Five contemporary Scottish authors on the writers who have inspired and influenced them
- Brian Donaldson
- 5 November 2012
Scottish literary scene’s younger writers about the figures whose influence has driven them on
Brian Donaldson hears from some of the Scottish literary scene’s younger writers about the figures whose influence has driven them on
Rodge Glass on Alasdair Gray
As Alasdair Gray’s secretary, I watched him carve his sentences out first-hand, seeing how he always sought clarity in the fewest words possible.
That was my writer’s education. In studying his life and work for my biography of him, I came to appreciate the breadth of his influence, and I now think of him as not only an artist but also a democratiser. Everything he creates is about fairness, as shown in his Òran Mór mural, where Adam and Eve find their place in among the characters of Glasgow’s West End. Neither is more important.
Ewan Morrison on James Kelman
For over a decade, James Kelman has been forcing me to attempt new strategies. In my mind, he stands for purity of aesthetic, for local language as a barricade against forces of the Empire. His weapon is a Scottish vernacular, honed by the austerity of high literary modernism: a language of the oppressed. Politically, he believes in the authenticity of the working class. And all this to me was lifeless, dead already, sapping my ability to write.
So to Kelman’s high modernist austerity, I proposed postmodern montage. To Kelman’s male-dominated working class, I offered multicultural gender benders. Against his true local vernacular, I had characters who quoted ads, jingles, pop songs and reclaimed texts. Against his Scottish socialism, I proposed that, loathe it or not, we’ve become capitalists.
But after a decade of writing, it turns out that global consumerism is a darker, emptier place than even the ruined socialism of Kelman; and very little can grow under its shadow. So I’ve come full circle. I find myself agreeing with Kelman. Strange indeed, that his words could have such power; that they are an entire world that I tried to escape from and have now come home to accept. I have never really left the gravitational pull of the universe of Kelman.
Kerry Hudson on Janice Galloway
Janice Galloway takes the hard parts of her life and turns them into a gift so others might bear their own hard things a little easier. Reading her books, so fiercely intelligent, intimate, funny and sad, somehow gave me permission to not try to explain my own book, to let the reader make their own interpretations. She has influenced me hugely and continues to inspire me to write what I feel I need to, with total honesty, as well as I possibly can and be unapologetic in doing so. For that I am hugely grateful to her.
Catriona Child on Alan Spence
I don’t remember everything that I was taught as a student, but I have held on to what I was taught by Alan Spence about creative writing. Alan’s classes were a joy, a release from the stifled academic work I was doing in other classes. At the end of each one, we would spend five or ten minutes of free writing – just picking up the pen, emptying our heads, seeing where it took us. It was so liberating!
He gave us valuable advice about being a writer: travel, experience life. You can’t bring something to life until you’ve touched it, tasted it, smelt it. To me, Alan Spence is a writer who cannot be pigeonholed. His writing is Scottish yet international, philosophical as well as telling a story. A novelist, a short story expert, a master of haiku: he can do everything.
Allan Wilson on Agnes Owens
For whatever reason, Agnes Owens has not enjoyed the same recognition as many of those who have previously championed her work – Gray, Kelman, Lochhead – but her writing deserves to be ranked alongside these writers in terms of its quality. In her short stories, novellas and novels, Owens writes about universal issues like loss, death, love, hate but it’s the specifics that make the work so good.
She writes about children and families as well as anybody. There’s always danger behind a wall or in the next room and something that comes up a lot in her work is the moment in a young person’s life when innocence ends. Many of her stories are sad but within the tragedy there’s always humour. I read her when I need to laugh and when I need a reminder that we can write whatever the hell we want.