James Kelman in conversation with the New Statesman

Book your place for the event on 23 January.

On 23 January, NS culture editor Jonathan Derbyshire will be in conversation with the Scottish novelist James Kelman at the Goldsmiths Writers' Centre, Goldsmiths, University of London. 

Kelman is the author of eight novels, nine collections of short stories and two essay collections. He won the Booker Prize in 1994 for his novel How Late it Was, How Late. He was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2011. In 1994, Angela McRobbie defended Kelman against his metropolitan critics, arguing that they focused on his way with the Scottish vernacular, at the expense of his formal innovations. 

Greatness, it seems, cannot be conferred on the writer of the local . . . The myopia and confusion about Kelman arise because he is a "high" formalist, an apparent realist and a very political writer, all at the same time. This is not what the English expect of their writers. It is a blend more typically connected with so-called third-world writers . . .

Kelman will read from his latest novel, Mo Said She Was Quirky, and then talk to Derbyshire about the art of fiction.

The event begins at 6pm. Admission is free. To book your place, click here.

In conversation with the NS: James Kelman.
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How the radio stations reacted to Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize

For its part, Radio 1 was too absorbed by the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards to mention the proclamation on Newsbeat.

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature inspired a bewildering gamut of radio responses. At first, proof of his talent was abundantly forthcoming, Andy Kershaw yelling down the line for World at One from a motorway services on the M6 within ­moments of the announcement. (“I can’t understand why they didn’t give this to him 41 years ago!”)

However, a full six days after Talk Radio excitedly reported the event on its home page (“a pivotal part of the cultural revolution of the 1960s”), the online feature has yet to attract a single comment. That’s zero talk. For its part, Radio 1 was too absorbed by the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards to mention the proclamation on Newsbeat, though Heart FM firmly quoted the chair of the English faculty at Oxford (“The Tennyson of our time”), and pencil-suckingly dissected lyrics (“Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’/ Up the road . . .”).

Is it poetry? Is it literature? You could tell it was doing everybody’s head in. But when, on Radio 4’s Front Row, Billy Bragg praised Dylan for “bringing a literary and poetic thread into pop music”, the argument sounded terribly old.

The whole battle about Dylan being as great a poet as Tennyson is a hangover from an ancient battle, from a time when it actually had to be pointed out that this pop-music stuff can be brilliant and clever. A time when boring people battled for respect and prestige for an obvious genius. Over on Radio 2, Mark Goodier cheerfully played “Tangled Up in Blue” (“Major, major prize for Bob today. If that isn’t a decent excuse to play a song, I don’t know what is”). But by Sunday, on Radio 4’s Broadcasting House, the gloves were off and guests were declaring that they couldn’t stand Dylan’s voice (cliché, pathetic).

By Monday Simon Armitage was saying that Dylan’s lyrics had no more sophistication than something composed by a child. Is it poetry? Is it literature? Well, it kind of is. But it kind of isn’t. And it doesn’t matter very much, except to the likes of Dylan – and only a long, long time ago. Now he hardly requires the approbation. The Nobel Committee has given the prize to the one writer in the world who doesn’t need it. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood