Sydney Goodsir Smith and Sidewalk

Magazines are for making enemies as well as friends. Richie McCaffery revisits the pugnacious Sidewalk via the furious pencil-marks of one of its targets.


One of the most important Scottish literary magazines of the 1960s was also one of the shortest lived. Sidewalk (which ran for two issues in 1960) was formed when the then editor of Jabberwock (an Edinburgh University student publication) splintered away from what he saw as an increasingly cronyist and reactionary editorial outlook, supporting older Scottish nationalist poets and very little else. In his final ‘American’ issue of Jabberwock, Alex Neish, now a local historian and pewter-ware expert, printed the opening chapter of William Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch much to the excitement of his readers, but to the consternation of the press and Burroughs himself, who had no knowledge that Allen Ginsberg had submitted it for publication.

With Sidewalk Neish was free to pursue his own vision, one that was transatlantic and syncretic, not merely a grandstand for the political bloviations of the older kenspeckle Scottish bards. In his valedictory editorial for Jabberwock in 1959 Neish made his thoughts swingeingly unambiguous, saying that he wished to jettison ‘that inferior romantic drivel of misdirected Nationalism which for too long has been a millstone around the necks of younger Scottish writers’. By the time Sidewalk 1 appeared, Neish’s stance had clearly not in any way mellowed, drawing very firm battle-lines in his editorial, guaranteed to antagonise older Scottish writers: ‘Lallans today […] has an academic insular artificiality which is inherent in the work of those who use it. The more Lallans poetry that appears, the more reasonable becomes the tenet that in the 1960s literary pastiche is being created by poetical eunuchs’ (p. 11). Curiously enough, ‘eunuchs’ was one of the favourite insults MacDiarmid liked to throw at writers he regarded as enemies.

Putting his firebrand rhetoric into action, Neish printed between 500-750 copies of each issue of Sidewalk and the magazine was aimed at an audience most likely to be ‘open-minded’ – university students. The magazine introduced its readers to the likes of Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Gary Snyder and William Burroughs. This small Scottish periodical was not just tokenistically international, but vitally eclectic, embracing French and British writing, Black Mountain Poetry and Beatnik literature. Let’s just compare the dramatis personae of that line-up with a 1960 copy of Lines Review (a major organ of the Scottish Renaissance). Lines Review 16 has on its cover a reproduction of a woodcut by Moira Crichton depicting Sydney Goodsir Smith, Hugh MacDiarmid and Norman MacCaig all enjoying a guid-willie-waught in The Abbotsford Pub (Rose Street, Edinburgh). The contents are predictable: MacDiarmid, MacCaig, Garioch, Crichton Smith et al. (It’s interesting to note that Lines Review retailed at 1 shilling and sixpence whereas Sidewalk was 2 shillings, at a time when a student grant was perhaps 140 shillings (£7) a week). This is no slight aimed at Lines Review – one of the literary backbones of Scotland for decades – but to show that youth culture and other strands of avant-garde culture needed a room (or magazine) of their own.

Sidewalk might have been a flash-in-the-pan in terms of its lifespan, but it sent intellectual and aesthetic shockwaves through both young and older writers. In 1963, Bill MacArthur, a university student who had acted as an illustrator for Sidewalk, established his own magazine Cleft (which, like Sidewalk, only ran for two issues). Cleft is a seminal small magazine because it not only carried on Sidewalk’s transatlantic and European scope but also introduced concrete poetry and was more tolerant of the veterans of the Scottish Renaissance, like Hugh MacDiarmid and Robert Garioch, both of whom appeared in its pages. This fracturing of an old vanguard and an emergent youth culture is a crucial turning point in the history of the Scottish Renaissance. Jim Burns, in his 1977 article on Sidewalk points out that Alex Neish’s promotion of American writing was not unique in 1960 in a UK-wide context but that it certainly was significant in breaking up the provincialism or favouritism of the Scottish scene: ‘Neish obviously kept his finger on the contemporary pulse’.[1]

This brings us round to Sydney Goodsir Smith (1915-1975), a New-Zealand born poet who converted to writing poetry in Scots in the late 1930s and remained in Edinburgh until his relatively early death. One of Alex Neish’s particular bêtes noires was what he termed the ‘bombastic lackeys of the Nationalist movement’ and he could well have intended this damning phrase for Goodsir Smith who was a fervent disciple of Hugh MacDiarmid’s Scottish nationalist programme for the arts. In 2004, nearly three decades after the death of her husband Sydney Goodsir Smith, Hazel Williamson died and the contents of the New Town flat they shared  were sent to auction, including Goodsir Smith’s extensive library which had remained untouched since his death. This meant that for a few years books heavily annotated by the poet would appear all over Edinburgh, in second-hand bookshops and charity shops. It was in the now defunct ‘Old Town Bookshop’ that I bought for £2 Goodsir Smith’s pungently annotated personal copy of Sidewalk . It’s a fascinating time capsule of the clash of values between younger writers like Alex Neish and older Scots stalwarts like Goodsir Smith.

The first thing to note is that he kept this magazine, so he realised it was of importance even if it was offensive to his own tastes. Many of his pencilled comments in the margins are funny but also slightly reactionary. On the contents page he calculates the nationalities of the contributors – four French, at least one English, seven Americans and seven Scots. Many of the pieces are dismissed as ‘Dada’ or ‘transition Dada’ (proving that there is nothing ‘new under the sun’), Ian Hamilton Finlay’s piece is ‘joky’ and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s is ‘dull, windy, vague’ but crucially Alex Neish is deemed ‘a didactic type’. There is also a pencilled remark guiding us to p. 81 where we can find a ‘comment on the whole thing’: ‘But remember, things have been moving so fast in the States that by and large it’s already dated’. There is also an editorial attack on poets who write in Lallans on page 11: ‘The real point surely is this: that Lallans is neither a national language nor a genuine one’ to which Goodsir Smith’s pencil riposte is: ‘Whereas Ginsberg’s is?’

Many of the pieces have comments showing Goodsir Smith’s frustration and bafflement at what he considers the ‘emperor’s new clothing’ of contemporary writing. His umbrage may have also been directed at the magazine because issue 1 carries a particularly wounding review of Goodsir Smith’s latest poetry collection Figs and Thistles by George Todd: ‘This book is aptly named. But there are damned few figs and too many thistles […] this collection bears all the marks of scraping the barrel’. The coup-de-grâce of the review is this observation: ‘One wonders how seriously Sydney Smith takes it. Does he see himself in there lowsing the bands of an oppressed people? It would be better if he showed us he still has his tongue firmly in his cheek and was not squandering his talents on behalf of the parochial, pettifogging fashions which he can be so skilful at knocking’.

Perhaps as a placatory offering, Sidewalk 2 carried a full-page advertisement for Goodsir Smith’s books still in print and a review, again by George Todd, of his play The Wallace. Not quite as acerbic as his review of Figs and Thistles Todd nonetheless dismisses Smith’s play as two-dimensional and simplistic, essentially a ‘good Western’ where the ‘goody’ and the ‘baddy’ are clearly delineated. Sidewalk in this respect is a symptomatic text of its time, giving a clear indication of the fissiparousness of Scottish letters and culture in the 1960s, where a generation that had previously held sway was being challenged younger aspirants and upstarts. Todd, in his review of The Wallace notes that Scottish nationalists will draw parallels from the play to a contemporary Scotland ‘still beset by internal back-biting and schisms of one kind or another’. Sidewalk gave younger writers a platform and the opportunity to discover writing which wasn’t first and foremost Scottish nationalist or Scottish Renaissance-related, and in this sense it broadened aesthetic horizons. However, by attacking the older nabobs of the Scottish Renaissance, like Goodsir Smith, it could be argued that the magazine was merely adding another level of factionalism to the story. Every literary magazine that has a clear identity and outlook also, no matter how much the editors deny it, has a clique, or rather a circle of writers that it is sympathetically disposed towards. By 1960 it was high time someone stuck their neck out to challenge the dominance of ‘The Poets’ Pub’ generation and through the pioneering efforts of magazines like Sidewalk many now essential younger Scottish writers began to break through in the 1960s and 1970s.

[1] Poetry Information 17 (1977), pp. 46-48.


Richie McCaffery is a poet and critic from Northumberland, who completed a PhD on Scottish poetry of World War Two at the University of Glasgow in 2016. He is the editor of Sydney Goodsir Smith, Poet: Essays on His Life and Work (Brill, 2020).

Scottish Independent Media: Then and Now (video)

Here’s a recording of our fourth event, which explored shifts in Scottish politics, media and publishing over the past few decades, and the place of small independent magazines in those changes.

Our panellists:

      • Jamie Maxwell – journalist and editor (Politico, Foreign Policy, New Left Review)
      • Mike Small – writer, researcher and editor (Bella Caledonia, Red Herring/Product, Indymedia Scotland)

Other contributors to the discussion include Douglas Robertson (Radical Scotland) and Rory Scothorne (New Statesman).

Lesley Riddoch was unable to join us on the day, but adds her reflections on Harpies and Quines in the video below.


You can find a full listing of the network’s events here.

Strange fealties: the online literary magazine

Where does the magazine – and its forms, codes, public intimacies – fit into online literary culture?  Ian Macartney investigates via nine magazines


The online literary magazine ecosystem is a sort of arena where there are very strict adherences to rules and etiquette, but also a performed candidness which I believe conceals certain social economics. Strange fealties emerge via social media interactions: the power dynamics between contributor/editor, submitter/guidelines, the follower/following-back. These are potent, and unresolved, situations. There is an aura which makes said fealties seem unplaceable, limits I could not express prosaically. It was only through nine magazines that I could reveal there was, indeed, something very calcified about how we interact with literary magazines online, and how they operate. A quality of the seeming-infinite; an inevitable power not only synonymous to the internet, but also microcosms of the internet.

nine magazines is, as its name suggests, a website which hosts nine ‘themes’, each of which takes the form of a mini-magazine. Each theme is an archetype of a literary magazine I have seen during my time as a writer. Some are directly inspired by specific publications I admire (analogica, the moon ( is SPAM; Direct Contrast is PN Review) while others are situated around internet subcultures, or the internet’s propensity to foster their growth. HELLSURFACE, for example, takes inspiration from the word-spaghetti of the reactionary  ‘Dark Enlightenment’, popularised by Nick Land, while The Uddington Review is totemic for any local-interest or parochial magazines that more traditional poets have set up online. UNFURL YR WORDS is essentially the entire spoken-word/slam scene. amethyst & magnets represents the type of magazines a lot of young people have set up during lockdown, particularly in North America, and a newer shell mirrors what I perceive as popular journals which publish metropolitan poetics, ‘lowercase’ in temperament, like The Poetry Review or Ambit. ecoVox was not inspired by poetry magazines, per se, but rather the rising (necessary) prominence of ecology in contemporary writing – but also where it fails (i.e. the conflation of political change with cultural response).

