FOR MORE than 40 years his work has helped build a unique and distinctive voice for Scottish literature and is feted around the world.

Yet London’s biggest publishers are still “elitist” and do not recognise Scottish culture, according to influential Scots author James Kelman.

In an interview with The Herald, Kelman criticised his former publishers Penguin Random House. He said they viewed Scottish literature as “regional and provincial” and lacking in the gravitas and importance of “metropolitan” work.

He has just signed a deal with Edinburgh-based Canongate and is working on a new novel and film due for release next summer,

Dirt Road, which follows a grieving Scottish father and son on a musical journey through the American south, will be his first original publication in Scotland for 30 years.

Glaswegian Kelman, 69, Scotland’s only Man Booker Prize winner, has been described as “the greatest British novelist of our time”.

He controversially won the prize on his second nomination in 1994 for How Late It Was, How Late, a stream-of-consciousness novel with a working class Glaswegian protagonist. One of the judges, Rabbi Julia Neuberger, famously stormed off the judging panel declaring the novel “not publicly accessible” and “frankly, crap”.

Now the author of nine novels and a raft of acclaimed short stories and essays, he has twice been nominated for the Man Booker International Prize, which recognises a body of work produced over a number of years.

Kelman said Penguin Random House did not properly market his work in Scotland, and did not appear to view new work by him or other Scottish writers as “newsworthy”.

Asked whether it was important to be with a Scottish publisher, he said: “It is important, and it took me a while to realise it.

“The publishers I was with down south were the biggest – Random House and Penguin. Both can be good but I don’t think either one ever grasped that perhaps there should be a separate marketing strategy for Scotland. That would only begin if they themselves could start to see Scotland as a distinctive culture and not a region of England - by which they would mean a region of Hampstead Heath - and treat it accordingly.”

He added: “When they treat [Scotland] as a region, they treat it with a kind of ‘home counties’ respect. This can be quite elitist.

“They tend to see [Scottish work] as regional and provincial, and ultimately not as important, so they wouldn’t market it in the same way as they would something ‘metropolitan’.”

Kelman admitted Penguin Random House would be “horrified” to find out he thought this way.

But he added: “I want to see the kind of splash that my work might make in Scotland – that made by other writers like Alasdair Gray, where they may be controversial but their work is considered newsworthy.

“Down south Scottish work is not news. Anything by an equivalent writer down south would be newsworthy.”

He described Canongate’s response to his new novel as “exactly what I would have hoped for”.

A film of the novel, Dirt Road to Lafayette, directed by Kenny Glenaan and with a script by Kelman, will also be released next year.

The Glasgow-based author said the idea for both came out of a conversation with Glenaan about an Edinburgh musician who had travelled around America’s southern states with his minister father.

Kelman said he had drawn on his own experiences and “troubles” as a teenager in the US for the book, after he moved there with his family at the age of 17. He has travelled extensively through the south and worked in Texas and California.

The novel explores the brevity of life, the demands of love, the power of music and the lure of the open road.

The film stars 16-year-old Neil Sutcliffe from Stirling, a talented accordion player.

Kelman said of the teenager: “We thought at first he was going to be a bit young for the part. But he is a very mature young man for his age. Above all he has a good feel for art, and an inner sense for the central character, Murdo.”

Canongate has described Dirt Road as “outstanding”, adding that it was “terrific” to have Kelman back at a Scottish publisher.

The company also publishes fellow Scots heavyweights Gray and William McIlvanney.

Penguin Random House did not respond to The Herald's request for a comment.