DUNCAN MCLEAN FEATURE
ILFORD FP4 PLUS
for folk in the 80s to do this. but Lewis Grassic Gibbon was doing this 50 years before. In A Scots Quair. he developed a tongue to give a voice to the people — away from the traditional English narrative style.‘
Blackden positively resounds with voices of
the old. the young and middle-aged. Narrated by Paddy. a restless soul who both loves and loathes his rural background. it is a vivid journey into the mentality. history and geography of a ﬁctional village outside Aberdeen. It is also a hilarious and touching insight into the mind of a young man. balanced between naivety and maturity.
‘lt‘s the story of how Paddy has been moulded by his neighbours. his parents. his ancestors and the history of Blackden right back to the Stone Age.‘ says McLean. ‘Communities are clear cut
in the country — it‘s something I‘m very aware of
living in Orkney. but it‘s also something I grew up with. It took me a while to realise it‘s not so strong in Edinburgh.
‘Where I grew up. you just had to look out your window and you had 5000 years of history — stone circles. brochs. early Christian stuff and medieval forts. ln Muirhouse. you probably have 30 years of history because everything has been obliterated.‘
Describing the differences between city and country life. it is obvious why he left Edinburgh. despite having formed the small publishing company Clocktower Press with friends. and gaining recognition with Bucket ()mezgttes. He
explains: ‘lt‘s a funny thing about people in the country. In a way we‘re quite innocent and
naive. l was brought up away from the horrors of
city life — folk begging in the streets and widespread poverty.‘ McLean feels a strong bond with the
countryside of Aberdeenshire. where his family has lived for generations and where his grandfather. a retired builder. helped construct roads. ‘My roots in that place are far bigger than me.‘ he says. ‘If you‘re born with it. you just accept it. Some folk would probably find it a bit restricting.‘
‘Stories are made up of words, and words are unique to the time, place and the people speaking them. Kelman paved the way for folk in the 805 to do this, but Lewis Grassic Gibbon was doing this 50 years before.’
He finds the link refreshing. although he relates to Paddy‘s sense of restlessness in a community where ‘there‘s always someone watching who knows your parents‘. Paddy‘s character is rooted in some of McLean‘s experiences. the writer insists that is as far as the biographical content goes — and notjust because of a memorable passage when Paddy‘s Aunt Heather catches him taming a hard-on under a stream of water at the kitchen sink.
‘I do like Paddy.’ says McLean affectionately. ‘I like his sense of humour. the way he keeps questioning things and trying to find himself. He‘s an investigator: at times infuriating. a bit of a know-all. clumsy and self-absorbed.’ Pausing. McLean adds: ‘He‘ll probably get over that with age.‘ but coyly avoids promising a sequel to Blue/(den.
For now. McLean is embroiled in writing his second novel. set in a small town near Arbroath. When he is not scribbling. he works part-time in a bookshop in Stromness and indulges in his love of country and western music. In February, he will travel to Texas to research a book about his music heroes Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. The voyage of discovery will be funded by money from the 1993 Somerset Maugham Award. for Bucket ()f Tongues.
McLean is enjoying his status as a writer — he has made it into C asmopalitan and The Face this month — but he is taking nothing for granted. ‘Publishing is a very fickle business.‘ he says. ‘Scottish writing is quite popular with London publishers at the moment. but who knows when they will go back to their previous ignorance?‘
He can only hope they know a good thing when they see it. Ll Duncan McLean appears at John Smith & Sun, 252 B_\‘I'(’S Road, Glasgow on Tue [3 at 7pm and at Waterstane's, I 3 Princes Street. Edinburgh on Wed [4 at 7.30pm:
Blue/(den is published by See/(er & Whrburg. £9. 99 on Man 12 Sept.
by Duncan McLean
We walked away from the house.
Doing anything exciting thenight. Heather?
Video. Just went down to the chipper in Kinker to get one: Jacob‘s Ladder. have you seen it?
Aye. it‘s about this window cleaner in New York. and he‘s got this magic A-frame that ﬂies about to
get him up to the skyscraper windows. She laughed. Yourself Paddy? No. I don‘t have a magic ladder. Going out on the randan are you?
There‘s the Young Farmers‘ hoolie.
I‘ll maybe put in an appearance there. right enough.
I‘m sure the young ladies of the parish would be most disappointed ifyou didn‘t. Paddy.
Hih. I reckon the young ladies of the parish wouldn‘t notice ifl turned up with a sheep under my arm and a sign on my back saying JUST MARRIED.
Patrick! You‘re terrible!
Life‘s terrible. and I‘m alive. so what do you expect?
No. you‘re terrible as in funny. she said. after a moment.
We were passing the house‘s nameboard on top of its post. I waved an arm at it as we went by. before Heather had the chance to say anything more.
I‘ll tell you what‘s funny. I said. See that sign? The name of this place? The Strath. I ask you! The Strath? Daft. eh? Do you not think? Heather"?
It‘s always been called The Strath.
I jumped ahead and turned to face
her. arms spread. Aye. exactly. and what does that mean?
Strathdon. Strathtay. Strathbogie. .. Strath means valley! Think about it:
who’d call a house on top of a hill The Valley? Mental!
We were at the car. She looked at me over the curve of the roof as we went to open our doors. Maybe it‘s called The Strath cause you get a good view of the whole of the den from up here.
I opened my mouth. then shut it again. Oh aye. I said. I never thought of that.
© Duncan McLean l‘)94
The List 9-22 September l994 9