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Margins Book and Music Festival: Writing Alive

February 2012: Many people are reported to be excited about the Margins Book and Music Festival this month, as the start of this festival approaches
Feature by Keir Hind.
Published 22 February 2012

Taking place over three days, the festival, reportedly exciting, will run from 24 to 26 February, largely at The Arches.

Big names taking part will include Alasdair Gray, William McIlvanney, Malcolm Middleton, Aidan Moffat, Roddy Woomble, Christopher Brookmyre, and many others. Middleton will be previewing his new Human Don’t Be Angry album on Saturday 25 February. “I'm looking forward to it,” Middleton says. “HDBA is relatively new to me and I'm currently putting a band together for the show and it's sounding really interesting.” Of the festival of a whole, he’s concise: “I'm looking forward to going along to things that I wouldn't normally get the chance to see. Especially the readings, it's always good to see folk you admire talk.” Can’t fault that.

Other excitement includes Allan Wilson, whose debut short story collection was a highlight of last year, in conversation with William McIlvanney, who should need no introduction, but he’s the author of Docherty, Laidlaw, and most recently (though not that recently, sadly) Weekend. Wilson says “I admire a lot about William McIlvanney. I think anyone who comes from a working class, West of Scotland, background and chooses to write is brave. It's not really something that's seen as an option and I've read interviews with William McIlvanney where he speaks about being a closet reader and a closet writer. I can relate to that.”

Wilson kept his own writing a secret until he was about to make some money from it. But he sees this as a wider problem. “Certain groups in society will always claim that art or literature or whatever belongs to them,” he says. “I mean people like James Kelman have been talking about this type of thing for years. That's why the language is criticised. So if your book isn't written in standard English” – here he notes ‘don't capitalise that’ – “then it isn't art”. He says that his peer group “didn't believe art was for us, that literature was for us. It wasn't until I read certain writers – Kelman, Gray, Agnes Owens, Alan Bissett, Irvine Welsh etc. that I realised it was ours as much as it was anyone's.” He continues, “McIlvanney, I think, is doing something similar: he's showing that characters from his background deserve space on the white page as well.” Note the use of ‘is’, and not ‘was’ – though he hasn’t published for a while, McIlvanney is definitely relevant as a continuing writer. Expect these issues to be discussed at this event.

Another pairing appearing are Tracey Rosenberg, author of the WW2 set The Girl in The Bunker, with Sara Sheridan, author of The Secret Mandarin and The Secret of the Sands. The focus is historical fiction, and Sheridan hopes that “We're going to talk about how we fictionalise that material while still retaining its historical integrity,” whilst Rosenberg says, “It would be neat to move beyond the usual questions and dig into some of the real difficulties of writing historical fiction.” Which are? “What sort of biases do we face up to and work around?  How do we handle writing about an event or period that distorts our personal perspectives?  (As a Jewish writer who humanised senior Nazis, I've had to think about this a lot....).“ Highlights of getting to appear, for Sheridan, are that “I genuinely like meeting readers as well – some writers I know dread that, but I love it! It's one of the joys... so, well, come up and say hello!”

Value for money comes from the Octavius Magazine event. It’s a literary magazine, developed from the now-displaced Valve Magazine, and it's aimed at students. Editor Sam Best says “The Octavius event is a showcase of some of the writers we will be including in the magazine. We've got a really varied line-up, featuring prose and poetry, English and Gaelic with writers from all over Scotland.” And that line-up is the reason for the value for money tag. “Our performers include Allan Wilson, Richie McCaffery, Kirsty Neary, Alan Gillespie, Katy Ewing, Marcas Mac an Tuairneir, Natasha Skinner, Craig Lamont and Sean Sweeney,” Best confirms. Just £3.

The festival ends with an event many of the writers are excited about. Sam Best says, “Alasdair Gray's Fleck at Òran Mór is bound to be amazing as well – I've heard great things about it and the cast is basically a who's who of literature.” And that cast includes Alasdair Gray, Alan Bissett, Zoe Strachan, Louise Welsh, Rodge Glass and Carl MacDougall, with more to come. Allan Wilson says “For something that might never be staged again I'd say I'm looking most forward to Fleck.” They said that it was the last time they’d stage Fleck, um, the last time they staged it, but this could very well be the totally final performance. Maybe.

Worth going to though, always worth going to. And we haven’t even gotten around to mentioning Christopher Brookmyre appearing with Louise Welsh, Roddy Woomble,  Withered Hand, or Doug Johnstone with Helen Fitzgerald, or – ah, just look up the programme. It’s a packed three days.