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Doors closing, doors opening

January 17, 2011

Only two weeks into 2011 and already I’ve chalked up two rejection notices. The first came from esteemed sci-fi journal Asimov’s and wasn’t too big a shock. Sci-fi isn’t my usual bag, but I’d written a story that had had a lot of positive feedback and figured it was worth the long shot. The other knockback, from Glasgow-based Cargo Publishing, was slightly more disappointing. Their anthology from last year, The Year Of Open Doors, was a superb example of a small publisher using the internet to make its voice heard and I was keen to get my foot in the door for the next one.

On the plus side, it releases two stories to send off to other outlets. And in that regard I was delighted to see that there will be a sixth volume of New Writing Dundee later this year. The previous one was my best showcase yet and the focal point of an excellent launch night where I got to meet plenty of talented writers. After hearing nothing from them in the autumn I worried that NWD6 might not appear, or skip a year, so I’m pleased to see it’s running again.

I’m making a conscious effort this year to look out for writers who are bold enough to experiment. A lot of English-language literature seems stuck in a rut of conformity. It might be the curse of the creative writing school encouraging people to write novels by numbers; it might be an oppressive ‘safety-first’ culture in the publishing industry; it might be writers themselves rating polish above originality. Whatever it is, it isn’t healthy. Too many people seem to believe that literature’s purest form is a verbal facsimile of raindrops falling on a window pane.

Yet for all that, my first book of 2011 has been James Kelman’s A Chancer. While it lacks the nuances and philosophical byways of the later Kelman, he has a remarkable knack of distilling art from the most mundane lives. He writes about the kind of people who wouldn’t merit more than a paragraph in the local paper if they were run over in the street. Yet the vividness of his writing, the light that falls on every speck of dust, the sheer maddening honesty of it, compels you to read on.

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