In this ‘meta-magazine’ I traded the sanctity often reserved for literature with a deranged internet logic which, as a writer in my early 20s, find inescapable – and in doing so, intend to ask what it even means for literature to exist in the infinite textual sprawl that is the internet, i.e. our current cultural lives.

I found several ways to do this. First, half the contributors are me. nine magazines gave me the opportunity to self-present in new and colourful ways, but with a distance. The project is a kind of  digital pamphlet – through my gang of pseudonyms I reverse the egalitarian pretences of the magazine, the idea that finely attuned work has been filtered through with no room for bias, allowing me to reframe my work. ‘Olaf Skyler’, for example, is the name given to nature poems I wrote when I was fifteen. Although I believe the poems hold up to scrutiny I am also very aware of their wide-eyed neo-romanticism which, on the one hand, I want to champion beyond dismissals of ‘juvenilia’, but on the other hand, I admit the limits of this worldview. In putting sincere poems on an absurd parodic platform, I wanted to ask: does the work become negated, here, or does it double in meaning? Which implies a wider question: is the act of putting a poem on the internet inherently absurd? Are we to really expect a poem can pause the infinite scroll?

Secondly, I accepted every submission sent my way. Being selected for publication often feels like the acquisition of medals, titles which will garner author bios to prove the legitimacy of an artist. These mythologies of literary success, the ceaseless need to have ‘made it’, negate the ideal state of the literary magazine as a community-creating force. With nine magazines I wanted to feel out the limits of this competitiveness, but also express gratitude for the communal aspects of literary magazines, and therefore diminish the curational edge at play otherwise.

After all, now the mechanics of publishing are accessible to everyone with an internet connection, quality is no longer the defining characteristic of a publication. This begs the question: if publishing is no longer an intrinsic determiner of value, where is that value? Does it still exist? By accepting every submission I replaced competitive impulses with a pivot to project-specific aesthetics. The surprise, the value, is not in my ability to curate or find “the finest” work (which is already a fallacious category), but rather dependent on presentation – meaningful surfaces. The masthead, for example, are all fictitious creations. Their photos were generated by AI. Dupont, editor of a newer shell, who is bitter enough to mention in her bios that “although she did not win” a non-existent poetry prize, she did receive a completely unrelated “William J. Buutsur Bursary”. The Uddington Review’s Doris McSwitch only loves “most” of her grandchildren, while Direct Contrast’s Mercy Conguisse (“one of the greatest poets of the 21st century”) had an affair with “his former farmhand, Gustav”. Author bios are usually a type of prose fiction – the fiction of the ‘successful author’, of an author’s personality and/or achievements – which permeate the online literary magazine, and a major engine of literary competitiveness, but here it becomes farcical melodrama.

My final tactic was the visual identity of nine magazines itself. I aimed to go for a ‘semiotic barrage’, a sensory assault emblematic of the internet. This strategy originates in webcomic artist Scott McCloud’s concept of the ‘infinite canvas’. For McCloud the internet unlocks a limitless space for artists to express themselves. The page no longer has a physical limit; a drawing can be as large as a webpage needs to be. In nine magazines I utilise the infinite canvas for the use of text. Lines and stanzas stretch way farther than a marginated page would allow, spilling over on to other pieces; some poems are presented lopsided or upside-down; poems arrive in gaudy fonts and colours and highlights or as screenshots, hyper-filtered. It is through the infinite canvas that the ‘real’ internet breaks through the veneer and shells of the competitive online literary magazine, a ‘real’ rendering what we often ask of poetics (i.e. the sacredness of text) futile.

This is how literature becomes freed from certain responsibilities. In my discussion with Rishi Dastidar for the Spoke in Mirrors interview series, we discussed how “skimming” text has become the standard mode of reading, especially online – the relegation of text as surface-rich, not because literacy has decreased. but because of the exact opposite. After all, my generation is the most literate yet – our primary mode of communication is epistolary, via corporate platforms such as Messenger, Snapchat or Instagram/Twitter DMs. It is not that text or literature has become irrelevant online, it just performs differently. It is not that digital life is meaningless, it is just too meaningful. Too many interpretations and opinions are presented at once; it is the cultural singularity, digital hyperstimulation, the overwhelm, multitasking as an ontological state.

I wanted to reveal this meme logic in something as sanctified as the poem, and the poem’s home of the literary magazine. This was not to diminish literature, per se, but rather to reveal where poetics survive. Because ultimately, nine magazines is an attempt at nascence: taking a form more codified than assumed – the online literary magazine – and revealing where the limits encroach, and where we could go next. It’s a ‘meta-magazine’ in the sense of meta as metaxis – inbetweenness. In the space between outright parody and emulation, something exciting can thrive.

Read nine magazines at ninemagazines.com.

Ian Macartney is a writer. He can be found at ianmacartney.scot

Future Issues: Event 3 Digest

Our third event, held 24 June, was entitled ‘Future Issues: Digitising Twentieth-Century Magazines’.

This was a wide-ranging exploration of the why and how of digitising periodicals, including opportunities for co-production of digital resources with ‘memory institutions’ such as libraries and archives. We also examined the challenge posed by post-Brexit copyright law, and a compelling – indeed, heart-wrenching – case study of its practical impact for magazine studies, reviewing the British Library’s major digitisation project on Spare Rib (2013-21).

Our first speaker, Professor Lorna M. Hughes, offered a valuable tour d’horizon of recent digitisation practice, from basic ‘digital photocopying’ (simply giving access to an online repository of scanned pages) to more enriched approaches offering ‘added value’ (to researchers, to the public, to specific user-communities). Professor Hughes emphasised models of co-production and ‘slow digitisation’ which treat the move online as a process of discovery, connection-making and knowledge creation, allowing new questions and ways of reading to emerge along the way. In this perspective, the tasks of forming the digital resource (e.g. identifying rights holders, checking and authoring metadata, developing user tools for analysis) become an active, creative, experimental part of the research process itself. This approach both requires and exploits sustained engagement with complementary materials (e.g. linking digitised magazines to contemporaneous newspaper collections), and deepens relationships between researchers, copyright holders and archivists in a paradigm of ‘co-curation’.

In illustrating these possibilities – which are rarely utilised to the full in magazine digitisation – Professor Hughes touched on a range of relevant projects and platforms, operating within various legal frameworks (US, EU, UK, ??).

Instead of seeing digital collections as ‘destinations’ – where digitised content is created in a top-down way and ‘pushed out to users’ – Professor Hughes invited us to view digitation ‘as a journey of creation that brings lots of disparate experts into the conversation’, both uncovering and generating new scholarly possibilities.


This was an inspiring account of the varied purposes and potentials of digitisation, but tempered by awareness of the time, labour and resources required to go beyond digital photocopying. (The term ‘slow digitisation’ tells its own story: one involving hands-on openness to the unplanned and unfunded.) Our next speaker was Fredric Saunderson, Rights and Information Manager at the National Library of Scotland. He gave a lucid introduction to another constraining factor in digitisation – that of copyright law – while highlighting some possibilities amid the prohibitions.

After a crash-course on the essentials of copyright, Saunderson explained the two main paths for re-use of in-copyright works (such as the post-1960s magazines on which this project is focused): seeking permission from all copyright holders, or utilising legal exceptions to copyright (allowances defined and limited in law, with no permission required).

Libraries and archives have special affordances in UK law, and may create digital copies of in-copyright works for preservation purposes, ‘for text and data analysis for non-commercial research’, and on several other grounds (e.g. disability access). There are intriguing possibilities in this area – for text and data mining, for onsite access to preservation copies – but also strict controls. In navigating this terrain, Saunderson helpfully emphasised the key legal difference between a) digitising material and b) making use of digitised material (where, for what purpose, how?). It’s the latter that defines the viability of a digital resource within this legal framework.

Where does this leave our aspirations to digitise post-1960s Scottish magazines? At the genesis of this research network, there was cautious optimism that the key legal provision relevant to in-copyright magazines (and indeed all mass digitisation of in-copyright cultural heritage in Europe), the EU Orphan Works Exception (OWE) introduced in 2012, would remain part of UK law after withdrawal from the European Union.[1] That’s not how things turned out, and the OWE was repealed from UK law effective January 2021.


The impact of this change was vividly illustrated by our final speaker, Dr Polly Russell of the British Library, who led the Library’s massive Spare Rib digitisation project (2013-21). Spare Rib was a leading British feminist magazine active from 1972 to 1993, and the digitisation emerged from the BL’s Sisterhood & After project, an oral history of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Building on clear public interest in the magazine and its legacy, the Spare Rib digitisation was aimed at researchers seeking a full searchable archive, but also a more general audience of teachers, students and interested members of the public.

Dr Russell gave us a detailed overview of the project’s evolution – from scoping the resource, consulting with founding members of the magazine collective, developing a suitable archive platform (via Jisc Journal Archives), photographing magazines and authoring metadata – and legal developments which sadly required the closure of the digital resource earlier this year.

Of particular interest were the project’s struggles with copyright clearance, despite the formidable resources of the BL, significant volunteer labour, and the affordances – at the time, new and untested affordances – of the OWE. The nature of periodicals multiplied the legal and practical challenges at issue: each issue of Spare Rib included a wide variety of content, such as photographs, poems and commissioned essays, with up to eight copyright holders on a single page. Much of this content was produced by ordinary women who were very challenging to identify and locate for copyright purposes.[2]

In the initial stage of copyright clearance, a small army of volunteers sampled 20% of the magazine’s full run, in which they identified 1400 copyright holders. The team successfully contacted 400 of these individuals, with only two requesting that their material be redacted from the digital resource. On the basis of this very low rate of redaction (0.5%), the Library went ahead with digitising the full magazine, and identified a further 4500 copyright holders to contact (seeking permission) or add to the EU’s orphan works database. After the digital archive’s initial launch in 2015, organisations representing the rights of copyright holders raised concerns about some content classified as orphan, and a second process of copyright clearance resulted in redaction of 30% of the resource (around 1000 items), which the Library agreed could not be proven to fall within the OWE. After Brexit, the OWE itself was repealed – the legal basis for clearing around 80% of items in the collection – and the resource had to be taken down.

