Today’s review is unusual in that it is a collection of short stories not the work of a single indie author. The editor of the collection Brendan Gisby, set up McStorytellers website as an online outlet for Scottish writers. It’s dedicated to showcasing Scottish origin/connected short story writers. The McCollection marked the anniversary of the sites birth and is now out as an ebook. The website now boasts over 200 stories by more than 40 writers (McStorytellers) as Gisby styles them. The aim is to promote work that is ‘quintessentially’ Scottish. Despite that, most of the writing in the McCollection is in the English language.
The McCollection ebook has 20 stories and their claim to ‘quintessential Scottishness’ resides not only in the fact that many are autobiographical or semi-autobiographical, describing real people and real events but as Gisby himself describes: ‘In many cases, too, the writing is what I would call “muscular”, usually with no holds barred. Swearing is de rigueur, because that’s what real people in real situations actually do – in Scotland, at least. And PC belongs to another planet. Then there’s the humour. Most of the stories are shot through with that wry, dry Scots sense of humour. In a nutshell, therefore, each piece selected for the anthology either is emotive or it’s powerfully written or it’s underpinned by wry Scots humour. It might even demonstrate a combination of all three qualities.’
There is definitely a sense of cohesion or shared experience holding the selection together. Of the 20 stories I’d describe the majority as some version of ‘gritty urban realism.’ There’s only one woman amongst the writers chosen and only a couple are what I would consider ‘rural’ or non central belt focussed. Having said that, within those parameters there is a decent range of stories. Yes the hard man, drugs and depression, pubs and punch-ups proliferate from the very start – Tom Greenwood’s ‘Glaswegian God’ gives a good indication of what is to come.There’s not space to go into detail in this review or give more than a passing mention to some of the stories, but all have their merits. There is humour in spades, usually dark humour but I think this is a collection to be dipped in and out of, because it can be strong stuff in one sitting and the gritty urban realism is like strong cheese, at times threatening to blot out all other aspects of ‘Scottishness.’
For me the standout was Gavin Broom’s Falkirk based Digging for Gold and finding Coal, because it seemed to express more poignancy and a subtler tone than many of the out and out ‘gritty’ tales of drugs and drink and depression. Sex Tourism was interesting and reminded me of Local Hero in its ironic take on the ‘rural’ Scot. W.M.Harris, (the only woman featured) wrote of Kelpies in The Trick of the Tale and provided a window into another ‘style’ of Scottish writing. Angus Shoor Caan’s Forever, A Curse on Arran’s Children was in the Sawnie Bean style of dark humour! Bill Kirton’s Look to the Lady was short, subtle and humorous as was Nothing But the Truth by Alasdair McPherson. And all the rest provided unique ‘voices’ which are sometimes relentless but yes, I would agree ‘quintessentially Scottish.’ It’s certainly a reflection of something very fundamental to the Scottish cultural psyche and well worth a read. But not if you’re looking for tartan and shortbread Scottishness.
Reviewed by Cally Phillips
The McCollection is available in Kindle format
Find out more about McStorytellers
IEBR Editors comment:
More than anything, when reading the stories I found myself reflecting on Brendan’s (or anyone’s) notion of ‘quintessential Scottishness.’ Most of the collection were written in English. Many focussed on the grimness of being Scottish, and the working out of a sort of Scottish angst. I do not deny the veracity of the experience, I’ve written pieces like this myself (though mostly in Scots dialect). However, I found myself wondering why Scots do this? Why is there such a dearth of rural writing – be that gritty rural realism or idyllic/escapist stuff? Where is this part of the Scots experience? Why is it that the prevailing mentality of our writers seems to be stuck in the Central Belt with all the highs and lows that life provides? It’s not the real life experience of over half the Scottish population but where are their stories? This is in no way a criticism of McStorytellers as a collection or as a site. It’s a genuine query. I wonder whether Scots reserve poetry for this sort of writing – is the equation: poetry is for beauty and prose is for moaning? Surely as Scots we write to make sense of our experience, to share our personal emotions? And surely there are other stories to tell?
So I’m throwing down a challenge. I want to find MacStorytellers (that is short stories which are non Central Belt in focus by men or women) and NicStorytellers (short stories by women) My understanding of the Mc prefix is that it is a fundamentally Irish derivation of the expression ‘son of’ which Mac is the Scottish version. Obviously the use of McStorytellers has another level of humour regarding a famous fast food chain! Brendan and I have discussed this and I suggested that while the McStorytellers ‘brand’ he’s invented works well for ‘central belt, gritty urban realism’ (the majority of writing he receives is in this vein) perhaps we could look for other ‘quintessential’ Scottish characteristics in writing, reflected by Mac and Nic respectively. If you are interested in this please click HERE for more information.