Sunday Herald reviewA review of my historical novel The Brahan Seer has appeared today in the The Sunday Herald. The statistics of persistence speak for themselves: 25 years of published writing, eight novels and more than fifty short stories, to finally get one paragraph in a national newspaper.

Lesley McDowell writes:

“This poetic yet often visceral and brutal novelistic account of the mythic 17th-century Scots seer, Coinneach Odhar, begins in violence and ends somewhere else, in a mixture of regret and reconciliation. But it also explores the relationship between an unusual individual and his world, which he repeatedly disrupts, in touching and often illuminating ways.”

My sincere thanks to Lesley. But one of my favourite sayings is “the terrible thing about good luck is how it looks so much like something we’ve earned”, and the time has come perhaps to turn that logic on myself. Would this book have been reviewed had I not had the good luck to briefly make the acquaintance of the reviewer Lesley McDowell herself, and shame-facedly mention that I had a novel out in need of review? And how many brilliant books are out there in Scotland right now, unrecognised and unread because the writer does not have good luck or the backing of a major publisher who has arbitrarily decided upon their saleability and resolved to shove the book down everyone’s throats through buying up publicity channels? Let us all pause and spare a thought for the living tomb of the unknown writer. My other books are just as good… never believe in the myth of a meritocracy until it has arrived. I’ll keep you posted.

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7 Responses to Recognition

  1. As a Scottish writer of historical fiction who has, in the first year following the release of her debut novel, found herself occupying exactly the kind of limbo you describe, can I applaud you on both this marvellous and forthright post and also your patience and perseverance through the years. I hope that this recognition is just a portent of things to come, and, as someone who is an avid reader of historical fiction, I look forward to tracking down your novels!

  2. Thank you so much for your kind sentiments, Louise. If I had but 3 words of wisdom to impart from my experience of meeting writers it would be this: fame is arbitrary. If I had an additional 34 words they would be these: I’ve seen no evidence that success makes anyone a better writer and considerable evidence to the contrary. Cherish your wilderness years and the freedom to write from your heart rather than for your agent.

    • Ah, I think I’m safe! I’ve worked without an agent to date, and I’m with a small press who are very laid back about what I choose to write about. What I lose by not having a big hitter making a very loud noise about my work, I gain in intellectual and artistic freedom. Doesn’t mean that I don’t have to work extremely hard trying to promote my own book, but, hey, whatever! Incidentally, I couldn’t see a publication date for your book on the Seer – my husband remembers reading a historical novel on The Braham Seer (he’s sure that was the title) and he’s wondering if it was in fact yours.

      • He may be recalling The Seer of Kintail by Elizabeth Sutherland (1977) or The Prophecies of The Brahan Seer by Alexander McKenzie (1877). My book is just out this year, 2014.

      • Thanks for the info – I suspect he read the Sutherland book. I’ve got a copy kicking around, which I haven’t got around to reading yet. It’d be great to see a contemporary take on the tale – I’ll definitely have to track yours down. Good luck with it!

  3. Douglas Gilmour says:

    One of the things that has consistently amazed me wither it’s randomly meeting the West Lothian Writers Group or attending the British Fantasy Society is the level of talent out here in the wilderness is outstanding. Douglas, it’s not having the luck, it’s what you do with it.

  4. Well don’t get me started on major publishing houses and literary agents: the unelected gatekeepers and their self-appointed task of channelling the most free and varied media of expression there is (i.e. writing) into a handful of safe avenues of banal guff along the ‘best-selling’ lines of what we’ve all seen before. As with politics, we must look to the internet now as our best hope for breaking these redundant oligarchies.

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