The scale, value and richness of the Spare Rib archive make the story of its rise and fall truly poignant. It is little short of tragic that the full-run archive is no longer available, but note that the BL’s curated learning site on Spare Rib is still available, including 300 items of (non-orphan) cleared content from the magazine, over 20 high-quality contextual articles, photographs, maps visualising networks of second-wave feminist activity across the UK (based on Spare Rib group and event listings), and links to oral histories. To highlight one example, this excellent primer on the 60s underground press by Marsha Rowe is of direct relevance to several SMN titles.

Dr Russell closed with some lessons learned during the project, including evidence of growing public demand for in-copyright periodical material, the need for clear policy on redaction and takedown, and that copyright clearance – even within the affordances of the OWE, now withdrawn – can be very expensive and time-consuming.

This was a sobering (and sometimes jaw-dropping) case-study, which gives the network a great deal to think about in regard to our own plans and objectives. In subsequent discussion, Graeme Hawley and Lorna Hughes discussed the importance of active engagement with copyright holders, which can become a valuable part of the process, drawing people into the project and letting them become stakeholders (and future audiences) in ways that enrich and expand the collection. Several members of the network expressed interest in ‘slow digitisation’ along these lines, creating enhanced digital collections focused on a more manageable subset of material – over which online audiences can ‘linger’ – rather than a full archive. But there are clear trade-offs here, in moving away from a searchable resource (e.g. of a magazine’s full run) that would permit large-scale analysis, comparison, text-mining and the more innovative sorts of periodical research Clifford Wulfman associates with the truly ‘digital library’.[3]

This was a hugely useful and stimulating exploration of the terrain, and its obstacles, which the network will spend some time digesting before we consider our own next steps in regard to digitisation. Our deep thanks to all the speakers.

With thanks to Alice Piotrowska, and her notes!


[1] Though its repeal from UK law creates significant obstacles for digitisation projects – and resulted in the takedown of the BL’s Spare Rib project – the EU Orphan Works Exception (OWE) is no panacea. For a concise outline of its limitations, see James Boyle, ‘(When) Is Copyright Reform Possible? Lessons from the Hargreaves Review’ (2015), section IIc: ‘In brief, the scheme is heavily institutional, statist, and inflexible. Its provisions can really only be used by educational and cultural heritage institutions, only for non-profit purposes, with lengthy and costly licensing provisions designed to protect the monetary interests of – almost certainly – non-existent rights holders. The EU seemed never to grasp the idea that citizens also need to have access to orphan works, for uses that almost certainly present no threat to any living rights holder.’

[2] Note that the OWE still required an extensive ‘diligent search’ to trace copyright holders. A work only becomes ‘orphan’ – and eligible for the associated exception or licensing scheme – when ‘it is established that the owner of the copyright cannot be identified, or if identified cannot be located’. (NB the UK’s own orphan works licensing scheme still operates, but the EU-wide OWE scheme enabled by the 2012 Orphan Works Directive has been repealed from UK law, creating risks of infringement for UK projects constructed within this framework.)

[3] ‘But what happens if you encode metadata directly into the texts themselves? If, for example, you mark up the structure of complex publications, like magazines, you can pose and answer interesting contextual questions. Let’s say you had a textbase of structured transcriptions of magazines that distinguished among pages and blocks of advertising and content. You might then be able to pose this sort of question: how many short stories by Faulkner and Hemingway were printed alongside ads for sporting goods?’ Clifford Wulfman, ‘The Rise and Fall of Periodical Studies’, Journal of Modern Periodical Studies 8.2 (2017): 226-41 (p. 234).

‘Moths in My Sporran’: From Scottish Journal to Scottish International

Sarah Leith investigates some mid-century satire on the ‘tartan monster’


In September 1952, a new periodical appeared on the Scottish literary scene, aiming to paint a ‘month by month picture of Scotland – our doings, thoughts, humours and aspirations’.[1] This magazine was the devolution-seeking Scottish Journal (1952-3), edited by Hugh MacDiarmid and Compton Mackenzie (amongst others). It emerged as questions of Scottish self-government were becoming more serious, first via the Scottish Covenant campaign in 1949-51 – which gathered up to two million signatures calling for Home Rule – and then by the 1952 Catto Report on Scotland’s share of UK expenditure and revenue, which strengthened calls for administrative devolution and led to a Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs (1952-4). The possibility of even minor constitutional change prompted reassessments of the national self-image, looking backwards to contemplate a different future. In the first number of Scottish Journal, we find Australian John J. Alderson’s speculations about a federated Britain printed alongside Harold Stewart’s intriguingly titled ‘Moths in My Sporran’.[2] While we cannot be exactly sure who Scottish Journal’s Stewart was, it is possible that he may be the Daily Record journalist who authored the novel Bats in the Belfry (1935).[3] Although his identity is uncertain, we do know that he embraced the Scottish Literary Renaissance critique of sentimental visions of Scotland.

Evoking images of decaying tartan and moth-eaten fur, this article is recognisably part of a much broader battle against ‘inauthentic’ images of Scotland and Scottish culture, one that stretched across the twentieth century from the Scottish Literary Renaissance to Tom Nairn’s famous evisceration of the ‘vast tartan monster’ in the Red Paper on Scotland (1975), and far beyond.[4] Literary and political magazines played their role in this critique. It is clearly present in the 1968 launch issue of Scottish International, which promises ‘to look for what is really there [in Scotland], and to call people’s attention to it’.[5] A sobering high-point in this endeavour is Father Anthony Ross’ article ‘Resurrection’ (May 1971). Ross, the University of Edinburgh’s Catholic Chaplain, emphasised ‘the struggle of living here in the fog of romantic nostalgia for a world that never existed, and lies and half-truths about the world that does exist’.[6] For him, Scotland was ‘sick and unwilling to admit it. The Scottish establishment at least will not admit it. The tartan sentimentality, the charades at Holyroodhouse, the legends of Bruce and Wallace, Covenanters, Jacobites, John Knox and Mary Stuart, contribute nothing towards a solution’.[7]

‘It might help’, Ross argued, ‘if we could set aside for a time the image of Scotland presented in the glossy magazines which decorate our station book-stalls’ and consider instead

the distressed girl of sixteen drifting round the city, turned out of a home she had five months ago, pregnant, it was believed by her own brother […] or the defeated woman who longs for the day when another of fourteen children will leave school and she can tell him to go and look after himself […] The list could stretch until this [book] was full, a roll call of those people in Scotland whose tragedy is buried in statistics but who challenge all the conceit with which we brag about our great traditions.[8]

 

Attacking a different set of myths, concerns about the decay and appropriation of Gaelic culture were raised in Scottish International in November 1969. Donald John MacLeod’s ‘The Sellers of Culture: A Look at Interpretations and Some False Interpreters of Gaelic Culture’ blamed Lowland tourist and native ‘interpreter’ alike for the perpetuation of ‘false’ images of the Highlands.[9] MacLeod observed a circular quality to this traffic in myths:

In interpreting their native society to the Gall, the exiled Gaels – both because they wish to popularise and so perpetuate the culture and because they value acceptance by the city middle class – have amended their model to make it as acceptable as possible to the non-Gael. The interpreters on the other side of the fence – those Lowlanders, from comedians to scholars, who feel qualified to comment on Gaelic culture – have contributed an image of their own to which that of the native interpreters has gradually assimilated. This popular stereotype often appears in humorous caricature – the Highlander as a kilted, whisky-sodden, sentimental giant.[10]

‘In fact’, MacLeod noted, and ‘(as many may have already suspected), most Gaels do not wear kilts, sing all the time, compose village-poetry, or speak Gaelic all day long’.[11]

Now let us return to the September 1952 edition of Scottish Journal, and the perturbing predicament of Harold Stewart. ‘Moths in My Sporran’ only appeared in three editions of Scottish Journal, but Stewart’s three columns wittily mock the pervasive images of kilts and kailyards that were sold both to visitors and to the Scots themselves. Stewart’s cheeky title implied that authentic Gaelic culture, symbolised by the sporran, and used to (mis)represent both the Highlands and the Lowlands, had been left to fester and rot in a dusty cupboard, while at the same time being abused for financial gain. Scottish Journal was not as radical as Scottish International, but it did have a clear sense of what the Lowlands and the Highlands were not, and it poked fun at those it blamed for commercialising a false and tawdry image of the nation.

The first ‘Moths in My Sporran’ column emphasised both the alleged fakery of popular tartanry, and the uses and abuses of Highland culture. Through his use of satire, Stewart highlighted a worrying Bonnie Prince Charlie problem:

Then there is the traffic in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s lovelocks, based on the historical fact that the Young Pretender, during his brief bid for a throne, went up and down Scotland scattering curls in all directions. Satisfied as we are with the Board of Trade returns which show that some 1,000,000 bushels of the Chevalier’s chevelure are sold to romantic visitors annually, there is a darker side to the business.

