I made these notes more than a week ago but I was debating whether or not I should post them because a podcast of Stuart Kelly’s event, where he talked about his latest book, Scott-land: The Man Who Invented a Nation, is available on the West Port Book Festival Website.
In the end I decided I would put them up for those of you who, like me, don’t take anything in through listening alone. If I’m going to retain anything in my head, I have to read it then rewrite it. I must have been responsible for the obliteration of a small forest while studying for Finals.
Another thing is that the podcast won’t tell you anything about the cinnamon cupcakes that were doing the rounds during the event, but I can tell you now that they were delicious.
At last year’s West Port, Stuart Kelly talked about his Book of Lost Books, which is about books you can’t read, perhaps because they have been lost, destroyed, are unfinished or even unstarted. This year he presented Scott-land, which is about books that we don’t read. Specifically, the works of Sir Walter Scott. “Nobody has been as famous and become as forgotten. He is the biggest ever literary failure.” And yet, Kelly said, “No author changed the physical reality of a country as much as Scott did.”
Kelly asked the audience to give him some examples of things that were typically Scottish. For every example we came up with, he pointed out Scott’s influence:
- Tartan -Tartan was the outfit of a traitor at the time Scott was writing. He changed how people perceived it when he dressed George IV in tartan when the king visited Scotland.
- Accents – In the Waverly novels Scott used the Scots language in prose.
- Bank notes – every Bank of Scotland bank note has Scott on it, because he argued against the government trying to get rid of Scottish bank notes.
- Phrases – Lots of phrases that were coined by Scott have been wrongly attributed to Shakespeare. Two examples are “The war of the roses” and “What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”
And let’s not forget that the iconic Scott Monument, which Kelly likens in his book to a steampunk version of Thunderbird 3, is the largest monument to an author on the planet.
When Kelly asked who in the audience had read any Scott, only a handful of people raised their hands and half of those had to read him. Kelly said he doesn’t see Scott ever coming back into popularity, which is a pity, because when he re-reads Scott’s novels he keeps finding funny bits. “They all have flaws, they all have purple passages, but they all have something good in them.”
One of the things Kelly likes about Scott is that “he is never patronising to his characters in the lower orders.”
On the whole, Kelly says that “Scott is a strange, weird and wonderful author. He wrote the first novel, to my knowledge, where a monkey solves a crime.”