Opening Doors to New Writing
<em>The Year of Open Doors</em> is an upcoming collection of new Scottish writing, edited by Rodge Glass (properly: Dr Rodge Glass, novelist and eminent Gravian) and published by Mark Buckland (properly: Mr M. Buckland esq, head of Cargo Publishing), which will showcase a selection of its stories at Unbound on 22 August. The Skinny met up with the pair to talk books, events and Tory names
When I meet Mark and Rodge, they’re eager to tell me all about The Year of Open Doors, their new writing collection which features work by Doug Johnstone, Kirstin Innes, Duncan McLean, Allan Bissett and even Aidan Moffatt of Arab Strap. But I assure them that they need not convince me of the self evident quality of any book with such a roster of talent, nor do they need to convince me of how great the forthcoming free event at Unbound will be. In fact, I’m so convinced that there’s no need to explain any more to me – so asking them ridiculous quiz questions seems like the way to go.
Question 1: The Tory name question – poshest wins.
(Your Tory name is the name of your grandfather or grandmother on your mother’s side as a first name, with a double-barreled surname formed from the first street you grew up on plus your headmaster’s surname)
Mark came up with: John Crewer-Wilson
Rodge topped that with: Murray Troutbeck-Brown, which wins. It’s now: Rodge 1-0 Mark
Whilst I’m devising a scores table, Rodge tells me about the genesis of The Year of Open Doors. “It came out of an original idea between me and Alan Bissett a couple of years ago,” he says. “Most of my book ideas start out from being drunk with Alan Bissett and him going ‘You know what you should do?!’ and I go ‘Really?!’” This one was a keeper though. “The idea between me and Alan was to try and do something in the tradition of: art before money; independent spirit; Clock Tower Press; Rebel Inc; Children of Albion Rovers; even Lean Tales that Alasdair Gray, James Kelman and Agnes Owens put out together – all that kind of tradition. And we wanted to do something that was part of that, but which also shows how Scotland has changed, so it would be internationalist and would include people that had come here from other places.” Most interesting. But since I’m sure it’s ace anyway, back to the quiz:
Question 2: Music. Which of the following is not an actual band?
(a) Oh Shit! A Geyser!
(b) I Love You, But I’ve Chosen Darkness
(c) Lack of Afro
(d) A Fine Boat, That Coffin!
(e) Insects With Tits
(f) Swollen Monkeys
(g) Forever Goes Quick
After a few wrong guesses on each side, Rodge hits paydirt with Forever Goes Quick.
Rodge 2-0 Mark
On a rush from getting this right, Rodge starts telling me more about the book. “It was nearly taken up by several very large publishers in London, who wanted lots more famous names in it.” After rejecting this approach, Glass laid the idea to one side, until one of his old creative writing pupils – enter Mark Buckland – approached him about publishing his work. Glass responded by pitching The Year of Open Doors to him. “It might not be hugely commercial but there's a coherent idea about it that I really believe in. What do you think?” Mark's answer after this short interlude:
Question 3: The American authors catchphrase game. Clues are given to the surname of various American twentieth century authors. So:
(a) Person who posts a lot: Rodge guesses this is Norman MAILER.
(b) Used to keep a fire going: Nobody gets Saul BELLOW.
(c) Moving higher on a dam: Nobody gets John UPDIKE either!
(d) Singular of a British supermarket: Mark gets Toni MORRISON.
(e) One of the seven deadly sins (sounds like): Rodge gets Philip ROTH.
(f) Colloquial term for stealing: Mark gets Thomas PYNCHON.
As this was a draw, a point each, making the score: Rodge 3-1 Mark
Mark, happy to have gotten a point at last, tells me he jumped at the chance to work with Rodge. “Initially, we both had quite a loose idea of how we wanted it and Rodge had a few specific people in mind, but we were both agreed we wanted it to be quite open, and we wanted to try and find new people. We worked quite closely all the time, constantly updating, batting names back and forth.” This literary talk leads neatly into another question:
Question 4: Scottish Literature. What is the best Scottish novel of the 21st century so far?
Rodge goes for The Stornoway Way by Kevin MacNeil
Mark goes for The Death of a Ladies Man by Alan Bissett.
They’re both wrong. It’s The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson. Fact. Score remains: Rodge 3-1 Mark
It’s notable that both Rodge and Mark chose work by authors who have work in The Year of Open Doors. Rodge – who’s originally from England – is full of praise for the Scottish Literary scene. “The more that I travel with my work and get invited to other countries, the more I realize that it’s great what we have here. I’m not saying that there aren’t many problems – there are – but there are writers that come here to settle and to make a writing career for themselves.” All of this talk of good writing led to a complete detour with the next question:
Question 5: The Edward Bulwer-Lytton challenge. There is an actual EBL prize given every year to the person who comes up with the best ‘bad’ first sentence, named in honour of the man who came up with ‘It was a dark and stormy night’.
