The party is almost over… so we saved the best till last.


Brendan, I tip my hat to you – you are a man who casts a long shadow in the world of publishing!

50 days of celebration come to a close. Exhausted? Well, rally one more time please. Because  today is the birthday of the living writer I would most like to meet. Drum roll. One Mr Brendan Gisby.  Though I’ve never met Brendan in person (I hope I will one day soon) in the past year or so I feel I’ve come to know him as a friend, firstly through his writing and secondly through the writers relationship that has built up between us.

If you know of Brendan Gisby at all it will possibly be as Mr McStoryteller. He set the site up some two years ago and works tirelessly to empower short story writers who otherwise might have no voice.  This site is a publishing phenomenon of great cultural importance to Scotland.  There. I’ve said it. I stand by it.  Let me explain:

Before Brendan I didn’t really engage with the Short Story Form.  To use a Gisbyism , I have always found short stories to be the province of the ‘Jeremys and Victorias’ of this world. People with whom I have little in common.  The true genius of McStorytellers is it opens up the short story form to something which is much more in keeping with ‘ordinary’ Scottish culture. When I first visited the site, I was a bit sceptical in that I felt it was perhaps over heavy on retelling the urban hardman story of our nation. I’d fallen into a trap. And it’s a trap that I’d fallen into because of more ‘famous’ Scottish writers who ‘claim’ the ordinary Scottish experience for themselves.  They had prejudiced me against my own cultural heritage because I felt that their intellectual/modernist leanings were actually more central than their rootedness in what I think of as Scottish culture, which is a grassroots thing. And I assumed McStorytellers was just more of the same. I was wrong.  I’m sorry to say that the Welshes, Kelman and Warners of this nation have nothing to say to me. And yet they should.  But I no more want these writers to be the representatives of my cultural experience than I do Walter Scott or Alexander McCall Smith. I can recognise very little of my own Scottishness in any of them.  But McStorytellers cuts right under the current Scottish ‘cultural elite’ and once I realised that I was a convert.  McStorytellers publishes a range of stories by men and women who really do seem to have lived in the same Scotland as me. Fellow Scots whether they be in exile or still here in Scotland.

I’ve realised that McStorytellers is very much a force for good and an empowering place for many, many overlooked and creatively diverse writers. I now contribute regularly both with long forgotten work and with ‘new’ experimental pieces. I know it’s a place where I’ll get a chance to write freely and not be judged – except by readers! And I know that there are many readers (and writers) around that site who have been on similar journeys or had similar creative experiences to my own. It’s a nice place to go virtually. It’s the sort of place that usually is hijacked by the intellectuals, by the fashionistas – but they haven’t found it yet. Or Brendan keeps them in their place, allowing the rest of us to flourish within the virtual portals.  McStorytellers is very quietly doing something very important. It is publishing (because the online site IS a publishing medium of a new kind) the kind of writing that might never be seen in the literary magazines or papers, and certainly not in mainstream print publishing. It’s allowing a whole new tranche of writers to be read by anyone. For Free.

Brendan created McStorytellers and he is the force behind it, but don’t for a minute think this is a vehicle for him or an empire building exercise, or even a way to wheedle into the aforementioned cultural elite. This is a service, an inspired and revolutionary service that he’s offering.  And I suspect that his own writing time is stolen away by it too.  This is Brendan Gisby’s gift to publishing. I for one, truly appreciate it.

If my McStorytellers awakening was the first time that Brendan Gisby was responsible for proving to me that it was my perceptions that were prejudicial, it was not the only time he’s shown me that.  Through his own writing and through our emergent virtual writers relationship he has helped show me that the ‘freedom’ and ‘culture’ I believed in and loved, exists and I can be part of it.  He’s given me a sense of freedom in my own culture and the nerve to experiment and be who I am as a writer without apologising to anyone. Brendan has taught me to look at things differently and you know what – it’s helped me lose the tension I’ve carried for years between what I want to write and how I can write. He’s freed me by showing me something profoundly deep about the whole writing process. (I won’t bore you with the full exegesis just now but I could.)

I’ve learned from McStorytellers. I’ve learned from Brendan’s own writing and I’ve learned from Brendan as a person (even as a man I’ve never yet met.)  I know he will be ‘beaming’ (that’s blushing to you Sassannachs, not being pumped up with pride!) at this post and Brendan, I’m sorry to embarrass you, but sometimes these things have to be said.

For you, the potential reader though, I’d like to encourage you to engage with Brendan’s own writing. It is powerful, it is challenging, it is humble and heartbreaking and funny and real. You will get most from it if you throw off your expectations (dare I say chains!) that fiction all aspires to being ‘literature’ or that good writing comes shrink wrapped with a ‘created by your cultural elite’ cover on it!

