James Kelman is a Scottish novelist, short story writer, playwright and essayist. His novel A Disaffection was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction in 1989. Kelman won the 1994 Booker Prize with How Late It Was, How Late. In 1998, Kelman was awarded the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Award. His 2008 novel Kieron Smith, Boy won both of Scotland's principal literary awards: the Saltire Society's Book of the Year and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year.
Life and work
Born in Glasgow, Kelman says:
My own background is as normal or abnormal as anyone else's. Born and bred in Govan and Drumchapel, inner city tenement to the housing scheme homeland on the outer reaches of the city. Four brothers, my mother a full time parent, my father in the picture framemaking and gilding trade, trying to operate a one man business and I left school at 15 etc. etc. (...) For one reason or another, by the age of 21/22 I decided to write stories. The stories I wanted to write would derive from my own background, my own socio-cultural experience. I wanted to write as one of my own people, I wanted to write and remain a member of my own community.
Kelman himself stated his key influences came from "two literary traditions, the European Existential and the American Realist", although his style was also influenced by the modernist movement. Kelman has mentioned Émile Zola, Albert Camus, Franz Kafka, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Jack Kerouac, Samuel Beckett and James Joyce as some of the influences on his writing.
During the 1970s Kelman published his first collection of short stories. He became involved in Philip Hobsbaum's creative writing group in Glasgow, along with Tom Leonard, Alasdair Gray, Liz Lochhead, Aonghas MacNeacail and Jeff Torrington, and his short stories began to appear in magazines. These stories introduced a distinctive style, expressing first-person internal monologues in a pared-down prose using Glaswegian speech patterns, though avoiding for the most part the quasi-phonetic rendition of Tom Leonard. Kelman's developing style has been influential on the succeeding generation of Scottish novelists, including Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner and Janice Galloway.
In 1998, Kelman received the Stakis Prize for "Scottish Writer of the Year" for his collection of short stories The Good Times, one of several books of his stories that have been published. In 2012, a film was made based on the short story "Greyhound For Breakfast".
Kelman's first published novel was The Busconductor Hines (1984), although it was written after A Chancer, which was published in 1985. His 1989 novel A Disaffection was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, and he won the 1994 Booker Prize for How Late It Was, How Late. His 2008 novel Kieron Smith, Boy won the Saltire Society's Book of the Year and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year.
Kelman's most recent novel, God's Teeth and Other Phenomena (2022), was described in a review by Gerry Hassan as a "tour de force that works as both a roman a clef, a writing primer and a guide to the world of literature and publishing. ... an astonishing book that confirms James Kelman's right to be seen as a global literary figure beyond any doubt."