BEFORE THE BREAK
James Kelman, whose latest short-story collection, The Burn, has just been published in paperback, talks about his past career as a Jack-ol-alI-trades.
‘l’ve a really kind of complicated job history, it would take pages to list it all; I did all kinds of labouring and factory jobs, building-site work, I worked as a hospital porter, a warehouse worker, bus driver, bus conductor, salesman, potato-picker. . .
‘I can’t rememberthinking thatl wanted to write —I must have done at some point, but there wasn‘t any big plan oranything, ldidn’t really start writing until I was about twenty-two. I was down in London at that point, I‘d just left a job, so I was passing time in a way; notjusttilling time, it was more that I had the time, so I used it for
: writing, and I just tell kind of happy
about it, llelt like continuing, it interested me to continue. I don't consider myself to have changed all
3 thatmuch since, l’vejustdeveloped
and gone deeper into what I was doing then. ‘I suppose all these otherjobs I did
must have affected the sort or writerl turned out to be: I‘m wary oI laying too
much emphasis on it, in case it seems to get mixed in with some form at determinism, but there’s no doubt it would have some bearing on the way
. my work goes, or my methods; my
strengths maybe. ‘1972 was a big year for me, it was
' the first time I ever showed anyone my
stories, Philip Hobsbawm at Glasgow University, and through him I met an
American writer, who showed them to : his small publisher in the States, and
they were published. So that kind of thing happened quite early for me, I got published quite young, and then nothing much happened for quite a while, no one else was taking that much interest, which was quite good in a way, maybe I learned lewer lalse notions. I‘m earning my living from writing just now, but I was still driving a van three or four years ago; that keeps
you solid, gives you a strength.‘ (Sue Wilson)
55The List 13— 26 March 1992 r
I Holograms ol Fear Slavenka Drakulic(Hutchinson.£13.99) Most ofthe action in this absorbing first novel takes place inside its unnamed. infirm heroine‘s mind. Starting with her admission to a Boston hospital for a long-awaited kidney transplant. the story shifts between past and : present. the selfand the world. joy and despair. as dictated by the narrator‘s wide-ranging but obsessive imagination. The delivery
is repetitive and riveting by turns. and the imagery is always haunting. as we enter the painful nightmares of a woman who imagines her mental and physical selves split apart. and discerns in her life pity. denial and spite.
Perhaps. though. as the slick title suggests. the real agenda exists beyond the central monologue. There are no politics in the book. no moral messages or reference to a world outside its covers. Real fear lies in its banal realisation of our fragility. our dependence on health.
love and illusion. (Douglas Mc(‘abe) '
I Bet They'll Miss Us When We're Gone Marianne Wiggins (Seeker & Warburg. £13.99) A jumbled. jarring collection of stories from the ex-Mrs Rushdie. giving broken voice to modern bewildered alienation, to ‘lessness'. as a ‘new mode of understanding what we call our modernday world.‘ ‘Name one thing that‘s holeless anymore.‘ challenges one character— not these tales. anyway; they are full ofgaps. between experience and sense. between disjointed scraps of inner and outer conversations. often drifting on the edge ofsanity. Sometimes the post-fatwa. pre-divorce days are alluded to. as in one story about being in hiding in Wales. idle days in an idyllic spot
viewed through a grotesquely distorting mirror: the Gulf War is another recurring preoccupation. The writing could be emblematic of much contemporary experience — fearful. fragmented. fragile — its jagged cadences denying the reader any comforting certainty. lt's clever. too (sometimes for the sake of it) and though meaning. as such. is often elusive. it‘s the raw emotional texture that counts. (Sue Wilson)
HACKED T0 BITS
I The New Hacker’s Dictionary Eric Raymond (MIT Press, £10.99) Anti-authoritarian? Definitely. Nerdish? Probably. Your hacker is not a criminal, but a technical wizard who not only understands how a computer works. but can make it do whats/he wants. More than a technical dictionary or translator’s manual, this is an etymological guide to hackers’ hearts, minds and humour. and a document of their
increasingly influential culture.
