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Book Review: The Knuckle End: An Anthology of Emerging Scottish Literary Talent edited by Adrian Searle

by anna battista

Creative writing courses, masters and evening classes have become extremely successful in the last few years: there are courses a bit everywhere all around the world, from universities to book shops and libraries, at all levels. The MPhil in Creative Writing offered by Glasgow University is probably one of the best known courses since it launched the careers of many new writers and boasted among its staff writers such as Alasdair Gray, James Kelman and Tom Leonard and, more recently, Louise Welsh.

To celebrate the new talents of future literature, Freight, a Glasgow based designer company (also behind the collection The Hope That Kills Us: an Anthology of Scottish Football, 2002) has published the volume The Knuckle End, an anthology of works by a few graduates of the Glasgow University Creative Writing MPhil. The title of the book refers, as Freight's director and editor of the book Adrian Searle explains in the preface, to "a traditional cut of boney meat a leftover reserved for boiling to make stock for soup". Writer Alasdair Gray in the introduction to the book reminds the reader that the title also comes from essayist Sidney Smith who defined Scotland in Lady Holland's Memoir, "That knuckle end of England - that land of Calvin, oat-cakes, and sulphur."

The Knuckle End includes 19 contributions (mostly short stories, but also a few poems), among the others the violent "Sidestore Indians" by Will Napier; the brilliant "Golden Violet", story about the genesis of a writer, by James Porteous; Shug Hanlan's "Playing Pool with the Loch-faced Men", tale of a strange meeting with "Loch-faced" men and Stephanie Green's poem "The Parrot", based on Rembrandt's portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet. The anthology also features works by Louise Welsh, whose novel The Cutting Room (Canongate 2002) won the John Creasey Memorial Dagger, shared the 2002 Saltire First Book Award and was nominated for Best First Book of 2002 by the Guardian; Zoe Strachan, whose first novel, Negative Space (Picador 2002), won a Betty Trask Award and was short-listed for the Saltire First Book Award and Anne Donovan, author of the collection of short stories Hieroglyphics and the novelBuddha Da (Canongate 2001 and 2002), the latter shortlisted for the Orange Prize.

There will be critics who will conceive The Knuckle End as a very bizarre product, mainly because of the skewed two-colour text in which the works are printed on each page and for being packaged with an arty photo essay about creativity and writing on the theme of the knuckle end (expect loads of butchers, cows and stews). The best way to read The Knuckle End is while remembering the words used by one of the Glasgow University MPhil founders, Willy Maley, to describe the writings here collected, "More Missy Elliott than TS Eliot".


Issue 27, October 2004

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