It’s been another week of public transport, shuttlecocking between Edinburgh, Melrose and Glasgow; which has been wonderful for uninterrupted reading (I got through New Model Army by Adam Roberts, Kevin McNeil’s Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides and his novel, The Stornoway Way, Andrew Greig’s memoir slash travelogue slash meditation, At the Loch of the Green Corrie, Philip Pullman’s less-iconoclastic than expected The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, a biography of the Shakespeare forger William-Henry Ireland and Simon Armitage’s new collection of poetry) but pretty useless in terms of the blog.
I had three reasons for the latest peregrinations. First off, was the launch of the Borders Book Festival. It’s quite a political line-up this year, with Chris Mullin, Shirley Williams and Douglas Hurd (I really liked his book) as well as James Naughtie, Rory Bremner, John Simpson and Kate Adie. Not one but two literary prizes will be announced: The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year – in which the novel category has been won by John Aberdein, whose book I liked very much as well. The festival director Alistair Moffat is surely right that the weekend moves the centre of literary gravity away from London, albeit momentarily and temporarily. Then it was over to Glasgow for the launch of Scottsland, an initiative that will run all summer under the aegis of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. It commemorates the 200th anniversary of Scott’s The Lady of the Lake, and with my new book on Scott coming out at the same time, I’ll be pitching in for a fair few events. Phil Cunningham is already commissioned to create a new musical work inspired by Scott. It’s a poem with a weirdly double legacy. On the plus side, it gave the Americans the presidential anthem Hail to the Chief and the anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass took his name from the poem. At the other edge of the spectrum, the Ku Klux Klan took their cross-burning antics from the same work. The launch was held on the SS Waverley, moored in the Clyde, with a tooth-shocking selection of tablet, clootie dumpling and shortbread. I managed to get briefly lost by getting off at the wrong stop on the Glasgow Underground, but didn’t mind twenty minutes of impromptu psychogeography around Cessnock. Finally, the CCA in Glasgow hosted the launch of the International Literary Quarterly, the new edition of which is devoted to new writing from Glasgow. It was a chance to hear Peter Manson, the leading Scottish avant-garde poet, whose brilliant collages, cut-ups, found poems and dynamic reading really ought to be known by more readers. And just to round off the week, I’m supposed to go to an event at the Scottish Poetry Library tonight where there’s free entrance if you dress as a writer who had syphilis.