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: 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.

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.