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My Co-Editor, Sorcha Dallas: 2015

ANNOUNCEMENT

This weekend, Sunday 12th March, will see the press announcement in the Sunday Herald newspaper of my next project, a book called The Essential Art of Alasdair Gray, which is a joint venture with Sorcha Dallas. This will be published by Freight Books in October 2017. Soon I’ll be featuring it here, and we’ll be using it as part of a public call out for people to get involved in what is designed to be a public conversation as much as a book which both interrogates and celebrates this remarkable artist’s visual archive. But what is the book, where did it comes from, who is Sorcha Dallas, and why make this book now?

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Alasdair Gray’s ‘Cowcaddens Streetscape in the Fifties’

A CREATIVE RESPONSE TO AN OLD IDEA

The idea for The Essential Art of Alasdair Gray came out of initial discussions over whether I should do a sequel to my biography of Gray, published by Bloomsbury in 2008. And I did consider it. After all, it has been a decade now, and it’s been a hugely eventful one for the artist, writer and political activist – the early 2000s were interesting to me as part of Gray’s story because those were the years when I was close up to my subject, but in truth, the decade following that has had much more in the way of a compelling narrative, as well as genuinely exciting new work.In this time he has developed the Oran Mor Auditorium, his life’s largest and possibly most important project; there has also been the Hillhead Underground mural, as well as all the attention, scrutiny and downright controversy that came along with the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014, for which Gray wrote Independence: An Argument for Home Rule (Canongate, 2014). Meanwhile, he has published a slew of books collating together all his various different forms of work over 60 years, from A Gray Play Book to the remarkable A Life in Pictures to the mammoth, completists dream Every Short Story. On a personal level, the years have been challenging. Alasdair lost his wife Morag, who died in 2014, and had a fall which very nearly killed him in 2015. This led to time spent in a coma. In 2017 he is wheelchair-bound, but back home, and back at work. The fact that he has survived at all is nothing less than remarkable.

During that last decade, my own life has changed greatly. I am no longer in Alasdair’s pocket or constantly bugging him with questions, as I used to be – working for him, with him, seeing his creative process and observing his life, learning from him and trying to get his voice on the page in my own book. Back then I lived in Glasgow. Now I live in England, some 200 miles away. Then, I worked for him as full-time secretary. Now I’m a full-time academic and novelist. Then, I was young. Now I’m not so young, and a family man. My voice and views are different. My perspective on his works is different. I thought it would seem fake (and be fake) to attempt to jam on a new chapter, a decade later, summarising what’s happened in Gray’s life since my initial biography. Perhaps this meant that it was best to let others update the story. But then, my work on Alasdair Gray felt unfinished, and having had the best part of ten years to move away from obsessing over Gray and his work, I felt I now had enough distance to return to it afresh. Was there some other kind of contribution I could make? And if so, how? There was one clear, dynamic development from the last decade which had not been properly dealt with, I thought. I couldn’t tell it on my own, but suddenly it made me excited about returning to Alasdair Gray, in a new way. The last decade has seen a genuine mushrooming of interest in his art. This, I’d like to suggest, is greatly down to the contributions made by Alasdair’s art agent, who has organised his archive, publicized it, made coherent sense of it, and dedicated much of the time in the years since I stopped working with Alasdair to building a genuine artistic reputation, piece by piece.That person is Sorcha Dallas.

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Gray, in front of his ‘Jonah and the Whale’ mural

IN SEARCH OF A TRUE EXPERT

I am not, and have never pretended to be, an art critic, or art expert. My education was a literary one, literature is my passion, and it’s how I came to Gray’s work in the first place. But I have developed an interest in art, and have sought to learn about it, particularly given that so much of Alasdair Gray’s literary output is a combination of word and picture, with each responding to the other. Also, the cyclical nature of both his literature and art mean that certain motifs, certain images, characters and emblems continue to reappear in new contexts – some artistic, some literary. Still, in writing my biography of Gray I was hyper-conscious of my own limitations when it came to making sense of the art, and in the chapter ‘Yes Yes But Is It Any Good?’ I wrestled with the fact that I was finding it difficult to find informed others who could help make sense of the artistic output for me. I suggested also that perhaps someone else should write another biography entirely, focusing on the art alone. At that time, there were those interested in Alasdair’s artistic output, but they were a relatively small band, or that’s how it seemed to me.

