James Kelman

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James Kelman
Kelman speaks to Librairie Mollat about La route de Lafayette, French-language version of Dirt Road, in 2019
Kelman speaks to Librairie Mollat about La route de Lafayette, French-language version of Dirt Road, in 2019
Born (1946-06-09) 9 June 1946 (age 75)
Glasgow, Scotland
OccupationWriter
NationalityScottish
GenreScottish literature
Notable worksA Disaffection (1989)
How Late It Was, How Late (1994)
Kieron Smith, Boy (2008)
Notable awardsBooker Prize 1994:
How Late It Was, How Late
Saltire Awards 2008:
Kieron Smith, Boy
SpouseMarie Connors
Website
www.jameskelman.net

James Kelman (born 9 June 1946) is a Scottish novelist, short story writer, playwright and essayist. His novel A Disaffection was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction in 1989. Kelman won the 1994 Booker Prize with How Late It Was, How Late.[1] In 1998 Kelman was awarded the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Award. His 2008 novel Kieron Smith, Boy won both of Scotland's principal literary awards: the Saltire Society's Book of the Year and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year.[2]

Life and work[edit]

Born in Glasgow, Kelman says:[3]

My own background is as normal or abnormal as anyone else's. Born and bred in Govan and Drumchapel, inner city tenement to the housing scheme homeland on the outer reaches of the city. Four brothers, my mother a full time parent, my father in the picture framemaking and gilding trade, trying to operate a one man business and I left school at 15 etc. etc. (...) For one reason or another, by the age of 21/22 I decided to write stories. The stories I wanted to write would derive from my own background, my own socio-cultural experience. I wanted to write as one of my own people, I wanted to write and remain a member of my own community.

Short stories[edit]

During the 1970s he published a first collection of short stories. He became involved in Philip Hobsbaum's creative writing group in Glasgow along with Tom Leonard, Alasdair Gray, Liz Lochhead, Aonghas MacNeacail and Jeff Torrington and his short stories began to appear in magazines.[4] These stories introduced a distinctive style, expressing first-person internal monologues in a pared-down prose using Glaswegian speech patterns, though avoiding for the most part the quasi-phonetic rendition of Tom Leonard. Kelman's developing style has been influential on the succeeding generation of Scottish novelists, including Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner and Janice Galloway. In 1998, Kelman received the Stakis Prize for "Scottish Writer of the Year" for his collection of short stories The Good Times, one of several books of his stories that have been published.[5] In 2012, a film was made based on the short story "Greyhound For Breakfast".[6]

Novels[edit]

Kelman's first published novel was The Busconductor Hines (1984), although it was written after A Chancer, which was published in 1985.[7] His 1989 novel A Disaffection was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, and he won the 1994 Booker Prize for How Late It Was, How Late.[8] His 2008 novel Kieron Smith, Boy won the Saltire Society's Book of the Year and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year.

In 2019, Kelman's official website was launched, JamesKelman.net.

Critical reception[edit]

Kelman's Booker Prize win was, at the time, controversial due to what some saw as the book's casual use of strong language: one of the judges, Rabbi Julia Neuberger, denounced the awarding of the prize to Kelman's book as "a disgrace".[9][10] Kelman has since said that his Booker Prize win, specifically the negative publicity and attacks made as a result, made publishers more reluctant to handle his work.[11]

The debate surrounding the use of this "offensive" language has been picked up by Kelman himself, who argues that the "Standard English" of traditional English novels is unrealistic. In his essay "The Importance of Glasgow in My Work", he compares the presentation of working-class and Scottish characters with those of the traditional "upper-class" English protagonist:

Everybody from a Glaswegian or working class background, everybody in fact from any regional part of Britain – none of them knew how to talk! What larks! Every time they opened their mouth out came a stream of gobbledygook. Beautiful! their language a cross between semaphore and Morse code; apostrophes here and apostrophes there; a strange hotchpoth of bad phonetics and horrendous spelling – unlike the nice stalwart upperclass English Hero (occasionally Scottish but with no linguistic variation) whose words on the page were always absolutely splendidly proper and pure and pristinely accurate, whether in dialogue or without. And what grammar! Colons and semi-colons! Straight out of their mouths! An incredible mastery of language. Most interesting of all, for myself as a writer, the narrative belonged to them and them alone. They owned it.[3][12]

