September 26, 2014

September 21, 2014

Whenever God Closes A Door, He Opens A Window

I think one of the subs at the Times needs a vacation.

September 19, 2014

September 18, 2014

Let Auntie Take Care Of It

I guess this must be that BBC bias that everyone is talking about.

September 13, 2014

Isn't An Indie Ref Someone Who Follows His Own Rules?

It's been almost three months since I actually wrote anything on this blog, but I thought the Scottish independence referendum was as good a time to get back in the saddle as any. I fully expect that this dramatic, triumphant return will definitively swing the result in the No camp's favour.

First, though, I need to apologise to my former music teacher (you'll see why later): I’m sorry, Miss Macleod. I’d also like to apologise, before we really get into the nitty gritty here, to my former self, for not predicting, as I was starting work six years ago on what is now my first published novel, that I’d one day be attempting to launch it the month before Scotland’s independence referendum. Sorry, past Andrew.

I don’t mean to suggest that the referendum’s most important consequence will be—for me or for anyone—the ultimate success or failure of my novel. But trying to launch a book about Scotland in pre-referendum Scotland, while living in the dread England, does bring sharply into focus personal anxieties that have plagued me for several decades now.

I’ve written about some of these anxieties previously, elsewhere. For example, at the excellent Big Truths last week, I explored at length how often I face questions about whether I’m a “real” Scot—because, despite spending pretty much the first seventeen years of my life in Scotland, I’ve since spent most of my time in Canada and the U.S., and so I no longer sound particularly Scottish. And then there was the essay I wrote for Necessary Fiction, published shortly after my novel’s U.S. launch, in which I discussed, well, this:
I was terrified that while American readers would be blithely reading the book as Scottish, Scottish readers would be just as blithely sneering at me as a fraud—as some dilettante wannabe writing another “Scottish” book, one which failed to capture real life in Scotland any more convincingly than Mike Myers’s Fat Bastard.
All of this came to a swirling, gut-wrenching maelstrom in the past month, as the release date for my book’s U.K. edition drew closer in lockstep with the referendum. When my publicist booked me on BBC Radio Scotland to discuss the book, I swithered: would the Scottish presenter take note of my funny accent and dismiss me (and my book) on the spot? I mean, when I met my publisher in person for the very first time, she told me I’d have to work on my accent, “because we’re selling you as a Scottish author.” She was joking, I think. But if even the people on my side don’t buy my Scottishness, I remember thinking, how was I supposed to win over dubious members of the Scottish public at the highest heights of their patriotic fervour?

Then there was the sinking feeling I got when one of my publisher’s Scottish sales reps casually mentioned to my editor that, oh, by the way, though my novel follows the McCloud family, hardly anyone in Scotland spells it “McCloud.” (Far more often we use “Macleod.”) I knew this, reader! I knew it I knew it I knew it! That's why I felt the need to open by apologising to my old music teacher, because her brown bob and constant, optimistic chattering stick with me to this day.

It was just that, somehow, I had managed to spend five years drafting and redrafting my Scottish novel without it once clicking that I had all the major characters’ surname spelt wrong. I have no idea which of my lazy neurons managed to bring about such a glaring, unintentional faux pas—but try telling that to someone with a bee in their bonnet about people in England not understanding Scottish issues! Here I was living in London and I couldn’t even spell the damn names right. I was sure I was going to get skewered.

I probably would have felt this way even without the impending referendum, of course, but like I said, the political situation inevitably made things a little starker. And that fear I felt, so tangibly magnified, has really solidified my feeling that independence is a bad idea. I don’t pretend to know definitively whether it would benefit the country long term, or harm it—though the most compelling analyses I’ve read suggest the latter—but I do know, viscerally and deeply and now from experience, that drawing arbitrary lines about national identity is not a good idea.

In my case there’s obviously a very germane personal aspect to that feeling, because by the somewhat narrow definition of Scottish citizenship laid out in the independence white paper, I wouldn’t immediately qualify—I wasn’t born in Scotland, and I haven’t lived there for years. Yet I was raised there, my parents still live there, my home is still there, and my friends and my old teachers and my heart. Without a doubt, I’m more Scottish than anything else.

And yes, again, I’m just one person, and this is just one very esoteric slice of the much larger independence debate. But I’m not the only person in this position, and it’s not a trivial point—because what sort of country will Scotland be if one of its first acts is so nakedly exclusionary? When it’s born, as a new independent nation, voting yes but saying no? Saying sorry, but actually you’re not Scottish enough, you don’t sound right, and, yeesh, you can’t even spell Macleod?

If this seems to be making light of the referendum, that’s not my intent. I care about Scotland a lot, and I can acknowledge that the vote is an important one. But here I am, a Scottish novelist launching my first novel—a paean to the Hebrides—and instead of being excited I spend half my time worrying that I’ll get bullied by the nationalists. That’s not just a matter of my neuroses; it’s a very real fact about the consequences of a yes vote for everyone who calls Scotland home. Because what much of the debate boils down to is: what is Scottish enough? And I fear for the people who make that cut as much as those who don’t.

September 12, 2014

September 05, 2014