Books make the world more real for us: Andrew O’Hagan on civic memory in Scotland

October 2nd, 2011 by Nuria_Ruiz | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Books make the world more real for us: Andrew O’Hagan on civic memory in Scotland
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Photo of Andrew O'Hagan by Jerry BauerOn 28th September 2011, award-winning writer Andrew O’Hagan arrived in Stirling to deliver a lecture on civic memory, which he called “An Argument on the Character of Scottish Culture”.  In equal measures thoughtful and amusing, he explored how our understanding of Scotland, and our own place within our home country, is dependent on shared memories and a common culture.

 The lecture was held at the macrobert, as part of the House of Words series in collaboration with Creative Writing at Stirling.

“Scotland”, asserts Andrew O’Hagan, “is a living workshop of the imagination”.  And this was really the unifying theme of his guest lecture on the nature of Scottish civic memory.  We Scots are bound by our imaginations and our unending need to understand what has gone before.  Through the Bell’s Whisky tagline, “Afore ye go”, via an unexpected invasion by the English, to finally praising the Scottish “confederation of the imagination” between its authors and readers, Andrew led us through the creation of a Scottish identity that says as much about its citizens as it does about the continuing strength of its creative industries. 

As a writer, O’Hagan of course emphasised the role of writing in civic memory.  A lovely idea was his perception of the theatre as a vision for how to live, particularly when our lives are becoming politically and economically harder.  But it was the story, the power of fiction, which underpinned his argument.  Mentioning James Kelman, Andrew described his body of work as the most crafted and true representations of Scotland – and for me, it struck home.  Kelman, of course, won the 1994 Booker Prize with How Late It Was, How Late, stoking controversy with his use of Glaswegian language and culture among more traditional critics.  But in Scotland, his book was an invocation of who we are; it was our language, our experiences and anxieties, put into words where it could not slip out of view.

A noteworthy observation, purely from a publishing perspective, was O’Hagan’s idea that Scottish civic memory actually finds its most forceful expression in the arts – Scottish plays, music, art and books are becoming powerful, punching above their weight in the cultural stakes.  In particular, books are playing a bigger role in making the world “more real” for us as Scots.  This led me to question what that could mean for the publishing industry in Scotland.  It might be easy to assume that the home of literary and fiction publishing in Britain rightly lies in the South East.  But as Andrew noted, Scotland is a nation whose stories are largely unwritten, and where our personal fiction and characters are as respected as our national history.  We may for many years have lived a verbal life, but this creation of a civic memory could see our stories, and the stories of those who came before us, power the publishing industry.  If Scottish book culture is on the ascendant, then Scottish publishing can become as commanding as the stories it makes and preserves. 

And everyone in Scotland, after all, has a story.

Núria Ruiz, September 2011

Project Assistant for Book Cultures, Book Events research

October 2nd, 2011 by Claire_Squires | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Project Assistant for Book Cultures, Book Events research
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With funding from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Professor Claire Squires (Director of the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication) and Professor David Finkelstein (Queen Margaret University) will be running a series of events on the topic of literary festivals and live book events in 2011 and early 2012, including an academic conference and practitioner/stakeholder-focused events. Project assistance is sought for the following roles:

Research and Administrative Assistant for events from late October 2011-March 2012. 60 hours @ £15 an hour. Skills and experience needed for the position:

  • Aptitude for events organisation and administration
  • Knowledge of and interest in contemporary publishing, literature and creative industries
  • Experience and/or aptitude for research in areas relating to the project

Research Assistant for completion of report and other outputs March-April 2012.

  • 20 hours @ £15 an hour. Skills and experience needed for the position:
  • Knowledge of and interest in contemporary publishing, literature and creative industries
  • Experience and/or aptitude for research in areas relating to the project

The roles can be combined. The work pattern is part-time and flexible on negotiation with Professor Claire Squires and Professor David Finkelstein and some of the work can be completed remotely; however, the assistant will need to be within commuting distance of Stirling and Edinburgh for project meetings and events.

To apply, please email Professor Claire Squires claire.squires [at] with a cv detailing your relevant experience, and a covering email by 14 October 2012. If you require further information, please also contact Claire Squires.

Further Details

RSE Workshop Book Events: The Transnational Culture, Commerce and Social Impact of Literary Festivals

A significant development in the environment of literature and the book at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries has been the growth of literary festivals and book towns. As part of the literary marketing mix, book festivals and towns offer publishers the opportunity to promote their authors and sell their products. Such locations also provide physical and sociological spaces in which readers encounter writers and literature, and become book consumers. Book festivals and towns have clear links to regional economies, and are heavily used in the promotion of tourist destinations, as testified by the strategic partnerships and sponsorship arrangements with a variety of agencies. In the era of new media and digital delivery, the opportunity to meet authors and fellow readers face-to-face, to buy books and other merchandise, and to align a liking for literature with travel and tourism, is being taken up by hundreds of thousands of readers every year. Literary festivals and towns, while heavily promoted by digital marketing activities, afford physical meeting spaces for authors, books, readers and ideas.

The project is funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and is run in association with the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication at the University of Stirling, Queen Margaret University, and Bookfestival Scotland .