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A Creative Conversation with Kirsty Logan

I have something a little different, but still eminently literary, for you today!  At the University of Glasgow, we are lucky enough to have some excellent extracurricular talks organised for us by the English and Creative Writing departments.  These are arranged under the umbrella heading of ‘Creative Conversations’, and take place every Monday lunchtime.  Yesterday marked the first of these, and what better guest could the University have selected but Creative Writing alumna Kirsty Logan?

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I wasn’t quite quick enough to snap a good photo whilst Kirsty was talking, so here’s a lovely picture I borrowed from her website (www.kirstylogan.com)

I am quite a fan of Logan’s work, and have been for rather a long time now (you can read my gushing review of The Gracekeepers here).  Although yesterday’s crowd sadly didn’t quite fill the chapel in which the Conversations take place, the audience felt warm and receptive, and I can only hope that Logan felt the same about this.

Suitably Hallowe’en themed down to Logan’s skeleton-themed outfit, the hour-long talk began with a spellbinding reading of ‘The Keep’, and included a new and incredibly chilling story entitled ‘My Body Cannot Forget Your Body’.  The tales were interspersed with questions from the chair Rob Maslin, and members of the audience.  I came unprepared, I am sad to admit, and therefore didn’t volunteer myself to ask anything, but I very much enjoyed the breadth of the questions which were asked, and doubt I could have done much better myself.  They ranged from the inspiration which Logan found on her recent month-long trip to an Icelandic writers’ retreat, to the influence of her family members upon her writing; the short of it is that she does not tend to write about those she knows, as ‘everyone needs a secret which they can keep just to themselves’.

Logan discussed many things about her writing: perspective, and the use of the first and second person narrative voices (‘I quite like the reader to inhabit the story… so each has a different interpretation.  Anything’s right…  You should always give the reader space…  I quite like to speak to the reader… [and] use a direct address’); her preference of writing short stories with the use of a frame narrative; her hope to always be able to alternate between writing novels and short stories; her upcoming project (which will be set in a pseudo-Icelandic landscape); and her insistence that she doesn’t count herself as a novelist.  Rather, she inferred, she prefers to write a lot of short stories and link them together.  She is interested – as anyone who has read any of her work will know – in experimenting with the traditional form, and takes much inspiration from fairytales.  As an impatient reader herself, wanting the author to get straight into the action, she has always been inspired by the directness of fairytales and their power.  She also spoke at length about the timelessness of the fairytale form, and how we in the modern world can still relate to the tales; indeed, ‘The Keep’ is a retelling of ‘Bluebeard’.

In the pipeline for Logan are more books (both a short story collection and a novel), a visual arts project, and a couple of films.  She also expressed her longing to work on written video games.  She is currently attempting to write about things which scare her, prompted in part by the isolated writers’ retreat, in which she was left alone for great parts of the day away from her friends and family.  This led her to speak about her craft: ‘I can’t write when I’m happy.  When I write I need to be sad, or lonely, or grieving in some way’.  The writing side of her life is viewed by her almost as an alter ego; a ‘separate persona’ that she ‘vaguely’ knows.  This distinction is important for her: ‘Everything I write is so personal, but then as soon as it’s on the page, it isn’t you anymore’.

Eloquent and warm, Kirsty Logan is a marvellous speaker, with a wonderful reading voice, and full and thoughtful responses to everything asked of her.  The inaugural Creative Conversation of this season was wonderful, and hopefully paves the way for many more interesting and inspiring talks.  I shall leave the last word to Logan herself: ‘We can still find truth in stories’.

(Just FYI, Kirsty’s blog is a wonderful place to go to if you’re looking for something a little different to read.)

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‘The Gracekeepers’ by Kirsty Logan ****

Kirsty Logan is a Scottish author for whom I’ve been hearing so many things around the bookish internet lately. Her first novel, The Gracekeepers, was published last year in a beautiful hardcover edition and the paperback, which I own, came out a couple of months ago. Most of the reviews and opinions on this book and Logan’s storytelling abilities in general, which I had encountered prior to purchasing this book, were more than enthusiastic, so I was very much looking forward to reading this.

Paperback edition cover

I find it rather difficult to describe The Gracekeepers giving it the justice it deserves, but I will do my best. The story is set in a world where land is scarce and there are some people, called damplings, who spent all their lives on boats at sea and cannot fathom life on land. There is an array of different characters presented in the book, but the two main ones are Callanish, a girl who has undertaken the task of a gracekeeper (they take care of some birds which are used in funerals) and North, a girl who works and travels with a floating circus along with her bear. We follow their stories separately at first, and we get to know their characters and the circumstances surrounding them.

North’s circus consists of many other characters such as Jarrow or Red Gold, the circus master, Avalon, his wife who dislikes the circus and longs for a quiet life on land, Ainsel, Jarrow’s son, as well as many other acrobats, clowns and so on. Each chapter is written from the perspective of a different character (but it’s still a third-person narration), with more emphasis given on Callanish and North. I found this constant change of perspective quite confusing and unnecessary at first, since some chapters present the point of view of very minor characters, but some important information was given to the reader through these perspectives, since lies and deception are dominant characteristics of most characters in this novel, to the point where it became very hard to distinguish the truth.

As far as the plot is concerned, I found it very intriguing and unique and it certainly kept my interest piqued until the very last page. The story was filled with twists and certain turn of events were more than surprising. Logan’s writing was beautiful and lyrical throughout the novel and she definitely managed to create a whimsical and heart-breaking tale. What stood out the most for me, though, apart from the beautiful language, were the characters. She managed to craft such complicated and multifaceted characters, who could easily reflect any people from our lives. Especially Avalon, was one of those characters who I immediately disliked and whose actions only added more reasons for me to feel that way towards her. However, through the different perspectives, I had the opportunity to learn more about her motives and reasons why she acted the way she did, and even though I still disliked her, I felt like she had a solid background and wasn’t merely unnecessarily mean.

The only thing which prevented me from giving this book five stars was the ending. Well, perhaps not the ending itself, but rather some of the subplots which were left hanging and unwrapped up, with only some indications provided as to what may happen. Nevertheless, this was a book I wholeheartedly enjoyed and, being the very first book I read in June, I felt like it was the ideal book to start my summer with. I’m more than looking forward to devouring more of Kirsty Logan’s writing now.

Have you read The Gracekeepers or any other book by Kirsty Logan? I’d love to hear your opinions 🙂