Brendan makes his writing available either free or as cheaply as possible in order for it to reach the widest audience, and he receives many reviews from people who don’t know him, as well as from those of us who consider ourselves ‘virtual’ friends. The reviews he gets on Amazon clearly show that his writing touches people and I’ve reproduced some of them to give you a flavour of how his work is perceived in the broadest arena. These are all unsolicited reviews (and I haven’t been able to attribute the writers, but for the purposes of this tribute week, it’s their words rather than their names which are important as we build a picture of how widely appreciated Brendan’s writing is:
The Bookie’s Runner A Short Review (John McGroarty)
I read somewhere that Kafka said that a book should be an axe for the frozen sea within all of
us and anyone who has ever picked up a pen and tried to break through that sea will immediately recognize the real human and artistic quality of "The Bookie's Runner". The first thing that jumps out at you in this book is the narrative voice. And then the subtle narrative eye. Together they paint a poignant and beautiful painting of a moment in time. Together they take you on that bus journey with the teenage narrator and back into the world of working class life in Edinburgh in the 50's and 60's, into a working class experience that anyone can relate to, making this story a truly universal experience. This is the story of the writer's father's sad and all too short stay in this world. The writing is good, compelling, and absorbs the reader into the story: it's difficult to put this book down once you start and it stays with you for weeks after finishing it. Weeks after you are still thinking of the injustices done to Derry McKay and feeling the pain of the writer who experiences that "big emptiness" and who over forty years later still thinks "I miss my dad so much". That's something I can relate to on a personal level. Told with deep feeling and consummate skill this is a book that deserves to be read both as a work of literature and as an historical document of Scotland in the "days of consensus". I wholeheartedly give it five stars as a way to help all of us to break through the ice of that frozen sea.
The Bookie’s Runner was recently reviewed on McRenegades by Cally Phillips.
McRenegade Robert Cowan also writes:
This is a beautifully written tale, told by a son wistfully looking back on his father's life. As he sets off on the bus to school on the first day back after the holidays, Brendan uses the bus journey as a metaphor of his dad's life journey, each stop triggering another chapter, a device that works wonderfully well. It's not a story of high drama and exceptional achievement, but rather finds and shows the extraordinary in the ordinary in a way that few writers can. It's not a misty eyed rose tinted remembrance, as Brendan doesn’t shirk from baring his family's failings and there is anger amongst the pride. It's not the Walton's. Real life isn't, but it reminds us of the poignancy of everyday life and indeed everybody's life, that we all take for granted. I've got a few more of his books loaded onto the kindle, which I look forward to.
Another McRenegade Lee Carrick writes:
Today in Taipei was a day of firsts. It was the first time that I had seen a Giant Panda in the flesh (at a zoo of course) and it was the first time I read Brendan Gisby's The Bookies Runner. There was something disappointing about the Giant Panda , there was nothing disappointing about The Bookies Runner.
I've known about the book for a long time, Brendan suggested I read it months ago and I've read articles where Cally Phillips has praised it to the heavens and yet I didn't read it until today.
I even decided to read his new book before I read this one. I can't put my finger on the reason why I waited so long, if I was to be honest I think that I had a preconceived Idea that I wouldn't enjoy it. As so often with my gut instinct I was terribly wrong.
I decided to read the book today in order to vote for it in the Peoples Book Prize. I wanted to vote having read it and in good conscience. Rather than just ticking a box because I know Brendan (kind of).
The Bookies Runner is one of the bravest books I've ever had the pleasure of reading. To write so honestly about one's family as Brendan does must be very difficult, especially when the content isn't all positive.
There are some wonderful stories within the book, without ruining it for others my personal favourite involved looking for coins under the Forth Bridge.
The book is beautifully honest without being brutal. I think the thing that I find most impressive about this book is that it feels like Brendan isn't trying to impress anyone with his writing, he's just looking to tell an honest story and I suppose that's what great writing really is, and the Bookies Runner is a great piece of literature.'
There are some 30 reviews on Amazon, all unsolicited, and most of them ‘getting’ the book – here’s a flavour of them:
‘a good read about a teenager's grief when his father dies and his relationship with him, the struggles the family has endured. Being local tot he area I could easily imagine what he was describing, found it funny and sad at the same time.’
‘Read this in one sitting.....it made me laugh and it made me cry...Brendan's love for his father shines through as he shares with us the life they had together...funny and sad but written from the heart...I knew Brendan's Dad as I grew up locally and can honestly say Derry was a real gentleman. Looking back the one thing I really remember was that he was always "on the go!" Usually on his bike!! Times were hard then but as a child I never realised just how bad..makes me appreciate what my parents must have been going through too...great read even if you don't come from the Ferry read it but be prepared for the sad bits...tissues needed on occasions! Buy and enjoy I certainly did!’
