3 Jul 2016

Crow Bait by Douglas Skelton

Crow Bait by Douglas Skelton
Davie McCall - Scotland's premier crime saga
I’m familiar with the work of Douglas Skelton from his relentless pursuit of the facts concerning Scottish crime — he’s written definitive books on murderous women in Scottish history, Scotland’s crimes of passion and the ever-fascinating world of Glasgow’s criminal past.

Crow Bait, like Douglas Skelton's other fiction reflects this knowledge, but of course it’s not a given that just because you know a lot about something, that you can write a great novel about it also. But he doesn’t do half badly, and he should definitely be considered as one of Scotland's foremost crime writers.

Crow Bait is a follow up to the novel Blood City and reintroduces a character called Davie McCall, who has been in jail for ten years. The descriptions of life in jail are probably among the best written in the novel, and indicate if anything does the pedigree of Douglas Skelton’s research.

Even though Crow Bait is a follow up, it is possible to read it without having read the previous book, although you may find the beginning rather difficult as it assumes that you know the characters, and perhaps more problematically, it assumes that you know the era — which is 1990.

The Search for Scottish Identity #1

Beyond Identity: New Horizons in Modern Scottish Poetry, by Attila Dósa.
Beyond Identity
On the shelf is a book called Beyond Identity: New Horizons in Modern Scottish Poetry, by Attila Dósa.

Published by the Scottish Cultural Review of Language and Literature (SCROLL!) it is a polite wee book that consists of interviews with Edwin Morgan, Douglas Dunn, Robert Crawford, John Burnside, Kathleen Jamie, Don Paterson, Tom Leonard, Frank Kuppner, WN Herbert, Kate Clanchy, Kenneth White and Aonghas Macneacail.

The reason I keep looking at it however, is down to the dread word IDENTITY.

Identity has been a constant in Scottish letters since MacDiarmid fell on his side euolgising over the herbage in 1926. But in recent years identity has become an obsession in Scotland, and in some respects this has been unhealthy.

Meaning that if you ain't talking about identity, you are probably not Scottish, because in failing to stress your identity, you may be confused with the ruling elites?

Falling by Gordon J. Brown

Falling by Gordon Brown
Falling by Gordon Brown

Enjoyment of Gordon J. Brown’s Falling depends on how much you are willing to forgive.

If you like your crime gritty and realistic, then you’ll find that Falling falls short with its lack of descriptive passages. There are none of the seedy, awful characters and streets, and other tropes regular to this medium.

Instead is an immediate story, which packs in a hell of a lot, and this includes an amazing opening 80 pages which describes the same split second incident from various angles, as if you are witnessing an amazing Tarantino slow-motion sequence, in which character and action are nicely collided to great effect.

Eschewing authenticity for sheer entertainment value, Falling will not let anybody down in terms of its speed and wow-factor. In fact, it is a miracle of both

I think in essence, the crime writing that people relish the most is a mixture of all of the above — a hard and fast story, combined with meaty and murderous characters, all struggling for breath in a well-realised — usually urban — environment.

Scottish Studies Newsletter

Scottish Studies Newsletter
... simply Scottish Literary Studies.
One of the most comprehensive and little-known sources of material on the Scottish literary world is available in the form of the Scottish Studies Newsletter from the Johannes Gutenberg-Universitat in Mainz.

More than just a round-up of what's being published, the Scottish Studies Newsletter attempts to bring together as many elements of Scottish culture as it can, and discuss how they are brought to bear upon and within literature.

The Newsletter's editors are dedicated and not only collect and archive relevant newspaper articles, but keep  up to speed with publishing news and in particular, new media.

There are also in each issue lists of newly published material and book reviews, and although the Newsletter aims to be  comprehensive, it is restricted by what information it can gather itself.

This means that it is probably down to Scotland's grassroots and other free presses to let the SSN know what they are doing - based in Mainz as they are, the Newsletter can barely be expected to keep up with each development.

Glasgow's Subway Grub Crawl by Emily Chappell

Emily Chappell Glasgow's Grub Crawl
Subway and Grubway in Glasgow
Proving that the ubiquity of food and drink makes for great art, artist Emily Chappell has created a two volume drawing and eating project for the Open Jar Collective in which she took a so-called 'Grub Crawl' via Glasgow's subway system - Glasgow's Subway Grub Crawl.

