BEFORE THE BREAK
lIeay Tannahill, author of tour bestselling historical novels (the most recent oi which, In Still and Stormy Waters, is published this month in Penguin paperback) talks to Sue Wilson about her career path through academe, advertising, iood and sex.
‘When I was in my teens I really wanted to go to art college or drama school, but you know what usually happens with parents - if you’ve a quarter of a brain you ought to go to university, so I duly went to Glasgow, having been born and brought up there; did social sciences alter an arts degree, which is what led me into being a probation oiiicer for a while.
‘Then what happened was that I found my way into lobs that accommodated at least one of the things I wanted to do originally - let’s be honest, I’d never have been an artist, but I was quite a good designer, and was with Kodak as a copywriter ior ages; they expected us also to do a rough design for adverts, I started Ieaming about typography, printing and so on.
‘At one point I blithely wrote to the editors of The Times, The Scotsman and The Guardian, pointing out that I was God’s gift and please could I have a job. The letter back from The Times said, with majestic superiority, “We do not employ women on the Times” - I’m talking about the 50s here - but did suggest I get In touch with the TES, and I worked freelance for them for a while.
‘Later on I was working for the Folio Society as an advertising consultant; they knew I was interested In art and history and so forth, and asked me to do a book on llegency England. That was successful, so I did two more, the third being on the line art of food. I thought that was going to be terribly easy, but I discovered everything that passed as histories ot food consisted of Iloman orgies tollowed by Renaissance banquets, so that started me off on my tlrst malor opus, Food In lllstory. Then, believing that there are only two things without which there would be no human history, one being lood, the other being sex, led me naturally on to Sex in lllstory.
‘Ilrter that, frankly, having spent seven years on each book, I really couldn’t lace another seven years. My agent suggested I have a stab at a historical novel, so I did - It’s a lot more tun, and only takes two years. And one of the lovely things about writing liction Is that if you take a
dislike to a character you can kill them oft, whereas it you take a dislike to llenry VIII there’s not a thing you can do about it.’
W BREAKING FAITH
I Infidelity edited by Marsha Rowe (Chatto & Windus £l2.99) This collection of new short stories teases out ten forms of inﬁdelity. with good old-fashioned marital unfaithfulness taking a back seat. as it were. Jane DeLynn’s ‘Faithfully Yours‘ is an engaging diary of uncertainty about sexual identity. bizarrely set against the background of a Perverse Writers‘ Conference in Boston. Colm Toibin takes great pains in ‘Entiendes’ to build his central character before proceeding to his tuming-point — a son‘s confession of his gay preferences to an ageing mother; the ending lies satisfyingly open to interpretation. David Widgery considers political principles. and loyalty to such. in the autobiographical ‘Mea Culpa‘. the last thing he wrote before his death in 1992. However. it is
M A R s H .-\ Row 1; I
Penelope Lively‘s look at extra-marital affairs. ‘Beyond the Blue Mountains‘. which comes off best. with a vivid background and strong narrative pull. A pleasing diversity of stories and styles. offering something for everyone. (Gavin Inglis)
SHADES OF GRAY
I Three John Rodger (Dualchas £6.50) Debut time for both author and publisher (the latter being a small. ambitious new Govan-based outﬁt). with this trio of novellas. abounding in merry irony. mock-solemn self- referentiality. deadpan daftness. typographical games and wry authorial intervention. Focused around the gritty. absurd mundanities of life as experienced by a car valet. a newly- released prisoner and a delivery driver. they intercut a host of classical. philosophical and literary references
I Imelda and Other Stories John Herdman (Polygon £7.95) The short stories here are unremarkable if interesting. but Imelda. a novella dealing with an illegitimate birth in a genteel Borders family, is excellent. We get two accounts of events on the Agnew estate. one from Sir Robert Afﬂeck. Imelda's elderly guardian. the other from Frank. her ﬁance’s brother.
with lovingly observed scenes of garage tea-breaks. Govan tenement teatimes and Paisley pubs, ringing some marvellous changes on the kind of post-modem Glesca patter pioneered by Alasdair Gray. As with Gray. the exuberant, off-the-wall humour possesses ﬁerce. black. socialist edges; the concluding bleakness of the ﬁrst two tales particularly catches you painfully by surprise. The voice is admirably assured. by turns direct and teasing. gain surreal and deadly serious; Rodgers’ touch is impressively light. Altogether auspicious stuff. (Sue Wilson)
now resident in a mental hospital. Unreliable narrators to say the least.
Their accounts of characters. motives and events conﬂict wildly at times. subtly at others. The jealousy. manipulation and dishonesty within the family are clear enough but specific questions receive very different answers. Who fathered the baby? How did Frank‘s brother die? Was Frank darling or demon? Which brother did Imelda love? And which narrator. if either. should we trust?
