Monday, August 16, 2010

The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary Scottish Writers

First there was Anis Shivani’s list of 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers, which has generated thousands of comments, links, tweets, Facebook shares, a great deal of amusement, and a barrelful of outrage. Now, inevitably, a journalist has done the same for Scottish writers. I won’t dignify the shocking article with a link, but the list of 15 overrated Scottish poets, novelists and non-fiction writers has already got literary types steaming mad. One top Scottish poet articulated what many others must have been thinking privately:

“Who in the hell does this Philistine hack think he is? Some of the people on that list may be overrated, but none of them are anything like as overrated as me. Does my name appear? No! It’s ridiculous.”

A petition issued from the Scottish Authors Union, signed by 57 Scottish writers, demands that their names should be added to the list with immediate effect, complete with pithy put-downs. So far, the journalist has refused to cave in to their demands, but pressure is building. A spokesperson for the SAU declared:

“We have the RIGHT to be overrated. My book sold 37 copies over five years, which means that at least three people I don’t know must have bought it. Who else can say that? It ought to guarantee me a place on the list.”

A little-known debut novelist, who didn’t want to be named for fear of reprisals, outlined the paradox for me:

“If you’re on that list, it obviously means you’re highly rated by thousands, perhaps millions of people. Anyone who hadn’t read your work before is now checking it out and probably enjoying it. It also means that a certain journalist can’t stand it. That’s not something anyone is going to lose sleep over. Millions of people love you, one guy doesn’t. Why worry?
“But if you’re not on the list, it might be because few people rate you. It might even be that the journalist has never heard of you. That’s why there’s been such a furious reaction.”

She’s got a point. To be honest, I wish Anis Shivani would put me on the American list, even for a day or two, as I would no doubt sell numerous copies of my book as a result. I appreciate that I’m not American, but I can do a pretty good impression of Beavis and Butthead after three pints of Guinness.

The editor of a leading UK literary magazine phoned me yesterday and asked me to write an article titled, ‘The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary British Journalists’. There was a brief silence on the line. ‘Uh... OK, then,’ said the editor. ‘Scrap 15. How about 2? Surely you can manage that?’ But no, I can’t think of any journalist highly rated enough to be overrated. Looks like the poets won’t get their revenge on the papers after all.

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