find a single piece that even referred to such a subject.
The editor, Stuart Kelly (Books Editor of Scotland on Sunday) got round this rather obvious omission by commenting in his Introduction
"Scotland's Future is not just a question of economics, constitutional settlements, demographics or voting patterns - though important all those factors are - its is also, crucially, a question about the imagination."
But what is written in the book is a large number of short pieces expressing the current imagination of their authors. There is not a whisper as to how that might, or perhaps should, change. Indeed, it would be very surprising if it did contain any such comment.
It is true enough that this new anthology might well encourage debate as to how Scottish writing should evolve. To me too much seemed to be in a somewhat depressive rut, glorifying in the depravity and deprivation that still sadly characterises much of Scotland. But I cannot see that it is an appropriate remit to ask Scotland's authors to opine on the future. Hence the misnomer of the title page.
I wonder what is taught in "creative writing" courses at our Scottish universities. Just more of the same?
Did I enjoy the pieces in their own right? Some I did enjoy for their skillful story telling. But others verged on the boring. The best, 'Blind Billie's Pride' by Alan Warner, was kept to the last.
Scotland, Edinburgh in particular, used to be to the fore in the quality of its publishing and printing houses. While the text of Headshook is commendably well laid out, whatever happened to the quality of the portraits of most of the contributors? Did this have to be sacrificed in the name of 'green' paper? Me thinks it was just careless publishing.