10 August 2010

Community Service #13 - The Year of Open Doors

Now for something a bit different to the 'norm', it's time to bring a little bit of culture to the blog, it's a first and probably the last time I'll feature any kind of literature on here. So why have I decided to run a feature on the The Year of Open Doors, initially it was because of the persuading powers of esteemed author Rodge Glass. Initially I was a but unsure as to why he was keen for me to do post about his latest project which brought together a collection of short stories from new Scottish writers. After meeting up with the man in person I was soon convinced, he's a very persuasive young man, so here we are. Yes it's a book and not some form of music, but there are plenty of musical links in here, there's also an audio book to go with it, featuring local luminaries including Aidan Moffat. I think it's about time that I pass you over to Rodge to give you a better incite as to what you can expect.....

Would you care to introduce yourself?

Sure. My name’s Rodge Glass – I’m mostly known as a writer, of novels, of a biography of Alasdair Gray, and of short stories. But I’m also the singer in Burnt Island. We put out a mini album, Music and Maths, on Chaffinch Records in March, and are hoping to make an album in the next year or so.

So what is The Year of Open Doors?

On one level it’s a collection of short stories by some of the best (mostly younger) writers in Scotland. It features a lot of the best performers of their work around at the moment – Aidan Moffat, Sophie Cooke, Tawona Sitholé, Alan Bissett – but also introduces brand new writers, some with very little experience but who show a lot of promise. It comes out of a tradition of performance, so it was really important for it to exist as an audiobook as well, and I’m really pleased it’s going to.

What was the inspiration behind starting the project?

I don’t know if you’ve heard about it, but apparently (ahem) there’s some kind of recession on at the moment – and everyone in the arts knows that in these grim old times, art is one of the first things to get cut, and harshly. Which makes it tough, even in a vibrant, creative place like Scotland, to get opportunities, to get that support that turns a promising young artist into an older, great one. This book comes out of an independent, cross-arts Scottish tradition which puts art before money and doesn’t wait for permission to attempt something interesting. It takes risks, and gets on with it. That’s a tradition I was inspired by, and want to be part of. Being part of Ballads of the Book, the Chemikal Underground/Roddy Woomble project a few years ago, was a really positive experience for me, and since then I’ve wanted to curate projects of my own with a similar kind of thinking.

This is a music blog, why do you think the book would be of interest to my readers?

Fair question! Well, I think that there’s a lot more crossover between art forms than a lot of people in the mainstream media realise. When I do readings of my works, there are a lot of the same folks that come to Burnt Island gigs, and I come across similar communities in both those worlds all the time. We don’t live in a vacuum where we ONLY like music or art or literature….most folks with questioning minds are drawn to the alternative in ALL these forms. Also, Scottish music has a hugely impressive history of lyricists who are really poets, storytellers who deal in music. Whether it’s James Yorkston or Rabbie Burns or Arab Strap or whoever in between, there’s a really interesting space in between music and literature that I’m interested in exploring. There’s a long tradition of this in countries all over the world. Take Leonard Cohen’s best work (he was a novelist and poet before recording his first album) or nowadays someone like Willy Vlautin (the Richmond Fontaine guy who’s published great books with Faber & Faber publishers in London) – there’s an interesting space there. It doesn’t need to be wanky or self-conscious, it is what it is. And there’s people in our book who are also musicians – most obviously there’s Aidan Moffat, who has done a spoken word album before and is moving more into the written word, but also Kevin MacNeil (his single ‘Local Man Ruins Everything’ was an NME single of the week) and Doug Johnstone, whose band Northern Alliance made three albums on Fence Records.

You seem to have brought in quite an array of people to take part in the project, ranging from household names to up and coming authors, was this a deliberate ploy on your part?

Absolutely. I’m not interested in this culture that puts certain people on a pedestal and treats them like royalty, and treats the young and inexperienced like crap. I didn’t like it when I was working in pubs and cafés and daydreaming of writing a novel, and I don’t like it now. A big part of the book is democratisation – saying, everyone, everywhere, here and now, is potentially as great as anyone else, anywhere else, since the beginning of time. That’s not arrogant, it’s hopeful. Hence all the scales on the book, and everyone’s name in the same size lettering. I see the more famous folks as a way to get listeners and readers interested in new people they haven’t heard of before. It’s basically like one of the old mix tapes or CDs you get with a magazine…

The book is being put out through Cargo Publishing, a relatively new book publisher, how did that come about? And why did you decide to go a less well know name?

