FESTIVAL BOOK WEEK SCOTLAND Various venues, nationwide, Mon 18–Sun 24 Nov
Scotland’s annual celebration of everything book, writing and reading-related is back, with a fabulous selection of events in November. Taking place over seven jam-packed days, Book Week Scotland 2019 brings authors and entertainers to venues all over the country in a book-filled extravaganza. The theme this year is ‘conversation’, so there will be plenty of chances to chat, ask questions and share points of view at intriguing-sounding events such as Souper Stories; Murder Mystery; Books, Beer & Banter and The Blether Bus. There will also be big names from all walks of bookish life, including Doug Johnstone, Helen Fitzgerald, Sara Sheridan and many more. In a special event hosted by Stuart MacBride, bestselling author Ian Rankin will chat about the launch of his 'lost' novel, Westwind.
Discover real-life stories from Scotland with 100,000 free copies of the Blether book available from libraries and other community venues throughout the week. Alternatively, read them online and be sure to dip into the free BWS Digital Festival for podcasts curated by poet Tom Pow, exclusive illustrations from artist Alex T Smith and much more. There’s also the chance to see unique events from food writer and
anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe, critically acclaimed comic artist Frank Quitely, award-winning romance author Jenny Colgan and poet and author Dean Atta, all as part of BWS’s Pitch It strand. This innovative slant on book event programming asks libraries and community groups to submit ideas for an event with the authors, who then take part in the winning pitches.
Scottish Book Trust will also be asking the nation to help them find the most iconic Scots word. Head online to vote before checking out the full programme, picking a few events for your diary and getting ready to blether about some terrific stories this autumn. (Lynsey May)
MEMOIR SAMRA HABIB We Have Always Been Here (Viking) ●●●●● COMEDY COLLECTION BILLY CONNOLLY Tall Tales and wee stories (Two Roads) ●●●●●
BOOKS | PREVIEWS & REVIEWS
P H O T O :
A L A S D A R W A T S O N
GRAPHIC NOVEL JULIE BIRMANT AND CLÉMENT OUBRERIE Isadora (SelfMadeHero) ●●●●●
Capturing the effervescence and unpredictability of dancer, rule-breaker and artist Isadora Duncan is a difficult task. In this new graphic biography, Julie Birmant and Clément Oubrerie do an admirable job of translating a life in movement to the page. The art imbues Duncan’s performances with fluid grace and manages to eschew the irritating tendency towards tweeness sometimes seen in books about dancers. Oubrerie’s art is expressive and wild where it
needs to be and the method of drawing and painting relates well to not only the events, but also the time period depicted. His Isadora is wide-eyed with a naivety that captures her idealism and prescience. It also grates slightly, when set against her mental rigour, iron will and life experiences. The exploration of inspiration, burgeoning sexuality
and philosophy during Duncan’s influential years exploring Europe show the reader a woman coming into herself, and creating a personal belief system and mantra that would allow her to become the ‘mother of modern dance’.
Journalist, activist and photographer Samra Habib’s debut book, We Have Always Been Here, tackles the difficulties in claiming queer Muslim identity in the current climate. We see how Habib, after fleeing Pakistan as a persecuted Ahmadi Muslim, navigates new challenges as a Canadian refugee: displacement, her faith, sexuality, racism and conflicting pressures of her family and community. Refreshingly, Habib doesn’t feel the need to resort
to cultural stereotypes, such as positioning the ‘East’ or Islam as ‘oppressive’. She is well aware that writing about her arranged marriage could carry the risk of feeding into the already hysterical Islamophobic climate. For Habib, her concept of ‘home’ transcends the
physical – it’s her chosen queer family and, ultimately, her faith. We see how she finds solace in the latter over the course of the book: the aftermath of her suicide attempt at 16 sees her pray more regularly. Perhaps most poignantly, a mosque that welcomes queer Muslims like herself doesn’t require her to change herself or her sexuality.
At the end of 2018, Billy Connolly announced that he would no longer be performing live comedy. Age and illness had finally caught up with him, so he would do something he’d refused to countenance all these years: put his storytelling routines down on paper. Not only had he never produced a collection of his stories before now, but he went on stage merely with bullet points to work from, altering and shifting a tale’s focus at every telling. For stand-up devotees, Tall Tales and wee stories
is the Big Yin bible, as he regales us in print with all those brilliant yarns he previously delivered live with wit and gusto. Turns out that there might be another reason that all this stuff remained in his head: on the page it’s not especially hilarious and simply cries out for the man to be in front of you on stage or on a small screen, swishing his hair back and galivanting about.
Although the collection is structured roughly by theme (Childhood & Family, Scotland & Beyond, Accidents & Adventures for three), it’s sometimes slightly discombobulating to read one tale that seems to originate in the 70s or 80s straight to another that’s from a more modernised world. One piece entitled ‘The Age of Beigeism’ is so distracting because he could be talking about the 1990s or it could have been written last week. Context might not be everything, but it definitely counts for something. (Brian Donaldson) ■ Out now.
The book ends with the tragedy that snatches a Ultimately, this is a powerful and emotionally
visceral presence from the world in a cruelly arbitrary way (her flowing scarf tangled in the wheels of the racing car she was riding in). Here, it is handled with a grace that reminds the reader that the avant garde artist and grand dame of an entire dance movement is far, far more than a punch line. (Lynsey May) ■ Out now. searing memoir, not just because queer Muslims’ perspectives have routinely been rendered invisible from the public conversation, but because it is also a story of hope, triumph and a refusal of sensationalism. We Have Always Been Here deserves a place on your bookshelf well beyond Pride Month. (Salma Haidrani) ■ Out now.
84 THE LIST 1 Nov 2019–31 Jan 2020