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Books

Irvine Welsh: ‘I had a criminal record aged 8’

Irvine Welsh has revealed his first encounter with the police came at the age of just eight, when he and a group of friends were charged for playing football on a grass verge on the then new Muirhouse estate.

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Iain Banks passed away in 2013 just two months after announcing he had cancer.

Unseen Iain Banks drawings to appear in new Culture universe book

Previously unseen drawings by the celebrated Scottish author Iain Banks are to appear in a brand new book celebrating his science fiction writing - to be published six years after his death.
Lifestyle
James Hogg wrote his verse admiring the youthful beauty of 15-year-old Augusta Gow in 1832, when he was 62 years old.

Unknown poem by Scots writer found in journal of Queen Victoria wet nurse

A previously unknown poem by Scots writer James Hogg has been unearthed in the notebook of a young girl who later became a wet nurse for Queen Victoria’s firstborn.

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Sally Magnusson PIC: Jane Barlow

Book review: The Sealwoman’s Gift, by Sally Magnusson

Sally Magnusson’s wonderfully accomplished first novel is an enthralling mixture of recovered history and the imagining of lost lives. It’s a delightful piece of storytelling which is also a story about telling stories.

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Dame Muriel Spark, born 100 years ago this month

Chapter One of A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark, with an introduction by William Boyd

A Far Cry from Kensington is set precisely in 1954 and ’55. It is narrated by a woman called Nancy Hawkins who is looking back, decades on from the 1950s, on her early life. The young Mrs Hawkins in 1954 is a war-widow and 28 years old (Spark was 26 in 1954 and separated from her husband). Mrs Hawkins is very fat: “I was massive in size, strong-muscled, huge-bosomed, with wide hips, hefty long legs, a bulging belly and fat backside.” Mrs Hawkins – which is how she is referred to through most of the novel – is living in a boarding house in Kensington. The “Far Cry” of the title reflects the distance she has travelled since then. Her reminiscences centre around life in the house, with its assorted, eccentric tenants, and her rackety career in two London publishing houses, from the small and indigent (the Ullswater Press) to the large and prosperous (Mackintosh & Tooley) and, eventually, an intellectual magazine called the Highgate Review. However, what seems aleatory and anecdotal soon begins to take on narrative shape in the figure of a self-important, talentless man-of-letters called Hector Bartlett. Bartlett, mysteriously, like a virus, begins to infect all areas of Mrs Hawkins’ life – her job, her home, the people she knows. Very quickly she begins to hate Bartlett and describes him – to his face and to everyone who has connections with him – as a pisseur de copie. “It means,” Mrs Hawkins explains, “that he pisses hack-journalism, it means that he urinates frightful prose.”

Bartlett’s intrusion into Mrs Hawkins’ life provides the narrative momentum to A Far Cry. He blackmails a fellow lodger; his liaison with a chic, successful novelist called Emma Loy gets Mrs Hawkins fired from two jobs; Bartlett’s appalling manuscripts keep landing on her desk; but, in a significant way, the plot of A Far Cry is not what makes it beguiling. The novel is dominated by the character of Mrs Hawkins and her tone of voice and is full of her bons mots and theories about how to make the most of life. For example:

“I enjoy a puritanical and moralistic nature; it is my happy element to judge between right and wrong, regardless of what I might actually do.”

And,

“Cultured people are not necessarily nicer people . . . Frequently, the reverse.”

And,

“[Friendship and loyalty] are ideals that can put too much of a strain on purposes which are perhaps more important.”

Mrs Hawkins is hugely confident and, in a real sense, a life force. People are drawn to her; people confess to her; people think she is wise and all-knowing; people ask her advice about what they should do in all manner of difficult and compromising situations. And so, as the story of Mrs Hawkins’ reminiscences plays out, this comedy of manners in post-war London, with its bomb-sites and poor food, its meagre pleasures and low-rent aspirations, delivers many riches. Spark has the publishing world dead to rights; she understands the feeble ploys and manoeuvres of people on the make in the most modest and unassuming of ways; she relishes life’s inherent absurdity.

In this sense she reminds me of Chekhov – that other gimlet-eyed observer of the human predicament – who wrote, in 1888, that the writer “should not be a judge of his characters or what they say, but an impartial witness… It’s time for writers, especially writers of real artistic worth, to realise that in fact nothing can be understood in this world.” - William Boyd

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Dave Eggers

Book review: The Monk Of Mokha, by Dave Eggers

The very first book I reviewed for this newspaper was A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. It was a remarkable memoir about being orphaned at an age when he became his younger brother’s carer; both smart-alecky and touchingly innocent, it flirted with fiction as much as it was achingly honest.

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Neil Ansell

Book review: The Last Wilderness, by Neil Ansell

Nature writing is a crowded old field these days, thanks in part to the explosion in popularity of the so-called “new nature writing”, which, over the course of the past decade or so, has taken a long-neglected genre smelling slightly of mildewed canvas and damp tweed and elevated it to dizzy new heights of literary seriousness.

Books
The reworked front cover of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights after experts updated the novel to show how the plot would have played out in the digital age. Picture: Drama/PA Wire

Classic novels rewritten to show internet’s impact on romance

They are three of the nation’s most iconic love stories, set in a time when life was far more simple and all communication was done face to face or by letter.