The thing with Brendan is he is a populist writer. He writes from the heart. He writes not from a position of middle class or academic confidence. He writes of his life. From his life. Of the world as he sees it. This is true whether he’s writing fiction or non fiction. In fact with Brendan I’ve learned that telling a ‘story’ is more important than deciding whether to label it fiction or non-fiction. Brendan inhabits a different world. In a sense he’s created a sub genre or a new genre or a crossover genre or whatever – well, really he’s just written in a way that is both captivating for a reader and can be very freeing for a writer.  From ‘The Bookie’s Runner’ to ‘The Preservation of the Olive Branch’ and ‘The Island of Whispers’ and through all his shorter work, reading Brendan Gisby is never superficial but always accessible. He’s an honest writer. He doesn’t use tricks. He just writes and if you can relate to his writing you are in for a treat. And if you can’t relate to his writing – you might do worse than look at your own expectations and prejudices and give them a bit of a shake up! Sometimes the reader needs to wake up out of his slumbers. Brendan can wake you up and he can break your heart in the space of a couple of hours of reading.

Brendan has shown great personal belief and encouragement to me as a writer as well. He ‘gets’ my work and I suspect that’s because in many creative ways we ‘come from the same place.’ Through Brendan’s encouragement I was able to let the world see the ‘Voices in ma Heid’ which had been locked up there for years. Brendan championed my Scots writing, which has meant an awful lot to me.  He’s also got to grips with my English language writing, seeing the depths there which tend to be overlooked by the ‘elitist’ camp.  And he’s explained (not in so many words but by deeds and by simply being) to me where the mismatch was in my writing and expectations and now I feel more comfortable with my work and myself as a creative person than I have been in a long time.

Brendan is not your average writer and not your ordinary publisher. If there were more writers and publishers like Brendan the world would be a much better place in my opinion.  Eighteen months ago I certainly never thought I’d be banging on about how he is an important figure in the emerging digital revolution. But he is. He converted me through his writing. He taught me through his words and he has been unfailing in his honesty and humour in all our interactions. In Brendan I feel I’ve found a fellow writer I can trust and from whom I can learn.  A man who speaks the truth, as he finds it, not bowing down to literary fashion or whim or ‘rules’.  A man who dares to stand outside it all and simply BE a great writer.  I may never have met Brendan but I consider him a true friend.  We may be of different tartans but I think underneath it all somehow we’re cut from the same plaid.  So I wish him the happiest birthday possible and many more of them.

And I wish that all you good people will go out and buy a Gisby original and read it and learn something!

If you want to try something for FREE here’s a wee story of Brendan’s which he’s giving to the world on McStorytellers as a birthday present!  It’s called LEGEND so just click and read

Here’s the Amazon link.

You can of course start where you like but I’d recommend start with The Bookie’s Runner, move onto The Island of Whispers and then tackle The Preservation of the Olive Branch.  And fill in the rest of your time with the shorter works!  But check your expectations at the door.  I’d recommend you read the Amazon reviews of The Bookie’s Runner if you want to understand what I’m talking about. Amongst all the great reviews, there is a one star review which completely justifies my point about reader expectations!  Patsy might be better reading Fifty Shades of something but for anyone without a trollish axe to grind… these are the best value ebooks you’ll get by a mile! 


About callyphillips

9 Responses to The party is almost over… so we saved the best till last.

  1. Yes, I’m sitting here with a big beamer, Cally! And full of mixed emotions, mostly of the humbled variety. Thank you for making me part of your celebrations. And thank you for what you’ve written about me today.

  2. dennishamley says:

    Cally, as a Sassenach, though certainly not pumped up with pride, I’d like to say that I think Brendan is a very special writer and The Bookie’s Runner gave me more sheer pleasure tha n almost any book I’ve read in the last two years. Lovely, flexible, well-judged prose with the quality of taking you right into its heart. The book was moving and true and gave me, in my English sort of way, real indentification and empathy. Brendan should have greater recognition everywhere, not just in Scotland.

  3. Bill Kirton says:

    As someone who also owes a debt to Brendan, I’d just like to second everything you’ve said, Cally. He not only writes great stories (and novels) himself, he’s created an outlet that welcomes others and, as you say, leaves judgements to readers. Happy birthday, Brendan, and thanks.

  4. Mari Biella says:

    I just read ‘The Legend’ and loved it, and promptly went to Amazon to get some more – but that was without reading your recommended order first, Cally, so it looks like I’ll be starting with ‘The Preservation of the Olive Branch’! Still, I can’t wait to read it – though it may be a while before I get started, as I’m currently on a horror binge, in preparation for the Edinburgh Ebook Festival…

  5. Julia Jones says:

    A fascinating and generous tribute

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