‘I think I need to start this review by creating confidence for prospective readers of this great biography...
There are many free books on Amazon, most (truly) ranging from "damn right rotten" to "just mediocre". This is completely understandable as many new authors utilise the free E-book opportunity to air their works to a new public who would not otherwise purchase their material. On that basis I have read some downright stinkers & expected very little of this biography of the author's fathers' life.
What I actually did find was a clearly skilled writer adept at painting situations and characters that can clearly be visualised. The gritty tale also depicted 1960's South Queensferry in a way that I personally found utterly authentic and compelling...
I have personally read hundreds of more "commercial" biographies (best sellers amongst them), and have found few better at the craft than this writer…
…My favourite part of the book? ; The author's visualisation of the (then dead) "ghost" of his father, as he had been, wading in the mud beneath the Forth road bridge looking for "lucky pennies". The author imagines his father there waving to him again, mouthing the words (or so the author thought) "have a nice life, son, have a nice life". Quite brilliant stuff, and I defy anyone to read it and not be deeply moved.
As someone who also lost his mother (after a similarly short & tragic life) as a teenager, this book perhaps meant more to me than it might to many. It is especially accomplished in that it utterly grips the reader whilst documenting ordinary yet characterful lives. Not many writers do this so well...
…This is one fabulous & accomplished writer & I challenge any reader to begin this biography without finishing it.'.
McRenegade John McGroarty again reviews this work:
Brendan Gisby's ‘Burrymen War’ is a great read. A great one, but a grim one. It's a slim little novella of a book (pity it wasn't longer) on the outside, but on the inside it is Scotland's shame in microcosm. Seething, venomous, unforgiving. For it deals with the hate that, seemingly, dare not speak its name in modern Scotland. But that hate that all of us who grew up surrounded by it know all too well. It'll make you laugh, it'll make you cry, it'll make you shake your head in disbelief, it'll make you want to call the polis, it might make you feel proud for a moment (depending on what foot you kick with), but it'll certainly make you hang your head for Scotland's shame no matter what.
Above all, it'll make you take your hat off to a story finely told by an accomplished and skillful writer. As in his brilliant ‘The Bookie's Runner’ Gisby uses a present moment in time to look back bitterly, melancholically, on a past that you sense the writer accepts only with deep sadness and resignation. And more than a touch of anger. There is a sense of goodbye to all that, a sort of cleansing in this. Danny returns to the Ferry to attend the wake of his old comrade in arms Muldy. Being back in his old town, he is unable to stop his memory constantly dragging him back in time to try to make sense of events from twenty years before , events which seem to have no meaning; no meaning whatsoever, and could only, one feels, have happened in the sometimes madness of the central belt of Scotland. The over-abundant alcohol, the blind hatred, the vindictive violence. The Billys and the Dans. The no present, the no future, only the past happening over and over again, now (to quote Leon Uris quoting Eugene O'Neill). Danny starts to recall how Muldy became the first "Fenian Burryman" ("the maist memorable burryman the toon ever had") in the history of the Ferry and how this challenge to the status quo led to an outburst of violence and the death of an innocent. To find out how all this comes to pass you'll have to read the book. And I promise you that you won't regret parting with your cash.
The fictional hero of the book, Danny, finally leaves without saying goodbye to his friends in the pub after one last humiliation at the hands of the bully boys of forever. Ridiculous, muses Danny, he's a man in his fifties with grown up kids and a good job. Still, even after all those years, he is still vulnerable. We all know that feeling, that fear. That need to escape it if we can. The Burrymen War is a book that can help us to face the fear, and by facing down the beast, help us all to escape from the past and hopefully make the future a very different, and a far better one. I highly recommend this little tragi-comic working-class operetta set in the shadow of the Ferry bridges as essential reading for the New Scotland. And for the Old One, too.
McRenegade, Lee Carrick writes:
Until recently I had resisted the e-revolution and stuck to my smelly paperbacks. But, having been convinced to try a kindle, I downloaded and read ‘The Burrymen's War.’ The quality of the book, for me, is in the skill of the storytelling through the conversations of it's characters. The working class east coast craic which is both humorous and touching, sad and enthralling. As a huge fan of pubs, pints and the conversation that surrounds them the book really grabbed my attention early on.
The story is told nostalgically through the eyes of the main character and his memories tell a very funny and emotional tale about a hometown, friends, enemies and a great prank that has an unforeseen ending.
I enjoyed every chapter of this book, I was never bored or had the inclination to skip pages. This book is worth every penny and every minute it takes to read.
It was a wonderful introduction into the world of e-reading.
From an Amazon review: I confess to being a fan of Mr Gisby and this book did not let me down one bit. The storytelling was handled with aplomb, the use of the Ferry dialect added to the feel and authenticity but did not make it impossible for this London born cockney to follow what was going on. In fact I admired the skill of the author to write in this dialect while using wonderful prose in the narrative.
