James Kelman Hits Out at Those in Control of Scottish Culture

Scottish novelist James Kelman has hit out at those in “control” of Scottish culture, claiming they “don’t really understand what the Scottish intellectual tradition is”.

Acknowledging he was at “risk of being controversial”, the author said the National Theatre of Scotland was “about 70 years out of date”. “Why does it still think that’s what Scottish drama should be?” said Kelman. “What’s going on? They have a particular view of what it should be, which is a kind of kitchen-sink 1950s…sort of thing. You go, ‘come on!’”

Kelman was appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival to talk about his 13th collection of short stories, That Was a Shiver, and Other Stories. Often an outspoken critic of the Scottish arts scene and literary criticism of his work, the Booker Prize-winning novelist was asked by a member of the audience why his “voice” was largely absent from public debate.

“The same thing applies whether it’s prose or poetry,” he replied. “I mentioned Tom Leonard recently: how on earth can Tom [a Scottish poet] not be treated properly in his own country? why are proper artists here not [recognised]? People don’t even know who the hell they are. You go anywhere in Scotland and nobody knows who you are – it’s a really weird situation.”

Kelman also revealed that a relative of his had been imprisoned for six weeks in 1888 due to his political activities. “James Connolly [the Edinburgh-born Irish republican] went to the trial to watch him,” he said, “[but] we don’t even know about that, I didn’t know about that until I was 65 and he’s a relation! I didn’t know about the Scottish Insurrection until I was a published author…I didn’t know that Connolly was Scottish.”

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