Brendan Gisby is known to many these days simply as ‘Mr McStoryteller.’ He is a man who has not only embraced the digital revolution, but has used it in a visionary way.
Brendan’s credentials as a champion of the Scots short story are unquestioned. He set up and singlehandedly runs the McStorytellers website, which is a place anyone can go to access a wide range of Scottish short stories for free. The beauty of the site is that as long as you are a self-defining Scot with a story to tell, you can submit and have the chance of having your story read. This achieves two things – firstly it opens up the scope for ‘new’ writing and for ‘out of the box’ writing – writing by ‘real’ and ‘ordinary’ people who are not either held in thrall to the visions of fame and fortune or who just want to be able to express their creativity for an audience without jumping through mainstream hoops.
Until McStorytellers, ‘the’ place to try and get your short stories published was New Writing Scotland. This from their website: ‘New Writing Scotland is an annual volume publishing poetry and prose from both emerging and established writers. Every piece appears here in print for the first time, and has been drawn from a wide cross-section of Scottish culture and society.’
‘New Writing Scotland’ would have you think it’s the place for ‘quality’ but it is mediated by academia and however ‘wide’ their cross-section is, it doesn’t touch on the vast seam of writing talent that exists out there. How could it in a once a year publication? For my money McStorytellers does everything New Writing Scotland does and more, and better, drawing from a much wider gene pool and offering a much broader picture of Scottish culture and society. It reaches more people and it’s all for free! And that’s thanks to the tireless hard work of Brendan Gisby.
It goes without saying that Brendan is not a selfish person – he puts in so much work on behalf of others, not just by maintaining the site but in publishing both ebooks and paperbacks from those McStorytellers who have the skill, the nerve and the creativity to want to be published – and who are not primarily bothered about pursuing the myth that just by publishing you will become famous or a ‘proper’ author. McStorytellers publications offer something completely different. New writing published at the cheapest price possible to reach the widest audience possible. Brendan has sacrificed a lot of his own writing time in order to bring other people’s work to publication –and we all know how precious time is – so he should be roundly thanked for that alone.
But looking at his own work, as we have been doing over the past week, reveals that Brendan has published (and forgive me if I get this wrong) 5 collections of short stories of his own, (Venetian Lives, Lost Between the Bridges, Ferry Tales ,Ping Time, Puds legacy) 1 long short story, (The Hitchhiker) 3 novels/ novellas, The Island of Whispers, Burrymen’s War and The Preservation of the Olive Branch (from The Olive Branch) as well as three biographies; two collaborative works ‘The Five Sons of Charlie Gisby,’and ‘Thompson’s Lucky Star’and the definitive Gisby work: The Bookies Runner, Brendan’s tribute to his own father.
Much of his work is set around the Ferry of his own childhood and it is the honest, realistic presentation of his environment that draws the reader into a world which is as recognisable for those who lived it as it is compelling for those who didn’t.
Indeed it can be hard to classify Brendan’s work as fiction or non-fiction, because his greatest skill is the blending of fiction and fact – sometimes I’m not sure he even concerns himself with the distinction. He is a master at telling a story that you know is direct from his heart and experience and yet which is presented in a fictional form. And here’s both the ‘rub’ and the genius. Brendan’s stories are not likely to appeal to those he calls ‘Jeremy’s and Victoria’s’ because his stories tell of life from a different perspective. One that is alien to them. But it’s one which many of us – we now have a name by the way – the ‘wee voices’ – recognise because it’s ‘our’ lives too. There's no aspirational escapism here, just good honest writing.
It’s a plain fact of life that mainstream publishing is run by and for a sort of (fictional?) aspirational middle class and the rest of us are told this is what ‘quality’ writing is. Through McStorytellers and indeed through his own writing, Brendan has shown this to be a lie. There are plenty of ‘real’ ‘quality’ stories and storytellers out there. Plenty of writers and readers who are less interested in the ‘shine’ of things or the ‘aspiration’ of ‘writing properly’ or a desire to work to a set of acceptable rules – people who want stories that speak to them. So of course, Brendan’s work isn’t for everyone. But it is for a lot of people – and a lot of people who otherwise don’t bother much with fiction, finding it too rarified or just to ‘rich’ (or snobby?) an area to want to be bothered with. It therefore goes without saying that for those who are too ‘up themselves’ or too set in their ways, this (dare I say it) true Renaissance of Scottish writing from the grassroots is both challenging and threatening – and the establishmment’s only way to fight against it is to sniffily suggest it’s not ‘quality.’ But McStorytellers represents grassroots culture, not the top down version which is proscriptive and alienating. McStorytellers offers freedom from ‘market driven’ culture. It allows the reader choice and sooner or later as you read through the more than 500 stories on the site, you realise that you’ve been sold a pup if you believed that short story is an ‘art form’ only crafted by a small elite who have some ‘special’ qualities. We’ve all got stories in us and a lot of us can tell them very well.
We may be ‘wee voices’ but we are not stupid in any sense of the word. There is real depth to be found in Brendan’s writing – and you need to look into yourself and your expectations as you read to find the fully depth of it. ‘The Bookie’s Runner’ gives you a good introduction into Brendan’s work beyond the short stories. And ‘The Preservation of the Olive Branch’ is so complex that it’s easy to dismiss it – but in doing so, one in fact only reveals that one hasn’t understood what Brendan is trying to do. It is a difficult book, written from a difficult place but if you persevere and ask and answer questions of both the writer, the narrator, the characters and most of all yourself, you will find something quite profound.
Brendan works tirelessly for ‘wee voices’ both on McStoryteller and on the ‘McVoices’ site. And then there is McRenegades, the latest opportunity for those ‘outside’ the mainstream fold to find their own voice and to express themselves creatively without having to cow tow to ‘the rules.’ Brendan espouses a philosophy close to my heart ‘It’s our world too.’ And McRenegades is a virtual expression of that viewpoint.
It is fair to say that Brendan Gisby is a man who both gives from the heart when he writes, who uses his own personal experience to express himself creatively, and gives to other people open-heartedly. I know that I’m not the only person he has helped open doors for creatively and I know I’m not the only one who is proud to ‘virtually’ know him.