What can you say about William McIlvanney that hasn’t already been said? Legendary, iconic, inspirational, suave, debonair, groundbreaking, trailblazing, innovative – a genius, he is the voice of Glasgow, nae Scotland!
He is, of course, all of these things and well deserved too, as he proved on Saturday night at the closing showcase event of the 2013 Aye Write! Festival in Glasgow.
Following a visit to the Griffin Bar on Glasgow’s Bath Street, and a meal at the rather pleasant, well-staffed and inexpensive Cafe Antipasti on Sauchiehall Street, my mother and I made our way to the Mitchell Library to see the man in question.
We bagged a couple of seats near the front, and for the next hour sat and absorbed McIlvanney’s words of art, comment and humour. He read an extract from his soon to be re-released Laidlaw trilogy (about time too), the books that inspired the creations of some of Scotland’s best-selling authors today. I’m thinking everyone from Ian Rankin to Denise Mina to Craig Robertson and everyone else in between.
He also read from a short story, spoke about his relationship with his father who died when he was 19, covered politics from the 60s to present day, and spoke at length, and somewhat unexpectedly, about Scottish independence; “I’ll likely vote for independence, but it’ll be with a great deal of doubt.”
The event only lasted an hour but it seemed to be a lot longer as I have to admit to being somewhat in awe of this man. His mere presence is enthralling; his personality magnetic.
My Mum purchased one of the new editions of Laidlaw and joined the signing queue with one very specific question in mind: was the character John Rhodes from the Gorbals based on anyone he knew? With Rhodes being such a rare name in Glasgow back in those days (and still today), we were hoping there may be a link between the man in McIlvanney’s novel and her father, Cecil John Rhodes.
Alas, there wasn’t, but an interesting conversation was had; McIlvanney mostly relieved he hadn’t got into trouble over the matter!
Miraculously, McIlvanney remembered me from our phone call and subsequent meeting a few years back. I was both touched and honoured he hadn’t forgotten, but then, the reason of our coming together was quite significant for him and his family so I shouldn’t have been surprised.
And so Saturday was a great day out. We had fine food and drink, great conversation, wonderful entertainment, and a memorable encounter to top it all off. And of course, wonderful company throughout.
The next time I have a drink (which won’t be that far away), I’ll be raising my glass to the brilliance of William McIlvanney.