Tag Archives: Louise Welsh

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: No Dominion

For those of you who have been waiting for the last book in the “Plague Times” trilogy, this will not come as a disappointment.   In the book, it is seven years since a plague killed millions of millions of people, leaving the survivors struggling.   The last book “Death is a Welcome Guest” ended with Magnus and his adoptive son, Shug, arriving on Orkney and being greeted by Stevie Flint, the heroine of “A Lovely Way to Burn” – the first book in the series.   Seven years later, Shug is a surly teenager, doting on Willow who was found as a child on an Orkney farm hiding under a bed that held her dead parents.   Something had gnawed at the parents.

This is a book about survival, about rebuilding a society after a disaster of unimaginable proportions.   It is also a book about what people are prepared to do in order to survive, and about how a catastrophe of this kind can unhinge some people.   It is a book about how easy it is to destroy the fragile veneer of civilisation, and about what happens afterwards.   It is a book about the vulnerability of humankind, and how, despite everything, we will struggle to find a way to live together.

The survivors on Orkney have reverted to subsistence farming, where the need to get in the harvest takes precedence over everything else, and where strangers are viewed with suspicion and fear, because they may be bringing the plague back to the islands.   So when an unknown boat sails into the harbour at Stromness, the islanders go into full alert until Magnus vouches for one of the strangers, Belle.   Even then, the strangers have to be quarantined to make sure that they are not infected.   Then disaster strikes.   A baby is kidnapped and the strangers along with some of the Orkney teenagers disappear, including Shug and Willow.   Stevie and Magnus set off in pursuit.   The rest of the islanders remain behind, both to get the harvest in and because they are fearful that this could be a lure to make them vulnerable to attack.

What follows is a journey through hell, as Stevie and Magnus make their way south to Glasgow in pursuit of the teenagers with the baby.   And it is on this journey that we meet people struggling to find different ways to survive.   The problem is that it is the people with forceful personalities who take the lead, and causes all sorts of conflicts that I am not going to tell you about because that would spoil the book.

This may all sound very grim, and that is because it is.   This is not just a dystopian future, it is a post-apocalyptic future.   It is just that the apocalypse is plague, not a nuclear war so there is some chance of rebuilding a viable society.   There is some kind of hope.

Louise Welsh is very good at persuading you to continue reading.   This book is a page turner.   Louise Welsh knows how to write a thriller.   She does not hesitate from telling the reader that things can be very nasty indeed, but she also writes characters that you care about that you want to survive, that you want to get through the mess.   You want Stevie and Magnus to succeed.  You want Willow and Shug to go back to Orkney.   You want everything to be for the best in the best of all possible worlds.   It is just not going to happen.

The message of the Plague Times Trilogy is that we will survive, we will pull through, but it will not be the best of all possible worlds.   It will not be an idyll.   It will be very hard, and that it is best that we do not go there.   If only our political leaders would read this trilogy …………

For the Joy of Reading: Home Ground

This book is a delight and, if you live in Glasgow, it is free from Glasgow Libraries.   It was written as part of the celebration of the Homeless World Cup that took place in Glasgow last year.   It was distributed at the Aye Write! Book Festival earlier this year.   Louise Welsh and Zoe Strachan have done a brilliant job as editors in bringing together established and new writers to explain the transformative power of something so simple as playing a game of football in the centre of a major city.

I am not going to pretend that every story is exceptionally well-written because that simply is not the case.   What I am going to say is that these stories will make you think about the issue of homelessness.   It will make you wonder why we, as a society, are not shocked by the fact that people are sleeping in our streets because they do not have anywhere better to go.   It will make you wonder why we, as a society, do not guarantee people a roof over their heads in the warm.   It will make you wonder why we, as a society, allow people to be reduced to begging on our streets.   It will make you wonder why we have become so heartless, so unthinking, so needlessly cruel.

That, in itself, is a considerable achievement.   This book creates a bond between its readers and the people in these stories.   It is to be hoped that the bond will then spread to the real people on the streets and that we, as a society, will recognise our responsibilities and our own best interests.   It is obviously so much better for all of us if we do not have to deal with an underclass that it is so marginalised in our society that people have to sleep on the streets.   It is so much better for all of us if the self-respect of people is not so undermined that they have no dignity, nowhere to turn, no hope.   That kind of society is not safe.

If only “Home Ground” could reach out to the opinion-makers in our society, it could have a considerable impact.   And the way to do that is through its readers raising the issue of homelessness so that those who make the decisions about how our society functions cannot ignore the arguments.   It is up to us.


For the Joy of Reading: Death is a Welcome Guest

Louise Welsh is a stunning writer. The first of her books that I read was “Tamburlaine the Great”.I admit that it was the cover picture of Anthony Sher in the title role of the Royal Shakespeare Company production that first drew my attention. And that was to my advantage because it introduced me to some enjoyable books.

“Death is a Welcome Guest” is the second book in “The Plague Times Trilogy”.     The first book is “A Lovely Way to Burn” but you do not have to have read it to enjoy this tale.

The premise is the same as that of Terry Nation’s cult TV series of the 1970s “Survivors”.   A plague, which people call “the sweats” has wiped out a huge proportion of the population.   At first, the authorities do not take it seriously and by the time they do, it is far too late.   Louise Welsh makes the point, in passing, that there was probably nothing that the authorities could have done anyway.   Except, perhaps, not to experiment with chemical and germ warfare, but the blame is never laid there, because there is no indication of what caused “the sweats”.   The story examines how individuals deal, or fail to deal, with an overwhelming catastrophe.

Magnus, somewhat the worse for drink, intervenes when he sees a man assaulting a woman, gets himself arrested and ends up in Pentonville in the sex offenders wing.   The the plague strikes, followed by a prison breakout.   What follows is a descent into chaos, as society disintegrates.   Magnus tries to make his way to orkney to find his family, and becomes involved in a small community trying to rebuild their lives.   People, however, are disappearing and then bodies are found.   Magnus and his new companions have to find out what is happening, and try to stop it.

Louise Welsh writes with convincing detail, and the world that she creates is an utterly believable world of horror.   This is a book that will leave you uneasy, and waiting for the final book in the trilogy so that you can know what happens, and how people will survive.