It's not often I give 5 stars to a book but this one deserves every one!
McRenegade reviewer Cally Phillips wrote:
The latest from the pen of Brendan Gisby does not disappoint. I loved his `The Bookie's Runner' which was a sort of fact meets fiction biography of his father. Reading it broke my heart and I really wanted to read more. Gisby writes in many different styles, and is impossible to categorise (one reason he may not have found mainstream success) and so despite have read many more of his works - from short story collections to novels - nothing quite hit the spot reached by `The Bookie's Runner' (which is not to say that I ever finish reading a Gisby work without having enjoyed them. Just in different ways). With `The Burrymen War' I found the `missing link' from `The Bookie's Runner.' While The Burrymen is more obviously fictionalised (the central character is half Asian half Catholic) it still carries the trademark honesty of Brendan Gisby's strongest work. You feel the heart in it. But this is altogether a darker story than `The Bookie's Runner.'
Let me put it this way. When I was a student in Fife, there was one (and only one) pub I wouldn't go into in town. Having read `The Burrymen War', I'm glad I never did. Because this pub was the hang out of the kind of men that populate `The Burrymen War'. Not a place for a philosophy student to casually drop into expecting a high level debate. Not a place student life in all its unreality would be appreciated. A place where real life is lived. The setting of `The Burrymen War' is a hard-edged, gritty place. Small town prejudice abounds but Brendan Gisby paints this with the authenticity and dare one say love, that only one who had grown up in such surroundings could. Love may be a strange word to use when there is so much hatred in the book, but if you read it you'll understand what I mean. You can't write honestly without imparting emotion and you can't write emotionally (even about hatred) without love being a part of it. We are not talking romantic love here. We are talking something much deeper. Love as a sense of self in community and despair as an isolation from and loss of community.
I don't know of the history of the `real' Burryman, so I can't speculate on where fact and fiction diverge, but I can tell you that this is a totally convincing fiction. Set in The Ferry (where so much of Gisby's work is set) it is reminiscent of the `real' life 1980's Glasgow Ice Cream Wars. But with an East Coast flavour.
Don't let me give you the idea it's unrelentingly grim. There are many moments of humour within it. You feel at times that the central characters are like a latter day Guy Fawkes gang, hapless and doomed to failure - and yet, in one sense they succeed. The `plot' is cleverly constructed and keeps the story running along. You care what happens to the characters and however alien their world is, they draw you into it. Not just as a voyeur but as an accessory. But the dark side is always there.
Gisby is an accomplished storyteller who uses structure and `voice' in interesting ways throughout his work. In `The Burrymen War' the retrospective narrator is Gisby at his absolute best - looking at a past with the benefit of hindsight - and the insight this brings constructs the meaning of that past and contexualises it for the reader while keeping both time frames vividly alive.
`The Bookie's Runner' was a great wee story. Like a Chinese meal it left me wanting more, and `The Burrymen War' completed the meal. The meal analogy is too tame. It was more like a love affair ended too soon. After which you cast around for something to make you feel the same way again. `The Burrymen War' made me feel everything I felt in `The Bookie's Runner' but in a more `grown up' way. It's too simplistic to say that `The Burrymen War' completes the space left by `The Bookie's Runner' because it's quite a different story but underneath I still feel strongly that it's part of the same thing. Part of Gisby's explanation of the world he's lived in. His narrative stance/s in all his works provide a fascinating insight into the man as author and the world as he sees it. And he times the stories to perfection. Each book is precisely the length they should be and together they seem to provide a completeness. To fully understand what I mean you'd have to read both of them. I hope you do.
And selections from the Amazon reviews: ‘I confess to being a fan of Mr Gisby and this book did not let me down one bit. The storytelling was handled with aplomb, the use of the Ferry dialect added to the feel and authenticity but did not make it impossible for this London born cockney to follow what was going on. In fact I admired the skill of the author to write in this dialect while using wonderful prose in the narrative. It's not often I give 5 stars to a book but this one deserves every one!
Others wrote: ‘This wee book was great.....Brendan has many memories of The Ferry and these stories are very "local" to me!! Have read most of his books and hopefully he will continue to write "real" stories.’
‘A darkly comic tale of how small towns anywhere can hide all manner of bigotries and ignorance. You may never view South Queensferry in the same way again after reading this wonderfully entertaining book by Brendan Gisby.
I look forward to reading more of his work.’
‘A good read. Always thought the 'Ferry' was a well to do town but since reading this book will be taking more notice of what's going on around me.’
McRenegade Cally Phillips reviewed it thus:
I hate rats. I'm with George Orwell on that one. It's room 101 to me. So I was reluctant to read this novel at first. I only did it because I love Gisby's work and by now I've read near on everything else he's written so I needed to `fill in the gaps.'
