Is there sic a hing as Scottish Leeteratur?
2nd June 2017
“…think of Florence, Paris, London, New York. Nobody visiting them for the first time is a stranger because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history books and films. But if a city hasn’t been used by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively. […] Imaginatively Glasgow exists as a music-hall song and a few bad novels. That’s all we have given to the world outside. It’s all we’ve given to ourselves.”
Gin Gray wis richt when he pit doon his thochts on Glasgae’s imaginative existence, Ah’d say he’s richt nae langer. Ironically his ain wark has seen tae it that thae fowk that hae read Lanark hae graftit the atmosphere ontae their imaginitive sense o their kintrae.
Whaur he is spikkin truth is that leeteratur hus a muckle role tae pley in oor imagining o the warld aroon aboot us. But is there sic a hing as Scottish Leeteratur, an gin there is, whit like state is it in the day?
Owre aften when fowk hink o Scottish Leeteratur they hink o Burns. Nou am no sayin thare onything wrang wi Burns (aince ye forgit his chauvinistic inklins) but tae ainly focus on Burns ye dinnae aye see aw the braw modren leeteratur scrieved by Scots.
In the early twentieth century a muivement in Scottish leeteratur becam kent as the ‘Scottish Literary Renaissance’. This renaissance gied us a wheen o authors wha scrieved in Scots, or anent Scotland, an focht tae big up an identity through their airt. Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Jesse Kesson, Neil Gunn, Willa Muir, Nan Shepherd an Hugh MacDiarmid were the main bodies inveigled in the Renaissance. This can haurdly be cawed modern, but it gied modern scrievers a platform tae big anew oan.
The devolution referendum in 1979 caused whit wis regairdit as yet anither, mair modren, renaissance in Scottish writin. That ettled tae cheenge an explore thochts roon Scottish nation an national identity, gien it a modren presence raither than a nostalgic, historical ane. This houiver disnae mean that a new Scottish national identity wis wrocht. The explorations o Scottish national identity makkit by scrievers o this renaissance war arguably pernicketie an tacht, mebbe in direct opposeetion tae auld kailyaird leeteratur that shawed a nostalgic bygane Scotland. The national identity gaun ower by Kelman, in How Late It Was, How Late, Alasdair Gray, in Lanark an Janine, an Janice Galloway in The Trick Is To Keep Breathing certaintly dinnae gie readers idealistic picturs, but hielichtit the problems an difficulties in Scotland, aw while yaisin Scots leid.
A guid place tae begin wae modren Scots leeteratur wad be Anne Donovan, her beuks Buddha Da an Gone Are The Leaves are great reads wi humorous an excitin stories. Gone Are The Leaves feels current as Donovan’s novelles explores Scottish connections tae Europe waein a meesterious tale. If science fiction is yer thing dinnae be hinkin that there’s naething fir ye! But n ben a-go-go by Matthew Fitt is a science fiction beuk kent fir bein scrieved aw in Scots, set in a futur Scotland owergang wi the difficulties o climate cheenge. There’s summit gey cheerie readin sentences sic as “Then the howff’s waws bloustered intae a cosmic stramash o a zillion pixels an a braid loch o lowin white licht kythed ablow his feet.”
Fir some leeterary fiction Da Happie Laand by Robert Alan Jamieson is dacent read, an a cuirious novelle that stents ower the genres fae mystery, tae history an emigration. Da Happie Laand leuks at Scottish empire an diaspora in new weys while askin whit it means tae belang in in twinty-first century Scotland. An Experiment in Compassion by Des Dillon meisurs the compassion ye hae as the reader, by makkin ye juidge the chairacters as Dillon shaws thair pasts.
Archie and The North Wind by Angus Peter Campbell is a beauty o a read that shaws the linguistic possibeelities o modren Scots leeteratur. Archie and The North Wind is a chairmin fable aboot leegends fae the Scottish islands, aften Gaelic fables, an the wey thir fables bide wi Archie aw his life, tae he at lang an last decidit tae fand the oreegin o the North Wind.
O coorse thir novelles are juist a pairt tae start on. There’s laids o contemporary Scots leeteratur oot thare waitin tae be read.
Ane wey tae finn oot whit is gaun on wi Scottish leeteratur the day is tae fare tae a festival. The tither weekend wis thrang wi festivals tae attend. Thare is a new festival aboot cawed ReimagiNation, it micht tak yer fancy, an it sounds like it will be braw an aw. ReimagiNation disnae juist focus on leeteratur it is aboot sharing mynds an stories in a common settin, fae book blethers, tae films, an fitbaw. The festival mynds the Scottish new touns creautit efter the Saicont Warld War. The first toun tae git a veesit fae ReimagiNation wis Cumbernauld the tither weekend. Thare war tons o events fir the wee anes tae git intae, like ‘Braw Wee Stories’ an Lego film makkin warkshoaps! Some of the tither guid soondin events wir a blether by Chris Lelslie and Johnny Rodger cawed ‘Disappearing Glasgow’ that wis aboot the toon’s cheengin architecture, the chance tae bigg yer awn Carbrain Totem wi Eilidh Muldoon, an poetry gaitherins wi the braw poet Liz Lochhead. It’s clear that Cumbernauld’s veesit fae ReimagiNation wis braw wi a wheen things tae dae. Nou dinnae wirry if ye misst it. ReimagiNation will veesit ither toons suin, wi laids o events fir free.
Events sic as thon are a braw wey tae reimagine yir ain toon, kintrae or warld through leeteratur an art.
Rachel Mackay graduatit wi a degree in leeteratur fae Aiberdeen University, an is daein a post-grad in contemporary fiction.
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