A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
A couple of years ago, I was asked to give a drama writing workshop at the annual Scottish Association of Writers conference, at Erskine Bridge in the West of Scotland. This is an annual assembly of members of writers’ groups from all over Scotland and – it has to be said – huge fun from start to finish: a large gathering of talented, friendly people, writers of all kinds, all ages and stages, and in all genres and none. It is particularly pleasant because writing tends to be such a solitary occupation and because most of those attending are generous with their time and advice. We all have different skills and can all learn from each other.
When I wasn’t talking about drama I went to a few other workshops myself, and also attended the prize giving because I had been asked to adjudicate one of the drama competitions. But there was somebody who had walked away with what seemed like the entire spectrum of prizes for novels. I was sitting behind her when the third announcement came along, and could see her start to shake. There was a kind of buzz in the room as well. How could anyone be so prolific, so accomplished – and so nice at the same time? The consensus was that sooner rather than later, she was going to be enormously successful. Later on, I got to know her a bit better online and in person and am very proud to be able to call her a friend – all of which is to explain right from the start that this couldn’t possibly be an impartial review. I’m biased.
However, I’m not the only one who thinks that Gillian Philip is one of the most talented novelists to emerge from Scotland in recent years. Bad Faith was published last month by Scottish publisher Strident and – if you need to slot it in anywhere – it might be called ‘young adult’ fiction. All the young adults of my acquaintance seem to be far more discriminating than the old adults, so if you can write successfully for them, I reckon the sky is the limit with the rest of us.
By any standards whatsoever, this is a mature piece of work and whatever your age, you will not be able to put it down. From the first astonishing lines: ‘Before I slipped on the mud and fell over the Bishop, our family didn’t have a lot to do with murder. A little, but not much’, to the unbearably poignant ending, the story fairly gallops along, polished, satisfying, all the time making the reader think.
Bad Faith is a murder mystery, but much, much more. Philip paints a vivid picture of three absolutely real young people: Cass (who narrates the tale) her boyfriend Ming and her brother Griff, all living in a dystopian future. It is realised with such a deft touch, with such self consistency that the reader is transported instantly into the completely credible world of the story. The country is dominated by a totalitarian and very far from charitable ‘One Church.’ Cass, as the daughter of a rector, is protected from the gangs of extremist youngsters who enforce the status quo. But even she can’t be shielded from everything. There have been grim secrets and lies in her family and when – after stumbling over the missing bishop’s body – she starts to remember traumatic events from her past, her world and her family will be rocked on their foundations.
Philip manages to combine lyrical writing about adult themes, absolutely believable characters and real dialogue, with a breathtaking switchback of a plot, by turns funny, moving and terrifying, that will have you reading on the edge of your seat. I was torn between envy of such style, and total involvement in the world of the story.
I was listening to the incomparable Bernard MacLaverty reading and talking about his work last week, and he reminded us about his definition of fiction (actually, he attributed it to a small girl in one of his classes!) as ‘made up truth.’ There’s no better definition of excellent fiction, and it is exactly what Bad Faith involves. Original, inventive, complex, there is nevertheless a ‘truth’ at the heart of this novel that is entirely the creation of an accomplished writer. Gillian’s next novel will be published by Bloomsbury. She’s going places, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer person.
But when you start it, remember to schedule in a good chunk of your time. Bad Faith will sweep you along and have you hoping for a sequel. I finished it in the early hours and spent the following day bleary eyed, and wondering exactly what had hit me.
Strident Publishing 2008 paperback 256 pp. ISBN: 1905537085