William McIlvanney, to me, stands for everything that is good in Scottish literature, as well as good old-fashioned stand-up values. He is a true gentleman and has what I would reckon to be the best smile in world literature.
He began his stint at the Edinburgh Book Festival with a 35-minute reading of selected poems, all related to the subject of life and the requirement for us to analyse ourselves. “An unexamined life,” he explained, “is like taking a lifetime to get down to the shops for a message, then forgetting what it was you went for.”
Many of the poems he read will end up in a collection he’s currently working on, which has required him to pen some new material as well as pulling out some of his old favourites and slimming them down somewhat. It was impossible to firmly say what poems were the old ones such was their quality and insight, each one keeping the audience enthralled and hanging on his every relaxed word.
Part of the process of analysing a human life requires us to look at sex, a subject that he admitted to still having great interest in even at the tender age of 74. McIlvanney said: “Sex is a leveller because you can’t lie during it; you can’t kid on you’ve not got an erection (not that I’ve had to). The bedroom is where the truth of ourselves is to be found.”
McIlvanney’s habit of pulling cracking one-liners out of the air continued as he commented on the state of the publishing industry today: “Many books are published for dubious reasons these days,” referring to vanity publishing and the greed of some of the larger publishing houses.
But it was when he was asked of his opinion on the recent riots in London and around England, did McIlvanney keep his best until last: “Hope,” he insisted, with a glint in his eye and sparkling white teeth, “true hope, begins in confronting the reality of experience.”
Long may this man continue to lead the way and be an inspiration to all writers and to all Scottish men and women.