by 'Bibliophile' in The Scotsman on January 5th 2002
1) If there was a fire
in your house and you could only rescue one book, what would it
be and why?
'Extinguishing Small House Fires'
I remember once when I was teaching on Islay bringing a library
of books into the school for the pupils to use. One night there
was a small accidental fire in a store next my room and the books
were all lost - underlinings and exclamation marks and tea-rings
and all. I got money to replace them but hadn't the time nor the
energy to untidy them. Books don't get dog-eared by themselves.
2) If you had to pick out a recently published
book for a friend, what would it be?
Alistair McLeod's 'Island' - his collected stories. They are crafted
monumental fictions that will remain with you for the rest of your
3) What book/books are you
More short Stories, this time by Grace Paley 'The
Little Disturbances of Man' and 'Enormous Changes at the Last Minute'
. I heard her read in Glasgow recently and I now carry her voice
in my head like a precious thing. Listening to the written voice
she creates in her stories is a wonderful experience. She is unique.
4) Do you have a favourite children's book?
A group of them - Enid Blyton's Adventure books - the Castle of
Adventure, the Ship of Adventure etc etc. I loved them not so much
for what they were but for the manner in which I came to them. My
Great Aunt Mary lived with us - she was a teacher brought up in
the old monitress system - and each night she used to read aloud
to my brother and myself before we'd go to bed. She'd sit in her
small armchair of green velvet in front of the fire and we'd sit
at her feet - one to each side. If the fire was too hot we'd end
up with a different reddened cheek. Chapter endings were devastating.
'That's it for tonight. Off you go.' You wished it was the next
5) Which writer means most
to you and why?
This is impossible to answer. At different times
in your life you make different reading discoveries - and the current
one always seems the most important. The current one is absorbed
and is replaced by another. I could give a list beginning with Dostoyevski
and ending with Grace Paley with peaks occupied by Kafka and Joyce
( My copy of Grace Paley stories was previously owned by someone
called Joyce Matters) Hemingway, the O'Connors ( Frank and Flannery),
Checkov and so on and so on. And I haven't even got around to naming
the Scottish writers yet.