Life in the Gutter…

December 30th, 2010 by Lauren_Hunter_Nicoll | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Life in the Gutter…
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A literary journalist (who shall here rename nameless) overhead at the Wigtown book festival bemoaning the fact there were ‘no good writers under the age of forty-five in Scotland’, and a frustration at a lack of literary magazines exhibiting new Scottish writing, were the key factors which propelled editors Adrian Searle and Colin Begg to establish Scottish literary magazine Gutter.

Both editors recently visited Stirling University’s Publishing Studies centre to share their experiences about establishing the magazine and to provide an insight into the world of publishing.

As graduates from the University of Glasgow’s Masters in Creative Writing course, both Adrian and Colin highlighted the fact that beyond being published in the course’s annual anthology there were few outlets in Scotland for the publication of new writing with the demise of literary magazines such as Cutting Teeth and Cencrastus.

Gutter was established to fill this void. With the proviso to promote new and exciting Scottish writing, the magazine showcases emerging and established writing talent side by side. Published twice yearly, with the first issue launched in August 2008, recently published writers have included Alan Bissett, Patricia Ace and University of Stirling Royal Literary Fund Fellow Linda Cracknell.

Plans for the future include the publishing of a Gutter anthology and the continuation of Gutter events. This year saw a Gutter event ‘McSex’ at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, a night which explored the tradition of eroticism in Scottish Literature – think smutty prose and nipple tassels (the smutty prose from the writers/nipple tassels on the burlesque dancer, although the opposite could have been interesting!), and events at the National Library of Scotland and the Glasgow Aye Write! Book Festival.

With the most recent issue full of stories from Scottish writers such as Louise Welsh, Zoe Strachan and Ewan Morrison I think that particular literary critic’s assertion was perhaps slightly misguided; there are certainly lots of good writers in Scotland under forty-five… Gutter is proof of that.

Lauren Nicoll

Scotland’s favourite national pastime: NOSTALGIA

December 15th, 2010 by Karen_Margaret_Raith | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Scotland’s favourite national pastime: NOSTALGIA
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Adrian Searle by David Lemm

Over the past few decades, Scottish literature has become slightly repetitive.  As Liz Lochhead’s quote above affirms, Scots are continuously looking back at the good-old-days.  Kiddies getting milk at school, Ah- Bisto!, the fish man on Tuesdays and working in factories and mines.  Read James Kelman’s The Burn or Gregory Burke’s Gargarin Way, and you will be slapped in the face by a depressing (albeit brilliantly written) anti-Thatcherite society.  Although it has only been twenty years since Mrs Thatcher has been in power, perhaps it’s time to embrace the new literary scene.  Welcome to the spotlight Adrian Searle and Colin Begg, the creators of Gutter magazine.

On the 25th November, these two ambitious young men joined the publishing studies class at Stirling, to promote entrepreneurship and contemporary Scottish fiction.  In reaction to a nameless critic asserting that ‘there were no “young literary Turks” out there,’ Searle and Begg set out to prove that ‘the new writing scene in Scotland is bouncing’ [Hind].  Meeting each other at a Glasgow creative writing course, the double act teamed up to form literary magazine Gutter, which has been compared to industry heavy-hitters MacSweeny.  The magazine concerns quality writing that is well-presented.  Writers have included Louise Welsh, Ewan Morrison and Zoe Strachan.  Searle would love to snag Scottish literary royalty, Kelman, Agnes Owen or Douglas Dunn.  They ardently promote the value of intellectual thought, and aren’t afraid of injecting a bit of Scottish ‘cheek.’  One of their events has been called ‘McSex’ and assessed eroticism in Scottish literature.  Also, the current poem on their webpage concerns the couple of the moment, Prince Will and Kate Middleton.  Excerpts include,

Life may be grim, but bankers and toffs have misery at bay

With this assertion, create a diversion, a Royal wedding day.


So, welcome back the Tories and their Liberal rejects;

We’ve cuts and riots, it’s strangely quiet, but cardboard city’s next.

