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The Paranoid Sublime

Andrew O’Hagan

26 May 1994
How late it was, how late 
by James Kelman.
Secker, 374 pp., £14.99, March 1994, 0 436 23292 8
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... company of Pavarotti at 75 quid a throw. My bar companion flushed as she coasted through the vodkas, saying how pointless and infuriating it was that the better writers – whom we may as well call JamesKelman, Alasdair Gray and Tom Leonard among others – wouldn’t join in on the song. ‘It’s their loss,’ she said. ‘I mean, what do they want?’ A fairly good idea of what they wanted could ...

Dialects

Francis Spufford

2 April 1987
Greyhound for Breakfast 
by James Kelman.
Secker, 230 pp., £10.95, March 1987, 0 436 23283 9
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Pauper, Brawler and Slanderer 
by Amos Tutuola.
Faber, 156 pp., £9.95, March 1987, 0 571 14714 3
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... Rousseau and the sudden eructation of ‘buff-coloured puke’. Now there is a new practitioner, working with a different vernacular and a different elevated diction. The first of the 47 fictions in JamesKelman’s Greyhound for Breakfast finds old Francis on a park bench in Glasgow, menaced by vaguely circling winos trying to cadge a cigarette. It was downright fucking nonsensical. And yet it was ...
27 June 1991
The Burn 
by James Kelman.
Secker, 244 pp., £13.99, April 1991, 0 436 23286 3
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Blood 
by Janice Galloway.
Secker, 179 pp., £12.99, March 1991, 0 436 20027 9
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... JamesKelman was born in Glasgow in 1946. After spells in the US as a teenager, London as a young adult, he returned to Glasgow, where he now lives and works. Janice Galloway was born in Ayrshire in 1956. She ...

It makes yer head go

David Craig: James Kelman​ and Gordon Legge

18 February 1999
The Good Times 
by James Kelman.
Secker, 246 pp., £14.99, July 1998, 0 436 41215 2
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Near Neighbours 
by Gordon Legge.
Cape, 218 pp., £9.99, June 1998, 0 224 05120 2
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... JamesKelman’s style is so mesmerising that after a few hours’ immersion I find myself thinking in it – an experience which is both intriguing and infuriating, although the former prevails. The voice which ...

Common Sense

Sally Mapstone: James Kelman

15 November 2001
Translated Accounts 
by James Kelman.
Secker, 322 pp., £15.99, June 2001, 0 436 27464 7
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... JamesKelman’s fifth novel, Translated Accounts, is also his first to be delivered entirely in English. In the three novels he published between 1984 and 1989, Kelman mixed Scots and English, with Scots used to convey characters’ speech and states of mind while English handled action and certain, often more formal, types of discourse. This approach reached its ...

Give or take a dead Scotsman

Liam McIlvanney: James Kelman’s witterings

22 July 2004
You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Free 
by James Kelman.
Hamish Hamilton, 437 pp., £12.99, June 2004, 0 241 14233 4
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... Ye just battered on, that was what ye did man ye battered on, what else can ye do?’ Grim tenacity, the will to struggle on through difficult terrain, has long been a characteristic of JamesKelman’s protagonists. More recently, it’s been a virtue demanded of his readers. Kelman’s last novel, Translated Accounts (2001), was a fractured political allegory in blurry translatorese from an ...
8 July 1993
Swing Hammer Swing! 
by Jeff Torrington.
Secker, 416 pp., £8.99, August 1992, 0 436 53120 8
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Looking for the Possible Dance 
by A.L. Kennedy.
Secker, 254 pp., £7.99, February 1993, 0 436 23321 5
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The Lights Below 
by Carl MacDougall.
Secker, 254 pp., £7.99, February 1993, 9780436270796
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... on word-processors and tested in literary workshops. With the initial support of small publishers such as Polygon and Canongate, writers like Alasdair Gray, Agnes Owens, Thomas Healy, Tom Leonard, JamesKelman and Janice Galloway have found the city a congenial location for their life and work, and their success is encouraging others. Of course, Glasgow has always had its writers. Torrington’s ...

Shite

Karl Miller

2 March 1989
A Disaffection 
by James Kelman.
Secker, 344 pp., £11.95, February 1989, 0 436 23284 7
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The Book of Sandy Stewart 
edited by Roger Leitch.
Scottish Academic Press, 168 pp., £15, December 1988, 0 7073 0560 8
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... Studying the West Coast of Scotland from the yacht Britannia, the Queen is said to have remarked, not long ago, that the people there didn’t seem to have much of a life. JamesKelman’s stories make clear what life is like in Glasgow,* and what JamesKelman’s life is like. They are not going to change the royal mind. This is the queen who was greeted, on a visit to a Scottish ...