In 2020, Douglas Stuart on becoming the second Scottish writer to be awarded the Booker Prize, for his novel Shuggie Bain, said that his life was changed by Kelman's win with How Late It Was, How Late: "It is such a bold book, the prose and stream of consciousness is really inventive. But it is also one of the first times I saw my people, my dialect, on the page."[13] As Stuart noted: "When James won in the mid-90s, Scottish voices were seen as disruptive and outside the norm."[14]

Political views and activism[edit]

Kelman's work has been described as flowing "not only from being an engaged writer, but a cultural and political activist".[15] At the time of Glasgow's Year as City of Culture he was prominent in the Workers' City group, critical of the celebrations. The name was chosen as to draw attention to the renaming of part of the city centre as the Merchant City, which they described as promoting the "fallacy that Glasgow somehow exists because of (...) 18th century entrepreneurs and far-sighted politicians. (The merchants) were men who trafficked in degradation, causing untold misery, death and starvation to thousands"[16] The Workers' City group campaigned against what was seen as the victimisation of People's Palace curator Elspeth King and a Council attempt to sell off one third of Glasgow Green. Their activities drew the ire of Labour Party councillors and commentators, with Kelman, and his colleagues Hugh Savage and Farquhar McLay, being described as "an 'embarrassment' to the city's 'cultural workforce'".[16]

Kelman was involved in the Edinburgh Unemployed Workers Centre, giving a speech at its opening,[17] and has expressed support for the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh (ACE), its successor organisation.[18]

Kelman has been a prominent campaigner, notably in issues of social justice and traditional left-wing causes, although he is resolutely not a party man, and remains at his heart a libertarian socialist anarchist, saying "the parliamentary opposition parties are essential to the political apparatus of this country which is designed to arrest justice".[16][19]

In 1990 Kelman took part in an evening of international prose readings at the ninth International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books, subsequently joining the Book Fair's organising committee and establishing the associated Scottish Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books, held in Glasgow, 1993 and 1995.[20][21]

In his introduction to Born up a Close: Memoirs of a Brigton Boy (2006), an edition of Glaswegian political campaigner Hugh Savage's writings, Kelman sums up his understanding of the history of national and class conflict as follows:

In an occupied country indigenous history can only be radical. It is a class issue. The intellectual life of working-class people is ‘occupied’. In a colonised country intellectual occupation takes place throughout society. The closer to the ruling class we get the less difference there exists in language and culture, until finally we find that questions fundamental to society at its widest level are settled by members of the same closely knit circle, occasionally even the same family or ‘bloodline’. And the outcome of that can be war, the slaughter of working-class people.

Despite reservations about nationalism, Kelman has voiced his support for Scottish independence, stating: "Any form of nationalism is dangerous, and should be treated with caution. I cannot accept nationalism and I am not a Scottish Nationalist. But once that is said, I favour a Yes or No decision on independence and I shall vote Yes to independence."[22] He has voiced criticism of Scottish arts funding council Creative Scotland.[23][24]

Personal life[edit]

In 1969 Kelman married Marie Connors from South Wales.[25] He lives in Glasgow with his wife and their children, though has also lived in London, Manchester, the Channel Islands, Australia and America.[26]

Bibliography[edit]

Memoir[edit]

  • What I Do (2020)

Short stories[edit]

Novels[edit]

  • The Busconductor Hines (1984)
  • A Chancer (1985)
  • A Disaffection (1989)
  • How Late It Was, How Late (1994) (winner of the Booker Prize)
  • Translated Accounts (2001)
  • You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Free (2004)
  • Kieron Smith, Boy (2008)
  • Mo Said She Was Quirky (2012; ISBN 978-0141041612)
  • Dirt Road (2016; ISBN 978-1782118251)

Essays[edit]

Plays[edit]

  • Hardie and Baird & Other Plays (1991)

Edited[edit]

  • An East End Anthology, ed. Jim Kelman (1988)
  • Hugh Savage, Born up a Close: Memoirs of a Brigton boy, ed. James Kelman (2006)

