The Sins of the Father – book launch

Out and About [the official end to BookRambler’s  hibernation]

The Sins of the Father book launch

With experienced journalist/producer/writer George Rosie chairing, this could have been an hours’ love-in of light banter with knowing questions and in-jokes and ‘friendly’ planted questions from kent faces in the audience. I thought that’s how it would go and it would have been a pleasant way to pass an hour. Happily, I was wrong. The launch of Allan Massie’s latest book: The Sins of the Father (Vagabond Voices) in Edinburgh’s Waterstones (West End) was a masterclass in book launches.

Rosie assumed a knowledgeable audience. He introduced Massie (critic, novelist, and historian) and then talked about the book’s ideas and gave it a global and historical context instead of just telling us the story and highlighting the best bits as so often happens at a launch. The discussion ranged over the politics of war and its messy aftermath,  damaged relationships and what happens to the people involved in atrocities: what should/would/could we do if it was our father/mother/uncle?

Questions ranged from easy: ‘have you ever been to Argentina?’, to more challenging questions about ‘how we represent the aftermath of war’ to the absurd ‘do the French write questioningly about their role in war as you do?’, to the intelligent reader: ‘why does Becky act as she does at the end of the book?’ All the questions (even daft ones) drew lengthy intelligent responses.  Massie spoke of how he was ‘given the idea for the book’, why he considered that ‘ethics are more important than ideology’ and his desire to create  ‘a moral centre in the book’.

First published in 1991 The Sins of the Father is republished by Indie publishers Vagabond Voices to a new readership. Massie could have gone the route of other writers and self-produced this out-of-print title as an e-book. That would, I think, diminish it. Vagabond Voices have produced a beautiful, high quality book with side flaps and an introduction written by Alan Taylor.

Taylor writes that, The Sins of the Father is an “intelligent, intellectually-challenging and disturbing novel. It is meant, of course, to make us think as well as to entertain us.”

The double act of Rosie and Massie certainly did all of this last Thursday evening.

The Sins of the Father – Publisher’s note:

A Nazi war criminal’s son and a Holocaust survivor’s daughter decide to get married in the pleasant, middle-class conformity of sixties Argentina. When the two families come together, Becky’s blind father recognises the voice of the former SS officer, and sets off a chain of events that to varying degrees damage everyone at that meeting. Franz has to discover the real past of his rather distant father, who is kidnapped by Mossad agents and taken to Israel for trial. The action shifts to that country, and then to England. Allan Massie uses this drama to explore a wealth of ideas concerning such themes as guilt, retribution, identity, power, political motivation, memory and above all, as the title implies, the effects of brutal conflicts and war crimes on the following generation. Massie does not dwell on the savagery of the crimes, but forensically analyses the scar they leave in history, suggesting that, post Holocaust, we inhabit a different moral world – a world in which we can no longer ignore the enormity of the crimes of which we are capable.

26Treasures at the NMS

What can you say about a rock in 62 words?

That was the challenge set by the 26 Treasures Scotland project, a collaboration between the National Museum of Scotland and 26, a not-for-profit group that champions the cause of better writing in all areas of life. The creative response was to an object included in a treasure trail (of 26 objects)

that span Scotland’s story, from its geological roots to its technological future, taking in iconic objects and hidden gems along the way.

The plan is that visitors will use the 26 Treasures as a guide to wind their way around and through the museum galleries. Beside each object and interpretation panel a QR code plays an audio clip of the writer reading their creation piece. My object was the Lewisian Gneiss, the oldest treasure in the collections of NMS, Edinburgh.

On Saturday we went ‘live’ with performances and readings. Listening to each writer introduce their creative pieces and say a bit about their creative process brought another dimension to the project. It was like looking at a painting for the thirtieth time and finding something new. Some of the creative pieces had interesting back-stories, some of the writers made emotional connections to their objects – sometimes, both. It wasn’t so much a case of bringing history alive, but rendering Scottish history anew – looking at it through a fresh angle of perspective and revealing ideas and information long known yet little discussed.

So. Thank you Sara Sheridan, for introducing me to 26 and, with Jamie Jauncey, for sorting out the Scottish strand; thanks also to the NMS staff who worked hard to pull it all together, especially to Claire Allan for ensuring a smooth and well-planned day.

  • You can read the blogposts and listen to readings on the 26 Treasures section of the main NMS website.
The 26 Treasures project this year involved three museums – National Museum of Scotland, the National Museum of Wales and the Ulster Museum in Northern Ireland – together they appear on the 26 Treasures Website.

What has this to do with books, dear Bookrambler, I hear you say…

Breaking News! An exciting development is the proposal to publish all the creation pieces from 26 Treasures 2011 as a collection with Unbound. John Simmons introduces the proposal and the project on the  Unbound website where you’ll also find details about how to vote and lend your support.

Why It’s a Great Time to Be a Reader – The Atlantic


Peter Osnos’s recent article in The Atlantic (link below) on books and bookselling flags up the positive results of digital and looks at the publishing world from a reader’s perspective – which makes a refreshing change from all the messages of doom and gloom and ‘death of the book’ that circulate on a daily basis.

Why It’s a Great Time to Be a Reader – The Atlantic.


Book Launch: How to Make a Golem (and Terrify People), by Alette J. Willis – 2011 Kelpies Prize-winner

Thursday was the launch for this year’s Kelpies Prize-winning book: How to Make a Golem (and Terrify People), by Alette J. Willis (Floris Books)- you might remember, I met Alette at Linlithgow Book Festival.

