A packed RBS Main Tent welcomed Scottish author James Robertson into its bosom this evening, to be interviewed by cult Scottish author, Irvine Welsh.
Robertson began with a reading from an intense passage from his new novel, And The Land Lay Still, a passage which immediately pricked up my ears when he explained it was about mining disaster.
Set in 1950, it had been inspired by the Knockshinnoch mining disaster in which 13 men died in 1950, after they attempted a new method of drilling out from the shaft. Unfortunately they drilled into a peat bog, which then flooded and the ground collapsed in on them trapping the 108 miners underneath.
Robertson’s reading was intense and clear, evoking vivid images of what Scotland was and wasn’t at that time. Next to Welsh who was chairing, who isn’t perhaps known as being the greatest orator in the world, but who hosted the event admirably, Robertson put most Scottish authors public reading skills to shame.
Robertson explained that he “always thought there was a great modern Scottish novel to be told through fiction, that couldn’t necessarily be found in the history books.” That said, however, he also admitted that “it was extremely hard to write this kind of book because of the balance that must be achieved between fact and fiction.”
Moving the discussion into the here and now, he said: “When does now become history? The poll tax is history to anyone under the age of 21. History happens really quickly.”
But the romance of any Scottish chat especially given the type of novel written by Robertson, inevitably turned back to the landscape. “The wild land of Scotland still resonates deeply with people,” he said. “Its fascinating the pull places where you can actually touch the land have on us.”
As far as identity goes it’s a massive question for any Scot looking at the separation from England right up until devolution a decade ago. “I believe we Scots,” he said in closing to a mesmerised audience, “we’re much more conscious of our Scottishness than we were 30 years ago.”
As to what “Scottishness” actually means, he wouldn’t be drawn.