Independence and what it means... by Cally Phillips

We all know it’s American Independence Day today. I’m not an American. I’m a Scot. And an indie writer – so I want to look at ‘independence’ from a number of angles today.  

Firstly let me consider what I think independence means to Americans? The 4th of July. Flags. Day off work. Fireworks. Is that it? Getting rid of the British by throwing tea into the river or some such. I’m not up on American history (they’re not old enough to have a history right?) or even American culture (though I could sing all the way through the Star Spangled Banner – but I hate the ending, I’m sure it should be the land of brave and the home of the free. It just sounds so much better.) Despite my ignorance of things American, I am, as of this month, the holder of a US TAX number. Thanks Amazon. It’s something that makes me feel quite sick actually. I don’t want to have anything to do with the IRS, even though my number just entitles me NOT to pay tax to them. A real live Catch-22.  No tax number, you pay 30%, tax number you pay zilch. It doesn’t comfort me that it’s not about me at all. Nothing personal. Just business. It’s all to do with Amazon not paying tax in UK. It doesn’t seem quite an equitable deal does it - I don’t pay US tax and Amazon doesn’t pay UK tax- I think it’s obvious who has the better deal.

On another matter. I am an independent Scot. You might have noticed we are engaged in our own independence debate at present but I don’t want to go into this Politics thing.  For me it’s about as much of a turn off as business talk. I’d rather talk about what being an independent Scot means to me.  And for me it’s tied up with freedom. Personal freedom.

I cite as my source one John Barbour a Scottish poet and the first major named literary figure to write in Scots. His principal surviving work is the historical verse romance, The Brus (The Bruce), and his reputation from this poem is such that other long works in Scots which survive from the period are sometimes thought to be by him. (He kicks Chaucer’s ass by the way!)  His dates are c1320-1395 and he’s credited as Aberdeenshire or Galloway. That’s weird because I used to live in Galloway and now live in Aberdeenshire. Hmm… anyway, he said:
‘Ah Freedom is a noble thing’ (although when I read it at University I’m sure it was: Ah fredome is a noble thyng (which would never have passed a decent editor/proof reader now would it?)      

As someone who has on several occasions been an exiled Scot (no they didn’t throw me out) and has always been miserably unhappy whenever not living in Scotland, for me my Scottish independence, is everything to do with a sense of freedom in the environment around me and the language that I speak (if only in ma heid) as much as anything political.  I feel free in Scotland. I feel that I belong in the rain, the wind, the cold. I am comfortable with soft rolls and Irn Bru (the only national drink for those like I who detest whisky) and butteries and pan drops and caramel wafers. With the language of blethers and havers and scunners.  I have learned to live with having (put your own word in here, I can’t bear to)   ****  football and rugby teams. I like haggis (but I don’t like stovies). I love the skirl of the pipes and the strathspeys and reels and jigs of the fiddle. I’ve never managed to exchange my Presbyterian work ethic for existentialism or hedonism though I’m not religious in any way conventional or otherwise.  
Me.. being independent. In rural Scotland 
 I feel the textures of the granite and the sand and the haar deep, deep inside me. I feel at home in the mountains and by lochs and in the glens and the braes. I’m a rural rather than an urban Scot it’s true.  But being Scottish just IS a part of my basic identity.  It may not show so much on the surface but it is deep in my soul. I can trace (part) of my family back to Culloden (we didn’t wear the red coats by the way and we was robbed) and if I was ever inclined to kiss soil it would be Scottish soil I kissed. The closest I’ve come to date is aged 14 when I collected peat samples from the various Hebredian Islands I visited on holiday – I was taken on the holiday by some nice Americans by the way! And I don’t still have the peat, I grew out of being a ‘collector’.  All in all, I just love Scotland. It’s my country. It’s part of who I am. For me, being an independent Scot is not open for debate, it’s simply a statement of what I feel. It’s not rampant nationalism it’s just a deeply held belief that you can’t be free unless you are independent.  I am Scottish, I want to be free and so I want to be independent.  Being Scots is something that is important to me on a fundamental level. I can’t do anything about it – Nelly, I am Scottish (to misquote Wuthering Heights!) and I don’t want to. It’s me. Three words to describe me:  Scottish. Writer.  Independent. (others may pick a different three words!)

