Most of my experience of my first London Book Fair as a MSc Publishing student this year was a dazed wander around the Olympia, trying to take as much in as possible and also not get overwhelmed. Publisher stalls were fit to burst, pathways were bustling with people, and panels were sometimes full to the brim. There were however two panels that weren’t as crowded but that I wish had been. Both explored the importance of literacy to the wider community, to society as a whole, and implored publishers to collaborate. I can’t begin to summarise the range of initiatives, expertise, and overall sense of hope that these panels gave me properly in this post but hopefully it communicates something of what I got out of those experiences.
Hi, I’m Angus, one of this year’s batch of MSc Publishing students. My work placement involved editing some of the very first titles put out by The Wee Book Company, who publish in Scots and nothing else. Since I’m the kind of gadgie who likes to lecture others, I’m going to use this platform to share five wee tips for writing and wrangling with Scots.
Narrative Voice vs Dialogue
Something you’ll hear again: Scots is a spoken language. The page is not its natural home.
This means that in a first person story told by a Scottish character, you’ve got full license to write in their voice, and be as chatty as you like. Imagine the character is sitting in front of you, relating their tale. Scots isn’t for internal monologue. Scots is for speaking.
Which means that in third person, you might want nothing but the dialogue to be written in Scots. After all, third person narration is usually supposed to be neutral, and disembodied. If you have it speak in Scots, it becomes a person. Point in case: Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song.
Scots is a spoken language. There’s no official, standardised version. So when you write Scots, you really have to ask yourself: who’s speaking? Who we are affects the Scots we speak. Consider:
- I is Eh in Dundee, but Ah in most of the country. Eh dinnae ken.
- Is a 9 year old Fortnite addict speaking the same Scots as Granny? Naw, he’s no.
- Is @ScottishPatterr retweeting Victorian-era Scots? Nae chance.
- Do the suburbs sound just like the schemes? Tak a guess, Einstein.
Sense of Humour
Think of how modern Scots manifests in pop culture. Irvine Welsh. Chris McQueer. Limmy. Chewin’ the Fat. Burnistoun. Still Game. Are these smart people? Yes. Are they writing brilliant stuff? Yes. Do they give the impression they take themselves incredibly seriously? No. I’m not saying Scots English can’t be dour, direct, and deep. In fact, those first three guys on my list do dabble in the darkness. But not before they entertain you.
Scots is spoken. It doesn’t have standardised spellings. The page isn’t its natural home. Blah blah blah. So when you do put Scots on the page, does it matter if spellings switch between ‘I’ and ‘ah’, or ‘highlan’, ‘heighlan’, and ‘heilan’? To some it might not. Don’t try to impose your rules on a rule-free language, they might argue. I decided that in the case of The Wee Book Company, I disagreed. I didn’t want smart alecs like me to be able to flick between two different pages, and see the same word spelled two different ways.
So, if you’re editing a big chunk of Scots writing, I’d suggest making a spelling grid. That means picking out every word with a contentious spelling, and settling on the rendering you think is most suitable for the piece. Later on, of course, you can always break and bend the rules, but to do this you need to have a rule to disobey in the first place.
Learning from the Greats
Did I mention that Scots is a spoken language? With no rulebook to follow, you’re better off following precedents, and learning from the Great Masters. That’s what photographers, painters, and filmmakers do. Why shouldn’t editors? Why shouldn’t writers? Here’s a recommendation for free: The Acid House by Irvine Welsh. Inside this collection of mostly insane short stories you’ll find a least half a dozen different ways to write Scots prose and dialogue, and you’ll probably end up very jealous of just how clever Mr Welsh is. Bawbag.
For UK based Persian to English translator Shahab Vaezzadeh, fiction translation is a rarity. It’s something a little bit different from his day-to-day commercial translation work. Translating literature is more collaborative and as language is generally freer in literature than British Council briefings its translation can throw up different problems to commercial works, i.e. what should be done with the longer sentences, higher frequency of adjectives and tendency towards onomatopoeic words that are far more common in Persian than English? Shahab addressed all these issues at the Contemporary Iranian Literature, Translation and Performance Workshop, put on by Visiting Arts. As well as other issues that are relevant to the publishing of translated literature.
Visiting Arts, organised the event alongside Comma Press and the Edinburgh Iranian Festival, as a means to a means to promote Iranian literature and translation in the UK, which they’ve been doing for the last ten years. The event included a workshop on live translation as performance art taken by Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh, an alumnus of the Visiting Arts’ National Centre for Arts residency programme. Nazli also gave a reading of some of her recent writing. Continue reading “What goes into a translation: lessons learned from a Visiting Arts translation workshop”
Saturday October 13th 2018
Just out of Back Bay station, my mum screams and with wide eyes whispers “that man! He is really really famous!” While we resist to believe her at first, Nile Rodgers of Chic has just walked past us towards his waiting car. Nobody else turns their head but it has certainly got our trip off to a good start.