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Panels from Gray’s Oran Mor Auditorium

Thanks to Sorcha’s determined support and singularity of focus, the landscape is now radically different.She not only managed Alasdair’s visual archive but accessioned them into a system which then allowed her to create The Alasdair Gray Season, a city-wide festival celebrating Gray’s visual practice in Glasgow, his home city. There were several exhibitions, but a highlight was the large retrospective which Sorcha curated at Kelvingrove Art Galleries and Museums in 2014/15, which saw over 20,000 visitors. Okay, so nobody took me up on my suggestion of writing an alternative biography of Gray as a visual artist – but Sorcha did something more valuable, which was to make the visual archive live and breathe, allowing it to reach many more people than Gray had been able to achieve alone over the previous five or six decades.That genuine growth and impact is something this book seeks to acknowledge. Sorcha’s eye is much more sophisticated than mine when it comes to the visual archive, so her input is invaluable. And she has been able to bring exciting names to the project I would never have even known to look for. For that reason among many others, I think this book will be far better for being 50:50.

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‘London Road In-between Templeton’s Carpet Factory’

SO WHAT IS THE ESSENTIAL ART OF ALASDAIR GRAY?

The Essential Art of Alasdair Gray will be a truly joint effort – not just a collaboration between myself and Sorcha, but between Alasdair and many others who will write pieces on various different examples from his visual archive – to be accompanied, of course, by the images themselves. As ever with Gray this business is complex, and varied, and multifarious. So far we have selections from his murals, portraits, landscapes, books, some emblems and recurring motifs, also some uncovered as-yet-unseen sketches which have been dug up and which are to be shown as part of this book for the first time. We aim to show the breadth of Gray’s visual practice, and will be doing so by commissioning 100 of these pieces from folks representing many different walks of life. These include fellow artists, writers, musicians, academics and critics, also family and friends, and collaborators too. Alongside these, we are also putting out a call for members of the public to select their favourite Gray visual works, and write to us to say why they have chosen these. As well as creating an online presence for these contributions, we also want to include 10 of the best of these in the book itself. This is part of the reason for the Sunday Herald article – to put the word out as far and wide as we can, and encourage fans to come forward with their favourites, and tell us why. These responses may be critical, or personal, or a mixture of the two. Part of the fun of putting this book together will be to see what people select, and why.

To nominate your favourite of all Alasdair Gray’s artworks, please email a 250-word selection to mail@theessentialartofalasdairgray.com You can also contribute via Twitter at our new Twitter account @essentiallygray.

The deadline for all contributions is the end of May.

 

Here’s an interview I did for the Freight books website about my editorial work there, a few of the books I’ve worked on, but primarily about Head Land, an anthology of short stories celebrating the Edge Hill Short Story Prize, . You can find the original on the Freight Books site.

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Q: Hi Rodge. You’re Fiction Editor at Freight Books. What does that involve?

A: I’ve been an Editor at Freight since 2013, when I was living in Chile, and I’ve worked on about twenty-five Freight titles since then. I enjoy the back and forth of editorial hugely. And I feel like, perhaps because I’ve been on the other side of that relationship with my own novels and stories, I can relate to how it feels to receive critique on something you care about so much. Also, most authors really enjoy detailed discussion about their fiction. Even great and popular writers rarely get the chance to talk about their work in that way. A decent Editor should care just as much about the work as the author does. And I’ve been lucky. Freight has such a keen eye for quality literary fiction, so I only work on books I genuinely like.

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Q: Any Freight favourites?

A: Lots. But if you’re asking me to recommend some novels, then James Yorkston’s Three Craws is beautifully written, as wry and understated as his music. And I recommend The Alpine Casanovas by Toni Davidson too. What a rare talent he is. Also, I have a real love of short stories, and Freight specialises in it. Among my favourites are Vicki Jarrett and Lara Williams, who have both produced special collections recently, which were a joy to work on. As has Carl MacDougall, whose Someone Always Robs The Poor is timely, and is published in March. But I’m not sitting in the Freight offices. I’m more like an occasional Editor-Sort-of-at-Large. In fact, I am employed full time at Edge Hill University in Lancashire as a Reader in Literary Fiction, and working on Freight projects is my idea of a good time. (Or rather, time off well spent.) I’ve worked with Adrian from Freight on various one-off projects for the best part of a decade, and I trust him.

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Q: Which brings us neatly to Head Land: 10 Years of the Edge Hill Short Story Prize, the latest one-off. I see this is a joint endeavour between Freight and Edge Hill University Press. How did that come about?

A: Well, in 2015 Edge Hill University Press didn’t exist. It was an idea we had within our Creative Writing team, when we were thinking about how to provide promising students with meaningful experience in the publishing industry – employability skills, that kind of thing. It’s essential for new writers to work on their writing, that’s obvious. But many aspiring writers don’t know anything about the publishing industry and have no experience of it. The industry can seem intimidating, mysterious even, if you’re on the outside. And our students may go on to be writers, yes, but they might also choose to be agents, go into marketing, PR, events management, design, or editorial itself.

