Wha’s like us? Damn few an’ they’re a’ deid!

When it comes to being Scottish, I aspire to the Sean Connery school of practice – delighted to have a say in the running of the country but really prefer not to live there. It’s not just because of Alex Salmond, but also the weather which seems to be permanently turned to cold and wet.  A Sean Connery mascot style role, flown in for parties and ceremonies sounds much nicer.

Please don’t think I am not proud to be Scottish.  I am – most of the time. I think my country is beautiful and I feel rather spiritually connected to the land every time I hit Perthshire and beyond. However I think porridge is wrong on every level; I simply cannot stomach whisky and Irn Bru makes my teeth itchy. I find thistles ugly and jaggy to touch, and it will take you only one call to my bank manager who will attest that I am anything but mean with money.

I love Scotland and being Scottish but I am also very tired of our self-imposed national identity of drunks in skirts with incomprehensible accents, sporting ginger hair and carrying bagpipes. Nearly every product made in Scotland has tartan incorporated into the logo’s and/or packaging and just for once I would like to see a national brand that didn’t make us look like the side of a shortbread tin designed purely for the Yanks.

Unlike most of my fellow Scot’s, I quite like the new parliament building but I do worry where a country of around 5 million, with an aging population and the majority of its workforce using up valuable oxygen in an overstuffed and underperforming public sector, found the £400+ million that the building cost.  I, who can imagine most things, can’t even begin to guess what possible construction problem arose that required that amount of money to be thrown at it. And let’s not begin to think where that money could have been better spent.

I also have to confess to Burnsbore. This is an affliction which all Scot’s seem to be immune to except me. Clearly I have an errant gene from south of the border. But take it from me; Burns is boring. Even Tam O’ Shanter which almost courts excitement with an actual chain of events, goes on for 1,000 years.  Burns is a man so permanently pissed that if something sits still long enough he writes a poem about it – mice, haggis and roses are just the tip of a huge, boring iceberg. The man wrote an address to toothache for goodness sake!

In Edinburgh we have a rather lovely monument to another famous Scottish writer, Sir Walter Scott, a man who until yesterday, was known to me pretty much as a statue. I vaguely knew he was an author and if pushed could come up with one or two titles…well one, and even then I wasn’t sure if I was thinking about Robert Louis Stevenson.

I find it incredibly easy to listen to anybody talk at length on any subject as long as they can convey their own passion and knowledge, and yesterday, Stuart Kelly gave such a brilliant talk on Sir Walter Scott that I cannot wait to read Oor Wally. The title of the talk was “Walter Scott and the Invention of the Modern Author’ and Stuart started by describing the author in the 18th century. While poets were revered as ethereal, noble and romantic, someone who wrote for money was – pardon the pun – written off as a hack.  He outlined the history of Grub street and the relationship between the writer and the publisher.  Scott was already accomplished as a poet when he wrote Waverly and he did not ‘come out’ as the author for nearly 20 years.  He wrote his next novel as ‘the author of Waverly’ and began the phenomenon that was the Waverly novels.

Scott was the first author to make a lot of money from writing and he was the first celebrity author.  He was also the first author to have his Magnus opus, his entire works republished in his own lifetime. And he did this because he was in debt to the tune of £80 million in today’s money. He was able to publish them this time with an introduction from the real author making them instant bestsellers.

My favourite part of the talk concerned the different prefaces to the Waverly novels. For example – oh! I hope I remember this right – the preface to The Monastery has a Captain Clutterbuck telling the author of Waverly about a Jesuit priest who came to him with a manuscript that he wanted the goodly Captain to ‘edit’ for publication. This manuscript was given to the Jesuit by his uncle, a monk, when he was helping him dig up and open an old coffin in which they found….  The author of Waverly responds, immediately denouncing Captain Clutterbuck as the ‘imaginary editor of the Monastery’, which indeed he is! I love this! Sidebar here – please visit Project Gutenberg if you want the full text of The Monastery. The link is to your right.

After Stuart’s talk we were given a standard publisher/author contract from Canongate Books. We were ostensibly looking at the Derrida notion of Father and Son in the relationship between the author, the Author, the text, the Work and the Publisher in the document, which was very  interesting and gave me a couple of ideas for my final essay for this module. I also managed to find some time to pretend that this was a real contract with my name on it…

Final note. I told my mother about our brilliant class yesterday and she produced a leather bound copy of Sir Walter Scotts’ poem, The Lay of the Last Minstrel, published in Edinburgh in 1830. It belonged to my great-grandfather.  I should probably try to read that sometime.

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