Alasdair Gray: A Secretary’s Biography

Here’s the blurbs about my biography of Alasdair Gray as put together by Bloomsbury. Newsflash: this book is going to be re-released as an ebook later in 2o12. Watch this space for details.



Rodge’s personal biography of the Scottish author and artist Alasdair Gray was published in September 2008 in hardback and published in paperback in September 2009. It was the winner of the prestigious Somerset Maugham Award for Non-Fiction 2009 and was nominated for the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award in the same year. The book was also widely reviewed, receiving positive notices in publications as diverse as Time magazine, the Financial Times, Scottish Review of Books, London Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement and The Guardian. Reviews in The Observer , Scotland on Sunday and The Spectator were much more critical.

Below: please find a now out-of-date ‘Note About Subject and Biographer’ explaining how the biography came to be. This is an extract from the original Bloomsbury blurb:

Alasdair Gray, writer and painter, is now 73. He has always intended to write his autobiography, and sometimes still talks about it, but Gray is a busy man with a full diary. When this book was begun in early 2005 he was working on several projects: a political pamphlet called How We Should Rule Ourselves due in time for the spring election of that year, a book on his artwork called A Life in Pictures due to be finished by the end of 2005 (later delayed), and a novel which became Old Men in Love (released October 2007). He was also engaged on the biggest commission of his life, the mural at the Oran Mor Arts Centre, initially supposed to take until 2008/9 – now likely to take longer. Already the victim of one heart attack, Gray cheerfully suggested he may not survive to write the book of his life and rather liked the idea of Glass taking on the job, with his co-operation (but not control), before he went “ga-ga” (his expression) – on the condition that should he get round to it himself one day, he should have the power to re-use direct quotations from his own writing and conversation. This was granted.

Rodge Glass, 30, is now a novelist (No Fireworks, 2005, Hope for Newborns, 2008)) but wasn’t when he first encountered Gray in a Glasgow pub in 1998. Since then, while pursuing his own writing ambitions, he has filled many roles in the life of the writer/artist. For several years he took dictation whenever and wherever asked: whether Gray was in bed, in hospital or drinking soup cold from the can he was there with a pad or a laptop, awaiting instructions. Over the last ten years he has also been barman, tutee, secretary, signature forger, driver, researcher, advisor, chief technology negotiator, tea-maker and paperboy, with varying degrees of success. In this book Glass attempts one more role – biographer.


This book was published in hardback on September 8th 2008, in paperback in September 2009, and was widely reviewed, by everyone from Time Magazine to the The Scotsman to Jonathan Coe in the London Review of Books. The vast majority of these were good, and the book won the 2009 Somerset Maugham Award for Non-Fiction. Suspiciously enough, Alasdair himself even reviewed it in The Guardian, and gave a general thumbs up (with a few small complaints…) A sample of the reviews can be found here:

Karl Miller in the Times Literary Supplement– ‘Faustian Fun with Alasdair Gray’
Allan Massie in The Scotsman – ‘Shades of Gray’
Ian Sansom in The Guardian – ‘It Didn’t Seem Like Much Fun at the Time’,
Lewis Jones in the Financial Times – ‘Old Man in Penury’
Michael Brunton in Time Magazine – ‘Shades of Gray’
and Alasdair’s own assessment of reading his life in print – ‘Be My Boswell!’

These are all generally positive, but you’ll find a couple of spikier assessments below:

James Purdon in The Observer– ‘In Shades of Gray’
Andro Linklater in The Spectator – ‘Perhaps the Greatest?’