So. I’m at the website for the World Writers Conference. It hasn’t happened yet of course though actually it did happen in history. Fifty years ago. Before even my mum or dad or Uncle Tam were born so that counts as History doesn’t it? I have done what every good school child does and gone to a primary source. And besides that I couldn’t find anything about it on Wikipedia.
Here’s what I’ve found. I hope I’m allowed to quote from it. There’s all sorts of things like copyright and sueing and publishing things that I just don’t understand. Oh and plagiarism (which I thought had something to do with smallpox but it doesn’t it’s about stealing other people’s ideas) and it seems like a MineField so I’m sorry if I’ve upset anyone or stolen their ideas, I didn’t mean to, I just want to win the competition and I don’t have the answers myself so I have to find sense where I can. And that’s not easy when you’re talking about writing and Culture.
This is what is on the website. There’s a lot more of course and you should go there to look for yourself but I’m telling you because Mum said that’s called ‘attributing sources’ and if you do that no one will bung you in jail for copyright theft. I hope so.
In September 1962, John Calder told the Herald that ‘the conference was an experience in adult education. The gamble was to see if we could interest an average public in ideas, the combination of observation and philosophy that compose the writer’s tool-kit. We succeeded because there is a great hunger for education and for an understanding of the world we inhabit.’
Now 1962 is a long time ago and I’m a child not an adult and mum thought it all sounded a bit poncey and patronising but I’m reckoning it’s just the sort of thing Mr EM will love so I’m using it. And because they did such a good job in 1962 (though they seemed to argue a lot about sex and drugs – not rock and roll – remember rock and roll hadn’t really taken off in 1962 – not in TattyBogle anyway. I’m not sure Rock and Roll has ever really made it in TattyBogle to be honest, my mum and dad don’t like it anyway. They prefer Alasdair Morrison and Jimmy Shand and Jim Devine (or is he a politician? Or is that Sidney Devine?) and ‘guid couthy Scots songs.’ Not what Mr EM considers Culture anyway, I know that. But the point is, that because of 1962 being so good they wanted to do it all again. Recreate it, like those living history things that come to DrumTumshie once a year. My dad doesn’t see the point in history. Living or dead. There’s enough troubles in the present, he says, without delving around in the past.
But Mr EM disagrees. And it’s Mr EM I’ve got to please. Although in the end of course I’m trying to make my dad proud. It seems odd that I could make my dad proud by making Mr EM pleased, but that’s the way things work in the adult world. They might all disagree with each other about everything but they don’t want you to point it out.
Well, the modern day conference is like the old one except that it’s today not then. And the questions are the same but different and the days are all mixed up. I’ll show you what I mean. We have ‘topics’ and ‘days’ I should maybe draw a graph but I can’t do that cause I never know what to put on what axis and this is Literature and Culture anyway and graphs is Maths. So:
The modern day
1) Should literature be political (Day three of old one)
2) Style v Content (Day one of the old one)
3) National literature? (Day two of the old one)
4) Censorship (Day four of the old one)
5) The Future (Day five of the old one)
I’ll be honest. I struggled with this at the beginning. I mean, I’m pretty handy with the internet but I just got lost in how the five days from 1962 were the same or different and how the themes were the same or different and… then I remembered. It’s like what Mr EM explained, it’s all about ‘contextualising’ which means putting something back in its place. Or its box. He’d like to put me back in my box most of the time I think. And that’s why he doesn’t bother when Nick puts my head down the toilet – it’s the closest to a box they can find for me.
But we found the 50 acclaimed writers remember. And they are going to tell us what’s what. And we can listen. If we can’t go there live we can listen in on an internet stream. For five afternoons from 3-5. I hope they don’t make me do that. It’ll be the holidays so Mr EM can’t make me. But my mum might if she remembers. Or is this the prize? To get to go to one of these things. More punishment than prize I’d say, but I’m in too deep now to worry about that. I probably won’t win anyway.
After I showed my mum the list of writers and she downloaded some of their books (the ones that had ebooks under a fiver because my mum says No One Should have to pay more than a fiver for something that isn’t even a real thing. ‘Of course they are real books, mum,’ I say ‘you can get them in paperback and hardback at the library and everything.’
And we start a debate about delivery platforms which totally loses me but I think my mum’s view is that ‘Culture shouldn’t be priced at a premium.’ Sounds like something that Mr EM would disagree with. ‘You get what you pay for,’ is his motto. I’m trying not to worry about this because I know that in a really good essay you have an ‘argument’ and I think that the argument between my mum and Mr EM might make a really good argument. Of course I don’t want them to argue about it in real life, not in public at my school parent’s night or something. But if I can ‘represent the alternative positions’ and ‘defend my cause’ as Uncle Tam advised, then I might be onto something.