First this... 
Of course this is bringing me to the (or a) point of relevance (I hope) to writers, and in our forum, specifically ebook publication.  There are long winded debates (nearly as boring as Scottish independence ones) all over the place at the moment about whether people are self/independent or just vanity publishers.  (What is it about the modern world, people just love arguing – sorry voicing their opinions- all over the place as if anyone cares?) I think we need to wake up and realise that the world is a big place. That everyone can have their place in it. And that what we call ourselves is maybe less important than what we ARE (and by extension what we DO).

For me the simple thing is: if you publish work and you are independent of any other commercial entity in the creation and publication of this work, you are independent. If you can choose your content, your price, your distribution platform and the like you are an independent publisher.  I think that independence is very important to writers as well. For a much lengthier diatribe on this issue click HERE

and this... 
Arguing over what we mean by a word or a name is much less important to me (but seems to absorb a lot of peoples time and energy these days) I know what I am. I’m a Scot (even though the voice oot ma heid may sound English to some) And I am now an independent publisher – no one tells me what to do and my reputation is in my own hands. I am also an ‘indie’ writer. I have finally realised that I have always aspired to this status.  In fact I realise that many of  my ‘problems’ during a 20 year industry ‘career’ (for me the word career means running with abandon and out of control down a hill and I cannot say my professional writing career has ever been that exciting – there were far too many meetings and rewrites and disappointments and arguments for that) were that I always considered myself ‘independent’ and of course as soon as someone was paying me money to write I lost that independence. I expected to be treated equally in an industry where the writer (sometimes laughingly called ‘the talent’) is quite far down the food chain.


I can't help myself, I even review independently! 

current incarnation...
But as an indie publisher I have the responsibility for promoting writers I believe in (including myself) and I have the freedom to choose what work I publish and in what format or across what platform I do this. It’s not vanity. It’s not primarily about some debatable concept of the ‘self’. It’s about independence.  Freedom to make choices and decisions. Freedom to embrace personal responsibility and live up  to my own personal and professional set of standards. And I’m not ashamed of it. Being truly independent is something I’ve aspired to my whole life and I’m happy to say, nearly 50 years in,  largely achieved. I do appreciate the importance of interdependence too (but I’m keeping clear of the ‘self’ debate remember)
Independence is not just for Independence Day... or for Americans. 

Happy Independence Day, folks. 

Coming soon, something to get under your skin in a new way 
The Guerrilla Midgie is coming your way soon! 


Lee said…
Don't worry about the IRS: in the last few years they've sent me tax refunds though I haven't paid - and don't owe - them any tax.Go figure!
Jan Needle said…
couldn't have thought it better about independent publishing myself. as to american independence - bad idea, obviously, just look at 'em. you have been warned, scotland! possibly better to export your weirdest people to screw up england's economy before you take it over (viz g. broon?). i used to live in glasgow, and i think it's independent already, anyway. one of my sons lives there now, and he agrees. final thought: i love bagpipes - except the scottish ones, which are a total abomination. have you never heard the irish pipes, cally? or the basque, or northumbrian, or any other sort? scottish pipes were invented to lead a gang of raggedy skirted drunks to war against anybody they could find to fight. (sorry everybody: this is work displacement therapy.)
Lee said…
By the way, if you're citing Scottish writers, you ought to mention the altogether wonderful Alan Warner, whose recently published The Deadman's Pedal deserves widespread attention and admiration. The novel is so distinctive, and so distinctly his own, that he is the epitome of independent.

Yes, that's what independence truly means - not how, but what we publish; the uniqueness of voice, vision, and understanding.
Yes, Lee, Alan Warner did more to help me over the years than any other Scottish author.
He read 3 different drafts of my first novel, giving me the public endorsement for it which I quote on my website:
"A blistering, tough book, tempered with tenderness and mystery"
He corresponded with me for years, sending me cash twice when he sold books to Jonathan Cape "here's some cash blood money" said the note...he read my short stories and tried to get me official funding for my work from the Scottish govt (failed)...he told me, before it was ever published and before I was invited to read it at the Edinbrugh International Book Festival, that many of the people who were getting funding for their work in Scotland could "never in their lives have written that story about the horses."
So yes, Mr Warner's a good man.

