Alasdair Gray at Creative Conversations review by Pat Byrne, October 2017
I had a great time at Creative Conversations yesterday. Some days the West End is the perfect place to be: Alasdair Gray in the University Chapel. What more could you ask for.
Alasdair began by explaining to a crowded university chapel that he was going to read a long poem called ‘Humanitad’, which he had just completed. It was an epic. He explained that he was happy with it apart from the last verse – where the words were too short and prosaic. He entertained us with his study of other epic poems where words were longer, albeit, lacking in a clear meaning. He appeared to have great fun mulling over works such as Poe’s ‘The Raven’ but ultimately let the poem stand as it was.
Zoe Strachan was very comfortable in her role as host and Alasdair could not have been more at ease. I think it’s fair to say that he was in his element and the Q and A Session saw him in full rambling, eccentric and entertaining flight.
He was asked about his inspiration in writing Lanark and what sustained him in the completion of this immense task. He cited ‘ambition and vanity’ as the key factors. He spoke of those writers he admired and books that influenced him, such as, Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ and Joyce’s ‘Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man’. He reckoned what Joyce did for Dublin made him think: ‘I’d like to do that in Glasgow’.
Lanark is an immense piece of work and Alasdair explained that ‘I kept meaning to stop writing but my head wouldn’t let me until I’d finished it.’ He started with the early chapters when a student at Glasgow School of Art and reckoned that getting married and having a son were factors in enabling his completion of Lanark – although, that marriage didn’t last. Without a trace of bitterness he noted ‘Well it happens to a lot of people.’
(Photos above by Dini Power)
He took us on a romp through his reference points regarding his writing. Touching on an impressively eclectic range: Kafka and Joyce, as already mentioned, Homer, Virgil, Sir Walter Scott, Elliott, Thackery and Gibbons. The Beano, the Dandy and Dr Doolittle also got a mention – when he explained that he likes books with pictures.
He spoke about his biography by Rodge Glass and how for a short spell some of the content caused friction with his son. He expressed his gratitude for having ‘a son who likes me’. Apart from his talent as a writer and artist, Alasdair’s appeal lies in his honesty and openness and you really get the impression that he means it when he says that he doesn’t really care what’s written about him. He is also unconcerned about airing his political views and his disaffection with a country where ‘prior to Thatcher one felt the welfare state would never recede’.
However, Alasdair Gray is never going to be a man who leaves us on a dismal note and believes that: “Unless we believe we can do better we never will do better.’ A lovely thought to leave us with. It was a great day out and an absolute coup for Creative Conversations. When I came home yesterday I indulged myself in another look through the fabulous ‘The Book of Prefaces’. Yes, books with pictures are very enjoyable. (I’ve just ordered his second book ‘1982’ Janine’).
Thanks, Alasdair and University if Glasgow, Creative Writing.
Pat Byrne, October, 2017.
This section: Books, Talks, Poetry and Creative Writing Events
Filed under: Books, Talks, Poetry and Creative Writing Events
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- Book Week Scotland 2020: Glasgow Libraries