 

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In our staff we have quite a lot of experience of working with independent publishers, and we wanted to make the most of that. So myself and James Byrne, a fine, internationally respected poet who is also International Editor at Arc Publications, decided to set up an in-house University publisher who would publish one book a year, in partnership with different external publishers. Each year we would put together a team of students, appoint them to different publishing roles, and work on a book from the idea right through to publication and beyond. The first of those is Head Land. I approached Adrian because we wanted an independent partner who would help us through the publication process, work with the students, advise here and there, and most importantly make the book a beautiful thing which would be properly distributed and sold. I hoped Freight be interested in the partnership, but also thought they might be excited by some of the names in the book itself. And because of the design speciality at Freight, I knew they would be able to produce something stunning in terms of look. Which they have.

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(L-R: Jon McGregor, Rachel Trezise, Zoe Lambert, at the Manchester launch of Head Land, September 2016)

Q: So what is Head Land, and how did you choose who was included in it?

A: Head Land is a celebration really, of the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. This has been going for a decade now, and is the biggest prize out there for a single-authored short story collection published in the UK and Ireland. (There are several related prizes give out at the same time, but the winner of the main one gets £10,000.) Short story lovers may have noticed that there are loads of great prizes out there for individual stories – the Sunday Times Award, the BBC Short Story Award, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, many others – but in terms of a full collection, there’s nothing else but us. And it’s a real statement of intent for publishers to pursue short stories, especially when there is so much pressure on prose writers to stick to novels. So the idea for Head Land was simple – we would put together a book featuring some of our favourite stories which have featured in collections which either won or were nominated for the prize over the last decade.  A quick glance down that list shows you it’s a who’s who of the finest short story writers alive and at work in these islands. Some of the winners have been the likes of Colm Toibin, Sarah Hall and Kevin Barry. First class artists. And our shortlists have also included some wonderful names, including some short story specialists – Ali Smith, Tessa Hadley, Neil Gaiman, Jon McGregor, China Mieville….And that’s not counting the upcoming, younger talents – like Zoe Lambert and Adam Marek. We felt this list of writers was a gift. So we put together an anthology. Not a Best Of, exactly. More like a taster of the Edge Hill Prize. As well as celebrating this writing, and these writers, we also wanted to take the Prize to places who hadn’t necessarily heard of it. For example, you’ll notice Scotland is particularly well represented in Head Land: John Burnside won in 2013, while AL Kennedy, Kirsty Gunn and several others are represented too. Not too many writers or publishers north of the border had heard of us. So this book was a great way to spread the word. Every year we get more entries, and I expect that to grow again in 2017.

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Q: And what involvement did the students have with the project?

A: The students did everything. It was exciting to see. We appointed a Project Manager, then two people working on a website and in social media, also two working in organising events, and another two people working in publicity. I oversaw the project with James, but much of the graft was done by the students in between their own studies. Everyone worked in tandem with staff at Edge Hill and the Freight staff, but students led the project, really. They also often chose the stories, copy edited and proofed the work, and liaised with authors. Much of what you’d do at a small independent publisher – many jobs at once! The team were a mix of undergraduates, MA students and PhD students, and as this was the first year, they had to start with finding a logo for EHUP, and take it from there. Really, we began with a blank page. It was a real leap.

Q: What’s been the most enjoyable part of the process?

A: The same as it is for many publishing staff and writers I think – the launch! We launched Head Land at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, with three writers from the book featured in an event in the Spiegeltent, and a Freight party afterwards. Some of the students hadn’t been to a book festival before, so it was a real education, seeing the sheer scale and preparation involved. We had three past winners on in the Spiegeltent – Kevin Barry and Kirsty Gunn, both fantastic, confident readers, and with strong opinions on the short story form too. Then Jessie Greengrass too, a debut author who won the Edge Hill Prize in 2016. She and China Mieville were included in the book at the last minute, given that the 2016 prize-winner was only announced in July and the book was published six weeks later. (A tight production turnaround – more good experience for students!) Jessie is a huge talent, and since then has been named one of the Sunday Times Young Writers of the Year too. That’s one of the best things about all this. Being able to support the work of exciting new writers. Everyone knows who Colm Toibin is, but they haven’t always, have they? It really pleased me to see Michel Faber in the audience for the Edinburgh event, asking a question of the panel. He’s a great example of a brilliant, now popular and critically acclaimed writer who started out by winning short story prizes, and then with a debut collection. We need publishers to keep putting their faith in unknowns.

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(Robert Shearman, reading from Head Land)

Q: What else have you done to promote the book since Edinburgh?