Rodge’s entry is, cheekily: “As Keir looked forlornly up at the Eiffel Tower, he remembered with deep regret the previous night in the boudoir.”
Mark’s is: “As the sociologist worked tirelessly to examine the faults in his statistical diagram of the social strata in lower middle class Glasgow, he felt a dark foreboding.”
Mark wins, taking us to: Rodge 3-2 Mark
The Year of Open Doors does not, of course, have that kind of bad writing in it – it’s a strong collection, born out of a rigorous selection process. “We were talking about who we admired,” says Mark, “and who we liked, and we discovered that we’re both from very different schools of thought when it comes to writing, we like very different things. So there was a lot of arguing, there was a lot of bickering.” Rodge agrees, adding, “We agreed at the start that if we were on some kind of ‘behind the music’ type programme in ten years talking about why we’re suing each other, then that’s the way it’d have to be”. Happily, the process not only yielded new work from established writers, but also found excellent work by three writers chosen from open submission: Helen Lynch, Allan Wilson and Micaela Maftei – look out for their names in future. But right now, another question:
Question 6: Sport. This is three rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
After a draw and two wins, Rodge Glass is the winner, which makes it: Rodge 4-2 Mark
To move on to more important events (and because of growing interest) I ask Rodge about The Year of Open Doors event at Unbound, on 22 August. “I’ll be hosting” he says, “and there will be six writers on, including Sophie Cooke and Kapka Kassabova. We’re making sure we’ve got new writers on”. Not only are their writers talented, but their ideas are innovative. Mark eagerly tells me about “this audiobook that we’re also doing, which Chemikal Underground Records are supporting and distributing for us.” Why do that? “We noticed that many of the writers that we have in this collection have got a history not just in one discipline of art in Scotland, but also in music or performance and things like that” Mark says. “So this is an opportunity to prove that our writers aren’t just singularly talented.” Sadly, this noble sentiment leads to a supremely daft question:
Question 7: Children’s literature. The question here is: If you were stranded on a desert island with the Mr Men, and food became scarce, which of the Mr Men would you kill and eat first?
Mark goes for Mr Jelly, because he’d taste nice.
Rodge goes for Mr Slow, because he’d be easy to catch.
Mark has to win this one, because taste beats utility. This makes the score: Rodge 4-3 Mark
Rodge wouldn’t be mistaken for Mr Happy after losing that point, so I ask him about his favourite part of the festival. “Traditionally the final night in the Spiegeltent is quite a special thing. We’ve taken it over this year, so Burnt Island [Rodge’s band] are playing, Adrian Crowley from Chemikal Underground is playing, and there’s going to be a very special musical guest on the bill who we can’t possibly mention who we’re going to leak very, very late. We’ve also got Ryan Van Winkle, Alan Bissett, and one or two other writers doing very short readings in between.” Mark adds, “I’m really excited about the whole festival. The whole Unbound programme is something completely different. It’s probably never been tried before in certain respects…” he trails off here, but Rodge wraps up the thought by telling me, “If there’s one thing we can’t stand, it’s being bound.”
Sadly, they’re bound by this stupid quiz.
Question 8: The final, and hardest question – for 5 points.
The contestants have one question each here, for 5 points. Mark’s question is:
Identify this book from its ISBN number: 978-0-9563083-0-6
Mark reasons that this must be something he’s published, and guess that it’s Cancer Party by Andrew Raymond Drennan. And he's right, for 5 points!
Rodge’s question, and only chance to beat Mark now is:
Identify this book from its ISBN number: 0-330-31965-5.
He guesses that it’s his biography of Alasdair Gray. It’s not. It is in fact Lanark by Alasdair Gray (if anyone should know, it’s Rodge. And he calls himself a biographer?!)
So the overall winner is Mark Buckland, by a score of 8-4!
Commiserations to Dr Glass, who probably would have won a more normal quiz.
Congratulations to Mark Buckland, who ironically wins the book Doctor Glas, the classic 1905 Swedish novel by Hjalmar Soderberg. Mark can now be seen on Cargo's website wielding this like a trophy.
Keir has now read The Year of Open Doors, and since it is, as predicted, thoroughly excellent, he feels that his decision to stupidly quiz Mark and Rodge was justified. Many thanks to them for going along with it.
The Year of Open Doors event will be on 22 Aug from 9-11pm in the Spiegeltent as part of the Unbound programme. The book is released on 27 Jul