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Putting the life into country



8 The List 9—22 September I994

, " the assistant Paddy Hunter. Warm. funny and

With his first novel, Scottish writer DUNCAN MCLEAN is trailing a set of large, muddy footprints through the literary world. He tells Kathleen Morgan why.

fter eight long years in Edinburgh and a collection of short stories shot through with a sense of alienation. writer Duncan McLean has finally come home. Nestled in his Stromness abode on the coast of Orkney, the 29- year-old feels like a spy who has come in from

the cold. With the publication of his first novel * Blackden this month. he has left behind the city

lights that have illuminated his short stories. We are talking a serious return to his rural roots and boy. do they feel good.

Orkney is his adopted home McLean spent much of his childhood in the north—east farming community of Phingask before moving nearer to Aberdeen and then to Edinburgh as a student. lt

is this rural territory of his youth. thick with ancient

history and layered with rugged landscapes. that shapes Blackdtm. The novel is an unforgettable. weekend-long romp through life of eighteen-year-old auctioneer’s

moving. it kills any romantic ideals of rural life. McLean‘s secret is to tell it like it is, using a

"' distinctly north-east voice.

‘Where I grew up, you just had to look out your window and you had 5,000 years oi history. . . In Mulrhouse, you probably have 30 years at history because everything has been obliterated.’

In the quiet. gentle tones that pin him to ‘the middle of nowhere outside Fraserburgh’. he explains why he left Edinburgh and his job as a

, community hall caretaker to write the rural

novel he had planned for years. ‘I enjoyed Edinburgh very much for a few years and still like it. but after being there about six years. I began to feel i didn’t actually belong there. i

1 always felt like a visitor. i ended up moving back

to a rural community and within eight weeks of

being in Orkney. felt more at home than after eight years in Edinburgh.’

Blacde is a sudden departure from the oppressive. city-based short stories of his first book, Bucket ()f Tongues. The biting humour is still there, but the sense of bitterness is not. ‘A lot of the short stories were about outsiders spies looking in.’ says McLean. ‘I always felt like a spy in a foreign territory, but this novel feels much more like me living and breathing through every pore.’

His aim was to do for rural writing what James Kelman has done for urban writing to root his characters and their environment in reality. As Kelman used the dialect of Glasgow’s housing schemes, McLean uses a voice which can be heard echoing throughout north-east villages and farming communities.

‘This is more than important, it’s crucial really.’ he insists. ‘Stories are made up of words. and words are unique to the time. place and the people speaking them. Kelman paved the way