A: The Edinburgh event was a few weeks before the official publication date. The idea was that we would then do a short tour, with different writers from the book featured for each event. So next we teamed up with Bad Language, the award-winning live lit night folks, and did a sell-out event at the stunning Portico Library in Manchester. That one featured Jon McGregor, Zoe Lambert and Rachel Trezise. And next we did a launch at Edge Hill itself, featuring Robert Shearman, Adam Marek and Carys Bray. That was also a sell-out in our main Art Centre venue, and had a really warm atmosphere – those three writers all have genuine, meaningful connections to Edge Hill. So for example, we study Marek’s short stories in Fiction classes here. And Carys Bray is the only writer in the book who is an ex-Edge Hill student. Now it’s all Richard & Judy and Radio 4 adaptations of her novels (and I hope we name Edge Hill after her in years to come). But she started out as a brilliant short story writer, and it was really special to have her return as part of a Head Land line-up. After these three events, we’ve been invited to other places. Hopefully in 2017 we’ll be doing events in Dundee, Lancaster, and anywhere else that will have us! We want to give the book a good, long life. The Edge Hill Prize 2017 is currently taking submissions, and we hope it goes on on on for a long time to come. But this will always be a document of its first decade. We’re grateful to Edge Hill for backing the book, and to Freight for the partnership.

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(L-R: Robert Shearman, Adam Marek, editor Rodge Glass and Carys Bray, Edge Hill University launch, November 2016)

Q: So finally, what’s next for Edge Hill University Press?

A: Well, most of the student team who put Head Land together have moved on now, graduated, got jobs, and we’re just keeping in contact with them. It’s nice that they want to remain involved even after graduation. One is now in 3rd year, another in 2nd year. Meanwhile the next project is well underway. One of the things I like about the idea for the EHU Press is that each year the team will be working in a literary different form. So the 2017 book is an anthology of transatlantic poetry and poetics, edited by Professor Robert Sheppard and my Co-Director of the Press, Dr James Byrne, partnered with Arc Publications, a great indie poetry press who have been going for forty years. I can’t say too much about that project yet, but the list of contributors is really stunning. I can’t wait to see it alive and in shops, alongside Head Land.  And after that, who knows?

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I’m pleased to see this novel published by Verbivoracious Press, 25 Years On. Why should you care? Well, I make my pitch below. Robert Alan Jamieson is sometimes appreciated, but not often enough, and he’s certainly one of the best experimental writers alive and at work in Scotland and beyond. This is a copy of the introduction I’ve written for the new edition of one of his finest early works, given new life in 2017. You can buy the book here. It’s a secret, but it’s a good one.

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Introduction to A Day at the Office by Robert Alan Jamieson

by Rodge Glass

 

  • The Way In

A Day at the Office was published by Polygon 25 years ago and hasn’t been reprinted since. That in itself is nothing special – the vast majority of good novels only live once, and in their own time. This one though is special: daring, and truly experimental, and in terms of form (I’m guessing here) unlike anything else you’ve ever read. It also does the basics right: it’s full of carefully drawn, convincing, fully rounded characters and, like all great novels, it has grown in relevance with the passage of time. The further away the Scotland of 1990 retreats into memory, the more this portrait of it feels accurate. So, though it’s no shame to be printed once, I’m pleased to see A Day at the Office reappear in this new edition from Verbivoracious Press. And I hope it represents an early part of the novel’s life. Sometimes, it takes a while to spread the word about a great book. Twenty-five years may be a long time in contemporary fiction, but it’s almost no time at all in literature.

 

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So what is A Day at the Office? Well, the narrator gives readers a strong clue right at the outset:

This book is a day and a night in the life of a Scottish city, seen through the imaging eye of a dreaming worker, who conjures to life the novel’s three motor characters – Ray, age nineteen; Helen, twenty-four, and Douglas, twenty-nine. Their connection is brief, yet inevitable in the fact that they are all parts of the single psyche, that of the dreamer/conjuror.

The book being described here may turn out to be a challenging read, but I can’t think of another novel that explains so very clearly, right at the start, what it’s going to do.

