The first anthology of Scottish LGBT writing in over 12 years, Out There (ed. Zoë Strachan, Freight 2014) brings together a series of bold and exciting dialogues on the sexual and cultural landscape of Scotland, cleverly hinged on the paradigm of ‘otherness’ that has been so central to the independence debate this year. It could not be more timely nor more provocative.
Editor Zoë Strachan, award-winning novelist and PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow, identifies her first point of inspiration for the collection in an appearance at the Ullapool Book Festival: ‘It was a coming together of professional and personal, of fictional and autobiographical, of political and artistic.’ This is, in a nutshell, what she has deftly brought together in Out There.
The anthology features a diverse range of writers, from ‘big hitters’ such as Ali Smith and Louise Welsh to emerging names like Ryan Vance and Shane Strachan. The content is equally diverse, ranging from the sultry romanticism of Jenni Fagan’s ‘Unrequited’ to post-apocalyptic GPRS humour in Ryan Vance’s ‘Gold Star’. This eclectic mix of poetry, fiction and short essays ensures a broad engagement with LGBT ‘themes’ – if there is such a thing – and indeed, the pace changes and vitality of the collection make it all too easy to whizz through its 293 pages in just a few sittings. Nicola White’s ‘I Live Here Now’ and Damian Barr’s ‘The Man in the Mirror’ are amongst the standout pieces, while Berthold Schoene and Jeff Meek’s thoughtful bookends suggest political poise and a very carefully thought out structure by Zoë Strachan.
If I have one criticism, it is not of the anthology’s carefully curated contents, but its slightly more clumsy finish. There are some fairly obtrusive grammatical and spelling errors throughout, which suggest some haste in the final production stages, but this is a minor complaint, and easily set aside when one is so consumed by the polemic and emotive power of this truly exciting collection. If the independence debate and its attendant discourses on cultural identity succeeded in whetting your appetite for inspiring, intellectual writing on such matters, then Out There provides further fresh perspectives on what it means to live and love in Scotland, and should therefore be your first port of call in bookshops.