Launched in 2007 by Kevin Williamson and Mike Small (editor of this anthology), Bella Caledonia helped pave the way for new and alternative voices to be heard in Scotland, embracing the opportunities and challenges of the ever-evolving arena of online media. Over the next 14 years they would continue as they had begun, and Bella Caledonia: An Anthology of Writing From 2007-2021 is both evidence, and a celebration, of this.
The contents page reads like a who’s who of Scottish political and cultural commentators, featuring Andy Wightman, Peter Arnott, A.L. Kennedy, Irvine Welsh, Claire Squires, Pat Kane, Anna Saleem, Gerry Hassan, and many more. The introduction from editor Mike Small sets out the history, development and aims of Bella Caledonia, and why these pieces, and these writers, have been included.
There’s a beautiful essay by current Scottish Makar Kathleen Jamie, who writes on our relationship with the natural world, and the seas in particular. Novelist and playwright Alan Bissett’s poem ‘Vote Britain’, which went viral during the run up to the 2014 Independence Referendum, is also included – a reminder that Bella Caledonia was central to that national debate. Scott Hames addresses the complex question of language in Scotland in ‘Not Nationality but Language’, and his fellow academic Alison Phipps’s essay ‘When I Needed A Neighbour’ has a resonance which takes on new and more powerful meaning when read today. Bella Caledonia has always been a place where the long form essay could find a welcome, and increasingly rare, home.
One of the best pieces in the anthology, Neil Cooper’s ‘A Song for Europe – Lost in Translation on a Grand Tour’ offers a fresh take on Scotland’s relationship to Europe and is the perfect example of this.
Bella Caledonia: An Anthology of Writing is impressive, but also unexpected. Even if you have been a regular reader over the years you may still be surprised as to how varied and balanced this collection is – a result of Small’s judicious editing. If you are not familiar with Bella, then this is the perfect introduction. Of course there’s passion, but there is also clear and independent thought (no pun intended). You may not agree with everything you read – I think it would be impossible to do so, such are the variety of voices and opinions in evidence – but it’ll make you think, and think again.
Bella Caledonia: An Anthology of Writing From 2007-2021 is published on the Bella Caledonia imprint of Leamington Books