ON THE bus to work the other day, I found myself next to a hugely important person in the world of Scottish culture.
So hugely important, in fact, that I had to give an assurance that all of our conversation would be off the record.
Somehow or other, we started chatting about books (this happens with me quite a bit). Specifically, which novels could be given as presents to anyone living in a particular country. I mentioned the one I’m reading now – Wayne Johnston’s The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. I’ve never been to Newfoundland, where it is set, I said, but the book is so brilliant and tells you so much of the history of the place that I feel as if I have.
“James Robertson’s The Lie of the Land is like that,” the VIP said. “If someone was moving to Scotland, you could give them that and it would explain everything about us.”
I nodded, and tried (and failed) to think of any others. “I suppose it must be doing very well in America,” I observed.
“You’d have thought so,”, said the VIP. “But it’s not even published there.”
“That’s crazy,” I said. “What about the Scottish Diaspora? What about those 40 million Scots who’ve emigrated all round the world?”
“That’s all a myth,” said the VIP. “Or at least in terms of marketing modern Scotland, the Scottish Diaspora is a complete myth. In America, no-one is interested in modern Scotland. Jacobites perhaps, Clearances at a push. But modern Scotland? Forget it.”
Maybe trainee teacher Sharon Baillie is the woman who will show the Diaspora what they’re missing about modern Scotland.
Dey is poorer for missing out, she’d probably write, because if her debut novel, Magenta Opium - just published by US firm New Libri at £9.95 – is anything to go by, she has that that Flann O’Brien-like love of wordplay turned up high.
Too high for me, but I can certainly see the quirky originality in her comic novel about a mother who is officially missing for years (while being in the loft at home all the time), a father with a penchant for weird sex and a daughter who discovers a new hallucinatory drug.
But that’s not the strangest thing about Magenta Opium by a long chalk. Because Sharon wrote this 179-page novel while commuting by train from Stewarton to Glasgow. And – get this – she wrote it all on a BlackBerry.