What follows is a series of fragments from the (both inner and outer) lives of Ray, Helen and Douglas, three young people trying to get life started, or re-started, and not quite knowing how to do it. The ‘dreaming worker’ (or novelist) makes the three central characters motor the novel along, occasionally crossing each other but usually circling – it’s not really until the final, tense scene between Douglas and Helen some of those connections become clear. Meanwhile, as with so much of Robert Alan Jamieson’s writing, the novel has an intimate tone. It’s delivered in a clear but unassuming way. It’s as modest as its author. Like the prose of any good poet, not a syllable is wasted. And yes, like the voice told us at the start, the novel takes place over one long day, starting at 0430 as

the moonwise children

go under

the bridge

to the other side

 The novel pans away from these three exactly 24 hours later, once

the earth has turned

in the night

and the up may be down

in the morning light

The characters have been thoroughly shoogled about in the interim, awaking to find that ‘up may be down’. They’re aware of how small they are, how insignificant. But they are at least watched closely by someone, our dreamer/conjuror, who always has eyes on them. The voice reappears intermittently, and does so on the novel’s final page. The voice –

stirs

the cauldron of dreams

awakening

to

freedom

and

foolishness

That suggests we leave Ray, Helen and Douglas as the whole cycle, their next ‘day at the office’, is beginning again. The sign-off implies that all readers have just witnessed is about to happen all over again, only in different shapes. Perhaps, as Douglas says to Helen, it’s finally time for the characters to ‘stop being kids’, to ‘really leave home’, to ‘grow up’, and there will be real change in their stuck lives after all. Maybe that’s just late night talk that will be forgotten in the morning, or at the very least, postponed. Either way, this is just one angle from which to look at A Day at the Office. And it’s not the only one.

Another is to say it’s a story about the effect death has on the living.

Another is to call it a love story.

Another is to call it a story about the pull of drugs.

Another is to call it a story about margins. About how difficult it is to escape them.

Another is to say it is a rare convincing portrait of the Scottish working class.

Another is to say that really, at heart, it’s about the distance between what’s on the TV and the drudgery of daily existence for ordinary people –

chewing over

the events of

a day at the office

a plane has crashed

a politician lied

an actor wrote a book

WHAT ELSE IS NEWS

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Another is to see it as a story about the end-of-Thatcher landscape in Scotland. What those years did. Their legacy.

One more: another way is to see A Day at the Office is as the story of Edinburgh in the year of the fall of the Berlin wall. A snapshot of time in its long history, of which the year 1990 is a short footnote, Edinburgh being the ‘coral reef’ that Helen Ray and Douglas merely rent, without ever having a hope of owning it –

but she is not new

this city

she is not ours

she is the coral reef

we explore til we give up

our bones

nothing is ever made new

make it together

nihil mix

zeroing out at the end

cramped in the upstairs room

the mattress behind the door

that face at the mirror

In a way, each of these descriptions above contains some element of truth, but on their own they don’t tell the whole story. If you look past the hi-fis, the played-to-death Smiths tapes and the fall of the Wall, all that places the book at the turn of that decade, here is a timeless novel, hard to reduce to trend or tradition.  For me, it’s not just about the content anyway, but also the presentation. Whenever I get the chance to recommend this book to someone, that’s where I always start. The form.

As you’ll soon see, A Day at the Office isn’t presented like a conventional novel. Chapter titles. Clear divisions. Blank pages where you’d expect. All that. No, it slides from prose to poetry and back again, then into script and back again, into various different forms of script too. It flips into italics and back, INTO CAPITALS, shrinking out of them in just the right place, utilising bold type for effect. It bleeds large words into small, sometimes overlapping, sometimes that strange small type worrying away at the edges of the main narrative as if whispering in its ear, trying to distract it from the main story. No matter which trail readers are following, Helen, Douglas or Ray, their subconscious voice is always in competition with the voice that can be heard by others. Sometimes the words clash. For me, this is central to any understanding of how the world of this novel works.

Now for a brief historical digression.

Such typographical play was not unique in novels of the 1980s and 90s. In 1984 Alasdair Gray’s masterpiece 1982, Janine deployed it in more extreme form, using the presentation of words on the page as a way to represent his protagonist Jock McLeish’s total mental breakdown. (And he’d used similar techniques in his debut novel, Lanark, in 1981.) In 1989, Janice Galloway’s The Trick is to Keep Breathing employed it in a more sparing way by using experiments like floating words, also words falling off the page, again with a character struggling to hold on to her sense of self. Each of these are key touchstones in late 20th Century experimental literature. (There are others in the European tradition too. There’s no reason to see this novel just as a representative of Scotland. All writers read and write across borders.) Anyway, what’s different about A Day at the Office is that, to my knowledge, it’s the only full-length work of this period to genuinely meld prose, poetry and script throughout – with the entire book being neither one nor the other nor the other, but a satisfying mix of all three forms which feels natural, unforced. Jamieson doesn’t just use typographical play when he needs to find new ways to represent moments of particular strain on the mental states of his characters. This is how they always are. It’s how they live, how they interact with the world around them, even when that interaction is as simple as avoiding your mum’s awkward questions about money, or buying enough weed to get you by, or thinking about last night’s sex. Every word spoken out loud is accompanied by an internal echo. And sometimes the echo is fighting itself.