What’s more important to me at the moment than the actual argument or the writing or the Cultural impact or Curriculum for Excellence Outcomes is to find the actual question I’m going to ask (and answer?) in my essay.
And then I have a brainwave. Mum is busy reading an ‘acclaimed’ author even though she’s huffing and puffing a lot and not really enjoying it. I don’t know which one it is. I just know it’s not Irvine Welsh. He was on the list. But my mum doesn’t like him. Of course everyone’s heard of Irvine Welsh. Even in TattyBogle. And I guess if even everyone in TattBogle has heard of you (even if they’ve not read your books) then you deserve to be one of the ‘acclaimed’ authors and probably the ‘Cultural Elite’ while you’re at it. Comes to the bit and no one who has read Irvine Welsh in TattyBogle rates it much but then, after all, we are just the digital masses so what do we know? Uncle Tam puts it down to the ‘divergence of urban versus rural reality in modern Scotland’ but then what does he know about literature? It’s all politics to him.
Back to my brainwave. I’ll ask more than one question. That way I’ve more chance of coming up with at least one right answer. And. I have ‘precedent’ as Uncle Tam would say.
Let me explain. The same as if lots of people buy your book then it must be a good book and you must be a good writer and if you’re a good writer you’re part of the Cultural Elite and you can tell people what is good and what they should read, well, the number of things you have in your argument or idea must be significant.
Let me explain. In religion they have three things right? The Holy Trinity. God’s so great there’s not just one of him, there’s three. And Einstein says science has Four Dimensions (at least.) And the Curriculum for Excellence is ‘underpinned by the four cornerstones of learning’ Mr EM tells us all the time.
And we had to learn them off by heart. They are: Stand up when you are reciting please) No that’s not one of them that’s just what he says. They are:
Curriculum for Excellence
The four capacities
That’s like the introduction we have to give. Now Here They Are. Really. At last.
The purpose of the curriculum is encapsulated in the four capacities – to enable each child or young person to be a successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor.
It’s a hell of an ask for an eleven year old don’t you think? But maybe we don’t have to be all these things till we are sixteen or seventeen or that. I don’t think John scored too highly on any of them. Though we’ve never had problems with his confidence that I know of. He rates himself high on that count does my brother John.
But I’ve no time to worry about the Curriculum for Excrement. I’ve come up with my winning plan. I’m going to ask FIVE questions. That’ll top trump religion and education and I’ll have to win. And there are five topics in the Conference so I’ll make my questions up out of their topics and that will look even better.
And a good title. It’s always good to start with a good title. I know that much. So this is it: This is what I’m going to write about and show Mr EM and win the prize with. It’s called
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR THE DIGITAL MASSES.
And these are my questions:
1. How do you construct/ build a novel?
2. Is Scottish writing pish?
3. Is everything political even politics? And books?
4. What should be published? What should we read?
5. What does the future hold for books? (and me) Will I get my fifteen minutes of fame? Or win the lottery? Or ever get out of TattyBogle Primary alive?
You can see that actually I’ve got loads more than five questions. But that’s because everything is a pretty big subject and at this point I’m aiming for quantity. The more I have to question the righter I can be, isn’t it? Isn’t that what the whole Culture thing has taught me? Now obviously I’m going to have to ‘dress them up’ as Mr EM would say. I mean, I can’t come right out and say ‘pish’ can I? Or maybe I can. Maybe being controversial is what we’re after? Well, this is my framework anyway. And I’m going to get help with each question from people who know better than me.
I’ll ask my dad about building because he knows about building things. I mean, I know he’s a professional farmer but he has to build sheds and roofs and that sort of thing so he must understand the ‘principles’ cause nothing he’s built ever falls down. And surely principles are principles and what’s good enough for sheds is good enough for books right? Do you think? Well, my dad knows about building but my mum knows about books. So to be safe I’ll ask them both, but not at the same time, because otherwise it might start another family argument and I’ll never get my pudding.
Question two is going to be harder. I mean I don’t think anyone’s going to come right out and say that Scottish writing is pish. Not even my dad. Unless you tell him it’s Irvine Welsh. I know my mum will object because even though she thinks Irvine Welsh is pish – she doesn’t say that of course she says he’s ‘rude and not to her taste’ whereas my dad just says it’s ‘urban gobshite’ my mum doesn’t like rudeness at all and fighting rudeness with more rudeness – by using the word pish – won’t wash with her.