For one thing, it deprives the stranger of the pleasure of seeing Scotland’s handsomest dog, the golden Labrador, which vanishes from view at the outset of every tourist season, leaving its hair behind in antique lockets and pathetically shaded sachets of silken ribbon. And while it probably does the shorn bowwows no harm to go to the dog-racing tracks and masquerade as greyhounds for a time, I am against the practice. I invariably back those dogs.[12]

The Young Pretender’s dusty and moth-ravaged ‘locks’ may have been on sale in Edinburgh at festival time. ‘Hail Ceilidh-donia’, the third ‘Moths in My Sporran’ column, satirised the fashion for ceilidh parties held by members of the Scottish Labour movement in the period, including by Hamish Henderson (leader of the modern Scottish folk revival movement) at the Edinburgh People’s Festival, as well as the ceilidhs held by the Bo’ness Rebels from 1948 onwards.[13]

For Stewart, the first People’s Festival Ceilidh (1951), was no better than either J.M. Barrie’s sentimental Kailyard novels or Edwardian song-collector Margery Kennedy-Fraser’s Anglicised folk-song. In ‘Hail Ceilidh-donia’, Stewart began by ‘remembering’ that ‘a thinker firmly on returning home from the Rothesay Mod’ had explained to him that ‘only in the ceilidh does the essential nature of the Gael find full and free expression’.[14] However Stewart’s description of this ceilidh presents his reader with a palpable atmosphere of fakery as he recalls ‘the subtly nostalgic scent of peat-reek in the room. Or maybe the aroma came from the fag-ends smouldering on the carpet. No matter. The atmosphere was just right. There was the singing! […] And poetry!’[15]  It is in his description of the ‘Highland’ dances that Stewart’s wit and frustration reach their peak, as he describes the dancers as enjoying

The rumba (named from the wave-washed Hebridean isle of Rum [sic]), the conga (invented, as the title implies, by Conn of the Hundred Battles), [and] the mamba (traditionally derived from Mambeg), [which] invited our light-springing footsteps to trample the floor in the ancient rhythms[16]

In Stewart’s opinion, the folk revival was not only promoting a false image of Gaelic culture but also actively repressing this culture and spirit. Of course, Hamish Henderson intended the folk revival to unearth and liberate authentic Scottishness, not to traduce it. Perhaps a suspicious Stewart simply had the wrong, unromantic end of the stick: arguably, Henderson and his fellow folk revivalists were just as averse to cultural appropriation and nostalgic peat-reek.

As Scottish Journal’s ‘Moths in My Sporran’ columns show, then, pointed critique of sentimental Scotland and its ‘great traditions’ did not vanish for a time during the mid-twentieth century, and an impulse to expose harsher and more unsettling truths about Scotland exists alongside popular tartanry.


Sarah Leith has just completed a PhD at the University of St Andrews, on repression, counterculture and Scottish national identity, c.1926-c.1967.

[1] ‘The Journal of a Nation’, Scottish Journal (September, 1952): 1-2 (p.1).

[2] John J. Alderson, ‘A Federated British Isles’, Scottish Journal (September 1952): 8-9; Harold Stewart, ‘Moths in My Sporran: Pss! Wanna Nice Feud?’, Scottish Journal (September 1952), p.9.

[3] Many thanks to Dr Paul Malgrati for helping to find a possible identity for Harold Stewart.

[4] Tom Nairn, ‘Old and New Scottish Nationalism’, in The Red Paper on Scotland, ed. by Gordon Brown (Edinburgh, EUSPB: 1975)

[5] Scottish International (January, 1968): cover-p.3 (p.3).

[6] Anthony Ross, ‘Resurrection’, Scottish International (May, 1971): 4-10 (p.6).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., p.9.

[9] Donald John MacLeod, ‘The Sellers of Culture: A Look at Interpretations and Some False Interpreters of Gaelic Culture’, Scottish International (November, 1969): 49-52 (p.49).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Stewart, ‘Psss! Wanna Nice Feud?’, p.9.

[13] Harold Stewart, ‘Moths in My Sporran: Hail Ceilidh-donia’, Scottish Journal (November, 1952), p.5.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

Mag Memories: A London Subscriber

Robin Kinross observes the 1970s scene from a friendly distance, with an expert eye on design and typography


I have always lived in the south of England, though grew up in what I felt was a Scottish micro-environment. My parents were both Edinburgh born and bred, both came to London in their twenties for work; they met and married in London. While I have ended up as a typographer, editor and publisher with the imprint Hyphen Press, my route to this destination was unplanned and it needed detours, driven by wide and I suppose ‘generalist’ interests.

In the late 1960s, leaving secondary school with science A levels, with thoughts of becoming a librarian, and interested in literature, cinema, art, politics – the magazines brought Scottish culture and discussion to me. They performed the classical function of helping me to know – or imagine – the community that I might have been living in, but wasn’t living in. How did I discover these magazines? Maybe in bookshops in Edinburgh, or perhaps in the London shops that might have carried them (Better Books? Dillons?). Around 1970, when I was a student of English literature in London, I believe I had a subscription to Scottish International, though have lost all my copies. I remember its well-funded production: A4 format and printed letterpress, with pictures on coated paper and line illustrations on the text paper. (This distant memory is open to correction.) It was in Scottish International that I first read Edwin Morgan. I became one of his constant readers.

Did Scottish International really carry an article on ‘Ibsen and Scotland’? I remember someone joking that this was like the formula of ‘X and the Polish question’, in which X could be anything – a person, a concept, an activity, any material fact. Thus one could generate a discussion almost automatically. If this joke was about Poland and Scotland, then it sounds like the voice of Neal Ascherson, whose house in Bethnal Green, borrowed from the sociologist Michael Young, I used to visit then: the Ascherson family childminder was the girlfriend of my best friend at the Polytechnic where I was a student.

At that time I certainly had a subscription to New Edinburgh Review. I have lost all those copies too. But recently I became interested in it again, looked through the run of the magazine in the British Library, and bought a few copies from second-hand shops. I wanted to rediscover the reviews of Black music – R&B, soul, ska – that were published under the byline of Dr Juke’s Rhythm Review. These were extensive and very knowledgeable discussions of hard-to-obtain records, showing an F.R.Leavis-like attention to detail and severity of judgment, sorting out the good stuff from the bland or meretricious. In his Blue Moment blog, Richard Williams had written about his ‘favourite piece of music writing’ – an article on Prince Buster by Mark Steedman. As Williams wrote, Steedman is now a professor in Edinburgh University’s School of Informatics. I got in touch with Mark Steedman, who confirmed that he was indeed Dr Juke. These reviews of very unScottish culture were for me one of the important elements of the NER.

At this time I was switching from reading literature to doing typography, which in 1971 I went to the University of Reading to learn. My perceptions of the magazines were filtered through a growing typographic consciousness. New Edinburgh Review had a good phase when its design began to be professional (rather than done by enthusiastic student amateurs). I have a copy of no. 16 (1972) that shows this. The cover is printed in two colours, as previously, but now uses a photograph printed not in black but a light brown, with black titling overprinted. ‘Art and layout’ is credited to Jim Downie, with Jack Wyper and Tom Bee. Among the illustrators in this issue was Stewart McKinnon, who would then have been a postgraduate student at the Royal College of Art in London, having gone there from Edinburgh College of Art. (Rick Poyner has retrieved McKinnon’s work in an article on the Design Observer website.)

The pages inside remind me of the early design of London’s Time Out magazine, founded in 1968, and in 1970 changing its format from A5 to A4, under the direction of Pearce Marchbank. For designers, other important magazines of that time were the BBC’s Radio Times (art directed by David Driver) and, from the USA, Rolling Stone and New York, the original city listings publication. All these magazines are cited as influences by Simon Esterson, the London designer who in the 1980s would come up to Edinburgh for brief spells to work first on Edinburgh University Student Publications Board’s Festival Times, which in 1985 gave birth to The List.

I am not sure when I discovered the re-established Edinburgh Review, launched in 1984. I think it would have been stocked by Compendium in Camden Town, near to where I lived at the time. Certainly I took out a subscription in 1988, and have a postcard from Peter Kravitz to prove this – plus all the copies still on my shelves, from no. 67/68 onwards: I must have bought back numbers to complete the series. It may have been in October 1988 that I first met Peter. It was at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where he was in charge of the Polygon stand. I introduced myself and we had the first of many absorbing conversations.

The Edinburgh Review was important for me especially for its recovery of figures such as Stuart Hood, R.D. Laing, Alexander Trocchi. I hadn’t thought of them as Scottish, but now came to understand that they were deeply so. This was an enlargement and enrichment of what Scotland meant, for me and I imagine for many others. These figures had left the country to work elsewhere and were strongly internationalist, but retained the values of their Scottish educations: a serious commitment to thought and art, with a wide range of interests. Further they had a clarity, sharpness, sometimes a violence of thought and expression, that one doesn’t find much in the mild climate of English culture. They exhibit an easy passage from the physical to the metaphysical, which is perhaps one of the traits of the Scottish-educational habit of mind.

The Scottish philosophy material in Edinburgh Review was a great discovery. I remember especially the essays in no. 74 and Richard Gunn’s essay in no. 87. The ideas of ‘common sense’ philosophy helped me in polemics over legibility to put forward an alternative to the deconstruction theory that had been picked up in design circles and which was just then (early 1990s) dominant in US and British avant-garde theorizing.

I had also subscribed to New Left Review from 1970 onwards and so read Tom Nairn’s essays on Britain and Ireland, as they came out. When some of this material was collected in The Break-up of Britain, I remember thinking ‘I have read all this already’ and so didn’t buy the book. But also the idea implied in the book’s title of Scottish or Welsh (or English!) independence seemed to be taking it a bit far. Only much later, in the run-up to the 2014 referendum, did it seem obvious and necessary.

Tom Nairn was a regular contributor to the earlier issues of another London publication that I bought and read in the later 1970s. This was Bananas (1975–1981), the newspaper-format literary magazine edited by Emma Tennant, of Scottish aristocratic family, but brought up in England and living in bohemian West London. Nairn published in Bananas some of the writing that he was working on for The Break-up of Britain. Aside from that material, he contributed a scathing article on ‘The English Literary Intelligentsia’ (Bananas no. 3) – exhibiting a characteristic sharpness of expression in resuming his exposition of how England got to be the way it is, and in this case how it got to be the place that produced Kingsley Amis and Margaret Drabble. One should certainly add him to the list of wanderers who never lost the bearings of their education in Scotland.

As a typographer I should perhaps have been more engaged with concrete poetry than I ever was. This wasn’t the aspect of Edwin Morgan’s writing that I valued most. I have a few issues of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Poor.Old.Tired.Horse (1962–1967). I bought these new, some years after publication; perhaps they were still for sale in Compendium or one of the other London shops.

