Author Event: John Byrne

18 08 2011

John Byrne

John Byrne betrayed his 71 years by taking to the main stage at the book festival with a degree of panache and confidence only ever found in young, spritely men. But is it any wonder? Hailing from a modest background in Paisley, he is a man who appears never to have forgotten his routes, let alone have allowed himself to ever become anything less than grounded.

Most famous in Scotland as being the man behind Tutti Frutti, only recently just been released after 22 years of its first showing “because of paperwork,” he is also known worldwide as the man who penned the West End spectacular, The Slab Boys Trilogy.

Slouched in his seat with hands in his pockets and silk scarf tied around his neck, he occasionally twiddled his trademark moustache as he remembered his early days growing up in Paisley, how he got into art and literature, and with his deep rustic voice, delighted the audience with confirmation of new works to come.

He had us entertained through a professional reading by a local actor (apologies, I missed his name), from his new children’s book, and by moving into a discussion of his life in art and writing. Which one holds the stronger call? “They both offer just as much and mean just as much to me,” he said.

Byrne still paints every day, “from morning until night; it’s just what I do,” and it is through this compulsion and genuine love of art that Scotland has been fortunate enough to have produced such a diamond.

On why there aren’t any more like him coming through, Byrne said: “It’s a disgrace that there are no small independent play companies in Scotland. There’s no investment like in Ireland, they have loads over there, but here, nothing. Maybe in the new Scotland—the one that’s coming up.”

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Author Event: Alasdair Gray

13 08 2011

Alasdair Gray

Once describing himself as “a fat, spectacled, balding, increasingly old Glasgow pedestrian,” Alasdair Gray is the master of the understatement, and of stating the obvious but in a beautifully artistic way. He is also a Scottish genius.

Most famous for his classic novel, Lanark, described by The Guardian as “one of the landmarks of 20th-century fiction,” he is also an accomplished artist.

In his latest book, A Life in Pictures, many of Gray’s greatest works are captured to tell the story of his life through the portraits, paintings, posters and murals that meant most to him. And it was through the pages of this book that Gray took the audience inside the RBS Main Tent on the opening day of the Edinburgh Book Festival.

Wearing squint braces and flicking back his gray tousled hair, he entertained us with stories of his eccentric upbringing, often deviating at tangents as he was reminded where an aunt might have kept her tea pot, or when his mother said something particularly funny.

Often self-deprecating but never for long, it was almost like sitting through a slide show at your favourite uncle’s house, allowing him to live the memories that were displayed on the wall in front of us, of golden days long since past. Only this time, the images displayed were created by the man in the room!

Such beauty and such clarity, this book is a must for anyone with Scottish blood or even the merest curiosity as to how great Scotland is when we allow our creative minds to flourish unhindered.