Searle with modesty maintains that he is ‘playing with publishing’ or as he quirkily deems it ‘micro-publishing.’  From a marketing and design background, he co-founded the Glasgow-based publishing house, Freight, in 2001.  He decided to self-commission projects, in order to have complete control over the creative process.  Freight has churns out rare titles, including The Hope that Kills Us: An Anthology of Scottish Football Fiction, Snacks after Swimming and The Knuckles End: A meaty Collection of New Scottish Writing.  They base themselves around Scottish writers, and the projects are visually stimulating, and have already received several accolades.  Again, Searle refers to the titles unpretentiously as ‘fairly self-indulgent.’  Freight enjoys a sense of humour in the creative process.  When naming the title Knuckle End it refers to an obnoxious assertion that Scotland is the ‘knuckle end’ of England – the leftovers that you might make soup from or throw to the dogs.  Wittily The Knuckle End is broken into two hardbacks joined in the middle by a knee joint: one section is on fictional short stories, the other a cow’s journey from the field to the abattoir.  Artistically, the text employs squint double columns, and uses vernacular typography, created by ‘non-designers.’  Colin Begg? Well, in his spare time – he’s a doctor.  Doesn’t it make you tired just hearing what they’re up to?

Inspirational and informative the talk had the students swigging their lattes and developing formative strategies for our own publishing houses.  Can’t wait to see what the boys are up to next.

PS: Now you’ve finished reading my blog go over to Gutter to subscribe to their mag, and read the rest of the poem On the Announcement of the Engagement of HRH Prince William & Miss Kate Middleton by Carl MacDougall (Parental Advisory Recommended).

Image copyright David Lemm,

Karen Raith

Inspiring Paula Morris

December 12th, 2010 by Saskia_Spahn | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Inspiring Paula Morris
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Personally, I have remained much inspired by the talk of Paula Morris, who was the last guest speaker of our series. Paula is an author and teaches Creative Writing at Stirling. In fact, listening to her felt like ‘Yes, I will write more myself’. Firstly, she addressed the myths people nourish about writers, e.g. the writer isolating themselves, being oblivious to the world, while, in fact, they have another job instead, to make a living. Also, there is the opinion they would compromise for anything that would stimulate sales. However, in the case of popular writers, they might not be prepared to, – an example being Jonathan Franzen, who did not like Oprah’s Book Club (endorsement) sticker on The Corrections. Another ‘myth’ that Paula wanted rid of is that people seem to feel each and every publication be available on Amazon. Not true. Amazon is not hosted in every country, books are out of print, and smaller publishers may not be able to afford distribution through that channel.

Paula then talked about the author–publisher (editor) relationship, and the frustration of many writers, who complain that they aren’t looked after well enough, or that the publisher didn’t do enough for their book to do well. On the other side, there’s the writer, who also needs to become proactive. Not only has he or she to win the publishing team over, so that they will care more about the book, and put more effort towards its realization, but also, if an author won’t show initiative, he or she might sell the book to a publisher to see it disappear before long. Claire asked the curious question, how much it would be also about the team liking you, the author, as a person. Paula’s answer: a lot. No surprise. Nowadays, authors are expected to have Facebook and Twitter accounts, a website, a blog, etc. Their own initiative counts, literally. Paula is a great example herself. On one occasion, when living in the US, she promoted herself, with her husband designing book flyers, to be sent out to bookshops, who, in turn, invited her to do signings. These things make the publisher happy, as the author themselves has provided for a growth in sales. Ideally, the author would subsequently receive more attention from the publisher’s part. However, this may depend on how well the book will do after all. Curiously, if you’re a poet, your book won’t be expected to sell as well as if you were doing fiction. At the bottom line, if the records tell that your book has done great, you are likely to get another deal with your publisher.

According to Paula, everything is about getting your product ‘out there’. She also thinks that you want slightly too many copies of your book on the market, and that it is a good sign if there are returns, as this would confirm that there are a lot of copies out there. Additionally, Paula emphasized the status of London and New York as centers of publishing. Once your book hits London or New York, it would go out in the world – Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India…

Paula Morris, in my opinion, has been one of the most inspiring guest speakers we had. The effortlessness and candidness she applied speaking about her work, views, and experiences invigorated her talk to evolve into one ever so multi-faceted, relevant, and genuinely stimulating.

Visiting Speakers 2010-11

November 8th, 2010 by | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speakers 2010-11
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Every year, we welcome to the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication a number of Visiting Speakers. Our speakers all have some sort of connection to the publishing industry, and some of our speakers have previously studied at the Centre.

This semester’s Visiting Speaker programme includes Louise Franklin (Publishing Sector Coordinator, Skillset), the literary agent Lindsey Fraser (Fraser Ross Associates), Willie Anderson (Deputy Chairman, John Smith & Son), Marion Sinclair (Chief Executive, Publishing Scotland and a graduate of our courses), Adrian Searle (Gutter Magazine and Freight) and Paula Morris (author and Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stirling).