I saw a few issues of Akros, and I remember buying direct from Duncan Glen at least one publication – I think it was an interview with MacDiarmid, set on an electric typewriter. Glen was a good typographer and the magazine and its associated publications were well done in that respect. Late in his life he published a book, Printing Type Designs: A New History (2001). I have never seen this book, but from accounts of it I gather that the ‘new’ part of the history is the Scottish part. A specialist typographic bookseller in Amsterdam once asked me how to get hold of copies. I think eventually he succeeded and was able to stock it in his shop.

Looking at magazines through a typographic consciousness has a limiting effect. For example, I did occasionally see copies of Cencrastus and Radical Scotland, but found it tough going to actually read much in them, partly because of the amateurish design. That applies even more so to the Red Paper on Scotland, with its very small size of type, set in long lines (about 15 words per line). Neal Ascherson has called it the ‘unread paper’.

There is a technical explanation for what happened in design and production in these years. Through the post-war period and into the 1960s the predominant method of setting and printing text was with metal type and letterpress printing. Production was firmly in the hands of highly trained – and unionised – compositors and printers. But by about 1970 metal and letterpress were being deposed by photocomposition and offset lithographic printing, for reasons of cost of equipment and materials, and ease of operation. Small offset printers did not need much training to operate, and text composition with the IBM Selectric (‘golfball’) typewriters and Letraset (rub-down letters) for headlines needed no obvious skills. For a few years in the mid-1970s, the printing unions resisted this, but quite quickly gave way. In the 1970s and 1980s the pages of the small magazines were mostly pasted up – the raw materials were paper output from typewriters or the small photocomposers that came to the fore then – to make ‘camera-ready copy’ that was photographed to make film, from which printing plates were made. This was how EUSPB operated through the 1970s and most of the 1980s. It employed two compositors with union cards, though paste-up was done by non-professionals. The visible results of all this? Lines of text (especially corrections or additions) stuck down at a slight angle from the rest of the page, letters bumping into each other in headlines, rules drawn with a blotchy pen or an unsteady hand, illustrations made by someone with an idea but nothing much more than that. Towards the end of the 1980s, personal computers and especially Apple Macintoshes with page make-up software became available. At least now the lines of text were always perfectly straight.

At this time my main political commitment was to Charter 88. Every Saturday afternoon I joined a group on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields holding banners demanding a Bill of Rights, proportional voting, reform of the House of Lords, and so on. I always tried to get the one that demanded a Scottish Assembly. In July 1990, at the Charter’s first Constitutional Assembly, Tom Nairn sent a paper that spoke about the Charter movement: ‘the product of a southern (rather than “English” in the misleading territorial sense) political culture. Its radicalism is still permeated by a heartland ethos of confidence and possibility, still animated by high-profile assumptions of political competence. The Scottish movement, in contrast, is emerging from a low-profile, apolitical culture of submissiveness and evasion, and trying to build up an elementary self-confidence where almost nothing existed before.’

Though I certainly knew all about the ‘ethos of confidence’ of the southerners, what I valued in the Scottish movement, as seen in the magazines and more occasionally in real-life encounters with the natives, was the bringing together of culture and politics. One was not hived off from the other: the Scottish literary and visual cultures were playing a political role in affirming the nation. It wasn’t like that in England. Sometimes the Scottish voices were rough and plain, but I had the sense that something could be done through them.

Thanks to Simon Esterson for his memories of the 1980s.


Robin Kinross is the founder of Hyphen Press, and the author of Modern typography: an essay in critical history (2nd edn, 2008).

Mag Memories: John Herdman

John Herdman reflects on the social and political currents surging through Scottish magazines in the 1960s and 70s.


This blog is a companion to our podcast interview with John Herdman.

The cover of ‘Another Country’ shows The Paperback bookshop in Charles Street, Edinburgh, 1959

I became a Scottish nationalist while an undergraduate at Cambridge from 1960-63.  I can identify three strands in this conversion: firstly the discovery that I had a different kind of cultural identity from my new friends and acquaintances; secondly, my enthusiasm for Irish literature (particularly Yeats, Joyce and Beckett), and the sense that this felt much closer to me than did English literature; finally my discovery (initially in an anthology edited by Moray McLaren, The Wisdom of the Scots) of the poetry and ideas of Hugh MacDiarmid, of which I had been wholly ignorant.  Between 1963 and 1966 I was variously in Edinburgh, Cambridge and Europe, but very much in touch with the cultural developments that were taking place in Scotland in those years: Jim Haynes’s Paperback Bookshop, of which I was a habitué, the Traverse Theatre Club which was a huge source of stimulation, and the International Writers’ Conference of August 1962 and Drama Conference the following year.

During 1966-67 I was a research student at Cambridge studying James Hogg. When I finally returned to Edinburgh in 1967 it was to a consciousness that there was a new element of life in the city, a cosmopolitanism and an innovative spirit in the arts which stood over against the very traditional middle-class world in which I had grown up, and that this was making for a far more complex interaction of different cultural and political forces than had existed hitherto. It was against this background that Winifred Ewing’s by-election victory for the SNP at Hamilton in November 1967 brought about a change in the political and cultural face of Scotland that was to prove permanent.  It meant that an aspiration which had seemed little more than an unattainable pipe-dream began suddenly to appear a realistically possible, if still very distant, political goal.  It was a heady time; all at once every other person in the street seemed to be sporting an SNP badge. There was of course a substantial element of fashion in this. Personally, I became quickly disillusioned by the philistinism and tokenism of the SNP’s cultural policies, and with its excessive preoccupation with economics to the detriment of the issues that seemed most important to me; and I had hoped for a far more determined and militant follow-up.

It was in 1968-9 that I began to write for Scottish periodicals, first for Catalyst of which I was briefly editor in 1970, then for Akros. Within the next few years I contributed to most of the magazines then publishing. They provided an enviable critical culture in which the new creative work of Scottish writers both established and emerging was received and evaluated, and ensured that new work was noticed even when ignored by the press; although newspapers too were mostly assiduous in reviewing new Scottish work. (To give a personal example, my second novel, Pagan’s Pilgrimage, received nine reviews when it appeared in 1978.) Another very important function performed by the literary journals lay in providing work and activity – reviewing and the writing of longer critical articles on contemporary Scottish writing – for writers like myself. Financial rewards may have been small, but one felt part of a literary community, and the interactions involved gave rise to many friendships and the formation of wide circles of acquaintance.  Though some of the connections made may have been confrontational, the magazines as scenes of literary and cultural debate were educational. Writers quickly came to learn who represented what sets of attitudes, but over the literary community as a whole there was a sense of overall cohesiveness which made the atmosphere very different from that of the more fragmented and perhaps individualistic scene of today. Also very important were the book publishing arms of several of the magazines which gave many young writers, including myself, the chance of publication which they were unlikely to receive from the large metropolitan publishers.

The most obvious ideological division among poets was that between the advocates of Scots or Lallans, and the considerably larger number, never really constituting a coherent grouping, who for one reason or another chose to write in English. This debate originated in Hugh MacDiarmid’s espousal of the Scots tongue (although most of his own later work was in English), and the association of that choice with Scottish patriotism and nationalism. Within this group, however, there were infinite gradations and inflections, both in ideas relating to what sort of Scots was employed (a “synthetic” diction combining contemporary speech with a drawing on the heritage of the makars, a stronger emphasis on the contemporary, or simply “the Scots I hear in my head” as Duncan Glen, the editor of Akros, used to say); and in how all this correlated with an overt political stance.  Among the “second generation” Scottish Renaissance poets the most militantly patriotic was probably Tom Scott, followed by Sydney Goodsir Smith and Alexander Scott (the two Scotts hated each other). Robert Garioch was less overtly political; Duncan Glen was younger than this group, militant culturally but tended not to make political statements.

Of course the linguistic question was all-important for Gaels: Sorley MacLean, though never describing himself as a nationalist, supported independence and was never shy of identifying himself as both a Scottish and a Gaelic patriot; Derick Thomson, much more the official face of Gaeldom, was a straightforward SNP man. Almost all of these writers were also socialists, but here again the differences of nuance were considerable. The “Renaissance” men, often taking a John Maclean line, were socialists of a quite different kind from the younger writers who gravitated around Scottish International, the new journal launched in 1968 with very substantial backing from the Scottish Arts Council, and who were much more oriented towards an “internationalist” outlook.  The principal of these was Bob Tait, SI’s managing editor who was supported on the editorial board by Edwin Morgan and (as a mere makeweight in MacDiarmid’s view) Robert Garioch. MacDiarmid and Tom Scott regarded all this grouping as toadies of the establishment, and despised the cultural interests of at least some of them – the Beat poets, Burroughs and Alexander Trocchi, concrete poetry. (MacDiarmid and his followers would have regarded themselves as definitely internationalist in outlook, but not as cosmopolitan – a very significant distinction.) Meanwhile Norman MacCaig, the leading Scottish poet writing in English and MacDiarmid’s close friend, remained politically au dessus de la mêlée; while Robin Fulton, a long-time editor of Lines Review around the middle of this period, was notably hostile to nationalism, both political and cultural, without showing any other overt political leaning.  There can be little doubt that the main impetus for the remarkable explosion of magazine activity in these years was the slow awakening of national consciousness in Scotland exemplified by the influence of Hugh MacDiarmid but mediated by a host of less readily definable historical and social developments.

On the question of all this activity bringing together nationalists and socialists, in the shorter term it may have reinforced differences, but over time the effect was different. The approach of Scottish International was broadly sociological; the stance it took on Scottish issues could be described as anti-centralist, perhaps devolutionist from a socialist perspective. Many of those who took this line and started off very distrustful of “bourgeois nationalism” and identity politics in general, became in the course of the 1970s increasingly conscious of the national dimension, and progressively gravitated towards a more pro-independence position. Bob Tait himself was to join Jim Sillars’s breakaway Scottish Labour Party, and eventually the SNP. The political and social commentary in SI, especially after it changed from quarterly to monthly publication, probably encouraged the emergence of the incisive and influential political commentators on Scottish society such as Tom Nairn and Neal Ascherson who began to be prominent towards the end of the ‘70s. A lasting impression of these years is the sheer profusion of cultural activities and events which they spawned – poetry festivals, innumerable readings, book launches, film showings, theatrical events and “happenings” of all kinds – and the remarkable phenomenon of the folk music scene, which tended to bring together artists of many different shades and temperaments and of varied political and other persuasions.

