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Inside Track: Alasdair Gray has lost none of his fire

The unfinished but bulky manuscript was on Alasdair Gray's drawing board:

several chapters of his new book on Scotland and independence, due to be published by Canongate in June. The writer and artist had agreed to talk about the new book of his memoirs, Of Me & Others, which is to be published by Glasgow company Cargo. But, during our chat over tea, talk inevitably turned to the independence referendum and his controversial essay on English "settlers and colonists", which was published last year.

Of Me & Others, Gray explained, is less of a conventional autobiography and more of a collection of writing on his life, on friends and influences (RD Laing, Tom Leonard, Archie Hind, Liz Lochhead, the publisher Bill MacLellan, Susan Boyd, and Anthony Burgess among others) as well as prologues and epilogues to his novels and other writing.

In between Gray's habitual digressions into fits of comedy and actorly voices, our conversation was wide ranging. For example, he is happy that many readers believe Lanark to be his greatest work, but he prefers 1982, Janine (from 1984) and is very fond of Poor Things (from 1992) because of its humour.

He said Of Me & Others is not overly personal, because of a desire not to hurt anyone in his private life (although he added: "I was not in any way a Casanova"). He is also of the opinion such material is not really anyone else's business. This will be, he said, the closest to an autobiography that he will write. Although, one might add, the 'realist' sections of Lanark are very close to autobiography.

Gray is busy. He has a new exhibition at the Hidden Lane Gallery in Glasgow. He has to finish the independence book: but it seems to be a mighty onerous labour. He is also working on a large, and spectacular, new mural that depicts the risen Christ resurrected over the Glasgow Necropolis. I asked whether he considered himself a Christian, and he said no, because "I am not strong enough to follow what Jesus said."

He is in favour of Scottish independence. He was scathing about "Project Fear" and has devoted a chapter in his new book to what he calls the "big bogey man" approach to Unionist campaigning. Gray remains optimistic about a Yes result.

And on the subject of "settlers and colonists" Gray did not take a step back. He said Scots have been in both of those categories too, and he will go into this at length in his independence book. Tackled on the words themselves, Gray does not see why they cause such controversy. To Gray, it is a matter of fact.

On the subject of people from outside Scotland landing prominent cultural positions here, he has scorn for the boards involved.

"The boards that choose these people are Scottish. The boards do not want native artists to have anything to do with the control of native institutions," he said. "'We are on these boards because we are rich or been chosen by rich people'. The fault lies with the boards entirely. I also blame the present Scottish Government: there was no need to disband the Scottish Arts Council."

Gray, who is 80 later this year, remains in muscular form.

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