And you’d think the Cultural Elite would see things the same way right? That they’d just tell me it’s a stupid question? Yes but in that conference in 1962 they all said that Scottish writing was pish. (I can’t remember the Culture word for it, but it came to the same thing) And in today’s one on the website they say that everything’s changed and there’s been a Renaissance and that in Scottish Writing, but since the conference hasn’t happened yet I don’t know how they are going to prove that. I suppose the ‘acclaimed’ authors and ‘Cultural Elite’ exist exactly to tell us the answer. I asked my Uncle Tam about it and he said that the ‘commodification of culture is every bit as damaging to society as the Cultural Revolution was to the Chinese.
He is, it seems, disputing the meaning of the word Culture. Maybe I’d better not do that because Mr EM thinks that Culture is ‘what it’s all about.’ Culture after all is even more difficult to pin down than ‘everything’ and I just want to win the prize, not Save Culture. If I Save Culture I might Save Mr EM’s job and for me the perfect result would be to win the prize, visit Edinburgh Castle, avoid the Conference, not get a Kindle unless I could swap it for a micro pig to make my mum happy, make my dad proud and most of all become the Triumph of TattyBogle by sending Mr EM packing back to a City of Culture far away from DrumTumshie.
To sum up the argument about this question as I see it now.
Mr EM says that since Hugh MacDiarmuid Scottish writing has had a Cultural Renaissance.
Uncle Tam says that ‘culture has been appropriated by the elite in order to make us pay for what they want us to have’ and that we should resist and only read what we want to read and like what we like without the Cultural Elite telling us’. And he says that a lot of Scottish ‘urban’ writing is ‘pish’ because it doesn’t relate to the concerns of the real people of TattyBogle. He’s most insistent on this so I guess I should include his views because he is my Uncle after all and he’s helped me a lot with this. And it’ll really get up Mr EM’s nose. And if I don’t win the competition but try my hardest, John suggests that a good by-product would be to ‘make Mr EM look like the jumped up little twat that he is.’ And that sounds like a excellent outcome to me. Even if it’s not in the Curriculum for Excellent outcomes. Even if I don’t get him to leave TattyBogle Primary I could still ‘mark his card’ for him as Uncle Tam would call it. ‘Give him a bloody nose,’ my dad would say. Not that my dad’s a fighting man you know, it’s just what they call a figure of speech. Even the digital masses know about those. You might not think my dad is the ‘digital masses’ because he threatened to drown my mum’s Kindle, but he did buy it for her in the first place and so I think he is one of the digital masses. I think we all are, whether we like it or not. Even if we live in TattyBogle where the only mass of anything there is is cow shit.
When we come to question three, is literature political? Uncle Tam has helped me on that already before. And I took notes. In my ‘reflective journal.’ I had to, remember, Curriculum for Excellence outcomes and all that. For Uncle Tam everything is political, remember. And while everything is a big topic, it’s also a good place to start if you want to impress Mr EM and stay in line with that Curriculum for Excellence stuff. So that’s going into my essay.
Now we come onto the question about what we should publish and what should we read. This is apparently called Censorship. And there’s always an argument about whether or not it’s a good or a bad thing. No one even agrees with themselves on this one. My dad says freedom of speech is a good thing, unless people disagree with him like John does and then it’s just being a ‘stupit wee loon.’
People who speak freely to Mr EM are accused of ‘crass ignorance’ which comes down to the same thing. ‘Ideas above their station,’ is another of his favourites. I don’t know what station though because we don’t have a station anywhere near us. Not even in DrumTumshie. They were all closed down in the 1960’s. When the Cultural Elite made their bid for control of the country.
Seems to me that censorship is another thing that Cultural Elite create for us the digital masses. They tell you what should be published, what price it should be and what you should read. I know we’ve had this argument already so I’ll just revise it for the essay. It’s round four between my mum (the digital masses) in the red corner and Mr EM (the cultural elite) in the blue corner. Come out fighting. A clean fight please and who knows what the outcome will be.
And the last question is one about the future. Of books. But also of me, Jack MacRoary. I think this will be the easiest question to answer because I’ll just talk about what I hope for the future and how if I get a Kindle what I’ll read and if I find my library card and get an adult card and move up to the Academy and get to write in pen not pencil and stop making so many mistakes, maybe I will write something else that people will want to read and one day, who knows, I might even get it published. And go to Edinburgh Castle of course. Because that’s my real dream.
Well by the last day of term I have my essay written and I turn it in to Mr EM. He looks at it long and hard. He stares. He grimaces. He stares again. It’s the best I could do so I don’t know what will happen if he doesn’t like it. He reads and reads and reads and reads. Right till the end. The class is silent. We know that if he doesn’t like it we’ll not get to have the class ‘party’ which Mrs Reekie the cleaner has organised for us. With jelly and everything. If he doesn’t like it we’ll be eating Culture not crisps.
