The Big Scottish Book Club

By Fionnuala Boyle

Later this year, BBC Scotland will air the new series The Big Scottish Book Club. Hosted by literary enthusiast Damian Barr, the programme will celebrate literature with a Scottish twist. In each episode, Barr will be joined by a fantastic line-up of international writers and poets as well as an audience of book lovers to discuss the inspiration behind their writing, their influences and their love of books.  

At the beginning of the month, having recorded two episode’s in Perth, The Big Scottish Book Club took filming to The Tower Digital Arts Centre in Helensburgh where I was lucky enough to be part of the audience. At the afternoon recording, Barr interviewed writers John Niven, David Nicholls, Marian Keyes and spoken word artist Chris McQueer. 

Viewers at home will be taken on a journey from John Niven’s dark world of satire and filth to David Nicholls’s story of teenage angst set amidst a Shakespearian world in Sweet Sorrow, and from Marian Keyes’s world-exclusive reveal of new novel, Grown Ups, to Glaswegian writer and spoken word artist Chris McQueer’s moving performance of Jaffa, a piece touching on fertility and miscarriage.   

The programme’s dimly-lit stage set with plush armchairs and quaint bookshelves makes for an intimate setting, allowing for light-hearted and candid conversations with the writers throughout the programme. Irish novelist Marian Keyes spoke not only about her love of chemists, the cold weather, and her battle with depression. 

Keyes also challenged the way her novels have formerly been described as ‘chick-lit’. Since her novels explore issues such as divorce, fidelity and womanhood, she wondered aloud, if her novels were referred to as ‘chick-lit’, why aren’t novels written by men exploring similar issues called ‘dick-lit?’ She made a further point regarding the way female writers are perceived in the literary world: perhaps not given as much merit for their work as their male counterparts. Keyes insisted that novels written by women should be considered fairly and equally alongside those of their literary peers.  

The theme of inclusivity seems to be a prominent one across the series. The series will be working with various organisations across the country to ensure that the books mentioned and discussed in the series will be available at local libraries, particularly those where the series was recorded. With increased conversation about the accessibility of the arts, the programme’s commitment to making reading a non-discriminative and shared experience among the host, audience, writer, and reader is a real positive.  

The second episode recorded in Helensburgh featured crime writer Denise Mina, novelists Patrick Gale and Graham Norton, and poet Inua Ellams. Mina spoke about true crime podcasts and her new novel, Conviction, Gale on his love for Weston-super-Mare and how it provides the setting for his protagonist Eustace in most recent novel Take Nothing With You, and Norton on changing lanes from chat show host to writer as he discussed his book A Keeper. Ellams performed a piece from his collection #Afterhours.  

With his signature white wine in hand, Graham Norton was a particular highlight as he held as much character and conversational genius in person as he does on screen every Friday night. With all of his novels so far set in rural Ireland, Norton discussed the changing face of the country over the years into a much more progressive and liberal society; one which Norton feels more proud to call home. 

Norton also explained that by having succeeded in creating a certain distance between himself, the celebrity writer, and the characters he presents in his novels, Norton now feels able to write a gay character as protagonist into his third novel. Norton is halfway through writing his new release, and you can guarantee it won’t be getting the red chair.  

 The Big Scottish Book Club has already been praised by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as she tweeted that the new arts series was ‘exciting news for book lovers’. The series also includes chats with Ian Rankin, Janice Galloway, and Maggie O’Farrell.

The series is due to air in November on the BBC Scotland channel and on BBC iPlayer. The programme is sure to be a delight to watch.