Edinburgh City Reads, Iain (M.) Banks

January 24th, 2010 by | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Edinburgh City Reads, Iain (M.) Banks
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Edinburgh Central Library hosted the second of its Edinburgh City Reads events just before Christmas, with a reading by Iain Banks from his new novel Transition, followed by an interview from Alan Taylor and a question and answer session.

There was a very relaxed atmosphere in the Reading Room of the library when we arrived, despite choosing seats right next to a camera, where my embarrassing laugh was a risk of national exposure. Perhaps the wine helped. After reading the prologue from his new book, questions from Alan Taylor and a member of the audience encouraged Iain to speak about marketing books in the science-fiction genre as well as the fiction. Iain Banks has written 24 books, split pretty much evenly between the two, but uses the name Iain M. Banks for his sci-fi books and Iain Banks for fiction. Initially, his publisher discouraged him from using ‘M. Banks’, saying it was “too fussy” and because of its association with Rosie M. Banks (Wodehouse character). In time he settled into using it as his science fiction pen name, considering it American-sounding and also simply a better name to promote science fiction under.

Despite having achieved acclaim in both genres, the number of fans crossing over between his styles (particularly towards science fiction) may be slim. Iain joked about the snobbery involved in picking up a book and being repelled on discovery that it contains parallel universes or quantum physics. It would be interesting to know how sales of his books would have fared had they all been published either with or without the M (which stands for Menzies, by the way, and there are a couple of funny stories to go with it). This point is of practical concern to Little, Brown and Company, as it is the first of Iain Bank’s novels in which the requirement of an ‘M.’ is debatable. ‘Transition’ contains the multiverse theory that each event that occurs involves a different event occurring in another possible world. Several characters in the novel can travel between these infinite variations.

It sounds incredibly complicated, but reviews suggest that Banks’ latest book will be a success with fans. I wonder how well exposed it will be to his science fiction fans, who may choose not to bother after noticing the absent ‘M.’

Later there was time for a few questions from the audience. Having dared my girlfriend to ask “Where do you get your ideas from?” which we considered to be the most embarrassing question possible, we were both spared the effort when a woman in the front row spoke about multiverse theory for a couple of awkward gap-filled minutes before finishing with the noticeable absence of a question mark. The microphone was taken from her and given to a man who asked to what extent Iain was aided by drugs in his writing. I knew he was a keen whisky drinker (and he now does no other drugs, excluding the espresso machine), but the answer that followed was so open and frank that at first I wondered if he knew the camera was there, and then just found him more likeable.

I went to the event having only read Iain Banks’ first novel, The Wasp Factory, but will gladly go to see him at other readings and am now looking out both for books by Iain Banks, and by Iain M. Banks.

— Alistair Coats

That 5.30am moment…

November 18th, 2009 by | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on That 5.30am moment…
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‘I finished the stories early in the morning and wanted to phone him straightaway. Then I realised that calling someone at 5.30am on a Sunday morning wasn’t very sensible.’ Last night at Edinburgh’s Central Library, Jamie Byng, publisher at Canongate, described the moment of excitement when he finished reading a batch of short stories from Michel Faber.

Michel FaberHe managed to wait until 7.30am to make the call, which was promptly answered by the normally phone-phobic author. They had a lengthy conversation about the stories and the possibilities for publication, thus beginning a strong friendship – and publishing partnership. Faber’s writing career with Canongate includes the Whitbread-shortlisted Under the Skin, The Fire Gospel and The Crimson Petal and the White, set in Victorian London and described by the Guardian as ‘the novel that Dickens might have written had he been allowed to speak freely’.

Faber began the evening by reading a tantalising passage from a novel-in-progress, stopping just before his protagonists have sex in a motorway lay-by en route to an airport parting. The entertaining and candid discussion that followed, chaired by the literary agent Jenny Brown, addressed the relationship between author and publisher.

The speakers touched on the reasons why a successful author might remain with his original publisher rather than being lured away by the big London conglomerates. In the case of Faber and Byng, a shared interest in music is one, but a passion for literature and a frank interchange of editorial and publishing values are others.

Byng concluded the evening by mentioning a piece of advice passed down by generations of publishers: ‘Never expect gratitude from an author, but be grateful when you get it’. But it was clear that in this author-publisher relationship there was gratitude on both sides – and a story of literary integrity and achievement.

The event was organised by Edinburgh Central Library.

— Alastair Coats