Bob Tait, as editor of SI, planned the “What Kind of Scotland?” Conference of April 1973 with the controlling idea of showing that it was insufficient to argue for independence for Scotland without a clear idea of what kind of society was envisaged for that independent entity. He invited two nationalists (Stephen Maxwell and myself) to join the organising committee. The conference was successful, I think, particularly in encouraging the development of the movement of informed and committed political and social commentary alluded to above. But the undoubted and quite unexpected highlight proved to be the originally unplanned rehearsed reading of John McGrath’s play The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil – the first airing by the 7:84 Company of the explosive work that was to take audiences throughout Scotland by storm on its first tour, which immediately followed this occasion. This play brought into focus the whole question of the degree to which socialist and nationalist objectives, and interpretations of history, might differ or coincide.  The 7:84 Company insisted that its message was entirely socialist, yet again and again its audiences interpreted the story it had to tell as a nationalist object lesson. This was a tension which would have a long history and would not easily disappear.

The pub life of the Edinburgh cultural world of these years had two main foci – the Rose Street pubs where the older poets of the “second wave” Renaissance were accustomed to meet, drink, laugh and argue: Milne’s Bar, the Abbotsford and Paddy’s Bar were the most frequented. The atmosphere around the bards could be jovial but it could also be argumentative, given to “flyting”, even at odd moments violent. This was against the background of a normal Edinburgh pub atmosphere in which people from widely differing social backgrounds mingled easily. The second focus was Sandy Bell’s Bar in Forrest Road, which had a clientele of which the core consisted of “folkies” (it was and still is the main Edinburgh folk music pub) and students, at that time predominantly medical students, and was favoured by intellectuals of all sorts, by poets, writers and artists. As it is a very small, narrow pub (and in those days very smoky) the boisterous crowding was considerable and very much part of its charm. One of its many fixtures was the great folklorist Hamish Henderson, who united socialism and nationalism in his extraordinary person.

A story told me by a friend who often visits Turkey says a lot about the Sandy Bell’s of those days.  In Istanbul a young Turk was showing an assembled company photos of his visit to Edinburgh. Coming to one photo he said, “And this is the School of Scottish Studies.”  “No, no,” said my friend, “that’s Sandy Bell’s Bar.” “No, no, School of Scottish Studies!” He couldn’t be convinced otherwise; and it’s perhaps not difficult to imagine how the confusion might have arisen. This was still to a large extent a man’s world, but women writers were becoming rather more visible by the end of the ‘70s.  Among the female poets who were emerging in those years the most prominent was Liz Lochhead; others of note were Val Simmonds, later Gillies; Tessa Ransford, later founder of the Scottish Poetry Library; and Catherine Lucy Czerkawska. An outstanding editor was Joy Hendry, who after co-editing Chapman for some years with her then husband Walter Perrie, continued for very many years as an enormously hard-working sole editor. The most memorable and protracted debate which took place in the magazines of those years was the one which arose from the cleverly provocative attack on nationalist writers by the poet Alan Jackson in the pages of Lines Review in 1971. In the special supplement which followed, some of the writers attacked, and several others, had a chance to air and express their personal positions in a way which allowed them to dissent from being assimilated to any stereotyped view.

As F.R. Leavis used to say, “Minorities can be disproportionately influential”, and this is doubtless true of those who wrote in these Scottish magazines in the years under discussion, though the reach of their impact is impossible to estimate, far less quantify. What is certain is that these publications performed a most valuable cultural function in the discussion of Scottish writing and politics at a time of great intellectual ferment, and that they contain still great resources for the study of twentieth century Scottish writing within its wider context.


John Herdman was born in Edinburgh,  and educated there and at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he read English and later took his PhD. He is a novelist, short story writer and literary critic, whose most recent story collection is My Wife’s Lovers (2007).  As a critic he has published a study of Bob Dylan’s lyrics, Voice Without Restraint (1982), and The Double in Nineteenth-Century Fiction (1990), as well as much work on modern Scottish literature.  Another Country (2013) is a memoir of literary-political life in Scotland in the 1960s and 1970s. 

Mag Memories: A Can of Worms and Chapman

Joy Hendry looks back on the long, storied and combative history of Chapman, ‘Scotland’s Quality Literary Magazine’


Portrait of Joy Hendry by Alasdair Gray (2002)

The Scottish literary scene in 1970 was a veritable minefield: embattled, embittered by decades, if not centuries of neglect, distortion and misrepresentation and ignorance. Aspiring practitioners or scholars of literature like myself at the time, aged seventeen, could not be blamed for not even being aware of its existence, due to its absence from the curricula in education at every level. In terms of public recognition and funding, it was similarly invisible, deemed unnecessary, or a low priority in bodies like Arts Councils and universities.

Chapman began that year as The Chapman, a tiny, eight-page demi-quarto affair, the central impulse being simply to provide publication for poets (initially) in a scenario where much of quality was being written, for outlets very few. In no time, however, the combativeness of the scene and the struggle for scarce resources led to an editorial desire for controversy and ‘stirring it up’, especially when the founding editors had their application for Scottish Arts Council funding roundly rejected. The rude remarks made about other more fortunate magazines, and ‘established’ literary figures in The Chapman no 6 editorial, still make entertaining reading. (Straight intae the fechtin, almost…)

George Hardie, Hamilton-based poet, was the founder, and he teamed up with local poet Walter Perrie, whom I met in my second term at Edinburgh University, where we were both studying. He looked at my poetry and promised to publish two of my poems in the next issue. Eighteen months later, I found myself joint-editor of a literary magazine, aged only nineteen, though initially editorial policy came primarily from Walter. He wanted to place the magazine in the European and international mainstream, à la Pound, Eliot and Wyndham Lewis, and with a commitment to intellectualism and new ideas. From that lofty perspective, he tended to devalue current writing in Scotland. There was a firm commitment to quality in writing, giving airtime to new voices, including those espousing unfashionable and unpopular ideas, and to ‘speaking out’ about important cultural matters. We both wanted to avoid the destructive in-fighting going on in some of the magazines, and regretted the feuding between dominant personalities of the time. From the first, we sought out areas and authors suffering neglect or marginalisation. It’s hard to believe, now, that Sorley MacLean came into that category, as did Tom Scott and others.

The smaller the duck-pond, the fiercer the fight among the ducks, it seems. From a UK perspective, Scottish literature barely existed, and its individual cultural mores were misunderstood, perhaps wilfully – this despite its astonishing fecundity over centuries. We were young newcomers on the scene, but it became quickly evident that ‘the establishment’ (UK and Scottish) favoured endeavour in English only, and that both Gaelic and Scots suffered as a result. There was a strong and distinct bias against nationalism, which was almost treated with intellectual contempt. (Socialist ideas and postures were more acceptable, especially Internationalist, though Hugh MacDiarmid remained largely beyond the pale in university literature departments into the 1970s.)

Cartoon by Gerry Mangan from Chapman No. 66 – ‘of sundry bods failing to live up to N MacCaig’s expectations’ (1987)

As Scots, we’ve always been more than keen on vicious feuding, fechtin, flyting of a terrifyingly ferocious kind, and, the duck pond being a small one, this happened big time. Individuals even of ‘the native species’, once secured in a position of power or influence, had a grim proclivity to use that to marginalise any rivals. As editors of Chapman, we were keen to promote precisely those writers whose work was being marginalised, though the magazine itself suffered as a result, its grant being withdrawn in 1977 on grounds of poor literary quality. When we’d just been publishing Tom Scott, Sorley MacLean (and others more favoured too)?  Both Scott and MacLean had powerful enemies, and both had hardly been published or featured on the BBC for years.

By 1975, I had begun to get my bearings in this duckpond, and was exercising more editorial muscle, making the magazine much more centrally Scottish. We published one issue on the wonderful Rainer Maria Rilke, but when I began work on a second, mostly already commissioned, and with a third in view, I stopped dead, thinking: Why are we doing this?– and changed direction, though not entirely abandoning the magazine’s original aims and ideals. I became sole editor and redirected the magazine to prioritising Scotland – not as any backward-looking restoration, but so that the sheer quality and range of Scottish literature in English, Scots and Gaelic achieved better promotion and exposure. Inevitably that involved politics, though with a non-partisan small ‘p’.

A key moment in this process came in 1975, when we visited Sorley MacLean in Braes, on a crazy impulse arising late one evening in Sandy Bell’s, and travelled overnight to Skye, arriving drookitly on his doorstep unannounced – three of us, dishevelled toe-rags, with two dogs – to an immediate welcome. At the time he was writing his long poem, ‘Uamha ’n Oir’, the first two parts of which had already been published in English magazines. Starting off to tout for the third part, I was horrified to find out that Sorley had no expectation that any part of this poem would see publication in Gaelic, given the setup then. I immediately committed to publishing all parts written to that date, three in all, in Gaelic only, which I did (Chapman 15). Earlier that year, because of our collaborations with magazines and writers south of the border, Chapman was able to ensure Sorley’s appearance at the first Cambridge Poetry Festival, where had had made an enormous impact.

The Scottish magazine scene, in parallel, was similarly fractious and war-torn, with some though not all of the main protagonists slugging it out in their pages. Over the course of the twentieth century, some very fine magazines had come and gone: The Voice of Scotland (1938-61), Scottish Art and Letters (1944-50) and others too numerous to list here. In the 1970s, there were nine in hot competition for the limited funding: a long-running magazine in Gaelic (Gairm) since 1952, Lines Review also founded around then, published by Callum Macdonald and edited by a series of hands (1954-98), New Edinburgh Review (various editors, 1969-84), and Akros (Duncan Glen) appeared in 1965, running until 1983. Beginning around the same time as Chapman were Scotia Review (1972-1999, initially Scotia 1970-72), very much nationalist in thrust, edited by David Morrison, Lallans, devoted to Scots language (1973-) and Tocher, from the School of Scottish studies (1971-2009).