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  • The Way Back

In 2005 Glasgow University’s Professor Willy Maley, knowing I was an admirer of Robert Alan Jamieson, asked me to write a short piece on A Day at the Office for The List magazine’s 100 Best Scottish Books of All Time. By then I had been living in Scotland for eight years. I had just published my own first novel but was naive and inexperienced. Still, I was keen, and since arriving in Glasgow in 1997 I had been in love with contemporary Scottish fiction, all of which was news to me, as none of these writers had been part of my literary education. I soon began working as Alasdair Gray’s secretary. This lasted for four years, then I wrote his biography for another three, and for the duration of the project I had much more reading and research to do. Around this time I discovered plenty of essential local voices through Gray’s own recommendations, and found that much of the best of it spoke to me in a way that my own culture and background – Jewish, middle-class, English – somehow could not do. So I set about hoovering up as much of the stuff as possible. That meant all the names you might expect if you were in and around Glasgow or Edinburgh at the turn of the century – Galloway Gray Kay Kelman Kennedy Lochhead Morgan Warner Welsh – some of whom have now, years later, graduated to positions of influence which must have seemed distant impossibilities when they were starting out, trying to inch the door open. But it meant many talented others too, and many who don’t usually get included in that list. I’m thinking of the likes of Agnes Owens. (Gray believed she was unfairly overlooked because she was female, working class, Glaswegian, and earned money as a cleaner.) I’m thinking of Frank Kuppner, Laura Hird. Writers of great talent who never quite had the recognition they deserved, never had London come calling. In my earlier days in Glasgow, it never occurred to me that Robert Alan Jamieson might also be included in that latter bracket. I thought he was a giant.

The final decade or two of the 20th Century saw an extraordinary flowering of Scottish literary work across the forms, and it may take a few more decades to appreciate it fully, to understand where it came from. When I moved to Glasgow, all that history was still happening, and many of the players were still on the way up. Having read Robert Alan Jamieson’s work at the same time as I devoured novels, stories and poems by many of the names above I noted the quality of it, also the influence his writing seemed to have on others publishing at the time. I just assumed his prose was widely acknowledged. Willy’s inclusion of A Day at the Office in his 100 Best Scottish Books of All Time reinforced that perception. Only afterwards, while conducting extensive interviews for my Gray biography (which meant talking at length with many of the most experienced literary artists in the country) did I realise that hardly anyone in the Scottish literary world, even the most well-read, the most interested, the most passionate, the most engaged, had even heard of it.

In the decade that passed between 100 Best Scottish Books and being asked to write a short piece for Verbivoracious Press in 2015, A Day at the Office had been mentioned to me by precisely no one. Though I often recommended it to others, I had also never found anyone who had read it. Jamieson was certainly a respected poet, particularly in Scotland, and since this novel was first published his reputation has grown significantly as a prose writer too. (His novel Da Happie Laand, published by Luath and shortlisted for the Saltire Society Book of the Year Award in 2010, is stunning in both range and execution.) But whenever I tried to find enthusiasts for A Day at the Office, I failed. I came to realise that the novel had found few readers in the early 90s, as well as little critical attention. Some might find this a depressing picture. I don’t. The early history of any great novel has little to do with the words inside the pages. It often has plenty to do with context. And the context at Polygon in 1991 is crucial in understanding why few readers were given the chance to find this book on its first printing. If we’re going to talk about the novel’s future, we should at least acknowledge its past too.

The first thing to note is the original artwork. Which was terrible. As those on the inside at Polygon at the time now admit, the jacket was perhaps one of the worst they ever passed for publication. Looking at it now, in the copy I’ve been rereading these past few weeks, I’m still amazed by how it looks like something more suited to a cheap home-made publication from the 1960s, not the 1990s, and from a serious, ambitious publisher who counted James Kelman, Janice Galloway and James Meek among their list. The green jacket had a badly printed copy of a typewriter and an alarm clock all skew-whiff on the front. It didn’t have a hope. Which reminds me of what one writer told me recently when her publishers sent her back a proof of her latest-novel-to-be with a note attached reading ‘Hope you like the cover’. She said, ‘I gave them sex, murder, heads on spikes – and they gave me a coat on a hook!’ A Day at the Office contained myriad opportunities for something direct, dark, appealing. Given the underwhelming artwork, what’s really astonishing is that anyone bought the novel at all.