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Les Wilson

Book review: The Drowned And The Saved, by Les Wilson

The trenches and the slaughter on the Western Front dominate our memory of the First World War; understandably. It was a war like none before it and, happily, none since, a war fought by huge armies, mostly men who were civilians until the autumn of 1914 who had volunteered or been conscripted for service. Our understanding of it has been fixed by photography and the writing of the war poets. But even the British war wasn’t fought only in Flanders and Northern France. It was a naval war too, and the war in the Atlantic and northern waters was as terrible and important as the war on land. It was vital because both Britain and Germany were seeking to win an economic war, a war of blockade which would deny food and material to civilian populations. And the war of blockade was a close-run thing.

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Jojo Moyes. Picture: Stine Heilmann/PA

Novelist Jojo Moyes opens up on new book Still Me

Romance is the skeleton on which author Jojo Moyes drapes her novels. It’s what she racks up awards for and is what impelled actors Sam Claflin and Emilia Clarke to portray her best-loved characters, Lou and Will, on the big screen – but that doesn’t make her a romantic.

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Professor Gerard Carruthers said Robert Burns' employers were well aware of his radical views.

Robert Burns’ politics were ‘open secret’ to civil service

Robert Burns hid his radical and progressive political views “in plain view” while working for the Crown as an exciseman, according to a leading expert on Scotland’s national bard.

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Peter May PIC: David Wilson

Book review: I’ll Keep You Safe, by Peter May

With its intriguing central character and a compelling, atmospheric setting, the Lewis trilogy (The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man, The Chessmen) by Peter May was a great success, and the author returns to the island in this latest novel.

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Kerry Andrew PIC: Urszula Soltys

Book review: Swansong, by Kerry Andrew

This is a very striking debut novel by an author better known for her work in music and theatre – she has won three British Composer Awards and her alternative-folk album Hawk To The Hunting Gone came out in 2014. It is a swift, lithe and engaging read, and promises more – and perhaps more idiosyncratic – work to come.

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James Oswald PIC: Steven Scott Taylor / JP License

Book review: The Gathering Dark, by James Oswald

Workmanlike” may seem tepid praise to bestow on a book. Yet if the novel is, sometimes at least, a work of art, writing a novel is a craft, and craftsmanship matters. Evelyn Waugh believed that a novel should be as well-made as fine furniture, and the first pleasure of James Oswald’s novel is that the author knows what he is doing and how to bring it off. This is satisfying, all the more so because Oswald takes risks. His novel is a hybrid. On the one hand it’s an unusually competent and humane police procedural; on the other there is an element of the supernatural. In a lesser craftsman this might make for an uneasy marriage, indeed an unconvincing one.

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Jenny Colgan PIC: Joby Sessions/SFX Magazine

Book review: The Endless Beach, by Jenny Colgan

I have to confess that I wasn’t looking forward to The Endless Beach. Jenny Colgan may have legions of fans, but after reading an early work of hers years ago, I’d pretty much decided that I wasn’t one of them. Then there is the issue of novels about small Scottish communities, written by people who don’t live in them. Too often, the result is an anthropological study of quaint eccentrics, detailed for the amusement of outsiders. Fortunately, however, Colgan’s characters are too well drafted to put any real island commmunity’s back up.

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One of the items up for auction. Picture: Lyon & Turnbull

George Mackay Brown treasures set to go under the hammer

A treasure trove of personal artefacts which shaped the career of one of Scotland’s most celebrated poets is to be auctioned off.

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Creative Scotland chief executive Janet Archer would not comment on any of the specific funding cuts.

Fury as Fringe and theatre companies have funding axed by Creative Scotland

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the city’s King’s and Festival theatres and the body that promotes its Unesco “City of Literature” status have had their funding stripped by Creative Scotland.
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Journalist and author Leila Slimani PIC: Lionel Bonaventure / AFP / Getty Images

Book review: Lullaby, by Leïla Slimani

This is a remarkable novel, for which Leïla Slimani won the Prix Goncourt, the French equivalent of the Man Booker Prize. It is dark, ambiguous, disturbing and arresting. Parts of it reminded me of Muriel Spark or Patricia Highsmith in its askance morality; at the same time it has the precision, the slight surrealism deployed to highlight reality and the questions about women, bodies and feminism that typify other French language writers, such as Marie Darrieussecq or Amélie Nothomb.

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Emma Glass

Book review: Peach, by Emma Glass

Those with a weak stomach should look away now, for it is impossible to discuss Peach, the debut novel from nurse-turned-author Emma Glass, without risking bringing up your lunch. The 98-page novella – the experience of a young girl recovering from a brutal sexual assault – is visceral and raw, made more so by the experimental and poetic style of Glass’s writing.

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Danny Denton

Book review: The Earlie King & The Kid in Yellow, by Danny Denton

The first definition of “whim” in Chambers English Dictionary is described as “obsolete”. Nevertheless it may be fairly applied to this novel by Danny Denton: “a fantastic creation of brain or hand.” Denton is an Irish writer who has previously published some short stories and, as his publishers tell us, “been awarded several bursaries and scholarships for his work”, but this is only his first novel, therefore entitled to be treated with a certain indulgence. It is certainly a “fantastic creation” and one that people who like this sort of thing will undoubtedly like a lot. Lisa McInerney, another young Irish writer whose own first novel won a couple of prizes, declares that Denton’s book is: “Stunning… a work of dancing brutality and ferocious tenderness.”

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