We were very much the upstarts, being the youngest editors by quite a long way. There was a Trojan horse at the time, the magazine Scottish International, founded by the Scottish Arts Council itself in 1968, edited for most of its run by Bob Tait, regarded by some as a favoured child of the Scottish establishment and in receipt of as much funding, just about, as the rest of us put together. The scene throbbed with suspicion and distrust. That SI did good and worthwhile work over its duration is beyond doubt, but it was generally felt that its stance was ‘anti-nationalist’ and the sheer disparity in the funding levels seemed deeply unfair. The very good, strongly nationalist magazine Catalyst (1967-74), similar in range of content, had been refused any funding from SAC and it was felt this could only be because of its political stance. Since most of the editors were nationalist, to differing degrees, this left people feeling wary and insecure.

Some of these were in outright war with each other; but almost all felt embattled and suspicious, guarding what little funding they had as best they could. To some extent at least, Walter and I were brought into the fold by SAC Literature Director, Trevor Royle, who became a close friend and, insofar as he could, supporter. Weary of the feuding, Trevor and Walter dreamed up a magazine association (SCAMP – Scottish Association of Magazine Publishers) which brought all the editors together in an attempt to maximise distribution. Before long we became friends and collaborators, organising events, holding regular meetings and employing magazine reps. Sadly, perhaps, the only thing that really worked, distribution-wise, was yours truly trudging round universities, trawling pubs, selling hand to hand. My record in one day was 144, sold at The East Kilbride Mod in 1976. Walter and I tried hard to foster a quasi trade-union mentality amongst editors, with at least some success, and there’s a hangover from that amongst editors working today. An abortive attempt to revive SCAMP was made by Gavin Wallace and myself in the early 2000s, but it didn’t (and couldn’t) work.

In editing Chapman, I didn’t allow feuding or gratuitous nastiness in its pages. While quite prepared to champion one writer to the chagrin, perhaps, of another, I did so for literary reasons and managed, over time, to ensure that both ‘parties’ appeared in its pages. At no time did I allow anybody, or any body, to dictate who or what I should publish, though I was open to ideas from everywhere and learned what I needed to learn from wherever I could.

Thanks to benign and careful manipulation, especially from SAC directors Trevor Royle and Walter Cairns who argued tirelessly for more support for literature, the whole literary scene in Scotland became much more harmonious and well catered-for, with everyone involved – writers, publishers and the rest – feeling that we were working towards common goals to the benefit of Scotland as a whole. Indeed some, myself included, now lament the lack of a good centrally disputatious issue, because things are maybe just a bit too cushy and ‘dumbed down’. I always tried to be even-handed, making literary quality, insofar as my judgement allows, my principle criterion; losing friends from turning down their work and publishing people with whom I was not exactly ‘at one’. I even published work I found personally abhorrent or distasteful in some way, because it had some quality or other I thought important.

From issue to issue, I would look out for some area that needed exploring, or radical change, and often devote an entire issue to discussion of that area of Scottish life; Scots: the Language and Literature (No. 23-4, 1979) looked at the language across the boards and tried to adumbrate what action in each aspect was needed to better its status and condition; Woven by Women (No. 27-8, 1980) was the first ever attempt in Scotland to open Pandora’s Box and look at the contribution of women to culture in the twentieth century. Another important issue was No. 35-6, The State of Scotland: A Predicament for the Scottish Writer? (1983) in which writers aired views about Scottish identity, its pros and cons, from all the political airts and perspectives (that caused a storm). And the Theatre Issue (No. 43-4) provoked a major re-think of the whole theatrical scene, pointing to the absolute necessity of giving more support to ‘the native industry’. The National Theatre we now have grew uninterruptedly, though not without huge difficulty, out of that issue, and both the magazine and I were heavily involved in the process right along the line.

Chapman of course had its critics, and its detractors, some of whom tried to accuse it of unthinking Tartanry, or ‘narrow nationalism’, neither of which charge sticks at all. One of the things I most value in hindsight is serving on the committee, headed by Professor Sir Robert Grieve, which produced A Claim of Right for Scotland (1988), which lead directly to the Scottish Constitutional Convention and the Holyrood Parliament. I find it amusing, and quietly satisfying, to observe writers gradually adopting positions which they had previously criticised the magazine for espousing, for example, realising the potentials of Scots language, which they declared had no future. And many swung away from looking primarily to influences from south of the border or across the Atlantic to realise for themselves the sheer amazing originality, fertility, and creativity that has emerged from Scotland over the centuries. Now, it is no longer deeply un-cool and backward-looking to be Scottish, but something to exploit and enjoy. At no time did I completely ditch the policy to publish international work, but, having realised in those early years just how much had to be done to build a deserving cultural framework here, it simply made no sense to do anything other than consider, as priority, the needs of Scotland and its writers. From about 1995 onwards, as huge progress was made, I felt able increasingly to publish work from all over the world.

And what of being a woman in that very male world (especially up until about 1980)? I think I am the first solo woman editor of a magazine, certainly a literary magazine, in Scotland. It’s been my great fortune to know and work with so many of the mainly male writers of the Scottish Literary Renaissance. I never felt, or was made to feel, in awe of any of them, though one or two gave me rather less regard than I might be due because I am a woman, and at first such a young woman. Without any self-consciousness at all, I approached even Hugh MacDiarmid as someone I could interact with on equal terms. I spent wonderful evenings with Norman MacCaig, Hamish Henderson, Iain Crichton Smith, Tom Scott, Alasdair Gray (who provided our covers for years) and many others; and those I didn’t meet so often were hugely supportive and always happy to write for me: Edwin Morgan, George Mackay Brown and many others. I missed knowing Helen B Cruickshank, which I deeply regret, but became very friendly with Jessie Kesson and Naomi Mitchison, both of whom I published regularly.

I would say that most (not all), like MacCaig, Crichton Smith, Hamish Henderson and others, appreciated me more for doing what I had done, because I was a woman. I used the magazine to encourage and support as many women as I reasonably could. However I am certain that both Chapman and I suffered in being unthinkingly passed over for many benefits and ‘official’ opportunities (in respect of status and reputation) due to two factors, one being my gender, and the other that Chapman operated independently from any officially-recognised institution. Being the particular age I am, I luckily ‘caught’ that older generation in a crucial cross-over period from neglect to recognition, but I notice women even ten years younger have a self-confidence which was systematically knocked out of the age-group I was born into. Looking back, I am narked, feeling I could in fact have done quite a lot more. In 1980, it was still possible for an established Scottish male poet to remark, when I probed him during researches for the Woven by Women issue: ‘Scottish women poets? You mean there are any!’ Nobody could ever say that now.

I think there were in fact advantages in my being female in this very male world, simply because I didn’t have to cope with having a ‘male ego’ myself, and could look dispassionately, sometimes even amusedly, at the trouble caused by the inter-tussling of the men, and see it clearly for what it was. Chapman has never been a vehicle for my ego, but a means to get certain things achieved in Scotland. I’m trying, nearing 70 now, finally to pay some attention to my own ego and personal needs – though finding it more difficult than one might expect to switch focus. But I am gratified that both Chapman as a magazine and I as an individual have played a significant role in the journey towards the devolved, thriving and much more robust Scotland we now enjoy.


Joy Hendry is a poet and editor based in Edinburgh. In 2019 she was honoured by the Saltire Society as one of the ‘Outstanding Women of Scotland’. In 2020 she became the inaugural winner of the Scottish Poetry Library’s Outstanding Contribution to Poetry in Scotland Award.

‘Mind that Magazine?’ Event 2 Digest

The public launch of the network was held 12 May 2021, as an audience of 40 scholars, students and former editors gathered (online) to ‘Mind that Magazine’.

We began with two special guests: Peter Kravitz and Glenda Norquay reflecting on the overlapping worlds of Edinburgh Review and Cencrastus in the 1980s.

Both talks were hugely useful in mapping out the various connections — social, practical, institutional — which defined the world of these magazines, and included some wonderful anecdotes and challenging questions.

An audio recording of these opening talks can be found below, or on Apple Podcasts.

 

We didn’t record the wide-ranging discussion that followed, but we’ve picked out a number of themes and highlights (based on the excellent notes of Alice Piotrowska). We’ll be pursuing several of these questions further as we move toward our next event, on possibilities for digitisation, and the edited book project.


Magazines as organisations that work together and form relationships. Talking about his experience in the early years of Radical Scotland, Graeme Purves mentioned the challenges of working as a small, idealistic and determined ‘editorial collective’: a model that is difficult to sustain in the long run. Glenda Norquay agreed, noting parallels with Cencrastus.

Why should this Edinburgh sandwich shop be a major fixture of literary tourism? Listen to the podcast to find out…

Distribution: Glenda Norquay mentioned her interest in the practicalities of magazine distribution. For instance, Edinburgh Review was operating within a fairly professional publishing set-up as part of Polygon/Edinburgh University Student Publications Board, but she also recalls people packing magazines (such as Cencrastus) into cars and driving them around Scotland themselves. Getting magazines into shops was a major challenge, and she is interested to know more about how other people did it.

SCAMP: Joy Hendry (Chapman) agreed that distribution was a major and perennial challenge, partly addressed through the formation of SCAMP (Scottish Association of Magazine Publishers) in 1973, at the urging of Trevor Royle and Walter Perrie. [Modestly funded by the Scottish Arts Council until 1976, SCAMP was a co-operative marketing/distribution scheme and selling agency intended to professionalise Scottish periodical publishing.] The situation did not really improve throughout the 1980s and 90s, and Joy would still be packing copies into her car and selling them directly in pubs, sometimes with the help of volunteers. (See also Joy’s blog on Chapman.)

From a December 1980 issue of ‘Student’ discussing developments at the Edinburgh University Student Publications Board (including the recent launch of Polygon). Full issue here.

Digitisation and research: Graeme Hawley (NLS) asked about the research questions people would like digitisation to open up for them. What is not currently possible, as a research question or method, that could be pursued through digitisation?  (Technology can do a lot of things, but it’s the research questions that will drive its use.) Scott Hames agreed this is an important discussion to begin, and that it is important to consider the new kinds of research/use digitisation would enable, rather than viewing it simply as a repository.

Glenda Norquay suggested that digitising magazines could help produce a ‘map’ of contributors who overlapped across different magazines – i.e. who was writing for which magazines? Graeme Purves mentioned that he is currently exploring related questions, and that there are a lot of names that crop up across magazines (such as Alastair McIntosh and Rob Gibson in Reforesting Scotland.) Once you start mapping those names, you pick up many connections.

