Scottish Contemporary Popular and
Marie Odile Pittin-Hédon
Popular literature is a volatile notion, involving marketing, publicity and sales figures, but also the more literary, abstract concepts of genre, sub-genre and the shift of our conception of those in the last thirty years. In the case of Scotland, many of the authors of ‘popular fiction’ make it to the top of best sellers’ lists on a regular basis: Iain M. Banks (1954–), Louise Welsh (1965–), Val McDermid (1955–) and, increasingly in later years, Denise Mina (1966–), not to mention the hugely popular Ian Rankin (1960–) and Alexander McCall Smith (1948–) and the worldwide Edinburgh-based literary marketing phenomenon J. K. Rowling (1965–). All those writers contribute to shaping a contemporary literary landscape described by David Lodge in 1992 as ‘the aesthetic supermarket’, while retaining characteristics of the backgrounds they have chosen to write from, about, or simply to ignore, but which is part of their common vantage point1 described by Ben Okri in 1986 as ‘another country’.2 The additional issue of genre versus mainstream fiction, the blurring of whose limits prompts comparison with the Scottish Borders’ sub-region, the ‘debatable lands’, affords a unique perspective. This adds to the social and literary dimension yet another one, the broadly political, as those writers operate, in Kevin McNeil’s words, from ‘the very heart of beyond’.3 This chapter is situated at the crossroads of mass-market publishing and literary issues and debates. It endeavours to chart the shifting borders of the ‘debatable lands’ of Scottish popular fiction from the fairly stable definition of the 1960s and 1970s to the 2000s, characterised by crossover and hybridisation, justifying Roger Luckhurst’s claims (about science fiction) that it has become ‘a central cultural node, less a genre than a mode of apprehension’.4 By examining the works of authors traditionally categorised under the label of genre fiction the chapter will look at the various ‘modes of apprehension’ to come out of the popular Scottish novel in recent years.
Iain Banks pursues two very successful literary careers, publishing both mainstream and science fiction novels whose themes – transgression, duality and