“Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet?
We sit here stranded, though we’re all doing our best to deny it”
“A strange young man called Dylan with a voice like sand and glue”
For a few weeks in the summer of 1988, in a bedsit on Woodlands Road, Glasgow, I spent my nights hacking at a manual typewriter, writing a horror novel, which would be published by Bloomsbury the following year. While writing, I listened to one album on repeat: Desire by Bob Dylan. One song in particular, “Isis,” affected me profoundly with its line, “I came to a high place of darkness and light,” so much so that I used the last four words of it for the book’s title.
I was 22, and had been under Dylan’s spell for about three years. That spell has still not been broken. I’m one of many writers who applauded when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and I can’t imagine my poetic or intellectual landscapes without him. There’s nothing I can say about him that hasn’t been said already, and better, by others, so today, on his 80th birthday, I’ll just say I’m grateful.
If Lacan is correct that the I which speaks and the I which is spoken of are not the same — and “I” think he is — then writing in the first person is the same as writing in the third. Or, put another way, writing in the third person is a mask worn to hide that it comes from the first.
My friend Gerry Loose describes himself as “a slow-moving nomad.” He is a trained ecologist, and a Zen Buddhist who has also practiced Tibetan Buddhism, and, for three decades now, one of Scotland’s most admired poets. His latest book, The Unfinished Hut, is his first book of prose rather than poetry — but the prose is also poetry. Somewhere between Matsuo Basho’s Oku no hosomichi and Kamo no Chomei’s Hojoki, it is a journal of hermitage, friendship, death, deep ecology and contemplative practice. Covering 20 years, it is 65 pages long, with plenty of white space, but it is not a small book, and may be his best so far.
In the end, it took a fellow Celt and crime writer to fully get behind DS McNulty, as Brennan explains.
“Barry Graham is a very interesting character,” he tells me of the Dockyard Press founder, who set up the imprint to be run by all of its published writers, helping them to retain creative control over their work.
“He's a Buddhist monk but he's also a noir writer from Glasgow. I met him in 2018 when he was telling me about this idea he had for setting up a new publisher who was going to do things their own way by thumbing their nose at Amazon.
“Basically, [Dockyard] won't make their books available in Kindle form until Amazon start treating their workers better. I thought that was kind of fun…”