Graeme Macdonald wrote in the chat that ‘digitisation would be great not only for research purposes but especially for research students geographically unable to immediately access Scottish university holdings (which by themselves are still pretty patchy), but also for use in general undergraduate teaching.’

Editorial freedom: Joy Hendry mentioned that being a ‘solo operator,’ while challenging on an administrative and financial level, meant that she could follow her own vision. She felt that she had a lot of editorial freedom to publish what she wanted, and it allowed her to do her ‘job’ as an editor – creating a ‘democratic’ outlet for varied voices but also realising her vision for the magazine, as she ‘knew where she was going’ and what she wanted to achieve. She cited Patricia Oxley of Acumen saying that editing a magazine is like ‘educating yourself in public.’

Allegiance to different magazines: Glenda Norquay said that she was particularly interested in people’s reading habits at the time – for example, did people read all magazines, or did they choose one or two outlets (e.g., would you be an ‘Edinburgh Review person’)? Murdo Macdonald remembers reading everything – although there was an element of competition, it was within ‘an overall sense of cooperation’ among magazine editors, with a lot of cross-interest. Similarly, Ray Burnett (Calgacus) said that he read ‘everything that he could get his hands on,’ including Chapman, Radical Scotland, and Akros.

Women in magazine publishing: Joy Hendry noted that Scottish literature was very much a male world in the 1970s and 80s, and that the inspiration driving Chapman would come from mostly male authors/connections. She mentioned trying to find a bridge between the ‘two worlds’ as a feminist editor working with male writers. (Jenny Turner’s blog is relevant here, and so too Glenda Norquay’s comments during this event – see recording above.)


‘Underlying social fabric’:
Rory Scothorne mentioned his interest in the social life/communities that gathered around the literary magazines – were there particular pubs, cafes, or bookshops that were important to the magazine scene? A few mentioned by the participants: Sandy Bell’s, Proctors and various Rose Street bars in Edinburgh, Star Club and the Scotia Bar in Glasgow, St Katherine’s Club in Aberdeen. Graeme Purves noted that the working world of Radical Scotland was very much centred around small pubs. Joy Hendry mentioned that she would distribute Chapman around pubs and universities in Scotland.


We hope to make an ‘audio scrapbook’ podcast from people’s memories of these magazines, so if you have a story or anecdote you’d be willing to share, please do get in touch on scotmagsnet@gmail.com. There will be a few other ‘Magazine Memory’ blogs appearing over the coming months.

Mag Memories: Jenny Turner

Jenny Turner looks back on the wide orbit of 1980s Edinburgh Review, and its intersecting boys’ clubs and girls’ clubs


In Justified Sinners (2002), Ross Birrell and Alec Finlay’s “archaeology of Scottish counterculture”, Malcolm Dickson remembers the Free University of Glasgow, a loose group that met in the late 1980s to talk about “cross-recognition, kindred spirits, shaking people out of the impossibility of action, behave as if you had power and act as you mean to go on.” He “cringes” to remember one session in particular, at which “an Andrea Dworkin text was read out and the men then had to leave the room to discuss it, then return, and the two groups compared notes. What a slagging!”

I took part in that session, which had been organised by the artist Carol Rhodes (1959-2018), who was at that time working unpaid at the Transmission Gallery and paid – at least I think so – as an assistant to her live-in landlord, Alasdair Gray. Like Malcolm, who went on to edit Variant, I too found the session uncomfortable, though probably for different reasons. You can feel and even know things but have no words for them, and I am evidence that this condition can persist for years and years.

I have been asked to write about my memories of Edinburgh Review, at which I was a regular contributor from 1984 to 1990, and in particular about what a “boys’ club” the wider scene appears to have been. ER and Common Sense and Here & Now and Polygon Books and the Free University of Glasgow, the networks and publications that came together at Self-Determination and Power, the weekend event James Kelman organised with Noam Chomsky in January 1990 at the Pearce Institute in Govan: and it’s just objectively true, and obvious, that all these networks and publications were run by men.

ER was edited by Peter Kravitz then Murdo Macdonald, both of whom also ran the list at Polygon from 1988. Here & Now was Alistair Dickson, Common Sense was Richard Gunn and Werner Bonefeld. Everybody read and admired the emergent work of Agnes Owens, Janice Galloway, AL Kennedy, but there really was a sense that masculinity was where it was at in Scottish literature at that time, in the work of Kelman, Gray, Tom Leonard, Jeff Torrington. In a way it kind of had to be, given that Scotland under Thatcher was all about the breaking of what Beatrix Campbell used to call “the men’s movement”, the old-style organised and unionised industrial working class.

But identity fluctuates, and people are complicated, and a history that considers objectivity an easy matter is unlikely to have much in it of much use. What strikes me now, when I look back on that period, is how much time I spent doing things with women: with Marion Coutts, the artist, writer and musician, designing what I still think is an amazing poster for the 1988 Free Uni Scratchparl weekend in Glasgow (From. An. Other. Shore, it says, between the stretching fingers of an open hand. Respect, self-help, fragments, resilience, confession, guilt, it continues down the left-hand side).

With Kirsty Reid, who edited Liz Lochhead’s Dreaming Frankenstein (1984) and went on to create the superb One Isn’t Paying meme for our neighbourhood anti-poll-tax group, and the even more deathless Oor Wullie Thinks It’s Silly, And His Bucket Says Fuck It.

I shared flats at different times with Deirdre Watt and Lorna Waite, both of whom edited and wrote for ER, I did Pleasance multigym with Julie Milton, who put together the first Original Prints anthology of Scottish women’s writing. Sue Wiseman, now Professor of Seventeenth Century Literature at Birkbeck in London, was the first and best of ER’s critical writers on Kelman. Marion Sinclair, now head of Publishing Scotland, started at Polygon as its first proper staff person in 1988. So yes, there were many boys’ clubs going on across the central belt in the 1980s, but they interacted and intersected with the girls’ clubs.  The interesting question is why the boys’ clubs get remembered more, and more formally memorialised, and the girls’ ones don’t.

The Free Uni, Malcolm remembered in his article, also aimed to set up an actual clubhouse: “a place that didn’t shut at 5pm and which didn’t require you to spend money”. The Double Deckers, I called this, after the children’s TV show, seeing myself, I think, as Gillian Bailey. Except that nothing like it ever happened, because opening and maintaining an actual built space necessitates not just talk but steady material resources.

In the podcast interview he contributed a few weeks ago to the Scottish Magazines Network, Murdo talked about how Edinburgh Review and Polygon would never have published the sort of work they did, would probably not have existed, without the institutional anomaly of the Student Publications Board at Edinburgh University, a sort of student club that as well as doing pub guides and the weekly student paper, had the resources to take on proper, important book-projects: Gordon Brown’s Red Paper on Scotland (1975), Kelman’s Not not while the giro and The Busconductor Hines (1983-4). Peter, Murdo, Kirsty, Deirdre, Lorna, Julie and I had all been students at Edinburgh University. All of us started out with Pubs Board as students in our different ways.

Here’s the thing, though: on who, and what, sticks around enough to get properly remembered. ER would not have been ER without the vision and know-how of Peter Kravitz, and nor would Polygon nor the Free Uni; and if you read up on old interviews with Galloway and Kelman, you’ll know how much such writers say they owe to him as well. Then along comes Murdo with the Democratic Intellect and the Scottish common-sense philosophy connection, and thus all those extraordinary cross-disciplinary imprints, Sigma, Mundi, Determinations, all those beautiful white paperback originals with their spinal colophons and their deep French flaps. Even as very young men, and Peter would have been 23 in 1984, Peter and Murdo seemed always fully formed in a way the rest of us weren’t. It is not, I hope, to diminish their brains and work to notice that much of this difference was socio-economic.

Both had English public-school educations behind them, and huge collections of old books, and most importantly, had flats of their own to keep them in. They were men of property, they drove cars, they knew how to handle money and they used it in adult, expansive ways. When I was Murdo’s lodger, I remember, I used to hide out scared in my room when he gave tea-parties for venerable friends such as Halla Beloff, George and Elspeth Davie. And I can now laugh – almost – at how bitterly I remember Christopher Logue being slow to get a piece in, and Peter sending him a chocolate cake from Fortnum & Mason. He never sent me a chocolate cake from Fortnum & Mason! Not a Tunnock’s Teacake, nor a Cadbury’s Crème Egg!

I did get paid, though: £50 for my first ER piece, I remember it clearly because I donated it to the relief fund for the famine in Ethiopia. I had a strange idea at that time that it was wrong to take money for writing, I remember explaining it to my mother, though I can’t remember how I put it.  It may have had to do with claiming dole at the time and also housing benefit.  For a couple of years I also had Scottish Education Department grants. I don’t remember how much I got for subsequent ER pieces, though presumably it was about the same. I do remember that after that first splurge with charity, I started keeping the money to myself. The government’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme gave you £40 a week for a year if you put up £1,000 of savings, so I did that and set myself up as a journalist. I often wish that I hadn’t, or that I had got myself out of it later. But for better or worse I didn’t, and here I am.

Alasdair Gray’s motto and motif for Edinburgh Review

I was surprised, the other day, while talking to one of my Labour Party friends near where I live in south-east London, to find that this friend doesn’t think of me – as I think of myself – as posh. I’ve been a homeowner for nearly 20 years now, I write articles for the London Review of Books, I have loads of books and the shelves to keep them on: I never expected such prosperity when I was younger, and I don’t think I especially deserve it. Or that anyone deserves anything, good or bad. But I do think: historical forces, how they tear through people, how they’ve flung me up, at least for the moment, and what burdens they are dumping on the young.

It’s great to get to contribute to this project, to think that people are interested in things I know about from 30 years ago, getting on for 35. It’s nice to stand outside yourself for a moment, to see yourself, a little candle, a tiny part of something bigger. Someone reading this, maybe, will remember more than I can from Carol’s Andrea Dworkin session. What was the slagging, who did it, what was said in it? Was it taken seriously, and if so, how, and by whom?


Jenny Turner was born in Aberdeen and educated at the University of Edinburgh. She is on the editorial board of the London Review of Books, and published a novel, The Brainstorm, in 2007.