BEFORE THE BREAK
Best-selling historical novelist liigel Tranter, author ol over a hundred books (his latest, Children oi the Mist, is a Scottish Book Fortnight selected title) tells Sue Wilson how he was sidetracked irom restoring into storytelling.
‘lt was no intention at mine, as a young man, to be an author. My ambition was to be a restoring architect, a restorer oi Scotland’s unique heritage oi castles and tower-houses, so many ol them sadly in ruins. But my lather died when l was about to be apprenticed to an architectural llrrn, leaving my mother in a linanclal situation where she could not lace me eamlng nothing lor years, so i had to go into the lamlly insurance company.
‘From boyhood I had been excited by these buildings and their history-l still have my schoolboy iotters, titled with my drawings and descriptions. i kept up my interest, and determined to turn these iotlers into a book, a real, publishable book; and , extraordinary as it may seem, I got a publlsherto issue it. The book was entitled, just as extraordinarily, The Fortallces and Early Mansions oi Southern Scotland. I was a published author, aged twenty-lour- and mighty pleased with mysell.
‘I was married young, and my wile clearly tell i was getting a bit above mysell; no doubt she was right. I was not a real author, she said; I could not write a real book, by which she meant her kind oi book, a novel. So obviously, I had to show her that she was wrong. i set to, and wrote a brilliant story. Even its title was brilliant- in Our Arms Our Fortune -wlth various, highly slgnllicant meanings, lrom heraldic arms to women's arms. Untortunately, my kind publisher tell that it had enough in It tor a dozen novels, but not enough tor one - in other words, it was too clever by hall. lie suggested less brilliance and more storytelling; l judged him utterly mistaken, ol course, but did have another go, probany subconsciously taking his advice. So Trespass was written, and published — my llrst novel.
‘Untortunately again, the publisher went bankrupt soon atterwards- not cause and eltect, i hope - and i never got a cent from it. However, i discovered that l was something at a storyteller, and this started me oil on what has become a chronic allilctlon. Later, too, those castles pushed me into historical tiction: think what architecture missed, and what the reading public might have been
BEETL— DEVIL’S WORK?
I Live From Golgotha Gore Vidal (Andre Deutsch £14.99) Downtown Thessalonika, AD96. Bishop Timothy experiences a disturbing vision of Saint Paul revealing that, as 2001 approaches, a heterodoxical hacker will slip back through time to destroy the gospels as they are written. To save Christianity from oblivion, Tim must write his own good news, which he does while being exposed (via a time-slipping TV) to an unlikely stream of 20th century media images which colour
his language and mutate his ideas.
Vidal has been named as the Antichrist for writing this book, an accolade which simply ups the asshole-rating of his detractors. On a religious level it’s a witty, knowledgeable and fascinating exploration of how Christianity was invented, but what really troubles his critics is that it‘s also a witty etc exploration of how televangelists are re-inventing it. Although, as with Doonesbury, you enjoy the punchline but miss half the caustic cultural references, halfof this book is worth two of any other out this fortnight. (Thom Dibdin)
I Burns: A Biography at Robert Burns James Mackay (Mainstream £20) ‘The entire life of Burns is riddled with half-truths, contradictions and myths’; Mackay’s intention is evidently to clear up as many of these as possible. His massive tome (700-plus pages) contains such an overwhelming quantity of information that it is more likely to appeal to auld acquaintances of the national bard than to the casual reader. The exhaustive research earns Mackay the right to the last word on subjects such as Burns’s
sexual appetite, bastard weans and drinking habits, but myths persist for a reason, and it would have been interesting to learn the author’s view of Burns in relation to contemporary Scotland. Mackay, however, is emphatic: ‘This is a life of Burns, and . . . no attempt has been made to consider his writings from a critical viewpoint.’ In Hugh ‘Not Burns — Dunbar!’ MacDiarmid’s centenary year, the absence of any such critique seems more significant than copious analysis of the poet’s numerous ailments. (James Robertson)
I The Kindness ol Women J . G. Ballard (Grafton £4.99) Haunted by his adolescent experiences in a Japanese POW camp, as described in Empire ofthe Sun, the events of Ballard’s later life- university, marriage, the death of his young wife and his involvement in the 605 — are tinged with apocalyptic vision.