A story of murder. obsessive love. betrayal and insanity is one long tease. Even the Victorian-melodramatic tone dissembles —— the story is set in the 50s. You’d need to be both a psychologist and a detective to ﬁgure out the truth; Herdman’s writing is so clever and so entertaining that you can‘t help trying anyway. (Cathy Boylan)
I Brendan Behan Ulick O‘Connor (Abacus £5.99) Brendan Behan is an author. like Oscar Wilde. whose personal fame reaches far beyond his readership. This biography confirms the popular image of him as a channer. fabulist and drunk while carefully correcting some of the myths he built around himself. While it can only catalogue a fraction of his sprees and drinking exploits. it does provide a fascinating if fleeting glimpse of the different worlds Behan moved in. from the poets he met in Paris to the miners (imprisoned for sodomy in the pits) that he met in prison.
I llaving It Away Patrice Chaplin (Virago £5.99) This slim novella describes the flight of two women and their young children to Spain and their lovers. leaving their rnenfolk behind. What should be a romantic idyll is predictably punctured by the presence of a horde of under-ﬁves. Chaplin's almost documentary style has the disjointed narrative of conversation but successfully conveys the chaos and tension of the holiday and brings her thumbnail sketches of characters to life.
.-." " f ~ '7 ’ "7 '. "’t'yci'.‘ r“ r. I The Healing David Park (Phoenix £4.99) A boy in the Northern Irish countryside sees his father shot dead on his farm and. now mute. moves with his mother to Belfast where his next door neighbour is intent on helping him recover. Park‘s simple descriptions of everyday things are imbued with an almost hypnotic intensity. reﬂecting a country where even the mundane is soaked in a mixture of religion and violence.
I The Men and the Girls Joanna Trollope (Black Swan £5.99)
More angst from the land of dried ﬂowers and scrubbed pine as thorny emotional problems manage to breach the barricades of soft furnishings designed to keep them out. Trollope defies expectations by making her characters slightly unconventional and even touching on ‘social issues‘ while still catering for an audience appetite for describing characters in the social shorthand of lifestyle and interior design.
I Johnny Ilogan Dillons. 174—176 Argyle Street. 248 4814. Wed 21. noon—2pm. Free. Signing of the new paperback version of the Smiths biography: Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance (Omnibus £9.95). Look out for those promised sordid Smiths break-up details in full: more revelations. extra chapters and a new round of controversy. I Joanna Trollope Waterstone's. I32 Union Street. 22I 0890. Thurs 22. 6.30pm. Free. Author reading and signing of the The Men and the Girls: A Spanish Lover (Bloomsbury £14.99). It’s Trollope's ﬁfth novel. an ‘intoxicating love story’ set in an 'enthralling Spanish landscape' and a ‘richly intriguing study
of twins'. Who writes these blurbs?
I Ileith Floyd Waterstone‘s. 45/50 Princes Square. 22I 9650. Mon 26. l2.30—l.30pm. Free. Signing of his latest lively anecdote-laden travel-cum-cookery book on alcohol-cuisine. This time it‘s a guide to south east Asian food: Far Flung Floyd (Michael Joseph £l6.99).
I Don and George (alias Jack Docherty and Murray Hunter) Waterstone‘s. l3 Princes Street. 556 3034. Fri 16. l2.30pm. Expect a bit of back-chat from the authors of Absolutely: The Words (Boxtree £6.99) while they personally sign your copy.
I Johnny llogan James Thin. 53—59 South Bridge. 556 6743. Tue 20. noon—2pm. Free. Signing of the new paperback version of the Smiths biography: Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance (Omnibus £9.95). Look out for those promised sordid Smiths breakoup details in full: more revelations.
extra chapters and a new round of controversy.
I Ileith Floyd Waterstone‘s. 83 George Street. 225 3436. Mon 26. 7.30pm. Free. Signing of his latest lively anecdote-laden travel-cum-cookery book on alcohol- cuisine. This time it‘s a guide to south east Asian food: For I-‘lung Floyd (Michael Joseph £l6.99).
I Michael 0ndaatie Waterstone‘s. 83 George Street. 225 3436. Wed 28. 7.30pm. Free. Booker prize-winner: The English Patient (Pan £5.99) is out in paperback. Ondaatje will be signing and reading.
I O. James iloss James Thin. 53-59 South Bridge. 556 6743. Thurs 29. 6pm. Free. with wine and refreshments. The author of Music/t Fir/1e: Robert Carver and the Art of Music in I 6th C enturv Scotland (Mercat £I5.95) gives a talk with music before signing copies of the book.
64 The List I6—29 July 1993