I’ve been fortunate in the past, being able to publish with big independent publishers for my books. But particularly in these grim old times, it’s important to support the local, and particularly the youngest out there, who are daft enough to be ambitious, despite all the news and 24 hour media constantly telling folks what a waste of time young people are, and how there’s no hope for jobs anyway. Cargo is run by an ex-student of mine, Mark Buckland, who is 23, very smart, from Glasgow, and very determined. He has 9 interns all of similar age just starting out in publishing, who are keen to get experience, and are much more energising to work with that some of the older, more experienced, more cynical folks I’ve come across over the years. It’s pretty inspiring. And when I told Mark exactly what I wanted to do, he said YES. There’s not much more you can ask for.

You have hooked up with Chemikal Underground to release The Year of Open Doors as an audio book, who do you have lined up for that? And when might we see it?

For me, this is part of the connection with Ballads of the Book. Chemikal is a great Scottish independent, a label that has built itself up from nothing, as Cargo is doing, and is a great example to anyone in this country interested in art-before-cash, intelligent thinking. When I first moved to Glasgow in 1997 it was the label, the only label I was a fan of, and it’s still relevant today, if you look at folks like The Phantom Band, Adrian Crowley and Zoey Van Goey, as well as the many incarnations of the Chemikal originals. (My current favourite is The Unwinding Hours.) Ballads was a really good experience for Chemikal, I think, and they are interested in this space between the art forms, as we are – it’s an experiment, of course, but we wanted to see whether we could persuade people to take a chance on downloading a story for the price of a song. So we’ve got 15 of the Open Doors authors to perform their own work and are making these available exclusively on the Chemikal site. As Alan Bissett says, ‘If it’s dead in your mouth, it’s dead on the page’ – and I think that’s one of the things that marks out this generation of writers in Scotland. They’re bolder about performing their work, they’ve come up through live nights that also feature music like Discombobulate (The Arches) Goldenhour (Forest Café, Edinburgh), Words Per Minute (Creation Studios), and they’re not rocking back and forth in their garrets, waiting for cult status to come along. That makes the work more immediate, more direct, and often, more fun.

You have quite events lined up for this Edinburgh Festival, would you care to share what you have planned?

Well, we have three Open Doors events at the Festival, each featuring a different line-up of writers from the book, but I’m most excited about the final night of the festival, when we’re launching the audiobook in the Spiegeltent – we’ve got Adrian Crowley doing a special solo set, Burnt Island, Alan Bissett and Ryan Van Winkle and Doug Johnstone doing short readings from the book, and a very special guest we can’t possibly announce yet. But trust me, it’s a good un. Soon as we can release who it is, I do solemnly swear to let Peenko know first…how’s that? - Sounds like a good deal to me!

Lastly, what can we expect to see in the future? Do you have any other events planned? Are there any plans to do something like this again in the future?
There’s gonna be a whole tour through the summer and autumn, taking in Edinburgh, Dundee, festivals all over the place, Kirkintilloch (of course!) – and look out for the Platform event – that’s the fantastic new venue in Easterhouse that Alun Woodward is involved with these days. We’ll be doing something really special there on September 12th, and will be featuring some of the best of the new writers we have, Tawona Sitholé is amazing, Anneliese Mackintosh who is one of the best performers around, as well as Allan Wilson and the one and only Alan Bissett. Whether he’ll be pretending to be a tough woman from Falkirk is as-yet-unknown....

Thanks to Mark at Cargo Publishing I can share a couple of extracts from the audio book with you all. The first clip is from the legend that is Aidan Moffat, followed by extracts from Alan Bissett and hugely talented up and coming author Allan Wilson.

Aidan Moffat - The Donaldson Boy (extract)

Allan Bissett - Celebrity (extract)

Allan Wilson - The End (extract)

The Year of Open Doors is available to buy now over on Amazon and directly through Cargo Publishing. Cargo have also posted their latest podcast which is all about The Year of Open Doors, you can listen to it here.

Cargo Publishing
Rodge Glass
Chemikal Underground

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