The Future of Storytelling: Canongate's 40

Canongate celebrate their 40th by showcasing 40 contemporary Scottish storytellers whose work will define the next four decades of the nation's culture

Feature by Ryan Rushton | 02 Sep 2013

“40 seemed an appropriate age to look at where we had come from and where we are going,” explains Francis Bickmore, Publishing Director at Canongate. The Scottish instiution has been working on marking this anniversary in a very unusual manner. “We didn't want it to be too nostalgic and backslapping, and for us the interesting thing was looking ahead to the new forms which storytelling could take over the next 40 years.”


There is no doubt the possibilities are changing; narrative has bled from its traditional media into the new and now recycles back and forth in an energising exchange of ideas. In looking to the next 40 years of storytelling possibilities, Canongate were keen to acknowledge this and thus The Future 40 was born. In collaboration with The Skinny, the nation has been thoroughly scoured for the very best storytellers in the fields of literature, animation, film, visual art, spoken-word, games, music, graphic novels, digital media and theatre.

We didn't do this alone however. Instead, we drew upon the knowledge of those at the very top of their fields. We asked them who they saw as defining storytelling for the next four decades. As Bickmore puts it: “people like Alasdair Gray, David Shrigley and Jackie Kay are examples of pioneers in terms of storytelling from their generation and we were interested to pair them up with not just creatives, but with people involved on a daily basis with the arts in Scotland, to really get, from the horse's mouth, a sense of who are the emerging talents.”

The mission was to find “people who haven't quite popped up onto the mainstream radar yet, but are likely to be the ones to watch for exciting narrative ideas over the coming years,” Bickmore says. Looking at the final 40, selected by such luminaries as Steve Mason or Liz Lochead, Bickmore believes you can see themes emerging. He believes “more than ever the role of the author is one that can extend out of the writer's study and into the world – interacting with people in an immersive way is a feature of a lot of the artists – a buzzword would be engagement. How writers engage with their audience and interact, and that is something we are wrestling with as a culture but is certainly going to have an effect on storytelling.”

He believes this engagement can be seen in “graphic novelists like Tom Gauld, who manages to combine storytelling and comedy into cartoons and graphic novels that have a huge amount of poignancy and potency.” Or in “an outfit like The Story Mechanics or Lucky Frame; some of these emerging digital developers are making the most of Scotland's high-profile as an international Mecca of gaming development and really seeing what can happen when you combine stories with gaming.”

Other strands, such as a tendency toward collaboration and working across multiple media become clear looking at the list as a whole, but Bickmore suggests “the pioneering aspect is key. I came across this great quote from Frank Zappa: 'without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.'” Perhaps then we should consider this willingness to experiment that which links these artists. But, in truth, it is the excellence of their work and their potential to culturally define the next 40 years that binds them. So, without further ado, we present The Future 40.

The Nominators

Alasdair Gray, Writer and Artist
Alun Woodward, Co-founder of Chemikal Underground
Angela Robertson, Head of Brand and Events, Canongate
Ariadne Cass-Maran, Compere of Graphic Scotland
Brian Baglow, Editor-in-Chief at Scottish Games Network
Calum Colvin, Course Director at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design
Prof. Chris Breward, Principle of Edinburgh College of Art
Chris Fujiwara, Director of Edinburgh International Film Festival
Danya Galloway, Lecturer at University of Abertay
Dave Kerr, Music Editor at The Skinny
David Shrigley, Artist
Francis Bickmore, Publishing Director of Canongate
Francis McKee, Writer and Curator
Jackie Kay, Writer
Jackie Wylie, Artistic Director at The Arches
Dr. Joe Halliwell, Director at Winterwell
Judith Doherty, Co-Artistic Director at Grid Iron
Kate Gray, Director of Collective Gallery
Kath Mainland, CEO of Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Liz Lochhead, Writer
Mark Daniels, Executive Director at New Media Scotland
Neil McGuire, Designer/Design Tutor at Glasgow School of Art
Nick Barley, Director of Edinburgh International Book Festival
Dr. Nick Prior, Sociology Senior Lecturer at University of Edinburgh
Orla O'Loughlin, Artistic Director at The Traverse
Rachel McCrum, Poet/Performer of Inky Fingers
Rosamund West, Editor-in-Chief at The Skinny
Rupert Thomson, Artistic Director at Summerhall
Ryan Rushton, Books Editor at The Skinny
Stephen McRobbie, musician, The Pastels, co-owner, Monorail Music
Steve Mason, Musician
Will Morris, Graphic Novelist

Canongate presents … The Other Side:  A Night of Stories, Sights and Sounds

Finding the 40 most exciting cultural pioneers is one way to mark four decades, but what is an anniversary without a party? Canongate will bring together some of the best storytellers they know for a landmark event on 19 September. Authors Michel Faber, Matt Haig, Alasdair Gray and Michael Smith will be joined by poet and ex-Arab Strap musician Aidan Moffat, as well as RM Hubbert and Rick Redbeard from The Phantom Band. Jeremy Dyson (League of Gentleman, Psychobitches, Ghost Stories), will take guests over to the dark side with his twisted tales, while classical pianist and former psychiatric patient James Rhodes – whose debut album, Razor Blades, Little Pills and Big Pianos reached No 1 in the iTunes classical chart – will give a special performance.  The event will also showcase original short films featuring Tilda Swinton, Miranda July and the late Gil Scott Heron, a sneak preview of Under the Skin, the film adaptation of Michel Faber's novel, plus live art by graphic artists Too Much Fun Club and bibliotherapy by Ella Berthoud, author of The Novel Cure. Hosted by South Bank Associate Artist and official poet for the London Olympics Lemn Sissay, this narrative mash-up event is not to be missed. Yet more very special guests are still to be confirmed. 

Thu 19 Sep, 7-11pm, The Jam House, Edinburgh

19 Sep, 7-11pm, The Jam House, Queen Street Edinburgh, £10 Buy tickets here: