9 voices that capture the sound of modern Scotland



This year Scotland is hosting a year of celebration called A Year of Stories 2022. A celebration of Caledonia’s great storytellers who have set the world on fire, we will, of course, look back on classics like Robert Burns, Muriel Spark and Robert Louis Stevenson , as well as newer ones like Irvine Welsh and JK Rowling, both of whom have left their mark, nationally and internationally. But who is next on the list? Who are some of the cult crusaders of the future – the young lexical churns that people should know and be prepared to cherish? It’s funny you ask, because I can’t wait to tell you!

I am Michael Pedersen, a Scottish poet who has traveled the world with my books/words. I just unrolled my first prose book, Boy Friendswhich launched in the UK in July 2022 and is coming to North America in September 2022. Boy Friends is a love letter to friendship, a hymn to friends everywhere: those from here, elsewhere and elsewhere. Though grief squats in the belly of this book, over the untimely departure of a dear human, it’s a gooey tome of celebration – for the friends we love to excess, but still don’t love enough.

What about my Sound of Scotland curator credentials? Well, I’ve been programming and organizing events in Scotland for over ten years – for Neu! Reekie! (the award-winning literary collective I co-founded in 2011), and alongside the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh International Festival, Burns & Beyond Festival, Scottish Poetry Library and many more brilliant arts organizations. So, I present below a few words about The Sound of Scotland, seen from my port. It’s the writers and the sculptors of words who do the vital magic on this side of the pond. Everyone in the list is coming to North America, if they haven’t already landed. My advice is to get ahead and start your feast now. Slain!

Roseanne Watt

Watt is a poet from the Shetland Islands who uses the Shetlandic language to create poetry that vibrates through bones and vibrates through skin. Her first collection Moder Dy (Mother Wave), published by Polygon Books in Scotland, won him the Edwin Morgan Prize, a Somerset Maugham Prize and an Eric Gregory Prize. Its smoldering, whispering tones make these poems crackle in the ears like the best bonfires.

Darren McGarvey

A working-class writer, social commentator, and hip-hop artist who happens to be one of the most adept public speakers this country has to offer. He went on to produce two bestselling books—poverty safari and The social distance between us— and fashioned a biting live performance out of each tome. Between them, the two have been translated into multiple languages, spawned an associated BBC television series, and won Darren the Orwell Prize for Political Writing. You can see him waxing masterfully on Russell Brand’s “The Blindboy Podcast” or “Under The Skin.”

Hollie McNish

Although born in England, Hollie McNish is quite Scottish for me. She regularly takes part in Scottish cultural showcases and is an ever-present presence on our live literary scene. Believe me, his Glasgow parents wouldn’t have it any other way. Hollie’s words have been shared millions of times on social media and YouTube, she’s won the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry and has a Sunday Times bestseller under her belt straps. She is known for breaking taboos, tenderly sentimental, resolutely political and a favorite among mums and parents, for whom she writes beautifully. To say the world needs Hollie McNish (which The Scotsman, our national newspaper, did) is a punch. The book to read first is: Slug and Other Things I’ve Been Told to Hate.

Janette Ayachi

This Scottish/Algerian poet is one of the most invigorating and lively writers on the Scottish scene. A favorite of the Scottish Poetry Library, its most recent collection hand over mouth music, published by Liverpool’s Pavilion Press, won the Saltire Award for Best Collection (our Scottish Book Awards). She’s as elegant in person as her words stir on the page, and is already working on her first memoir, which is going to be a lavish read.

Jenni Fagan

Primarily known as a novelist, Jenni’s debut The Panopticon became a real sensation, adapted for the stage by the National Theater of Scotland and soon produced for the big screen. His latest novel, luckybooth, is a contemporary masterpiece and continues to fascinate readers around the world. Plus, she’s a superb poet, has a history of singing in punk bands, just announced a memoir, and is currently adapting Irvine Welsh. The Blade Artist for television at his wise request. Her work gives a glorious voice to Edinburgh’s old tenements, the devil’s daughter, the children in care homes, the witches, all of us outcasts and cowgirls.

Malachi Tallack

Another great Scottish writer from Shetland, Malachy has just published a new fishing memoir titled Illuminated by water. Available in the UK and North America, this deeply ruminative, fishing-heavy love letter is uplifting enough for aficionados while also being beautifully welcoming for those more fascinated by the mystical and meditative elements of the sport. A flag also waved his memories of traveling around the world, sixty degrees north.

Hannah Lavery

Hannah is currently Makar of Edinburgh, the capital’s poet. She also hosts an amazing literary festival called Coastwords in the beautiful seaside town of Dunbar – go if you can, Hannah will keep you straight. Along with her snazzy poetic credibility, Hannah is making an esteemed name for herself as a playwright. His autobiographical piece, The drifton tour with the National Theater of Scotland, and his second play, Complaint for Sheku Bayoh (an insightful exploration of the tragic story of a black man who died in police custody) was a collaborative production of NTS, the Royal Lyceum Theater and the Edinburgh International Festival. Hannah was instrumental in creating spaces and stages for writers of color in Scotland, and her own early collection (Blood, Salt, Spring) is a triumph.

William Letford

William/Billy came to the literary scene as the ‘Roofer Poet’, due to the work he undertook on the roofs of Scotland. This craft gave him a unique view of the occupiers and scavengers hurrying down the streets below – a bird’s eye view and poems brimming with brilliance. Published by the august poetic press Carcanet, Billy soon won a New Writers Award and an Edwin Morgan travel grant. Its collections Dirt and Bevel abound with musicality, mischief, quick wit and gloopy beauty. If the somewhat hackneyed banner of the “people’s poet” were to be revitalized for anyone, Billy would be the first to own it.

Young Father performing in Portland, Maine

young fathers

Yeah, okay, they’re not book authors and that goes against the trend of what’s come before. But it’s a sound you need to hear: Scotland reinvented; Trainspotting 2 soundtrack; Edinburgh street rhythm. Additionally, we have published one of their leaders, Kayus Bankole, in our poetry anthology series (Neu! Reekie! #UntitledOne), and they perform a concert in the pages of my book. The band have won the Mercury Music Prize and Scottish Album of the Year (twice), in addition to collaborations with Massive Attack. The sermons this group delivers to the crowds are prodigious and, for a few knowledgeable humans, heartbreaking. To listen to YF is to be engulfed in a cosmic storm. Pop, hip-hop, krautrock, avant-garde moans, gospel – they come coruscating in every genre and bursting at the other end.

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