I went to the Wigtown Book Festival on Saturday and spent a lovely day listening to authors and soaking up the sunshine in this beautiful part of the world.

I miscalculated how long it would take to get there so arrived just as Richard Holloway was finishing his talk, unfortunately. However, I did hear the wonderful Janice Galloway reading from her latest work, This is not about me.


However, it is about James Kelman I want to write. To my shame I have never read him – but fully intend to do so now.

I was stuck principally by his statement that he had had the great good fortune to have left school at 15, thereby avoiding the dead hand of the ‘priesthood of creativity’. He had learned to be bold in his writing, to trust his own authority, to ‘jump in at the deep end’, swimming furiously with only instinct to guide him and keep him afloat. Crucially Kelman learned to have confidence in his own voice, to evaluate his own work, to train himself by asking, ‘Does it work for me?’ and eliminating ‘shoddy’ phrases. He is his own most severe critic, so that in the face of hostility from the outside world (such as the printer who refused to work on his book for the ‘blasphemy’) he was able to believe in himself.

So when Kelman went to study Language and Philosophy at the age of 30 he was more equipped to learn from earlier writers than perhaps he may have been a decade before.

His talk reminded me of Hobbes‘ comment to a visitor who expressed amazement at the lack of books in his study: If I had read as many books as other men, I would know no more than other men.

I am not suggesting that we leave our young people completely to learn for themselves, but I do think a bit of space is not a bad thing!