In 1991, there were other challenges too. Like Frank Kuppner, also published by Polygon in this period, Jamieson was not easy to classify. Known primarily as a Shetlandic poet, this not-quite-novel-not-quite-long-poem was difficult to pitch. The impact of that may have been compounded by the fact that R.A.J. was, and remains, on the quieter end of the scale when it comes to self-promotion. Or as Willy Maley has it, ‘A shy wean gets nae toffee’. One person working on the original publication now claims Jamieson was ‘never fashionable, never shouty’, and ‘in the early 1990s in Scottish Literature, if you weren’t shouty, you didn’t get heard’. In my opinion use of that word, ‘shouty’, isn’t a hint about literally shouting your way to being noticed – it’s a publisher’s term in reference to how, in media/press terms, a writer might be viewed.  For example, the likes of combative Kelman and gritty Galloway, both forthright, quotable characters, were easier to pitch for interviews and promotion than certain others, especially back in the days when it was so difficult for Scottish writers to get any press coverage at all. Polygon were publishing 35 books a year at the time A Day in the Office appeared. Which meant that every year, some sank by sunset.

Another issue was the experimental subject matter. Undoubtedly, Polygon took on A Day at the Office because it was a fine novel, but not because it was easy reading. Jamieson was partly published out of love for the work, and commercial expectations were never high; it’s no stretch to suggest that little investment was made in promoting the novel beyond appealing to those who had already enjoyed his poetry, or previous novels Soor Hearts (1984) and Thin Wealth (1986) – such as the critic and University of Glasgow Professor Douglas Gifford, a long-standing supporter. So: bad jacket, poorly marketed, quiet author, experimental material. All of which explains the reception at the time, at least to some extent.

Praise be, such immediate commercial concerns are less relevant twenty-five years later, as we begin to reflect on the context of the time, and the enduring value of the novel.  And perhaps, if anything, instead of being castigated for not spreading it further and wider, Polygon should be applauded for investing at all in material which was so unconventional, so experimental, in the first place. It allows us to see it now. And appreciate it. Most good writers have reputations that evolve steadily over time, and those reputations are rarely diminished by sales figures. They are read by other writers, influence those writers, and in the end I do believe their voices are heard. That’s my story anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

  • The Way Out

 

At times, I have wondered whether appreciation of this novel was a club that only Willy Maley and I belonged to. With this reprint from Verbivoracious Press, I am happy to be proved wrong, and excited that A Day at the Office will be finding new readers who may also join the club. Meanwhile, writing this introduction gave me an excuse to talk to Willy about the book again, and discuss how the novel stands up after all these years. Where it fits in, if anywhere. As ever, Willy is positive about not just the work, but also the possibilities for giving it new life in the future, and I’d like him to have the last word:
Reprints are an essential means by which neglected works, books thought to have had their day, are brought back into view.… A Day at the Office is ripe for revisiting, rereading, and reviewing. Notice has to be taken. Attention must be paid to the smallest detail, the most modest, self-effacing work of literary art. Scottish fiction is arguably better served in this regard than it was in 1991, and the digital age allows easier access than the print culture of old. Once this novel shows up on the radar again I am confident it will find an appreciative audience and increase our understanding of just how rich the literature of the last two or three decades has been. Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark was a poet’s novel. A Day at the Office is a poet’s novel. Then again, all of Muriel Spark’s novels are the work of a poet, yet she who saw herself primarily as a poet is regarded first and foremost as a novelist. A Day at the Races. A Night at the Opera. These are significant events. A Day at the Office in its new jacket is an event too. A publishing event. A great day’s work. I’ll be rereading it and recommending it to lovers of poetic fiction at its finest… Whatever the reasons for its slipping out of sight, Robert Alan Jamieson’s A Day at the Office thoroughly deserves its day in the sun, its second life, its new dawn, its day after tomorrow.’

Quite right too, Willy. Reader, I hope you enjoy this novel. And if you like it, maybe pass it on, eh?

Even the Berlin Wall can fall, and time might alter anything. As anyone who’s ever read a book that changed the way they saw the world well knows, anything can happen in a day.

 

Rodge Glass, September 2016

From Rodge:

I can now announce that I’m going to be one of the three judges for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize in 2017. This is the 11th year of the prize, which was celebrated last year with the publication of Head Land: 10 Year of the Edge Hill Prize, which I edited, and which was published by Edge Hill University Press in association with Freight Books in September 2016. Below here, a few images from last year – Jessie Greengrass, the 2016 winner, with ever-so smart-looking Lecturer at Edge Hill, Billy Cowan, one of last years judges; Professor Ailsa Cox, who founded the prize and has run it ever since; and a cover image of Head Land too. Below that is the Press Release put out in January 2017 calling for entries to the Prize. This is open to all single-authored short story collections published by authors from the UK or Ireland, with this year’s eligible books being published between January and December of 2016. If you qualify, or know someone who does, then please let them know! We’ll be spreading word far and wide in the months ahead. Every year there are more entries.

