Treasury of Scottish tales

25th August 2000 at 01:00
A collection of new short stories heads a Mammoth list of fact and fiction with a regional theme, writes Denyse Presley

Following the success of the Irish Mammoth list, first compiled last year, Egmont Books (Mammoth's parent publishing house) is launching a Scottish Mammoth series at the Edinburgh International Book Festival next week.

The initial list of 22 titles includes established favourites, such as Theresa Breslin's Carnegie Medal winner Whispers in the Graveyard wearing a new ghoulish cover, and introduces some names new to the children's scene.

All the titles will carry a blue encircled white mammoth on the spine. The idea is that children will be able to locate more of the same quickly in a bookshop or library. Mammoth contributor and executive director of the Scottish Book Trust Lindsey Fraser admits the collection is essentially a marketing exercise, but points out that Egmont has always had a strong Scottish list and is "very committed to developing Scottish writers", such as Stephen Potts, whose latest story, Tommy Trouble, is published this month.

Ms Fraser has edited Scottish Mammoth's lead title, a new collection of short stories entitled Points North. It brings together nine tales by Scottish writers, many of whom are new to children's literature, including her first story. The only stipulation given to the authors was that the tales would suit the 12-15 years age band. There is, she explains, a shortage of contemporary Scottish writing available for young teenagers.

"What I didn't want them to feel was that this is another Scottish book they've got to read because they're from Scotland. That's not what life's about," she says.

The stories have a strong Scottish tone but are not all heroism and oatcakes. With a nod to Scotland's literary tradition, Iain Crichton Smith's alter ego Murdo relates "The Story of Major Cartwright". An eccentric Highlander, Major Cartwright tells a tale which is a gentle satire on cultural pretensions which has universal resonance.

By inviting writers such as Candia McWilliam and Chris Dolan to contribute a story, Ms Fraser has avoided pigeon-holing children's literature. "What I wanted to do is just to blur the edges," she explains. "If the Candia McWilliam story appeared in a newspaper you would just think it's another very fine Candia McWilliam story. What I was also interested in doing - with Gordon Legge, Jackie Kay and Dilys Rose too - was introducing writers that young people might move on to."

She adds: "I'd like to think it's been quite liberating for the authors. I as surprised by what they came up with. I mean, Gordon Legge coming up with a story about a mother making jam."

Talking to Legge, it is apparent that he had fun creating "Granny's Books", which - with a metaphorical reference to "seeds" - has an enigmatic ending. Despite the enchanting story, he reveals: "Everybody's got something they didn't eat as a child and which they avoid as a grown-up. Mine's jam."

In "Ghost Track", Chris Dolan uncovers an alarming plot involving a mysterious CD, Celtic mythology and the contemporary rock scene.

Julie Bertagna's "No Ordinary Zombie" is an other-worldly post-devolution tale in which a disintegrating Robert the Bruce and some new-age Goths exist on the same time plane. Ms Fraser laughs about the incongruity of it:

"Julie has got this fabulous mane of auburny hair and she always looks so serene and never raises her voice. For a story like that to come out of her is just wild."

As well as novels and short stories, the new list includes Scottish themed books from other Mammoth sub-genres such as the Telling Times series, which offers historical fiction from a child's perspective. Acts of Union, by the popular Arran-based writer Alison Prince, is one of these. It dramatises the events leading to the 1707 union as seen through the eyes of an Edinburgh child. Telling Times stories are accompanied at the back by a factual account of the period.

Striking a coup for the first wave of Scottish Mammoth releases is another instalment in the Telling Tales series, which already boasts interviews with Theresa Breslin and Anne Fine. This time the interview is with JK Rowling.

Children, parents and teachers will be delighted to read about her parents' Scottish whirlwind romance, which later provided the spark for the Harry Potter tales' Scottish location. Rowling confesses she played acoustic guitar as a teenager and dreamed of playing electric guitar solo. She discusses the controversial Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone film and her relationship with Warner Bros. She confides that, unlike the much-loathed hockey she played in her teens, she is most looking forward to Quidditch. "I've been watching it in my head for years now and finally I'll get to see it."

Precis writing linguists will be interested in some of the bungles Rowling has come across. Professor Dumbledore, for example, has been translated into Italian as Professor Silencio. "The translator has taken the 'dumb' from the name and based the translation on that. In fact, 'dumbledore' is the old English word for bumblebee."

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