Scotsmen giving things away? Whatever next..
July 1, 2006 3:38 PM   Subscribe

Heard of Alasdair Gray? He's a legendary Scottish author/artist. He's 72. He wrote the astonishing Lanark. And now he's got his own blog. Where he's giving away a new play. So you can "re-write it in a dialect or language" you prefer, and "give it a different title and announce that the version is based upon my play."
posted by ascullion (14 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Fantastic, thanks for bringing this to my attention. Lanark is astoundingly good in places but never really grabbed me as a whole. And he really does not strike me as the type of guy who would start a blog....not that I know him or anything.
posted by fire&wings at 3:49 PM on July 1, 2006

Genius - thanks for posting this.
posted by Lanark at 4:12 PM on July 1, 2006

fire&wings - me neither. I met him twice - once at a reading and once randomly - and he struck me as hugely disagreeable both times! it was still a pleasure though.
posted by ascullion at 4:21 PM on July 1, 2006

Open source literature. What will they think of next?
posted by zorro astor at 6:12 PM on July 1, 2006

Open source voting machines?
posted by Leather McWhip at 6:18 PM on July 1, 2006

The man is full of surprises. Once, after quail hunting on a friend's farm in Kirkcudbrightshire, we traveled north to a favorite pub in Ayrshire. He had long stated his contempt for Chardonnay, yet he drank almost a whole bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé himself! We were discussing the internet and the huge number of people who felt compelled to write their passing thoughts on virtual paper. He looked at me with those beautiful round eyes, spat on the floor, and said "Blog, Schlmog!"
posted by sluglicker at 6:28 PM on July 1, 2006

i like him : > (now to read Lanark)
posted by amberglow at 9:43 PM on July 1, 2006

I enjoyed Lanark very, very much. In fact thought books 1 and 2, especially, were some of the best fiction I've read in my life. It's long but worth getting through.
posted by luriete at 11:12 PM on July 1, 2006

I'm really happy to see a bit about Alasdair Gray. I read Unlikely Stories when I was 18 and the images from that still haven't left me. Beautiful work.
posted by pandaharma at 11:55 PM on July 1, 2006

I think I've read everything by him now (in print, that is), and he's consistently astonishing. Happy to see him on the blue.
posted by scarylarry at 9:16 AM on July 2, 2006

I love Alasdair Gray. He's like the west end's frighteningly talented eccentric uncle.

I've met him quite a few times; now and then because I've interviewed him, when he has always been a voluble interviewee (I've yet to witness a description of a short story which comes anywhere close to his telling of Chekhov's Ward 6, wheezing and laughing in equal measure). A couple of times I've randomly bumped into him in the pub when having an afternoon pint and reading the paper in the Doublet (and have ended up sharing a few drinks with him, discussing the origins of Kelvingrove Park and Glasgow University's move from the east end to the west end of the city).

My favourite Alasdair Gray encounter, though, will always be the time I went round his house. In the late 1990s, the flat I stayed in was literally around the corner from the house Gray lived (and continues to live) in. He'd done a Q&A interview for Glasgow University Magazine, which I worked on at the time, and which Gray had worked for when he was a student at Glasgow School Of Art. I was dropping off a finished copy of said magazine, which because of its size, didn't fit through his letterbox. Being an enterprising sort, or something, I also was carrying a copy of a play he had written, hoping to have it signed for a friend whose birthday it was a couple of weeks hence.

After attempting to cram a copy of the University magazine through the letterbox, and being accosted by Gray's wife, who opened the door whilst I was trying to deposit it, I asked if Mr Gray was in. "Yes", said his wife, "come through. He's on the 'phone, but he'll be done shortly." I was ushered through to a light-filled room, containing a wooden wardrobe, a sideboard and a bed. Gray – minus the normally ever-present spectacles, which made his large eyes look even bigger than normal – was sat upright in bed, which I was not expecting. The bedclothes were rumpled, Gray was wearing a grubby semmit – there were a few more hanging on the washing line, visible out the bedroom window – and it all felt vaguely surreal. "Goodness!" he exclaimed. "There's a young man in my bedroom! I'll have to deal with this and call you back!" He hung up the 'phone and said to me – as if I was some businessman arrived to discuss a deal – "Terribly sorry about that; that was my son on the 'phone. Now, tell me, what can I do for you?"

I introduced myself, reminding him that I had interviewed him recently, and explained that I was dropping off a copy of the University magazine to which he had contributed an interview. I was one of the people who put the magazine together, I said. And, you know, if it wasn't too much trouble, would he mind signing this copy of a play of his, because it was a birthday present for a friend of mine.

"Yes, yes, yes," he said to the birthday request. "Now, how many letters in this person's name?" he asked. Five, I said. "Ah, I see. And your name is four letters."

Yes, I said.

And then he lifted up a pen – it must have been lying on his bedside table – and began extravagantly decorating the frontispiece of the book with a dedication, wrapping it symmetrically around the printed text, embelleshing the words with beautiful, odd figures and gargoyles, the spidery scrawl of his handwriting matching the jittery lines of the illustration he'd done for the front cover:

"TO _ _ _ _ _ FROM _ _ _ _ VIA Alasdair Gray ON THE OCCASION OF HER BIRTHDAY ON _ _ DECEMBER 19 _ _."

"And now," he said, "you'll have to excuse me. I'm rather ill [at the time, he was suffering from cancer, which he had not made public], and I have to call my son back."
posted by Len at 4:11 PM on July 2, 2006 [11 favorites]

brilliant story Len, thanks for posting it!

The first time I met Gray was in a bar in Stirling, following a reading he'd given, that had been organised by a tutor of mine. He walked to the bar, and a colleague of mine offered to buy him a drink. He asked the young lady behind the bar to pour him four shots of whiskey in a single glass. When she refused, he stormed out, leaving my tutor, and a gaggle of students, open-mouthed and very amused.

The second time was in Glasgow. I'd gone to the Ubiquitous Chip to see the mural he'd painted all those years ago. I asked the barmaid where I could find it, and when told me, adding "he's there now, touching a few bits up". And sure enough, when I walked around the corner, there he was, on an unsteady ladder, painting away. A remarkable man.
posted by ascullion at 12:57 AM on July 3, 2006

This is cool. I've read most everything by Gray and I've liked it all, but, strangely, I've never cared that much for Lanark. I mean, I liked it, but I don't think it's his best work (Probably Unlikely Stories), nor do I think that it's brilliant in comparison to a lot of the other books I read. I only bring it up because it enjoys such universal acclaim that it's always been curious to me that my take on it is a bit different.
posted by OmieWise at 6:17 AM on July 3, 2006

My favourite Gray is actually 1982 Janine, with Lanark a close second and Poor Things a distant third. When I read Lanark, I was between years in Uni, wasn't working, and had a decent 10 weeks to do it with no other distractions. If I hadn't had that, I don't think I've ever have come to terms with it!
posted by ascullion at 10:05 AM on July 3, 2006

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