The mission was as follows: armed with an All Day ticket for the Subway, Emily Chappell would see which food establishments she could find at each local stop around Glasgow. 

The results are a genuine state-of-the-grub look at the city, its people and its diets.

The well presented and hand-bound zines which Emily Chappell produced as a result of this project include illustrations of people, places and dishes of all sorts, from Partick - The Polski Sklep and St Louis Cafe Bar - to Bridge Street - The Lunch Box and The Istanbul Super Market.

Falling Fast by Neil Broadfoot

Falling Fast by Neil Broadfoot
Death from the Scott Monument
Falling Fast by Neil Broadfoot deserves a mention on any list of recent Scottish fiction, as well as honour in any list of current crime fiction. 

And as it's such a confident debut, we can be pretty sure that Neil Broadfoot will continue to rank.

Falling Fast is a story of high drama and violence, with roots in Rankin and a basis in Banks, and which boldly stabs at capturing a wide slice of Edinburgh life, from the establishment Tories of Stockbridge to the thugs and junkies of the schemes, all presented in one intertwined mess of criminality and dodgy-doing.

The plot is unravelled by 'story-hungry journalist' Doug McGregor who works at high speed piecing together the awful connections between a recently released rapist and a gallerist who in the first pages of the book makes a stunning plunge from the capstone of the Scott Monument.


It might not be fair to use words to describe that which in the form of SUPERKINGS zine makes such an effort to entirely eschew their utility in favour of dot-matrix printed images, cut and pasted photographs, and photocopied screencaps as mcuh as any other creative use of the analogue.

But words it is, unfair as it may be. There is a persistence to Superkings zine, you see, that's like a tattoo and although there a photographs within it, it's no photography portfolio either.

Rather it's the product of distressing found and reproduced images, picturess that are sliced and spliced a million miles away from photoshop, on a brutal planet - somewhere near Dundee - and a place from which there will be no return.

If you consider bodies, broken glass and the oddly ridiculous in collision with the sinister, you've got a partial angle on Superkings.

Shadows From The Greater Hill by Tessa Ransford

Shadows From The Greater Hill by Tessa Ransford
Tess Ransford - poet within environment
Tessa Ransford’s Shadows From The Greater Hill is a poetic diary reflecting a year in the life of Edinburgh’s most famous landmarks, Arthur’s Seat.

Back in the good old days of 1987, The Ramsay Head produced paradisaically perfect hardback poetry books, well-presented and with such worth that poets simply had to raise their game if they were to be so-published.

The alternative as ever was the samizdat photocopied poetry pamphlet—still an option today—but as for the works of Auld Scotia's pre-internet publishing houses, they were handsome, bold and confidently addressed the world at large, because they stood atop one of the greatest historical publishing stories in the world, that of Edinburgh.

Butcher's Dog

Butcher's Dog Biannual Magazine
Butcher's Dog - Quality or Quantity?
Butcher's Dog is a biannual poetry magazine, founded in the North East of England. Although it’s a New Writing North funded project, literature is thankfully no respecter of regional borders and so there is a distinct Scottish angle to this publication in places, in the shape of several of the contributors and one of the editors, Andrew Sclater.

For the production of Butcher’s Dog, a different combination from the original group of co-founders works on each edition alongside a guest editor, and past guest editors include The Poetry School, Carolyn Jess-Cooke and Pippa Little.

Well -  technology has made of poetry an all consuming hobby for many people, and not just retirees, and with so many thousands partaking of modern poesie it is nearly impossible to locate truly quality material, as editors and other cultural arbiters compete to promote certain individuals, with class playing a larger part than it should.

In the Cairngorms by Nan Shepherd

Nan Shepherd
Nan Shepherd, Poet and Novelist
It was a wonderful feeling this  morning to rise and know that I was to spend the whole day in homage to Nan Shepherd, the Scottish novelist and poet.

The morning:  The Living Mountain; the afternoon: In The Cairngorms, now republished by Galileo Publishers, Cambridge, and with an introduction by Robert Macfarlane.

Nan Shepherd spent eternities walking in the Cairngorms and came to associate herself with this wild stump of a trillion ton mass of magma that was formed in the Devonian era.

Of our handful of great modernist writers in Scotland Anna (Nan) Shepherd is in the first rank

Similarly Nan Shepherd was a voracious intellectual and the commonplace books she kept from the age of 14 reveal the enormous breadth of her reading, which was poetic, historical, philosophical and religious.