Festival review: Baillie Gifford Borders Book Festival

David Coulthard was worried. His ten-year-old son Dayton had never even seen a kart race track, never mind raced on one. But tomorrow, that was just what he was going to do at Larkhall, where he himself started out, on a track that likes to boast that it is “Where Champions Are Born”. That’s one of the things about book festivals. You can eavesdrop on lives that couldn’t be further from your own.

Merryn Glover - inventor of the Cairngorms Lyric

Forget haiku - Cairngorm Mountains inspire new type of poem

Merryn Glover, author, poet and educator, is sitting in a cafe in Edinburgh’s New Town, telling me about “The Cairngorms Lyric” – a new poetic form she’s devised in her role as writer in residence for the Cairngorms National Park.“Initially it came from the idea of a haiku,” she says, “and what Allen Ginsberg did with that, the American Sentence, which he thought was more fitting for American culture. [The American Sentence was a single sentence of 17 syllables.] “I thought, ‘Why can’t we come up with a poetic form that’s unique to the Cairngorms?’ So the idea of the Cairngorms Lyric emerged.”

Sir Winston Churchill: quite good at drawing planes PIC: Keystone/Getty Images

Book review: Scrawl: An A-Z Of Famous Doodles, by Caren, Claudia and Todd Strauss-Schulson

Whoever signed off on the cover for this otherwise fascinating book needs a bit of a talking to. For a start, the title’s all wrong. The doodles contained within are not “famous doodles”. They are doodles by famous people, true enough, but as one of the co-authors, Todd Strauss-Schulson, points out in his foreword, they have mostly remained under lock and key for decades. Until such time as this book becomes a runaway bestseller, then, these doodles are the opposite of famous. Not only that, the poorly punctuated sub-heading which describes them as “Sketchings, Jottings, and Notes from the Greatest Minds in History” is nonsense. Sir Edmund Hillary was a great mountaineer, but I don’t think he could really lay claim to having had one of the “greatest minds in history.” Similarly, few people would be likely to put Harpo and Chico Marx or Queen Victoria on their lists of Top Ten Intellectual Heavyweights of All Time.

Brian Catling' PIC: Sue Williams

Book review: Only The Lowly, by b. catling

I first came across Brian Catling’s work in Iain Sinclair’s wonderful anthology, Conductors Of Chaos, with a remarkable poem called “The Stumbling Block, Its Index”. I later found out that he was also a sculptor, performance artist and a professor of fine art at Oxford. Then he published a trilogy of novels – The Vorrh, The Erstwhile and The Cloven – which to my mind rank alongside Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast or Jeff VanderMeer’s Ambergris books as one of the most daring works of fantasy. I say this as a compliment: few writers ever give me such bad dreams as Catling. The last time I remember being so stupendously discombobulated was reading Roberto Bolaño’s 2666.

Kirsty Wark PIC: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

Book review: The House by the Loch, by Kirsty Wark

Novels are stories. They may be other things as well and good novels offer other delights. The story may be simple – “once upon a time” – or it may be rich in complication and deepened as a consequence of being addressed from different perspectives or by time-shifts. But the story is the skeleton. Without the story you have essays or mood pieces, often – sadly – no compelling reason to read further. The first thing to be said about Kirsty Wark’s second novel, The House by the Loch, is that it is a very good story. It holds you. You are eager to know how it will unfold.

Richard King

Book review: The Lark Ascending, by Richard King

Normally, books which swerve between diverse topics delight and intrigue me. Although there is much to enjoy, and much to learn from The Lark Ascending, it often seems to me to be disparate essays shoehorned together, with ideas being shuttlecocked around.

Roseanne Watt

Book review: Moder Dy (Mother Wave) by Roseanne Watt

To some extent, a debut poetry collection will always be an act of navigation, with the poet as pathfinder. Moder Dy, however, the first book of poems from Shetlander Roseanne Watt, is an extraordinarily intricate and multi-layered exercise in literary triangulation.

Julia Armfield

Book review: salt slow, by Julia Armfield

This is a truly dazzling collection of short stories. Freud used the word unheimlich, which is usually translated as “uncanny”, although if you break down the German word, “un-home-like” is a better fit. Over nine stories, Julia Armfield makes the home a place not of safety and comfort, but a discomfiting, weird space.

Stuart MacBride PIC: Michael Gillen

Book review: All That’s Dead, by Stuart MacBride

After last year’s superlative The Blood Road, I wondered what Stuart MacBride was going to do next. I needn’t have worried – All That’s Dead is a much slower burn, and a very different kind of case for Logan McRae, but it’s a satisfying read, and a hugely thoughtful novel to boot.

Seamus Heaney once said that getting a letter from Faber & Faber was like "getting a letter from God the Father." PIC: Ian Georgeson

Book review: Faber & Faber: The Untold Story, By Toby Faber

This is a terrible admission for the books editor of a national newspaper to have to make, but, in spite of my best efforts, I find that I am unable to remain completely impartial when it comes to books published by Faber & Faber. Perhaps it’s because I still have a surprisingly clear memory of my Dad buying me a copy of The Iron Man by Ted Hughes when I was small (my still-learning to-read brain silently pronounced his second name “Hudgis” for a long time before it realised its mistake), or perhaps it’s because so many of the books I studied at school and university featured that iconic, Pentagram-designed double-f device: poetry collections by TS Eliot and Douglas Dunn; plays by Brian Friel and Samuel Beckett; novels by William Golding and Peter Carey. Whatever the reason, whenever I’m opening the books mail at The Scotsman and I see a jiffy bag with the Faber logo on it, I get a small but undeniable Pavlovian buzz. It’s not that I’m incapable of giving a Faber book a bad review – I can think of at least a couple – it’s more that there’s a certain, uniquely serious aura attached to the Faber brand. As Seamus Heaney put it, when reflecting on what it felt like to receive a letter from Faber informing him that they were going to publish his debut collection, Death of a Naturalist, “I just couldn’t believe it, it was like getting a letter from God the Father.”

Polly Clark

Book review: Tiger, by Polly Clark

Polly Clark was known as a prize-winning poet long before she published her first novel, Larchfield, two years ago. A late start is rarely a bad thing for a novelist. Experience has been acquired and had time to mature in memory and that form of imagination that works on memories. Larchfield has a twin-track narrative, moving from a young poet who has come to live in Helensburgh to WH Auden, who taught at the independent school Larchfield 70 or more years previously. The two stories were neatly and convincingly blended, and the novel enjoyed critical success.

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