WHEN JAMES KELMAN unexpectedly scooped the Booker Prize in 199-1 for his novel How Late

I! Was. How Lute. he was whisked off

to the B BC‘s Late Show studios. where smartarse pundit and presenter Mark l..awson was set to conduct an interview.

This being the Beeb. you might think it pertinent to ask about the book‘s contents as a piece ol‘ living literature. Lawson. though. only seemed interested in how Kelman planned to spend the £2().()()() prize money. lt was a question you couldn‘t imagine being lohbed at lshiguro. Rushdie or Amis but here was a genuine prole made good. who‘d been granted admission to the club and should l‘eel bloody gratel‘ul for it. Kelman visibly bristled as Lawson bumbled and blustered to l‘ill up the botched silence.

‘lt was like something out of The Sun.‘ says Kelman. Sitting in the study ol~ his .\laryhill home. surrounded by books and political

paraphernalia. he betrays no signs of

the bolshiness that's seen him marked him down by bleating hacks as the original whingeing Jock. In the flesh. he‘s soft-spoken and as careful in his choice of words as he is with anything in print.

The BBC incident sums up Kelman‘s uneasy relationship with the

22 THE lIST 9—23 Jul 1998

'I could go on a panel with Jeffrey Archer, and the only thing we've got in common is Tipp-Ex.’

James Kelman


.9 q‘: .,

middle class literary establishment who either rem him. patronises him or goes into apoplexy about prose l'iction they see as having crawled l‘rom the gutter. The media l'urore that l‘ollowed made good copy tor a year. though Kelman prel‘erred the business ol~ writing. and duly got his head down. Now the li‘tlits’ ol' that labour put him back in the spotlight with a double whammy ol' densely rhythmic (ilasgow patois.

The (imu/ Times is 11 collection ol

twenty short pieces. all written in the

first person l'roni the points ol' view ol‘

a wide assortment ot' working-class

(ilaswegian male voices. 'I’lie .-lrl ()f

The [Jig Bass Drum. meanwhile. is a version ol‘ one of these stories. ‘(‘omie (‘utsfl and l'orms the basis ol Kelman‘s l'irst radio play l'or twenty years. It also marks the first time something containing substantial use oi the dreaded ‘l" word has graced the airwaves.

"l‘he literary establishment don‘t understand that there are twenty dil‘l'erent ways ol Using the worth says Kelman. perhaps tired by the continual attention paid to one ol. the oldest words in the linglisli language. ‘So its meaning becomes clear in the rhythm ol‘ the prose.‘

Kelman‘s pioneering use ol' the working-class voice in the l‘)7()s and 80s undoubtedly opened doors for the wave ol‘ Scottish prose writers now

Even with a Booker Prize- winning novel in the bag, JAMES KELMAN isn't likely to join the literary Iuvvies. The voice of Glasgow is loud and strong in his new collection of short stories, The Good

Words Neil Cooper

lazily lumped together as a movement. However. he‘s modest about his influence. prcl‘erring to see liimsell’ as a continuation ot’ a tradition that l'uses the literary and the oral.

Despite his standing. the launch ol~ The (Inm/ Times won't see Kelman swanking it up at Waterstonc's with wine and nibbles. ‘l’ve always had this problem. that all writers are supposed to have a common bond just because you’re writersf he says ol such back-slappy ocassions. "Like. I could go on a panel with .lel'l'rey Archer. and the only thing we‘ve got in common is 'l'ipp-lix. We couldn't even talk about literature. because politics would come in the way too much.‘

In August. Kelman tips sticks from his native city for a year to become a Visiting liellow at the l7niversity ol‘ 'l‘exas. Will his next book be all ten- gallon hats and oil-strikes then‘.’ ‘I don't think it‘ll al'l'cct it too much.‘ he smiles. ‘I am looking l'orward to it though. Del‘initely.‘

The Good Times is published on Thursday 23 July by Secker & Warburg, priced £14.99, and is launched at McDonald Road Library, Edinburgh on Saturday 25 July and The Arches Theatre, Glasgow on Sunday 26 July. The Art Of The Big Bass Drum is broadcast on Radio 3 at 9.15pm on Sunday 19 July.