Interview with Brendan Gisby from McStorytellers

I recently got the opportunity to run some questions past Brendan Gisby. Brendan is a fellow Scot, fellow writer and founder of the rather wonderful McStorytellers. I spoke with him about his own writing, McStorytellers and the future of print and ebooks.

Brendan Gisby

Hi Brendan, thanks for taking the time to speak with me.
I’m delighted to take the time, David. I just hope I can do justice to your questions.

So you’re the founder of McStorytellers – for people not familiar with the site, can you sum it up in just three words? I’m kidding – use as many words as you like.
“Scottish-connected short stories” are the three words. But the longer version is: “McStorytellers showcases the work of short story writers who were born in Bonnie Scotland or have a strong Scottish connection.”

What made you decide to start up McStorytellers?
Although I had penned the odd short story over the years, it was only in the last two or three years that I began to write them in earnest. Like the multitude of writers, I proceeded to submit them to literary magazines both in Britain and America, but my success rate with the submissions was absolutely dismal. Those places didn’t seem to “get” the stories, to understand the “Scottishness” of them. So then I looked – long and hard – for suitable outlets for the stories in my home country and found practically nothing. It occurred to me that many other Scottish writers must have been experiencing the same frustrations. That’s when I said to myself: Why not set up an outlet for yourself and those other frustrated writers, something with a distinctive Scots flavour? Hence, McStorytellers was born.

That was almost a year ago. Since then, the site has published nearly 200 stories by more than 30 writers, many of whom – like yourself, David – are regular contributors.

You get quite a variety of stories on the site, what have been some of your favourites or most memorable? They don’t have to all be by me.
All of the stories – including yours, of course! – are good in their different ways. But two in particular stand out for me. Both are written by Glaswegian authors and are set in the East End of that City.

The first is called “Dread”. It’s so visceral, it’ll make you breathless. You wouldn’t think it was penned by someone who usually writes gentle poetry.

The other is called “Heedless”. It’s chockfull of wry West Coast humour and has a laugh-out-loud punch-line.

And where do you envisage, or hope, McStorytellers will go in the future?
I’d like the site’s contributors and readers to continue to increase in the coming year. To help stimulate that growth, the next big step will be the publication of the first McStorytellers anthology. I’m still pondering on the selection process for the anthology: whether the “best” stories should be chosen by, say, a reader poll or by me as editor. If it’s the latter, I’m pretty sure I’ll be looking for work that is quintessentially Scottish. We’ll see…

Do you think that in this modern age, there’s a danger that Scottish writing will get lost on the global map or will it become more prominent?
I’m no expert, but I think it will perish if the writing continues to languish in the exclusive domain of what I can only describe as academic cliques. It needs to be made more public and populist, embracing the web, the blogosphere and Kindle, for example. Perhaps little places like McStorytellers can help to achieve that.

You’ve also published several books via the Kindle store, what made you decide to go down this route and how have you found it?
I have four books published by a couple of small, independent publishing houses: three by Black Leaf Publishing and the latest by Night Publishing. If anyone is interested, the details are on my author’s website at

All the books are available in both paperback and Kindle versions, but it’s sales of the latter that are most prominent and therefore of most interest to me. In the last twelve months, the Kindle revolution has not just taken off; it has exploded!

So do you think the end of the printed book is on the cards, or can the traditional industry happily co-exist with eReaders?
I think the printed book will always exist, but it will be in an ever-shrinking and increasingly expensive market. Very soon, the ebook will dominate – and writers need to grasp that fact now.

Your next book centres on the very localised tradition of the South Queensferry “Burryman” – explain for us please what on earth this is all about and how it ties in with your novel.
In South Queensferry, where I was brought up, the Burryman parades through the town on one day every year. Although no-one really knows when or why it began, it’s a tradition that’s been observed for hundreds of years. Basically, it entails a sturdy, young man, who is covered from head to toe in jaggy burrs, being escorted through the streets by two attendants all day, while other helpers collect money from the locals.

Without giving too much away about my next novel, it imagines two rival Burrymen one year. Fuelled by religious bigotry and small-town tribalism, a war ensues. Appropriately enough, it’s called “The Burrymen War”. If anyone would like to read the first chapter as a taster, they can go to

How long have you been writing for? What got you started?
I think it began back in 1975, when I received a portable typewriter as a birthday or Christmas present. I churned out my first novel back then, a Cold War thriller. The manuscript lay gathering dust for over thirty years before it was published in 2009 as “The Olive Branch”.

Finally, you’ve got a lot of writing experience and also get to read a range of other people’s work – what would you say the most important lessons you’ve learned are?
I learned early on that, to be good, writing doesn’t have to conform to rules. The more rules there are, the more formulaic and anodyne the writing. So-called writing experts who make up those rules, spouting arrogant claptrap, such as “adverbs are like weeds”, should be shunned!

Thanks again Brendan and good luck with McStorytellers going forward.
Thank you, David. It’s been a pleasure. As a final word, I’ll leave you with the link to the McStorytellers submission page:

Title image courtesy n0seblunt

Published in: on October 16, 2011 at 4:36 PM  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. An excellent interview of one of my favorite authors. This is one I’m definitely saving to read again.

    • Glad you enjoyed it George – there’ll be similar interviews with other writers coming down the pipe soon!

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