Category Archives: Short Stories

For the Joy of Reading: Gutter 18

Listen do you want to know a secret. Gutter Magazine is an essential read, especially if you are a librarian or a bookseller, and you want to know who the up and coming voices are in Scottish Literature. Of course, this assumes that you have not outsourced your purchasing so that you can cut costs to the bare minimum, and reduce the number of professional staff that are employed in your outlets. Gutter has survived the tribulations of the last year or so, and it has produced a wonderful issue for Autumn 2018, timed to appear at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and coupled with the Freedom Papers, sponsored by the Festival, to celebrate the centenary of women getting the vote in the UK and the birth of Nelson Mandela.
All you have to do is look at the content. There is an interview with Louise Welsh on the art of writing crime stories, showing that crime novels are an examination of the human psyche, and that they are much more than a Cluedo-type mystery. There is a story by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, ostensibly about body parts deciding to co-operate for the greater good, but really about how the individual cannot function without the community, the African concept of ubuntu. This stories has been translated into Shetlandic and English from Gikuyu. I would recommend reading the Shetlandic first, not because I can really understand it because you can hear it rolling off the tongue.
William Letford has written a short story that is essentially about how we, as a society, deal with manhood and masculinity, and how they are not the same thing. William Letford is a poet that I came across through Gutter and the Discombobulate evenings at the Arches in Glasgow. All I can say about him is that he is brilliant and if you have not read his poetry collections, Bevel and Dirt, then you have a treat in store. And that is something that can also be said about Gutter.
Then there is the poetry. These are names that are worth discovering: Penny Boxall, David Hale, Bridget Khursheed, Lavry Butler, Charles Lang, David Ross Linklater, Jay Whittaker, Kevin Williamson, Ross Wilson, Hamish Scott, Sara Clark, Maria Sledmore, Iona Lee, Lucy Cathcart Froden, Rosa Campbell, Hannah Van Hove, Vahni Capildeo, Caroline Hume, Ingrid Grieve, Barbara Johnston and that old favourite, Anonymous. All of these will be names worth watching out for. If publishers have any sense, all of these will be names worth nurturing. I presume that the same can be said for Marcas Mac an Tuairneir, but I do not know because this poem is in Gaelic, and I cannot read it.
Even the reviews tell you what to look out for. You do not have to agree with them. Indeed, how can you if you have not read the books, but if a book is reviewed in Gutter then that is a good indication that it is worth reading.
Gutter Magazine is a phenomenon. Just be glad that it has survived the last year. Read it. Make sure that it survives to continue promoting good Scottish literature. Libraries should buy it, if only for their purchasing staff. Readers should read it so they know the names to look out for.
If you have not read Gutter, have never come across it, and you love books, then this is a treat and you should wallow in it.

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For the Joy of Reading: Ghost

This is a collection of 100 exceedingly spooky short stories edited by Louise Welsh.   The subtitle says it all: “100 Stories to Read with the Lights on”.   Putting aside the question of how you are expected to read anything at night with the lights off, this is not a collection that you can read at one sitting.   There are 100 short stories and the book is over 700 pages long.   You are only going to read two or three at one sitting, depending on the number of pages.

This is a fine collection of authors ranging from Pliny to Jackie Kay and James Robertson.   If there seems to be a preponderance of Scots, that is because they are so good at scaring the wits out of you.   I guarantee that once you have read it, you will never forget Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Thrawn Janet”.   This book includes classics of the genre such as “Whistle and I’ll Come To You” by M.R. James, and stories that I had not read before such as “The Sagebrush Kid”.   These stories range from the whimsical to the deeply malevolent, from “The Canterville Ghost” to “John Charrington’s Wedding”.

This is a wonderful selection, well worth dipping into on a dark night when you want to scare yourself silly.   But do not read too many at once.   You do not want to wake up catatonic.

For the Joy of Reading: Hings

The problem with writing in Glaswegian is that you limit your audience.   The advantage is that you write in a vibrant, poetic, exciting language that gives you a feeling for the street, for the everyday speech of an extraordinary people.  There will be some people who will not make the effort to read these stories, and that will be their loss.   Chris McQueer is a genius at the writing.   He has lines like “Look pal, if ae wanted tae hear an arsehole talk…ah wid’vd farted”.  How can you not like something that reflects Glasgow pub patter so well.   And, if you don’t, take that as fair warning not to read this book.    Because the language is far worse than that, as is the everyday language of Glasgow.

These stories have a wonderful logic, of which Myles na Gopaleen and Gerard Hoffnung would have been proud.   [And if you don’t know who I am talking about, Google them because I can’t be bothered to explain.   Or as Chris McQueer would undoubtedly say “arsed”].   You can feel the characters on a trajectory to, not necessarily, disaster but to a sort of unavoidable future, whether it is Postman Pat, stoned out of his mind, Sammy having been given a samurai sword or Maureen, Annie and Daz ending up in Tokyo because they were filmed by Japanese tourists in Easterhouse.   Chris McQueer is Billy Connolly on speed, with a touch of the Sean Connery gravitas to make it believable.

Sammy is one of the characters who appears in three of these stories, and we follow him from his Da dying of food poisoning, through the funeral to his uncle’s Christmas present.   As Sammy says, it is mental.   Big Angie, the bowls player, is the one who dominated this collection of short stories for me.    This is partly because she is the main character in the longest of these short stories, and partly because she is not as hard as she seems.   She is a comic creation on a Falstaffian scale, and not just because they are both fat.

Anyway, if you have not got by now that this book is a treat, then you never will.   So I will “haud my wheesht”.   Just read it, unless you are a “prissy wan” offended by bad language.   Because this has bad language at Point 15 on the Richter Scale.