I Trick or Treat Lesley Glaistcr (Minerva, £4.99) A small boy finds himself caught up in a 50—year feud between two OAPs which ends, quite literally, in an explosion. Unlike Ballard, Glaistcr makes no clear division between the domestic and the bizarre: taking the trivial detailsof ordinary lives, she builds a sense ofcomic and unsettling Gothic horror.
I Those Sailing Ships at his Boyhood Dreams Moy McCrory (Flamingo, £4.99) Told with sensitivity and humour, these are tales of departed lovers and small failures of courage among the Catholic communities of Liverpool and Ireland. Like Glaistcr, McCrory paints on a small canvas; her heroines are strong not because they achieve but because they survive.
I Storm 7-8 (Jonathan Cape, £7.50) The international new writing magazine, this time focusing on work from Mexico. True to the blurb, which promises something other than magic realism, some stories are reminiscent of McCrory in their concentration on everyday Catholic guilt. though the unmistakable Latin-American influence reveals itself in tales ofvampires obsessed with car number-plates and mothers who wait in summer trees to ravish passers-by. (Frances Cornford)
Scottish Book Fortnight starts on 11 Oct these events are marked (SBF)
I Janice Galloway and ilamlsh Whyte Waterstone’s, 45/50 Princes Square , 221 9650. Thurs 15, 7.15pm. Free. Launch of Pig Squealing, the latest in the successful annual New Writing Scotland series (Association for Scottish Literary Studies £6.95), with the collection’s two editors. I Provincial Booksellers' Fair Moir Hall, Mitchell Theatre, info 0436 76453. Fri 17 noon—7pm; Sat 17 10am-5pm. 30p. Second-hand and antiquarian books.
I Stephen Fry Waterstone‘s, 132 Union Street, 221 0890. Sat 17, 12.30pm. Everyone’s favourite celibate humourist will be signing copies of his novel The Liar (Mandarin £4.99) and his new collection of miscellaneous writings Paperweight (Heinemann £14.99).
I Glasgow Book Market llillhead Library, 348 Bytes Road, 339 7223. Sat 17 9.30am—4pm. Admission free. Second-hand and antiquarian books, maps and prints.
I Pat Gerber and Ian Hamilton BC Waterstone’s, 45/50 Princes Square, 221 9650. Wed 21, 7pm. Free. The authorsof The Search for the Stone of Destiny (Canongate £13.95) and The Taking of the Stone of Destiny (Corgi £4.99) talk about one of Scotland’s most famous real-life legends. (SBF)
I Alison Klnnaird, Keith Sanger and John Purser Central Library, High Street, Paisley, 887 2468. Wed 21, 7.30pm. An evening on a Scottish musical theme with the authors of Tree of Strings (Kinmor Music £19.95 h/b; £14.95 p/b) and Scotland ’s Music (Mainstream £25). (SBF)
I Malrl iledderwick The Library, 170 Kirkintilloch Road, Bishopbriggs, 762 0112. Wed 21, 7.30pm. Free. Illustrated talk by the author of HighlandJourney (Canongate £14.95). (SBF)
I Ralph Staadman John Smith and Son, 57 Vincent Street, 221 7472. Thurs 22, 7pm. Free. The renowned cartoonist will be
signing copies of his new book, The Grapes ofRalph (Ebury £19.99) a collection of his catalogue illustrations for Oddbins, who will be organising a wine tasting.
I Christopher Bush James Thin, 53—59 South Bridge, 5566743. Mon 12,7pm. Free. Reading from A Twelvemonth anda Day (Mercat Press £5.50), which inspired the film Venus Peter.