We all wait. The tension, as they say on the TV is palpable. It feels like forever, which it very nearly is because the clock on the wall started off at quarter to two and it’s now ten past two and the party is supposed to start at quarter past two. Times running out.
Finally, he stands up. He waves the essay in our faces and he says, ‘We’ll enter it in the competition.’
The class cheer. He silences them. He has more to say. But even though he’s talking he’s not giving anything else away because his next statement is ‘But is it Literature? (long pause – we don’t know do we?) Is it Culture?’
There is another long pause till Mrs Reekie comes in and says ‘That’s the party set up in the school hall’ which kind of takes the wind out of his sails because now no one cares what Mr EM thinks about Literature or Culture or even my essay. They can smell the sausages on sticks and the jelly and ice cream and for the TattyBogle Primary digital masses this is a more powerful motivator than all the Literature and Culture in the world.
And I’m not sure whether this is one of his so called rhetorical questions (that’s a question you ask when you already know the answer and I don’t understand why you ask questions if you know the answer) so I don’t know whether he thinks it’s good or bad or whether it’s going to win the competition or not. So I don’t know if I should stay where I am in my seat or take a bow.
But the class decide it is a rhetorical question and take the law into their own hands. It is the last day of term after all. And there is party food to eat. So who cares what Mr EM thinks about my essay. I’ve done it. And we are going to enjoy the party.
Time will tell us the answer to the questions ‘Is it Literature?’ ‘Is it Culture.’
Jack’s Back. Postscript:
The update is that I may not have won the competition to go the Conference (which doesn’t bother me because my dad says I’d never get to go to Edinburgh Castle anyway as the queues would be too long in the Festival and Edinburgh is a big place, bigger than DrumTumshie and so you can’t just flit from one place to the other) but something IMPORTANT has happened. Someone (maybe from the Cultural Elite or not I can’t tell) has read my essay and they want to publish it.
This is a definite turn up for the books. There’s more to the story than that though. It seems that what I wrote has been at an online ebook festival and people have read what I wrote. And they want more. Well, no one has actually read the Five Questions essay because they read other stuff and when they did that two publishers started having a fight over it. Humongous Book Group, who represent the Cultural Elite, they think there’s ‘money to be made’ out of my ‘story’ and Guerrilla Midgie Press also want to print my ‘manifesto for the digital masses’ because they are impressed by my ‘radical stance.’ It seems I appealed to everyone, Cultural Elite and Digital Masses alike.
So I have to make a choice. Who do I get to publish me? Being published at all is pretty exciting for me. My mum is super stoked and even my dad thinks I’ve ‘done good’ to get all this interest. Not as good as the boy who ‘draws anything’ or the girl who ‘blogs about school dinners’ don’t get me wrong, I’m not like a celebrity or anything, but I am the first person in TattyBogle to get a publishing deal. Even Mr EM hasn’t had that. Though he’s trying to take the credit and I think he’s trying to ‘cut a deal’ with Humongous. Uncle Tam thinks I should go with Guerrilla Midgie because they are the press for the digital masses. But you know what –there’s another option. My mum suggested it. I could ‘go it alone’ and just publish it as an ebook myself. Because you know, anyone can do that, even the digital masses.
But I think I’m going to let Guerrilla Midgie do it (even though I don’t like Midgies, I mean who does?) because that will make my mum proud. And she can download it on her Kindle and show my virtual book off to everyone she knows. And Guerrilla Midgie will make it cheap enough for the digital masses to afford while Humongous want to give me a ‘contract’ which Uncle Tam says is being ‘sold down the river’ and anyway I might see if I can get my mum a free copy because a lot of her ideas went in there too weren’t they and that seems only fair.
One way or another, sometime soon you’ll be able to buy ‘Five Questions for the Digital Masses’ by Jack MacRoary. My dad has given me a new name and I think it means he’s dead proud of me. He’s called me ‘The Bard of DrumTumshie.’ Because even though my dad is one of the digital masses who doesn’t read that much, he knows the value of a Bard and he says that culture is in and of the masses not something that can be Created by the Cultural Elite or the likes of Mr EM. No one creates culture. No one owns culture. Culture is about who we are and what we like. It’s for everyone and it is part of everyone. And that’s what my essay is all about.
Thank you for reading and if you like it and you like me can you please LIKE me on my FaceBook Page. Then I’ll be able to tell you when my first book is out. And you can buy it. At a reasonable price of course.