If anyone has notice that this week’s blog is being published later than normal, then the only excuse I can offer is that I was caught up with preparations for the launch of my new novel, The Hunted. As a writer, I guess this is as good a reason as any…
At the launch night, I spoke about my novels and whether it was good to label them as ‘Scottish’ books, particularly when trying to make them appeal, and sell, to a wider audience outwith Scotland.
I think books should be judged, first and foremost, on whether they’re good or not – you can have your own criteria for what constitutes ‘good’ – before any sense of national identity is taken into consideration.
But this question of ‘Scottish’ novels remained in my head, not least because I’m currently reading And The Land Lay Still by James Robertson. It won the Scottish Book of the Year Award 2010, and among the many words of praise on the cover, it’s described as ‘probably the most ambitious Scottish novel since Lanark.’ It’s very much a book about Scotland and having read about a third of it so far, I have to say that it is an excellent book. The fact that it’s set in Scotland should not, however, preclude readers elsewhere in the world from enjoying it too.
Both of my novels – Saints and Sinners and The Hunted – are set between Ireland and Scotland, with most of the narrative taking place within the Irish immigrant community in Glasgow. It’s a community and culture which has been largely ignored in Scottish literature; I remember signing up for a night class on 20th century Scottish literature, and while the books we studied were excellent, what did strike me was the absence of characters and stories with an Irish or Catholic background. I felt that I wasn’t really reading about my history or background; no-one was telling the story of my forebears, with a few notable exceptions. So I wanted to write stories set within this community.
Having said that, it still comes back to the question of how we identify books in terms of national identity and, indeed, should books ever be identified in this way rather than judging them simply in terms of quality.
It’s a question that I don’t have an answer to. As I said at the start of this blog, I think we should judge books on the quality of writing, yet I also believe that Scottish literature should be compulsory in our schools; pupils should be reading and studying novels such as Robin Jenkins’ The Cone Gatherers.
In order to decide whether to judge literature by its national identity, you should first be aware of what literature your country has produced, and I think Scotland is relatively ignorant when it comes to its own literary library. The best way to change that is to start teaching Scottish novels to our children.
Ten of my favourite Scottish novels:
The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins
Me And Ma Gal by Des Dillon
Lanark by Alasdair Gray
Buddha Da by Anne Donovan
Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbons
Our Fathers by Andrew O’Hagan
Poor Things by Alasdair Gray
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
Master of Morgana by Allan Campbell McLean
The Rat Pit by Patrick MacGill
Ironically, I would say four of these ten books are definitely rooted in the Irish, Catholic culture and community of Scotland. And check out this list by The List of ‘The 100 best Scottish novels’. I wrote a few words on Buddha Da by Anne Donovan and Our Fathers by Andrew O’Hagan.
100 BEST SCOTTISH BOOKS
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