Gray’s Elegy

Jonathan Coe

8 October 1992
Poor Things 
by Alasdair Gray.
Bloomsbury, 317 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 7475 1246 9
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... years publicly and gloomily announcing the death of his fictional imagination. That process began in 1985, with the postscript to Lean Tales, the short story collection he shared with Agnes Owens and JamesKelman. ‘A director of a London publishing house,’ he wrote (in the third person), ‘asked him if he had enough stories to make another collection. Gray said no. There was a handful of stories ...

Dead Not Deid

James​ Meek: A Great Radical Modernist

22 May 2008
Kieron Smith, Boy 
by James Kelman.
Hamish Hamilton, 422 pp., £18.99, April 2008, 978 0 241 14241 7
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... The opening story in JamesKelman’s 1998 collection, The Good Times, is called ‘Joe Laughed’. It’s nine pages long and is told from the point of view of a boy who plays football on a patch of waste ground among derelict ...

Answering back

James​ Campbell

11 July 1991
The Intended 
by David Dabydeen.
Secker, 246 pp., £13.99, February 1991, 0 436 20007 4
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Cambridge 
by Caryl Phillips.
Bloomsbury, 185 pp., £13.99, March 1991, 0 7475 0886 0
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Lucy 
by Jamaica Kincaid.
Cape, 176 pp., £11.99, April 1991, 0 224 03055 8
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... way to tell it. It is not only black British writers who have discovered this: certain Irish and Scottish writers have been insisting on it for years. Adherents of a politics of language such as JamesKelman and the poet Tom Leonard (actually the midwife of the Glasgow ‘renaissance’, though less frequently mentioned than his novelist colleagues) do not group together on exclusively nationalist ...

Fraynwaves

Hugh Barnes

2 May 1985
Towards the End of the Morning 
by Michael Frayn.
Harvill, 255 pp., £9.95, April 1985, 0 00 221822 4
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Sweet Dreams 
by Michael Frayn.
Harvill, 223 pp., £9.95, April 1985, 0 00 221884 4
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The Fall of Kelvin Walker 
by Alasdair Gray.
Canongate, 144 pp., £7.95, March 1985, 9780862410728
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Lean Tales 
by James Kelman, Agnes Owens and Alasdair Gray.
Cape, 286 pp., £8.95, May 1985, 0 224 02262 8
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Stones for Ibarra 
by Harriet Doerr.
Deutsch, 214 pp., £8.95, April 1985, 9780233977522
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Family Dancing 
by David Leavitt.
Viking, 206 pp., £8.95, March 1985, 0 670 80263 8
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The Whitbread Stories: One 
by Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson.
Hamish Hamilton, 184 pp., £4.95, April 1985, 0 241 11544 2
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... the Bellahouston Travelling Scholarship’ presents impressions of London and points south to Gibraltar. As the train trundles out of Glasgow Central, homesickness descends. Gray’s hero speaks for JamesKelman and Agnes Owens – the collection’s other contributors – and for all writing north of the border ferociously indifferent to England and its literary culture: ‘I do not love Glasgow much ...

All your walkmans fizz in tune

Adam Mars-Jones: Eimear McBride

8 August 2013
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing 
by Eimear McBride.
Galley Beggar, 203 pp., £11, June 2013, 978 0 9571853 2 6
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... for as long as possible, subjecting direct statement to parentheses and qualifications of every kind, and keeping the maximum number of plates spinning with flicks of punctuation. It would do Henry James’s vision more violence to translate his books into an English deprived of intermediate stops than to render them in a comma-rich Esperanto. The novels of Proust and Mann would lose much of their ...

Diary

Duncan McLean: Frank Sargeson

7 June 2018
... his novels, Memoirs of a Peon and Joy of the Worm. I was transfixed by the voice, which, particularly in his earlier stories, reminded me stylistically of some of the Scottish writers I admired, like JamesKelman, Lewis Grassic Gibbon and Janice Galloway. In the best of his work, the narrative is fragmented; there are sudden ellipses and omissions. He shifts aim slightly, deliberately missing the ...

Man is the pie

Jenny Turner: Alasdair Gray

21 February 2013
Every Short Story 1951-2012 
by Alasdair Gray.
Canongate, 933 pp., £30, November 2012, 978 0 85786 560 1
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... upgrade came about at the same time, and are in lots of ways connected: Gray had a brief stint as professor of creative writing at Glasgow University, a position shared with Tom Leonard and JamesKelman; and nice gigs as a celebrity designer of murals at Hillhead subway station and at the Oran Mór arts centre. In terms of politics, however, Gray and the new Glasgow are at loggerheads. In ...

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