City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Book Festival: William McIlvanney - Celebrating Scotland


By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 23 August 2009

William McIlvanney remains one of Scotland's best-loved and widely read authors, testified by the near-full RBS Main Theatre for a BBC Scotland Radio Café interview with Stuart Kelly.

As anticipated, the event proved a gentle canter over the territory of McIlvanney's career and thoughts on Scottish literature and politics. Although free of startling revelations, Kelly managed to prise a number of salient points loose from the carapace which the essentially private McIlvanney, like many other writers, uses to protect himself. The more weel kent and frequently thumbed a writer's work is, the more their reading public are likely to claim kinship and ownership. It's a funny old game, and McIlvanney's career demonstrates its capacity to eclectically surprise in some measure.

His native Kilmarnock and Scotland's West Coast have been the settings for much of his fiction, including ‘Docherty', ‘Laidlaw', ‘The Papers of Tony Veitch', ‘The Kiln' among others. On this occasion, however, McIlvanney read from ongoing work on the life and times of Sean Connery, as much perhaps a reflection on Scottish life and character as on the career of one of her more high-profile sons.

McIlvanney, like many of us, perturbed on the future of Scots, seriously threatened by the global flattening of language under the twin pressures of commerce and standardised education.

The question reminded this reviewer of the late Isaac Singer's response to the question how it felt to be writing in a dead language (in his case, Yiddish). Singer replied "I would not say that Yiddish is dead. Neither would I say it was alive." If the corpse is being waked, it somehow manages to continue singing, and William McIlvanney remains one of its foremost praise singers.

Copyright Bill Dunlop 2009

First published on EdinburghGuide.com 2009