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Kelman blasts mediocrity of boy wizards and crime bestsellers

James Kelman, the Scottish Booker Prize-winning author, has launched a furious attack on the way literary fiction is regarded in his homeland – criticising the praise lavished on “mediocre” detective writers and apparently even JK Rowling.

Kelman, appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said that if the Nobel prize for literature was awarded from Scotland, instead of Sweden, it would be given to “a writer of f****** detective fiction” or work about “some upper middle-class young magician” instead of literary fiction.

Not naming any names, but perhaps referring to some of Scotland’s better known detective writers and, it appeared, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books, Kelman said that because of this unequal praise, Scotland’s own “radical tradition” is a mystery to most Scots.

Kelman, 63, whose most recent novel, was Scottish book of the year, won the Booker Prize in 1994 for How Late it Was, How Late.

About his own work he said: “I don’t particularly care about criticism from outside.

“The criticism that I find most marked and interesting is the kind that goes on with Scotland, and how contemporary literature has been derided and sneered at by the Scottish literary establishment. For me it’s always been an indication of that Anglocentric nature of what’s at the heart of the Scottish literary establishment, that they will not see the tremendous art of a writer like Tom Leonard for example, and how they will praise the mediocre – how so much praise and position is given to writers of genre fiction in Scotland.

“If the Nobel Prize came from Scotland they would give it to a writer of f****** detective fiction, or else some kind of child writer, or something that was not even new when Enid Blyton was writing the Faraway Tree, because she was writing about some upper middle-class young magician or some f****** crap.”

He added: “Our tradition is actually an intellectual tradition, and an intellectual tradition that is not scared to be radical, and if that radical nature takes us into particular political positions then we should take them.

“And these positions have meant that we have not allowed ourselves to look at our own tradition, so that our own radical tradition is a mystery to us, that we don’t know about our historical links with people who we should be proud of – we should be proud that James Connolly [the Irish socialist leader] is an Edinburgh man, why are we not proud of that? One of the greatest twentieth century socialists was murdered by the British Army in 1916 – why do we not admit what happened with John Maclean, somebody who was murdered, who was poisoned by the State. Why is he not a hero?

“How can you give all this to somebody like Burns and not give a thought to all the other great Scottish writers.”

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