My first day at Aye Write was a fun exercise in changing the brain’s gears in rapid succession. I kicked off with chairing Tariq Ramadan: his new book opens with a disclaimer about how much he dislikes being called a “controversial academic”. Ramadan was famously prevented from entering the United States (too Muslim) and has been declared an apostate by hard-line supporters of some dictatorial Middle Eastern countries (too European). He’s a very eloquent speaker, and very precise in unpicking some of the ambiguities and contradictions in the contemporary debate about the future of Islam (what, he asked, is a “moderate” Muslim? In most instances, this is used as a euphemism for “ex” Muslim). The issue of the veil came up, and Ramadan’s formula seemed both sane and inclusive: Islam, he said, cannot force a woman to wear the veil and the State cannot force her to remove it. Then, half an hour later, it was Ben McIntyre and Chris Andrew on Operation Mincemeat and the history of MI5. We chatted about the connections between espionage and novel-writing – especially about Agent GARBO who created 27 “subsidiary” agents, who never existed. It was striking that the secret services had been so acutely aware of the gullibility of the Nazi regime (as McIntyre said, it suffered from “yesmanship” and “wishfulness”, the same combination that led to the promotion of a certain dodgy dossier) compared to the agency’s bizarre conviction of Soviet ingenuity. The lack of evidence for a high-level MI5 Soviet agent was seen as proof that one must exist, one so McAvity-ish that his invisibility was his defining feature. Finally, I chaired an event for the Headshook anthology, with novelists James Robertson and Alan Spence and the writer-politicians Henry McLeish and Chris Harvie. Having apologised for the panel comprising solely of roughly middle aged men, we took a look at possible futures for Scotland (and for Scottishness). Spence revealed what his guru, the late Sri Chinmoy, had thought of as the “quintessential” aspects of Scotland, including inventiveness – a neat vision, but it got me thinking that if there were an archetypal Scot in the early 20th century, it was probably the ship’s engineer McAndrew in Kipling’s “McAndrew’s Hymn”. And possibly Scotty from “Star Trek” for the latter half of that century. Next up at Aye Write for me: Louise Welsh, A L Kennedy and a panel on the memoir. I got the train back (thankfully not the so-called, post-pub Vomit Comet) along with Ed Hollis, the author of the brilliant The Secret Lives of Buildings, and discussed the possible psychogeography of newsagents in Edinburgh… of which more anon.
A Couple of Links
Impoverished authors! There is a way to make money through writing – first, start your war…
The ever-reliable Onion highlights a forgotten aspect of the digital switchover in newspapers