As befits the international network of interconnected monitors which spawned hacker-speak. the inﬂuences are wide: Sci-ti. techno-babble, Californian, even Zen. An example: ‘When I grokkcd the MIT Press veeblefester about The New Hacker’s Dictionary I expected some grungey vanilla verbage, but having snarfed it down, Yow! its one gonzo publication‘ (trans: this book is worth buying). (Thom Dibdin)
I Volcano Shusako Endo (Sphere £4.99) Japan‘s Graham Greene unfolds a bleak though beautifully written tale of an excommunicated priest and a stroke-stricken meteorologist. drawn together by the symbolic importance assumed by a volcano in their spiritually empty lives. I Unlocking the English Language Robert Burchfield (Faber and Faber £6.99) An admirably lucid account L by the chiefeditor of()xford English Dictionaries. whose enthusiastic interest in the minutiae of lexicography is. however. unlikely to be matched by the average reader. I Necessary Secrets Elizabeth Smart (Paladin £6.99) The first of Elizabeth Smart's journals charts her fascinating self-reinvention from a twenty-year-old bourgeoise Canadian studying piano and globe-trotting lady's companion. to a 28-year-old bohemian ready to seize passion and turn it to her poetic ends.
I Coromandel Sea Change Rumer Godden (Pan £5.99) Mysticism. political corruption. ahd the scent of jasmine combine in the evocative tale of a young bride seduced by the magic of India to the disapproval of her diplomat husband.
I A Nail, A Rose Madeleine Bourdouxhe (Lime Tree £7.99)
Startling and disturbing short stories =
from a little-known contemporary of Simone de Beauvoir. The stories explore the personal worlds of women turned in upon themselves.
images. (Frances (‘ornford)
I Secker a Warburg Launch Waterstone's. 45/50 Princes Square. 221 9650. Fri 13. 7. 15pm. Free. Reading and signing session to launch S&W‘s new paperback original imprint. with the authors ofthree of the first four titles: Duncan McLean (Bucket of Tongues). Livi Michael (Under (1 Thin Moon) and Pinckney Benedict ( The Wrecking Yard) (all £7.99). I Independent Book Fair Pearce Institute. 840 Govan Road. info 357 51981427 6398. Sat 14. 10am—6pm. Free. Disabledaccess. j Organised by the Free University Network. with readings by Alasdair Gray. James Kelman. Tom Leonard. Duncan McLean and Livi Michael. plus debates. stalls. screenings. food and bar. Evening entertainment with band and bar. £2 (£1 ). I Margaret Thomson Davis (iovanhill Library. I701.angside Road. info-423 1460. Mon 16. 6.45pm. Free. Readingand discussion session. with local writers.
I Correction A wee gremlin in your Books Editor's brain caused venues for two events listed last issue to be swapped round — on 5 March James Kelman was signing books at Waterstone's in Princes Street. not George Street. while the Seeker 8; Warburg launch on 12 March (today. ifyou‘re reading thison publication day) is at George Street. not Princes Street. (irovelling apologies for any annoyance caused.
I Richard Ballantine \N'aterstone's. l3 Princes Street. 556 3034. Sat 14. 2pm. Free. Talk by the bike-maintenance guru to launch The Ultimate Bicycle Book (Dorling Kindersley. £15.99).
I Jung Chan James Thin. 53—59 South Bridge. 556 6743. Tue 17. 7pm. Free. Slide-illustrated talk by the author of Wild Swans (llarperCollins. £17.50). an epic (auto)biography of three generations of (‘hinese women.
I Allen Kurzweil Waterstone‘s. l3 Princes Street. 556 3034. Tue 17. 7pm. Free.
, Signing session by the authorofahighly praised first novel A (use (if( ‘uriusilies (Hamish Hamilton. £9.99).
I Wendy Cape Waterstone's. 83 George Street. 225 3436. Thurs 19. 7.30pm. Free. The popular. wry poet will be reading from and signing copies of her latest collection Serious (‘micerns (Faber & Faber. £4.99).
I Nik Cohn James Thin. 53— 59 South Bridge. 556 6743. Mon 23. 7pm. Free. Talk and signing session by the authorof The Heart rift/re Hi()rl(l((‘l1£tll0 & Windus. £14.99). a look at the alternative
rather than the glitterati.
I Graham Hancock Waterstone‘s. l3 Princes Street. 556 3034. Thurs 26. 7pm. Free. Talk and signing session by the author of The Sign and the Seal (Heinemann. £16.99). the story ofhis quest for the Ark of the Covenant.
I John Purser Waterstone's. 83 George Street. 225 3436. Thurs 26. 7.30pm. Free. Launch of Scotland '5 Music ( Mainstream. £25). a study of similar scope to Duncan MacMillan's Scottish A r1.
Broadway: artists. strippers. and prophets