Heheh Jan...I remember Norman Mailer writing some piece of prose about his hatred of the Scottish bagpipes. I tried to learn the baby Scottish bagpipes trainer at school, the chanter, hurt ma mooth...but one day I was walking down a street playing SCOTS WA HAE on the thing, passed a man in a garden, who asked me to stop and play for him...then another kid told me this was the town Sherriff (yeah, we have them too)...
I was born in Glasgow and spent the first 2 years there...but both my parents were Highland rural crofting/farming Scots, that Highland lineage on both sides going back at age 2 I was taken north, first to live by Loch Ness for 2 years...then to a farm 4 miles from the site of the Battle of Culloden (1746) last land battle in Britain of course (but one that was just as much about Highland Scot vs.lowland Scot, as about Scots vs.English).
So I'm a Highland, rural Scot on that side...but also spent time (years) in some of the towns and cities...
Some kind of internationalism seemed to get into my head at a very young age though (5?) the films and literature of many different countries began to move me early on, perhaps more than the late-Scottish culture that surrounded me.
It could be that Outsider thing...not so much Camus' as Wilson's...
Conveniently, since my first dollar cheque arrived from Amazon by post yesterday, I still have my American social security number also, gained while labouring until unconsciousness in the Oklahoma sun long ago.
The Guerrilla midgie logo is apposite for many of us "independents", whatever the feather(!)
Though I suspect the only true independence is internal, not geographical or political.
In Scotland, the poets used to be called makaris...or makers...a "maker", doesn't that have all the ring of true independence?
And your John Barbour, Cally, is on the list of those departed and lamented (sans bagpipes!) by the Maker Dunbar, 500 years ago, making the ultimate and terrifying point about true independence decades before Shakespeare's Hamlet did
:"Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favor she must come. So must we all!"

Lament for the Makers

I THAT in heill was and gladness
Am trublit now with great sickness
And feblit with infirmitie: --
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Our plesance here is all vain glory,
This fals world is but transitory,
The flesh is bruckle, the Feynd is slee: --
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

The state of man does change and vary,
Now sound. now sick, now blyth, now sary,
Now dansand mirry, now like to die:
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

No state in Erd here standis sicker;
As with the wynd wavis the wicker
So wannis this world's vanitie: --
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Unto the Death gods all Estatis,
Princis, Prelattis, and Potestatis,
Baith rich and poor of all degree:
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He takis the knichtis in to the field
Enarmit under helm and scheild;
Victor he is at all mellie: --
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

That strong unmerciful tyrand
Takis, on the motheris breast sowkand,
The babe full of benignitie: --
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He takis the campion in the stour,
The captain closit in the tour,
The lady in bour full of bewtie: --
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He spairis no lord for his piscence
Na clerk for his intelligence;
His awful straik may no man flee. -
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Art-magicianis and astrologic,
Rethoris, logicianis, and theologis,
Them helpis no conclusionis slee: -
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

In medecine the most practicianis,
Leechis, surrigianis and physicianis,
Themself from Death may nocht supplee: --
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

I see that makaris amang the lave
Playis is here their padyanis, syne gods to grave;
Sparit is nocht their facultie: --
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He has done petuously devour
The noble Chaucer, of makaris flour,
The Monk of Bury, and Gower, all three: --
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

The good Sir Hew of Eglintoun,
Ettrick, Heriot, and Wintoun,
He has tane out of this cuntrie: --
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

That scorpion fell has done infeck
Maister John Clerk, and James Afflek,
Fra ballat-making and tragedie: --
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Holland and Barbour he has berevit
Alas! that he not with us levit
Sir Mungo Lockart of the Lee: --
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Clerk of Tranent eke he has tane,
That made the aventeris of Gawaine;
Sir Gilbert Hay endit has he: --
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He has Blind Harry and Sandy Traill
Slain with his schour of mortal hail,
Quhilk Patrick Johnstoun might nocht flee: --
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He has reft Mersar his endite
That did in luve so lively write,
So short, so quick, of sentence hie: --
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He has tane Rowll of Aberdene,
And gentill Rowll of Cortorphine;
Two better fallowis did no man see:
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

In Dunfermline he has tane Broun
With Maister Robert Henrysoun;
Sir John the Ross enbrasit has he:
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

And he has now sane, last of a,
Good gentil Stobo and Quintin Shaw.
Of quhom all wichtis hes pitie: --
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Good Maister Walter Kennedy
In point of Dedth lies verily;
Great ruth it were that so suld be:
Timor Mortis conturbat me

Sen he has all my brothers sane,
He will nocht let me live alane;
Of force I mon his next prey be: --
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Since for the Death remeid is none,
Best is that we for Death dispone
After our death that live may we: -
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

William Dunbar (1460?-1520?)
"For me the simple thing is: if you publish work and you are independent of any other commercial entity in the creation and publication of this work, you are independent. If you can choose your content, your price, your distribution platform and the like you are an independent publisher. I think that independence is very important to writers as well. For a much lengthier diatribe on this issue click HERE."

