Pastoral Letter


McShandy up a ladder, earlier this week

It’s been another week of travels and travails. On Thursday, I headed up to Aberdeen to chair the Gliterary Lunch there. These are rather splendid events: a three course champagne lunch, with readings from two authors, and an almost exclusively female audience. Over the years we’ve had authors such as Sophie Hannah, Janice Galloway and Maggie O’Farrell; in Aberdeen it was the television producer and director Lissa Evans, whose third novel Their Finest Hour and a Half was longlisted for the Orange Prize and Lionel Shriver, winner of the Orange Prize, and there to discuss her new novel So Much For That. Shriver is a fantastic performer and a writer almost incapable of sentimentality. So Much For That has a double narrative: Glynis is dying of cancer and her husband Shep is being bled dry by medical bills. It is an unflinching and unforgiving book, and yet surprisingly funny and brisk. Their Finest Hour and a Half is a charming tragicomedy set during the war, and is bound together by an attempt to make a film about Dunkirk, neatly parrying propaganda with reality. Evans very wittily confessed that her monstrously egomaniac actor, Ambrose Hilliard, is based on a real actor: or rather, on every real actor she’s worked with. I shuttled back from Aberdeen to attend the party where Mrs McShandy revealed the identity of the Writer in Residence for the Edinburgh Napier Creative Writing course she heads up… and it was James Robertson, whose breadth of experience runs the gamut from poetry pamphlet publishing to Richard and Judy’s Book Group. Luminaries in attendance included Gavin Bowd, the poet and translator of Houllebecq, who’s working on a book about Fascism in Scotland; the SF writer Ken MacLeod (I’ve read a third of his new novel, The Restoration Game and can’t wait to be on a bus later finishing it); Steven Hall, author of The Raw Shark Texts; Marc Lambert from the Book Trust; McShandy’s publisher, the formidable Hugh Andrew; and the former director of the Book Festival, Catherine Lockerbie. Then, a – I don’t know what the collective noun for agents is… an offering of agents? a percentage of agents? dunno. Then, some agents from Londonsville came up to speak to the students – Oliver Munson from Blake Friedman; Nicola Barr from the Susijn Agency and Hannah Westland from Rogers, Coleridge and White (the agency which represents y work). In the ashy shadow of a quiet London Book Fair, they confirmed that “£5000 is the new £20000” and we did a lot of gossiping about Amazon reviews, myopia over digital rights and the worst books published this year. I’ve taken my foot off the gas with my reading this week: apart from Shriver and Evans, I read seven volumes of Bill Willingham’s Fables and three of Jack of Fables; Frank Westerman on Stalin’s writers and James Roberston’s new translation of Guatemalan poetry by Humberto Ak’Abal. The reason for this ridiculously low new word ingestion was that I was also doing the edit of my new book, Scott-land: The Man Who Invented A Nation. Not enough time or room to go into the joys of self-editing, but here’s a few sneak peaks from my notes:

  • I prefer “oubliette” to “dungeon”
  • [sic]. He spelled it SHAKSPEARE
  • I know I overuse tricolons but would like to keep “semi-self”
  • New York Times uses “Hali Bote”, but happy to change
  • Font change for monument inscription?

Off to the Borders now for nephew Danny’s 7th birthday party. He’s getting Andy Stanton books.



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3 responses to “Pastoral Letter

  1. Jenny-Lou

    “oubliette” is an excellent word, much preferable to dungeon, although that might have something to do with me being obsessed by TheLabyrinth when I was a kid.

    • I love the word because Scott went into an oubliette (a place where things are sent to be forgotten) in order to bring back tokens of memory. Seems like a literalised metaphor to me. Round one goes to oubliette (and by the way, the sentence in question involves being lowered into an oubliette: oubliettes were constructed to have no door out. One can always walk into a dungeon; an oubliette requires friends to get you back out of it)

      • Jenny-Lou

        Yup, that’s pretty much what happens in The Labyrinth. Sarah gets thrown into the oubliette by the Goblin King to stop her getting through his labyrinth to save her baby brother, but she is saved by her friend Hoggle.
        The best part is that when, in a standard grade French class, the verb “to forget” came up, I was the only one who knew what it was :D. Who says we don’t learn things from movies.

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