I Andrew Greig James Thin, 53—59 South Bridge, 5566743. Wed 14, 7pm. Free. The Scottish poet and mountaineering writer will read from and sign copies of his ﬁrst novel Electric Brae (Canongate £14.95). I Polygon Evening James Thin. 53—59 South Bridge. 556 6743.Thur515,7pm. Free. Readings by Iona McGregor. from her Victorian detective talc Alice in Shadow Time (Polygon £7.95) and Sian Hayton, from Cells of Knowledge and Hidden Daughters (both Polygon £7.95) and The Governors (Balnain £7.95).
I Michael Caine Waterstonc‘s, 13 Princes Street, 556 3034. Mon 12, 1pm. The world’s best-known Cockney wide-boy made good will be signing copies ofhis new volume of autobiography What's It AllAbout? (Century£16.99).
I Sue Lawrence Waterstone’s, 83 George Street. 225 3436. Thurs 15, 7.30pm. Cookery demonstration with the Masterch winner, promoting her new book Entertaining at Home in Scotland (Mainstream £12.99).
I Robin Bell James Thin, 53—59 South Bridge, 556 6743. Fri 16, 7pm. Free. Wine. Talk by the editor of a new collection of Mary Queen of Scots‘ poetry. Bittersweet Within My Heart (Pavilion £9.99). (SBF)
I Stephen Fry Waterstone‘s, 83 George Street, 225 3436. Sat 17, 3.30pm. Free. Everyone’s favourite celibate humourist will be signing copies of his novel The Liar (Mandarin £4.99) and his new collection of miscellaneous writings Paperweight Heinemann £14.99).
I Alison Kinnalrd, Keith Sanger and John Parser James Thin, 57 George Street, 225 4495. Mon 19, 7pm. Free. Wine. An
evening on a Scottish musical theme with the authors of Tree of Strings (Kinmor Music£19.95 h/b; £14.95 p/b) and Scotland’s Music (Mainstream £25). Also at The Library, 2 McDonald Road, 556 5630. (SBF)
I Jim Crumley and Bridget MacCasklli Oxgangs Library, Oxgangs Road North, 445 5699. Mon 19, 7pm. Free. talk and slide presentation by the authors of two new Scottish wildlife books — Waters of the Wild Swan and On the Swirl of the Tide (both Jonathan Cape £14.99). (SBF) Also at: Portobello Library, 14 Roseﬁeld Avenue, 669 5115. Wed 21 , 7pm, and James Thin, 53—59 South Bridge, 556 6743. Thurs 22, 7pm. (SBF)
I llugo McEwen James Thin. 53—59 South Bridge, 556 6743. Tue 20. 7pm. Free. Wine. Reading and discussion with the author of his powerful new novel The Witching Stone (Hamish Hamilton £15.99). (SBF)
I Richard Grindal The Library, 92 Moredun Park Road, 664 81 15. Tue 20. 7pm. Free. Talk and slide show by the author of The Spirit of Whisky (Warner Books£5.99). (SBF)
I Black Women Writers’ Event Theatre Workshop, Hamilton Place. 225 7942. Wed 21—Fri 23. £35 (£15). Three-day women-only seminar focusing on writing by and for black women, with writers and publishers including Amryrl J ohnson, Selma Rahman and Sheba Press. Booking essential.
I Marianna Lines Waterstone‘s, 83 George Street, 225 3436. Thurs 22, 7.30pm. Free. Wine. Launch ofSacred Stones Sacred Places (St Andrew Press £19.95), an illustrated study of Scottish stone art. (SBF)
I Jimmy Lalng Craigmiilar Library, 7 Niddrie Marischal Gardens, 669 4095. Thurs 22, 7.30pm. Free. The author of Fifty Years in the System (Corgi £5.99) talks about his half-century as an inmate of various psychiatric institutions. (SB F)
I Mairi lledderwlck Blackhall Library, 56 Hillhouse Road, 336 3277. Thurs 12, 7pm. Free. Illustrated talk by the author of Highlandloumey (Canongate £14.95). (SBF)
The List 9 - 22 October 1992 71