And, for those who click HERE, that is a fully and brilliantly argued piece by Cally on both the strengths and dangers of independence.
Around the end of last year, I started reading Dean Wesley Smith's THINK LIKE A PUBLISHER articles on his website, and I can see the seeds of that same truly independent thinking germinating here...
A lot of this is "about language" (funnily enough!)
Susan Price said…
Aaargh! Lord save us from the Guerilla Midgie! As if the civilian kind wasn't bad enough.
John - thanks for the poem. I've been trying to find it, but was confusing it with Tichbourne's Elegy, and so not finding it.
Bill Kirton said…
I was born in England but I've become an osmotic Scot. By that I mean that, while I don't have the heather, the highlands or any of the other Scottish markers in my blood (although a great-gran was from Edinburgh), I've lived here most of my life and feel comfortable with and proud of the egalitarianism of the place, the sense of community, the resistance to being deferential, the humour, the forgiveness and sheer humanity of its ways and people.

But I want that egalitarianism to extend to everyone. I want the Scots example to show others that 'a man's a man for a' that'. And if we vote for independence, we condemn the English to permanent Tory rule (and surely that's too cruel a fate, even for the English).

I suppose my feeling and need for independence includes a recognition that I mustn't seek or enjoy it at the expense of others - we all have a right to those freedoms. I'm grateful that my osmotic Scottishness lets me live in a place which values each individual. I'd be sorry if the politics of independence started replacing them with clones.

As to your main point - I couldn't agree more. We are what we do and writing is doing.
Anonymous said…
I think the IRS is deliberately strange and unhelpful, in order to put people like us off having our nerves and patience shredded in their system, and thus increase their revenue by default.
Jan Needle said…
wonderful poem, john, thanks indeed. just don't set it to the scots pipes!
Great post, Cally. I have not a drop of Scottish blood (English, Irish, Polish) but have lived here on and off since I was twelve and am happy to be called a Scottish writer since so much of my writing has a Scottish accent! I favoured Henryson (who always seemed to go with Dunbar, like a horse and carriage) way back when I was studying such things. And David Lyndsay. But perhaps best not to get started on Scottish writers here - too many to name and so many of them excellent but fiercely, even ferociously, independent. A Very Good Thing in my opinion.
Lee said…
Hi Simon, well the IRS - or somebody in Washington - seems to have decided that an indie writer like me needs a wee dram of help, so I refuse to complain ... ;-)

