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On Alasdair Gray and writers in his position.
Last month, the star turn at the Edinburgh Festival was Scottish writer Alasdair Gray, prompting one (English) journalist to confess that Gray was 'perhaps still less read than he deserves to be south of the border'. That, Jimmy, is the understatement of the 30 years which have passed since the publication of the timeless novel that is 'Lanark' (and a dozen other novels, plays, and story and poetry collections). Mulling over this state of affairs with a Scottish friend, we agreed that if 'Lanark' had been written by an Englishman, it would by now be a household name on the five continents. Why? Probably because Gray, at a time when England thought Scotland a dull backwater, insisted on working in a Scottish context, writing fiction set in Scotland, with Scottish characters and Scottish references, which were occasionally aired only by Scottish radio and television. What's more, being a believer in Scottish independence, he refused to move to London and curry favour with the relevant top bananas. So the English publishing industry - which has acted as an international springboard for so many Scottish writers who have sprung up in the wake of 'Lanark' - has never really let their mentor make the even bigger splash he deserves. Even here in Catalonia, where so many English-language writers are translated as a matter of course, Gray doesn't even exist in Catalan, and the handful of his books which have been translated into Spanish, 'Lanark' included, have not made so much as a single critic's head turn. In other words, because Gray behaves as if he is from a different country, he is virtually ignored by the state to which that country belongs, which means that the publishing industries of other states, in their ignorance, ignore him too. A plight identical to that of many Catalan-language writers, notably that of Quim Monzó who, like Gray, booted the literature of his country clear across the millennium line, but has achieved less international recognition than many of his younger devotees. As the Bible sayeth, the first shall be last, and the last, first, especially if thou art a creative writer in a stateless nation.