Imaginatively hosted by Floris Books, the launch was quirky, informal and good-humoured. Importantly,  it was really well-attended.

Well, who could resist the Golem-themed food & drink?

How to Make a Golem (and Terrify People) is Edinburgh-based Alette’s first children’s book. In her introduction, Alette talked about how she’s been writing for ten years working with a critique group online and via skype, but that it was working to the deadline of the Kelpies Prize – from September to February, that gave her the impetus to complete the typescript in just five months.

The story ‘came to her’, she said, while she was sitting with her dog under her favourite tree on Corstorphine hill’ – where some of the action takes place.

How to Make a Golem (and Terrify People) fuses Scottish legend and European folklore and taps into Alette’s academic research on story, identity and ethics as well as her work as a volunteer Talking Trees Storyteller at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

Chani McBain of Floris Books said that Golem

won the judges’ hearts with its quirky storyline, engaging voice, sparkling sense of humour — and giant mud monster!

The book is thoughtfully illustrated by  Nicola L. Robinson, who found it  ‘very funny’.

Here’s the tempting taster in the publisher’s blurb:

“You think you’re a fairy godmother or something?” I asked.
“Or something,” Michael agreed.
Edda is tired of her nickname, “Mouse”, and wants to be braver. But when her house is burgled on her twelfth birthday, Edda is more afraid than ever. That is until new boy Michael Scot starts school. There’s something peculiar — and very annoying — about know-it-all Michael. He claims to be a great alchemist who can help Edda overcome her fears by teaching her to build a golem.

But surely they can’t bring a giant mud monster to life? Can they?

Check out Alette’s author website for more information about her work with story and as a storyteller.

NOTE: The Kelpies Prize for 2012 is now open for entries. See the website for full details and terms and conditions.

Q & A with Ian Rankin

Q & A with prize-winning Scottish author Ian Rankin

Writing professionally since the 1980s, there’s not much we don’t already know about Ian Rankin or his writing. His best-selling Inspector Rebus novels are published in 22 different languages across the globe and more recently he’s started writing about a new kind of crime-fighter in DI Malcolm Fox of The Complaints (Internal Affairs).

You can find all you need to know about Ian on his Official website: biography, the books that inspired him, his writing life and love of music – you can even follow a map to ramble around Edinburgh in Rebus’s footsteps.

There’s a nice Q&A on Waterstone’s author page too:  where we find out that Ian’s favourite word is ‘lacrosse’…

… so, it’s almost impossible to find out something we don’t already know.

Or is it?

I caught up with Ian between events on the book-launch tour for The Impossible Dead.

J:-      The Impossible Dead is set in contemporary Scotland with much of the plot looking back to the social and political scene of the 1980s, the same time that you published your first novel, The Flood. If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

IR:-    Don’t drink so much.  A lot of blank spaces back then where memories should be.  Maybe that’s why I couldn’t remember all the domestic Scottish terrorism that was going on.  A lot of the period 1980-85 seems to have passed me by.


J:-       Who would you invite to your Come Dine with Me Dinner and what would you serve them?

IR :-   I watch that show.  I’m not a great cook but I do have a few ‘bankers’.  Maybe a rich beef and wine stew.  Or a chilli con carne.  Plenty of good white and red wine.  To start: smoked salmon.  Cheese and oatcakes for afters.  Around the table would be arranged Robert Louis Stevenson (so I can ask him about the first draft of Jekyll and Hyde – the one he’s supposed to have thrown on the fire), Frank Zappa (he might even play a few licks – I never got to see him in concert), and Billie Holiday.       


J:-        Your house is on fire! Your family and record collection are safe but you only have time to save one book – what is it?

 IR:-    My 1st edition hardback of Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. My wife bought it for me when I was doing my PhD on Spark.  Many years later, I met the lady herself and she signed it for me.  (At the risk of getting a hand singed, I might also grab my signed and dedicated copy of Keith Richards’ Life in passing…)


J:-      The Impossible Dead is set outside of Edinburgh and nicely opens up the possibility of taking the Malcolm Fox series across Scotland. You’ve visited bookshops and book festivals in all the major Scottish towns and I wonder, which Scottish town have you always wanted to visit but haven’t yet found the time?

IR:-    I’ve visited most of them, at one time or another.  But I’ve never been to the Outer Hebrides… so maybe Stornoway.  Also, I visited Falkland once (when I was in primary school) and I keep meaning to go back.  Johnny Cash claimed he had roots there, you know.


J:-        I love the new covers! The whole back catalogue has been rebranded. How much input did you have on the final result?

IR:-     I once tried designing my own book jacket  –  it was for the original hardback of Strip Jack.  Orion went along with it and it was terrible (basically a Lion Rampant flying from the Houses of Parliament).  I’m useless at that kind of thing, so I usually go along with the opinion of people who are paid to come up with the right visual treatment.  It is frustrating that if you get a really great look, it only stands out from the crowd for a year or two, because people start to copy aspects of it.  Orion showed me various possible jacket looks, and we did discuss it a little.  I’m happy with the outcome.

J:-       If you were paper what would you fold yourself into?

IR:-    I’d fold the paper in half, then in half again, and cut the edges to make an eight-page blank book, ready to be filled with cartoons, drawings, and lines of text.


The Impossible Dead (Orion) is published on 13th October