Hi John, That's a very impressive story about Warner. So a fine man as well as a fine writer. (I'm happy enough to take the latter, but it's nice to know that both can come together in one person.)
Aine said…
As a Gaelic speaking American wage slave with Irish and Scots blood on both sides, I can speak with some authority on the subject of American "Independence." First, it was the disaffected Irish and Scots, exiled from England and unable to toss them out of their countries, who succeeded in winning the War of 1776. Second, we (the disaffected Irish and Scots) only succeeded in trading British monarchy masters for Scottish (Carnegie) and Irish (Mellon) corporate masters. Third, when I think of freedom (not the same thing as Independence) I always think of (gulp) English Richard Lovelace "Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for a hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty." I feel a bit conspiratorial enjoying all of your independent publications. Thank you for them. And I love the Scottish and Irish pipes.
julia jones said…
Oh com'on all you lot - Chaucer ROCKS!
CallyPhillips said…
Glad to see I sparked off interest with this post. Thanks for the comments all - I haven't been able to respond as we had our own little independence issues here today. The dogs decided to make a break for independence at 7am. Dude (who usually runs away) came back but Hector (who usually comes back) finally showed at 9.30am in a sorry state and has spent the day incarcerated at the vets for his punishment. My wallet is now considerably lighter. Hector - he's still making odd noises - I think it's possible he did Violet Elizabeth and cried and cried till he made himself sick! And then, to add insult to injury, for some reason Google blocked me from this site by suggesting I wasn't over 18! I mean, I don't mind having to prove I'm not a robot, but I'm pushing 50.. how can I possibly not look 18 in cyberspace! That's enough random independent behaviour for one day!
CallyPhillips said…
Ah... I have got to the bottom of the missing dogs. PROBABLY. They were hunting Higgs Boson (it's not the first time)and word is that Hector's found it. And swallowed it. So if anyone wants to know where Higgs Boson PROBABLY is they could do me a favour and try and get it out of his gullet!
Lee said…
Cally, WHY haven't you considered writing a comic novel? You have a real flair for humour - and it's a lot harder to write decent comedy than most people realise.
julia jones said…
I agree with Lee - not necessarily about the novel about about your gift for humour. And the number of times I've seen you claim not to have one ... huh.
Mind you this was going to be my big unanswerable why Chaucer is the greatest. Show me any of those miserable mediaeval Scots who have a single spark of his humour - and I'll set the Wife of Bath onto them
CallyPhillips said…
Thanks Lee and Julia. Perhaps its down to the fact I don't have confidence in my sense of 'humour'. Maybe No Labels is a comic novel? Well, when I get Saturday and Sunday added and put the omnibus out SOON... it will be. I hope. And the follow up to Voices may be comic in Scots (It Wisnae me) due out August too. BUT the problem is what people think is funny I tend to see as sad. Which always makes me feel people might be laughing at rather than laughing with. But I suspect the over analysing gene has something to do with it and I just need to WRITE the stuff and let you (or you'se) decide. Because I must confess the comedy is easier to write than the heavy social narrative I favour!
CallyPhillips said…
On the Chaucer theme, Julia. The MILLERS TALE. I rest my case. Bawdy or just plain (I can't even think of 50 words for it) Red hot pokers up the arse doth not comedy make, for me at any rate. I am eternally grateful the man died before he was able to complete 4 full stories from each pilgrim. Even though he was responsible for me getting a handsome pay rise back in the early 90's so I guess I owe him something. (probably a royalty or percentage...)
Jan Needle said…
my memory's pretty hazy on this one, but i'm sure there's at least one old scottish song or poem or play that involves red hot pokers and fundaments, and rattlin roarin robin himself was hardly a shrinking violet. mark twain said the german sense of humour was no laughing matter, which is baloney plus, and if cally doesn't think chaucer's 'o womb, o belly, o stinking cod' is the jolliest oath in history, i'm going to take that picture of her out from under my pillow and burn it. she has been warned.
madwippitt said…
No one kicks Chaucer's ass! (I'm sure both the RSPCA and the SPCA would have something to say about it if you tried anyway. Why is there no WSPCA incidentally?)
madwippitt said…
Ooops That should of course be SSPCA.
CallyPhillips said…
Madwippit. I have to correct you. Both Gawain (anon) and The Pearl (possibly written by 'the pearl poet') both kick Chaucer's ass. AND of course Barbour. Read him and then tell me he isn't miles more betterer than Geoff. And the day they have an SSPCA in Scotland I WILL move to Canada - or anywhere!

Jan. I'm sure it won't be the first time my effigy has been burned or pins stuck in dolls of me or the like. And probably not the last either! HA. I laugh in the face of a burning fae a sassanach!
Jan Needle said…
me granpappy was a scot. does that make me a sassanackered?
I love Chaucer. I love Pearl and Gawain even more. Pearl is probably the most magical and extraordinary poem written anywhere, ever, in my opinion. But I also appreciate all these Mediaeval Scots poets. Burns though - unparalleled. I've loved Burns and his poetry since I was in my teens. Just as well, living where we do!
madwippitt said…
Cally, I was of course attempting to be humour-ass ... Although I much prefer the wonderful Geoff to the completely impenetrable Burns - even though he was a dog lover ...

And sadly I have to break the news to you that there is indeed a SSPCA. Which is indeed - as the name, Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (including Asses) implies - based in Scotland. :-)
Katbalou said…
Love your comments on Barbour. I'd also like to add the great works of Robert Henryson:-)
Susan Price said…
How can you not love 'To A Mouse'? The gentle, affectionate, compassionate tone wows me every time. To a Louse on a Lady's Bonnet is wonderful too.
Whether Chaucer's ass is kicked or not, I can't really say - but a Scot objecting to him on grounds of cruelty with red hot pokers?!? I was researching some Scots' history not long ago, and was deeply impressed with the non-stop savagery. The medieval English were no slouches at mayhem at murder (not least with redhot pokers and asses) - but the Scots never paused for breath. It wasn't safe to be alive up there.

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