In conversation with Jenny Brown, the “godfather of tartan noir” William McIlvanney discusses politics, the differences between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the family stories which have inspired his writing.
The event opens with a reading from McIvanney’s recently-published pamphlet Scotland’s Dreaming, in which he eloquently and emotionally describes the reasons he will be voting yes in the forthcoming referendum. “We don’t know what’s going to happen,” he says, before providing a compelling rationale based on very personal experiences.
The mood switches when he reads one of his short stories, the tale of a man and woman about to consummate their new relationship when her violent ex-partner makes an unexpected and unwelcome visit. As the protagonist seeks shelter in his paramour’s daughter’s wendy house, the taughtly hilarious episode unfolds, imbued with the canny realism for which McIlvanney is renowned.
He expresses genuine gratitude for Canongate, who have recently republished his entire works after several had fallen out of print. McIlvanney also states a great affection for the Edinburgh Book Festival and for the city itself, comparing its “tangential but very kind” nature to Glasgow’s equally-loved “full frontal” bravado. He also mentions the frequent “street reviews” he receives, be they hand-written notes passed to him in silence in Edinburgh pubs, or hollered criticisms across crowded Glaswegian streets.
When asked about his motivation, McIlvanney is quick to acknowledge his “incredibly verbal” family upbringing. “The vivid life going on around me,” he says. “It was a Bayeux Tapestry of stories.”