Book-length critical works on Kelman[edit]

  • Dietmar Böhnke, Kelman Writes Back (1999)
  • H. Gustav Klaus, James Kelman: Writers and their Work (2004)
  • J. D. Macarthur, Claiming Your Portion of Space': A study of the short stories of James Kelman (2007)
  • Simon Kovesi, James Kelman (Manchester University Press, 2007)
  • Scott Hames (ed.), The Edinburgh Companion to James Kelman (Edinburgh University Press, 2010) ]
  • Mitch Miller & Johnny Rodger, The Red Cockatoo: James Kelman and the Art of Commitment (Sandstone Press, 2011)
  • Aaron Kelly, James Kelman: Politics and Aesthetics (Peter Lang, 2013)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Winder, Robert (12 October 1994). "'Foul-mouthed' novel is pounds 20,000 Booker winner". The Independent. Retrieved 10 May 2013.
  2. ^ "Kieron Smith, boy is Scottish Book of the Year 2009". Scottish Arts Council. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
  3. ^ a b Kelman, James (1992). "The Importance of Glasgow in my Work". Some Recent Attacks). Stirling: AK Press. pp. 78–84. ISBN 1-873176-80-5.
  4. ^ Kravitz, Peter (1997). The Picador book of contemporary Scottish fiction. Picador. pp. xiii–xv. ISBN 0330335502.
  5. ^ "James Kelman – Biography". Literature. British Council. Retrieved 20 February 2021.
  6. ^ "Also Ran: A Spider Project Production". Manchester Salon. Retrieved 20 February 2021.
  7. ^ Hames, Scott (ed) (2010). The Edinburgh Companion to James Kelman. Edinburgh University Press. pp. ix.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Olesen, Alexa (11 October 1994). "Kelman's 'How Late' wins Booker Prize". UPI Archives.
  9. ^ Lyall, Sarah (29 November 1994). "In Furor Over Prize, Novelist Speaks Up For His Language". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
  10. ^ Jordison, Sam (14 September 2011). "Booker club: How Late it Was, How Late by James Kelman". The Guardian.
  11. ^ article6036703.ece
  12. ^ Dodson, Samuel (9 March 2013). "The Mystery of the Missing Scots". Litro Magazine. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  13. ^ Doyle, Martin (19 November 2020). "Douglas Stuart wins 2020 Booker Prize for Shuggie Bain". The Irish Times.
  14. ^ Flood, Alison (19 November 2020). "Douglas Stuart wins Booker prize for debut Shuggie Bain". The Guardian.
  15. ^ Some Recent Attacks: Essays Cultural and Political (1 ed.). Stirling: AK Press. 1992. ISBN 1-873176-80-5.
  16. ^ a b c Kelman, James (1992). "Foreword". Some Recent Attacks: Essays Cultural and Political (1 ed.). Stirling: AK Press. pp. 1–4. ISBN 1-873176-80-5.
  17. ^ Kelman, James (10 August 2012). "Opening the Edinburgh Uemployed Workers' Centre". "And the Judges Said…": Essays. Birlinn. ISBN 9780857901415.
  18. ^ Kelman, James (10 August 2012). And the Judges Said…": Essays. Birlinn. ISBN 9780857901415.
  19. ^ Kelman, James (10 August 2012). "And the Judges Said…": Essays. Birlinn. ISBN 9780857901415.
  20. ^ "The International Book Fairs". George Padmore Institute. Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  21. ^ "The First Scottish Book Fair Of Radical Black And Third World Books". Spirit of Revolt Archives. Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  22. ^ Whitaker, Andrew (3 April 2012). "Scottish independence: Author James Kelman plans to vote Yes 'with caution'". The Scotsman. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  23. ^ "Artists slam Creative Scotland". BBC. 9 October 2012. Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  24. ^ "Arts body shake-up after protest". BBC. 23 October 2012. Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  25. ^ "James Kelman". jameskelman.net.
  26. ^ Kienesberger, Maria (2012). "Irishness vs. Scottishness as Reflected in Éilís Ní Dhuibhne's The Dancers Dancing and James Kelman's Kieron Smith, Boy" (PDF). Universität Wien. p. 47. Retrieved 20 February 2021.

External links[edit]