- Stone Going Home Again is out of print.
To be a writer is to be a focused skiver.
It’s not that it isn’t hard work. Ask anyone stuck arse-about-face halfway through the long tube of a novel, hauling mechanical bits and sprockets, both start and finish mere pinholes of light at either end, whether or not it feels like a nap. The skiving comes elsewhere. It is attitudinal.
An artist must live at one step removed from everyone else, curiously observing the ebb and flow around them. You have to be close enough to empathise with society, and yet not be consumed by it entirely – Mortgage! Career! Keep the profits coming! Work! Work! – and watch your soul disappear into the office shredder.
Practice for this nimble sidestepping comes in the peculiar lifestyle arrangements needed for writing to happen at all: the flickering laptop once the kids have gone to bed; the frantic scribbling on a dead shift. Alan Warner phoned in sick in order to write Morvern Callar. Structured procrastination: avoiding work you’re supposed to be doing by doing work you actually cherish.
We are fortunate that, in Scotland, structures exist to make this more joyous kind of work possible: the Scottish Book Trust and Arts Council have bursaries and mentoring schemes for writers at any stage in their career, whether school pupil or established poet. A network of writers’ groups stretches across the land. The live literature scene is bursting with new talent and relentlessly cross-fertilising with music, film, comedy and theatre.
Conversely, however, actual publication opportunities have dried up. No major Scottish short-story prize currently exists. Literary magazines are dying (although Gutter is a new, welcome exception). Mainstream publishers have stopped producing anthologies. The supermarkets and high street chains, whose stock is controlled by the South of England, are pulping Scottish literature. The only brand they seem interested in is Tartan Noir. A whole culture is slowly being erased. In such a climate, the role of New Writing Scotland feels more vital than ever.
So it gives us a feeling of immense responsibility to have stewardship this year, and do our bit to help reward more skiving. Everyone here has downed tools, edged towards a fire exit left carelessly open, whistling as they went, hoping no-one will notice. Just for long enough. That each piece has its own unique hum, its way of recreating the world on its own terms, suggests too the mental escapes these writers have made, which hopefully will inspire readers.
What was most noticeable to the editors this year was the higher quality of poetry than of prose. Many of the poems sang, while relatively few of the stories did. Perhaps mass-market imperatives and the lack of opportunity for prose writers have led to an inevitable blunting of short fiction. The truest voices seem to have fled into the ever-more rareified sphere of poetry, where such compromising forces as ‘the market’ are disregarded. It’s telling that some of the best prose experiments occupied the miniscule forms of flash-fictions and micro-narratives. Perhaps because of the compression of Scottish culture, the pressure grows stronger within the smallest forms, and a thrillingly different perspective emerges. Not here are to be found patronising The Scheme-like stereotypes or pidgin Scots. The country on display in this book is full, linguistically varied, and earthy. Stone going home again.
Meanwhile, the financial sector lurches drunkenly above us, spilling chaos in its wake. It will be interesting to see how the new crop of writers react to the sudden challenge of a Conservative government, what shapes and stances it will force our nation to adopt. Or adopt anew. To start with, some focused skiving might be a good way of rewarding an employer who may soon be firing you anyway. If you’re reading this at work, we’re already on the right path. These writers, and many of you holding this book now, will form the new movements in Scottish letters, that necessary republic.
Let the focused skiving commence.
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to New Writing Scotland.
- Patricia Ace . . . . . The Best Ten Days of My Mother’s Life
- Dorothy Alexander . . . . . Four Borders Micronarratives
- Kate Armstrong . . . . . Apples
- Jean Atkin . . . . . Familiar
- Forbes Brown . . . . . Rummle
- Tom Bryan . . . . . Post Office Queue Before Christmas
- E.M. Buchanan . . . . . Agin Mischefe
- John Burns . . . . . Lay the Big Man Gentlie Doun
- Hazel Buchan Cameron . . . . . Golf Ball
- Chelsea Cargill . . . . . River of Shipyards
- Jim Carruth . . . . . Witness / Uses
- Alison L. Craig . . . . . Like Children
- Morgan Downie . . . . . Hometown
- Colin Fraser . . . . . Abba
- Catherine Orr-Frier . . . . . Eclipsed
- Graham Fulton . . . . . The Man Who Liked to Talk on the Bus
- John Greeves . . . . . Suicide
- Rosemary Hector . . . . . National Theatre of Scotland
- Norman Kreitman . . . . . The Lovesong of the Hermit Crab
- Alexander Lang . . . . . Greylags
- Lis Lee . . . . . Lost at Sea
- Stuart Macdonald . . . . . The Hour House
- Ann MacLaren . . . . . For Better For Worse
- Kona Macphee . . . . . Inland
- Linda McCann . . . . . Extract from ‘Smash the Glass Slipper’
- Patricia McCaw . . . . . Bondager
- Ross McGregor . . . . . Cup Final Day 1997
- Hugh McMillan . . . . . A Sunny Day
- Jason Monios . . . . . On Seafield Road
- Theresa Muñoz . . . . . Release / Hard to Really Know
- Donald S. Murray . . . . . Weaving Song / Waulking Song / Ghost Weaver
- John Murray . . . . . Stones
- Jane Patience . . . . . Tide Treids
- Walter Perrie . . . . . Stone Going Home Again
- Wayne Price . . . . . At the Gate, Arizkun
- A.P. Pullan . . . . . Badbea, Caithness
- Tracey S. Rosenberg . . . . . The Painter’s Wife
- Karin Slater . . . . . Something About Dad
- Michael Stephenson . . . . . Landing
- Gerda Stevenson . . . . . Time and Space
- Jim Stewart . . . . . Gas Giant
- Judith Taylor . . . . . The End
- Valerie Thornton . . . . . Solitaire
- Ryan Van Winkle . . . . . Ode for a Rain from Death Row
- Fiona Ritchie Walker . . . . . Encounter 1979
- Jonathan Wonham . . . . . Dawn Dwyer / Ali Ben Am / Lindsey Lomas / Douglas Arthur Roberts
- Rachel Woolf . . . . . The Gaitherin
- Christopher Whyte . . . . . A’ Cuimhneachadh Màiri Fionnghail / Remembering Mary Flora
- Catherine Wylie . . . . . Objets Trouvés
Last updated 17 February 2015.