Book overview: Just Go Down to the Road, by James Campbell

James Campbell with James Baldwin

I first met James Campbell in 1979 or ’80, when he was modifying the New Edinburgh Review with aptitude and intelligence. It was uncommon amongst Scottish literary magazines then, Jim’s pursuits extending effectively past Scotland, although his first guide could be Invisible Country: A Journey Through Scotland. He printed me, then invited me to take over the editorship, and set off for London. Before lengthy he would discover a place on the Times Literary Supplement, writing its back-page column for greater than 20 years. This was a bit surprising, his pursuits being removed from these of the English literary institution. He would write a superb biography of James Baldwin who had turn out to be a detailed good friend, different books about expatriate writers in Paris and the Beats. One stunning early hero was Jean Cocteau. Less stunning one other was Alexander Trocchi; two youthful years have been spent writing a novel echoing Cain’s Book.

This guide is an interim memoir. Campbell was born and reared in a loving and, evidently admirable, respectable, severe Protestant working-class household in Glasgow. His father did wartime service within the Navy, then, upwardly cellular, for British Rail. His musical mom was a Land Girl within the conflict. His elder twin sisters could be the primary within the household to go to college His personal education was unsatisfactory, troublesome to see simply why, and he left at 15 to be apprenticed to a printing agency. He caught that for 3 years. Meanwhile, his father being promoted in British Rail, his mother and father moved to the South of England. This memoir of boyhood is fascinating.

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Abandoning his apprenticeship, he dropped out and went travelling, Sixties type, hitchhiking round Europe and the Middle East, with spells on a Greek island and a kibbutz in Israel – dropping out however, not like many who took that highway, by no means fairly falling, as so many others did then. It was very simple for younger Sixties wanderers to go mistaken and are available to grief. Something – maybe the previous Presbyterian insistence that life is a severe enterprise? – prevented him. He returned to Glasgow and training, at Langside College, to get the {qualifications} that might allow him to go to college – Edinburgh, because it occurred, not Glasgow.

Just Go Down the Road, by James Campbell

It was in these pre-university years that he discovered his footing. A good friend, Jack Heggarty, was modifying GUM (the Glasgow University Magazine) and, ambitiously, taking it away from scholar journalism. Jim acted as his deputy. Heggarty was essential in his improvement. “How do you learn to write?” Jim requested him. “By writing.” “Any other way? “ “By reading.” A lesson in inventive writing given in 4 phrases. I want to know extra about Heggarty. Jim’s personal first article was a 4,000 phrase interview with Trocchi, now residing in London, and nonetheless his hero, although he was coming to see the darkish facet of his nature. There was one other interview piece on John Fowles, then nonetheless trendy because the writer of The French Lieutenant’s Woman and The Magus. The recollection now of his go to to Fowles in Lyme Regis is a beautiful piece of writing.

At Edinburgh, now mature past his years, which weren’t lengthy sufficient to have him categorized as a Mature Student, he specialised in American Literature. So he got here to Baldwin: “Unusual in many ways, Baldwin struck me as being unique in this: that he held all his experience at the ready, both personal and ancestral, in a continuous and dramatic present.” An attention-grabbing remark, one to dwell on, one which can even be utilized to this memoir of his personal youth. The account of his first go to to Baldwin within the South of France is pleasant, additionally very humorous.

This memoir is one in every of a youth that continues to be vividly alive in reminiscence, and now comes alive once more on the web page. It could be very Scottish, revealing and but additionally restrained in its number of moments in a life – a memoir which can also be a murals. I hope there can be a sequel.

Just Go Down to the Road: A Memoir of Trouble and Travel, by James Campbell, Polygon, 279pp, £14.99

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