Cheers. More soon.

Rodge

EDGE HILL PRESS RELEASE

The Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2017 now open for entries

Submissions for Edge Hill University’s 11th annual Short Story Prize are now open.

The winner, to be announced at Edinburgh International Book Festival in August, will receive a £10,000 prize.

The Prize is the only UK-based award that recognizes excellence in a published short story collection and will also include a £1,000 Reader’s Choice award to a writer from the shortlist, and a further category for stories by Edge Hill University MA Creative Writing students.

This year’s judges are Thomas Morris (finalist, Edge Hill Prize 2016), Cathy Galvin (Director, The Word Factory) and Dr Rodge Glass (Reader in Literary Fiction, Edge Hill University).

Dr Rodge Glass said: “The world of the short story is always evolving in myriad, fascinating ways, and each year of the Edge Hill Prize sees authors from all over the UK and Ireland bringing exciting new shapes to the form. I can’t wait to get stuck into what the Class of 2016 have produced.”

Publishers must submit collections for consideration by Tuesday 3rd March, 2017. The shortlist will be announced by 30th June with awards to be presented at a special event as part of Edinburgh International Book Festival in August. In order to be eligible, collections must be published during 2016. Authors must be born or normally reside in the British Isles (including Ireland).

The 2016 award was bestowed on Jessie Greengrass for The Decline of the Great Auk According to One Who Saw It. The other shortlisted authors were Kate Clanchy, Stuart Evers, China Miéville, Thomas Morris and Angela Readman.

Notes to editors

For media interviews and image requests please contact Jenny Morgan (Communications Officer) on 01695 654 372 or Morganje@edgehill.ac.uk

 

rodge-ehu-prizegiving

 

How to enter:

Three copies of each published collection must be submitted to

Harriet Hirshman, Department of English, History & Creative Writing, Edge Hill University, St Helens Road, Ormskirk, L39 4QP.

 

Please include email, phone number and postal address for the publisher’s representative. The closing date for entries is 3rd March 2017. Entries postmarked after that date will not be considered. Entries will not be returned. Publishers are responsible for consulting with eligible authors and notifying those who are shortlisted. Shortlisted authors must be available to attend a special event at the Edinburgh International Book festival in August 2017 and to participate in promoting the prize. The winner should also be available for a public reading at Edge Hill University, on a date to be

Updates coming in 2017

Posted: December 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

Hi there, and welcome. This site is going to be relaunched for 2017, there’s going to be a new project announced early in the New Year too. But in the meantime there are links here to all of my previous books, reviews, interviews, some images and also a selection of my editorial work. Also, there’s a new public Facebook page which anyone can sign up to here:

https://www.facebook.com/rodgeglass/
More soon,
Rodge

I’m delighted the good folks at Freight Books have just published Idols & Underdogs (out June 2016), which is a fantastic series of Latin American football fictions by writers from all over the continent, one from each nation, from Brazil to Colombia to Uruguay. This includes the likes of Roberto Fuentes from Chile, Juan Villoro from Mexico and Miguel Hidalgo Prince from Venezuela, amongst others. As a writer of football fictions myself, I was so pleased to discover the book, and that this tradition is alive and well on the other side of the Atlantic. I’m really pleased to have discovered so many great new Latin American writers to love, and proud that Freight have translated it, also grateful to the original editors, Shawn Stein and Nicolas Campesi, who put the book together.

Freight have kindly published the Forward I’ve written to this book, which explains all, on Medium. Please find it here.

View story at Medium.com

I’m very pleased to say that the good folks at Rasic Literary Workshop of Belgrade have just published my collection of short stories, Stories for the Easyjet Generation – I’ll be going on a WORLD TOUR OF SERBIA in June/July of 2016, and I’m really looking forward to returning to a place that welcomed me so warmly first in 2009 and then again in 2012. Thanks to editor Srdan Srdic in particular for making it happen. For more info, here’s the Rasic Literary Workshop page for me. I’ve been renamed Rodz Glass for the publication.

The-New-Deal-Edition-11r(See the bottom of this post for a sight of Srdjan holding up the book. On actual Serbian soil. Wow.) I’ll be returning to the fantastic Kikinda Short Story Festival for its 10th anniversary to promote the book. They recently announced I’m on the bill in the year of ‘The New Deal’. Sounds political eh? The glorious new artwork for the Serbian edition of the book is below here; the poster for Kikinda above. Serbia coverSrdic