When we arrive at Copley Square, we are met with a mass of publishers’ tents. I must admit, I am quite overwhelmed by the prospect of finding my way amongst this new community, but the first stop we make is into the tent of Other Press. We get talking to a woman called Mona. She works in their New York office. She is French, we have met a comrade. We get talking about Europe, about Brexit, about Trump, and what all of this feels like. She shows us the books they have on offer. And at the very first stall we have visited, we buy three beautiful books. I am glad that I travel light as I feel a sudden concern for my baggage allowance on the return flight. All of the books are heavily discounted for the festival. Everyone we meet loves our accent which I find really funny but nice. They say because we are Scottish they will throw in a tote bag for free. The next customer is disappointed as theirs is still 10 dollars. Continue reading “Boston Book Festival”
I began my MSc Publishing course blindly. I didn’t quite know what publishing entailed and I certainly didn’t know what company I aspired to work for. I had just returned from two years living in sunny Australia and was looking around at rainy Scotland, and its cold wind that whipped around my head and made the tip of my ears ache, thinking; why did I ever come back?
I had been freelancing in Melbourne but felt I had hit a lull in my career. I was making little to no progression and I struggled to get work that I found challenging and inspiring. So, I started applying for Publishing Masters. I applied in a panic all over the world; Australia, Scotland, Canada, England, thinking someone must accept! And to my surprise, everyone did. A triumph for most but not for an anxiety riddled twenty-something with a deep hate for making decisions. Scotland became my first choice because, if I’m honest, it was the only affordable option. Now I know this may seem like I’m being super negative, but I promise there’s good things to come.
Day one of MSc Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University I met Laura Dunlop from PPA who was speaking about MagFest 2018 and asking for volunteers to help at the event. I put myself forward and to my delight was offered a place. I worked closely with Jeremy Leslie, owner of magCulture (an incredible magazine shop in London), selling magazines in his pop-up. This really opened my eyes to the weird, the wonderful and the niche options out there when it came to printed media. Continue reading “Mags, Magfest & magCulture”
MagFest 2018 is the biggest (and arguably, the best) magazine festival in Scotland and acted as the first main event on the postgraduate publishing calendar. If I’m speaking honestly, I haven’t read a magazine since Mizz and Blush circa 2003. However, after a talk from Laura Dunlop, who came into university to tell us about the event, I was really excited for MagFest and the opportunity to learn about this area of the publishing industry that I have never before explored.
I made it to Central Hall in Edinburgh bright and early for registration and the atmosphere was already buzzing. I was worried about looking out of place but I soon found some familiar faces from the course and, after a much-needed caffeine hit, I was ready for the day. The schedule was broken down into different talks and Q&As held in the main hall. Throughout the day we heard from some very prominent figures in the publishing industry as well as many new, up-and-coming publishers which was great to see. The theme of the day was ‘Ideas Factory’ and many of the keynote speakers touched upon what some might call the ‘uncertain future’ of magazine publishing. It was encouraging to hear that, despite differing opinions, everyone felt optimistic and committed to working harder towards maintaining the future of the industry. Continue reading “‘The Minute You Play It Safe, You’re Done’ – MagFest 2018”
Recently I was contacted by someone possibly undertaking the MSc Publishing course later this year, looking for some answers and reassurance about what the course entails. I was immediately reminded of my own nerves prior to postgrad life, having had many of the same questions myself (but not taking the smart step of finding the answers, as this person has done). Whilst I’m one who’d only call themselves wise ironically, and definitely don’t have all the answers, perhaps this post will help relieve some stress, even if only for one person! Now, all aboard the train to Tip Town.
Don’t panic (as any good hitchhiker will know).
Generally good advice for life, but especially on an MSc. Whether you’ve gone straight into an MSc from undergrad, or are returning to education after however many years, it can be a shock to the system with how it differs from what you’re used to – whether that be assessments, the level of independent study, etc. Don’t panic! The tutors on this course are happy to answer your questions, no matter how stupid the questions may seem to you. We’re all here to learn, and they’re here to teach us.
Help others, and let others help you.
The peer support throughout this course has been spectacular. At the beginning of the year someone set up a Facebook group for all of us to join, and it’s a great way to check if your small queries can be answered before emailing one of the tutors who are undoubtedly very busy. In class it’s also super handy – everyone has different experiences which lend varying skills, for example I used to be an English tutor and therefore have a keen eye for grammar and can glance over pieces of writing. Others have more technical experience, and can help in an InDesign or Photoshop crisis. Helping your pals as you go is also a great way to cement what you’re learning in your brain, and ensure that you’re remembering the new skills being taught. Continue reading “Lizzie’s List of Postgrad Pointers”