An amazing thing happened. As I read through the book I found myself empathising with the plight of the rats and while I won't say I loved them, I began at least to look at these rats in a totally different light.
Because this book is cut out of the same cloth as Orwell's Animal Farm and Richard Adams' Watership Down. But it's even more clever in my opinion. Because it's darker. And rats are just the right animal for what is essentially an examination of society and the politics that governs it. On one reading I know I haven't fully plumbed the depths of this aspect but I do know there is a depth to be plumbed. If you want to. If you don't, there's still a cracking dark story of the way society works. If you were to anthropomorphise rats they wouldn't be like rabbits now would they? No, and that's what's so clever about the story. You never feel like you want to pick them up and cuddle them. You feel like you're in the middle of some Stalinist pogrom for much of the time and that sense of unease is quite important to the story. Gisby plays with our emotions in order to make us think not just about rats but about ourselves and our own social relations.
The story also explores the relationship between man and rat. On the surface there's an inoffensive little story of people celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Bridge across the Forth. In the background, is what happens `under' the bridge. In the process of which the tables are turned and the background becomes the foreground. The `anniversary' is essentially unimportant (to the rats at least!) I like this clever repositioning of priorities. It shows up so clearly that this is a story of what goes on underneath, behind the scenes, in the background. Which of course is why rats are so appropriate. I hate the `fact' that we are all supposed to be no more than five feet away from a rat at any time. I've had two houses infested by rats. One was an old farm house so you'd `expect' that would you? The other was a new build - cunningly newly built on land that had `belonged' to rats and which it seems they weren't that keen to give up. And maybe that experience gives me enough insight to actually engage with the lives of the rat colony on the Island of Inchgarvie. Not to like them you understand, but to accept that they exist, or even co-exist with me in the world. Whether I like them or not.
As a child we occasionally picnicked on Inchcolm Island in the Forth. I'm glad we never went to Inchgarvie. Strangely however, in the process of reading this book I became quite keen for Twisted Foot and his crew to `make it' to a place of safety, I'm not sure I want to meet them face to face. But I cared about them in the way that a great book makes you care about characters. If Twisted Foot wasn't a rat I'd be his friend! And so maybe in reading this story I've learned something about the importance of live and let live. There's a further clue in the dedication! Gisby dedicates this book `to all good rats everywhere' and that insight suggests to me that maybe we all need to think a bit more carefully about what it means to be a rat. And what it means to be good.
There are a good fifteen reviews from Amazon – here’s a selection:
‘I've been meaning to read this book for a long time because it has a great reputation among writers, and I certainly wasn't disappointed.
I cannot speak for how rat colonies operate, but it certainly has a strong resemblance to how human colonies operate from a good, solid Scottish Socialist point of view, and I am not disputing it.
Here we have the fat and megalomaniac rulers, their coddled and lazy offspring, the ruthless enforcers, the purveyors of intelligence and news, the slaves, and the few who dream of being free of all the chains that bind. Give me death or give me freedom - but they would prefer to be a little surer of the freedom before they risk their lives.
As one who is sick and tired of famous American actors impersonating cuddly animals which are so human they might as well show the actors' faces and have done, it is a real pleasure to be back in the land of sharp political allegory, anthropomorphic or otherwise.
Guaranteed for an enjoyable read and heated bar discussion afterwards with all your Tea Party / Tory friends.’
‘A powerful, atmospheric tale of the deprived, less than perfect individual who takes a stand against the evil dominance of those more powerful than him and attempts to escape the bonds of servitude.’
‘The Island of Whispers is a fascinating and suspenseful story. The Mr. Gisby holds you in suspense from the beginning to the last page! His powers of description will have you both cringing and enthralled.’
‘He has almost created a folklore that does credit to Inchgarvie's history in itself.’
‘It promotes all the reactions one experiences from reading "Watership Down" yet has an added depth to it, with even a slightly gruesome note at times; all of which adds to its general appeal.’
‘This cleverly constructed and written story is different. It is thoroughly absorbing - and very well worth reading.’
It’s clear from all the reviews we’ve seen here, and the many more floating around there in cyberspace, that Brendan’s work has a wide appeal. We should be grateful that he has seized the opportunity of the digital revolution to pioneer an ‘open’ style of publishing which puts his writing out there without thinking of the cost or the reward. If the ‘mainstream’ had any sense they’d pick up Brendan and market him hard – but they never will, because his stories, while having a mass appeal, would make those who decide the ‘taste’ of literature, will find them mostly uncomfortably out of their ‘zone.’ And that’s one of the best things about Brendan’s writing – it’s a truly unique voice which refuses to be pigeon-holed by the ‘market’ driven publishing industry. Their loss is all our gain.