Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains, 1990
Now That You’re Back, 1994
Original Bliss, 1997
Indelible Acts, 2002
Looking for the Possible Dance, 1993
So I Am Glad, 1995
Original Bliss, 1997
Everything You Need, 1999
The Audition, pr. 1993
Delicate, pr. 1996
True (Requiem for Lucy Palmer), pr. 2000 (performance project)
Indian Summer, pr. 2000 (musical comedy)
Stella Does Tricks, 1997 (adaptation of her short story “Friday Payday”)
Totally Out of It, 1993
Just to Say, 1994
The Year of the Prince, 1994
There’s an End to an Auld Sang, 1995
For the Love of Burns, 1999
Dice, 2001 (with John Burnside)
Dice II, 2002 (with Burnside)
Born a Fox, 2002
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, 1997 (monograph)
On Bullfighting, 1999
The Ghost of Liberace, 1993 (with Hamish White and Meg Bateman)
A Sort of Hot Scotland, 1994 (with James McGonigal and Bateman)
Alison Louise Kennedy is sometimes named as one of the new Scottish Renaissance writers, but she resists definition as a nationalist writer. “We [Scots] have a storytelling tradition which gives us a respect for voice; we have an alcoholic tradition which gives us a respect for confabulation,” Kennedy said at the 2001 Edinburgh Book Festival, discussing as well Scotland’s position as a “non-dominant culture” within the larger dominant British culture, but she added, “Today I would like to be international.” Writing fiction, she believes, is a both an act of faith and an act of connection.
Born in 1965, in Dundee, Scotland, daughter of a psychology professor and a remedial teacher, Kennedy attended Warwick University in England, where she earned a B.A. in drama. She experimented with acting but eventually moved into directing and writing. She has written for television, radio, and the stage and believes the discipline of performance shaped her writing style. Most of her short stories, she told an interviewer, are essentially monologues.
Following university and some nonwriting jobs (such as selling brushes door-to-door), Kennedy returned to Scotland, where she served as a community arts worker and writer-in-residence for Hamilton and East Kilbride Social Work Department and Project Ability, a special-needs arts organization. At the age of twenty-five, in 1991, she published her first short-story collection, Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains. Most of the stories focus on the lives of working-class Scottish women. Reviews were positive: The Times Literary Supplement wrote that Kennedy’s stories “act as a memorial for the silent majority who ‘live their lives in the best way they can and still leave nothing behind,’” while the London Observer praised Kennedy’s writing as “pure, full of tenderness and courage, with a gallows humor.” Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains received the Scottish Arts Council Book Award and the Saltire Best First Book Award, establishing Kennedy as a young writer to watch.
Kennedy followed this collection with a novel, Looking for the Possible Dance, in 1993. Set in decaying urban Scotland, it tells the story of a young woman working in a community center who attempts to bring hope to the people she works with, despite a distinct lack of it in her own life. It was also a critical success, winning Kennedy another Scottish Arts Council Book Award as well as the Somerset Maugham Award. She was named one of the twenty “Best British Young Novelists” by the prestigious literary journal Granta.
During the early 1990’s, Kennedy was active in the Scottish literary scene, working as an editor of Outside Lines magazine. Beginning in 1990, she also edited the annual anthology New Writing Scotland and coedited two anthologies published by the Association for Scottish Literary Studies at the University of Aberdeen: The Ghost of Liberace in 1993 and A Sort of Hot Scotland in 1994. Her early work, like those of her contemporaries James Kelman and Irvine Welsh, portrayed modern-day Scotland with a gritty, working-class realism that knocked against the romanticized image of the country–no kilts, bagpipes, or quaint old castles. In an interview with Spike magazine, Kennedy discussed the media’s portrayal of the new Scottish writing and her own dissociation from it: “The press seem to think we’re all up here shooting up together . . . in fact we’re scattered all over the place.”
Kennedy began taking her work away from straight realism into different, more experimental directions. Her next short-story collection, Now That You’re Back, included “The Mouseboks Family Dictionary,” an Edward Gorey-like portrait of an eccentric, neurotic family, told through succinct definitions: “despair: A kind of relaxation. Also taken to be a sure sign of intellectual development among Mousebokses.” Another story featured a rural American woman who tells cheerfully of her love affair with a serial killer, an occupation she accepts as a mere inconvenience: “I’m too soft-hearted to say he shouldn’t ever go out and have some fun.” Kennedy’s 1995 novel, So I Am Glad, contains elements of Magical Realism. The protagonist is a radio announcer who lives by her voice and prefers to keep the world at a distance. Her emotional reserve is shaken when she falls in love with a ghostly lodger, Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, the seventeenth century French satirist, mysteriously reincarnated in modern-day Glasgow. A Library Journal reviewer called it a “strange, improbable love story” but conceded that Kennedy’s strong narrative voice “managed to keep the bizarre story line aloft.” Kennedy’s next work, Original Bliss, was even more bizarre: the unlikely tale of love’s redemption in the lives of a pornography-addicted self-help guru and an abused housewife. Originally published in England as part of a short-fiction collection, this short novel became Kennedy’s first American publication in 1999, when it was released without the additional short stories. Most reviewers praised the novel’s emotional honesty and Kennedy’s skill in making characters who might have been caricatures fully human and sympathetic. James Diedrick, reviewing Original Bliss for the Richmond Review online, wrote that “Kennedy overcomes the melodrama-inviting nature of her material through the power of her language.” Following the American success of Original Bliss, German and French editions were released in 2000 and 2001, respectively, and So I Am Glad was released in an American edition in 2000.
Kennedy has written stage plays, performance pieces, television and film screenplays, and radio plays, but she considers herself primarily a fiction writer. Kennedy has described working for British theater companies and television studios as “almost fatally frustrating.” In 1999, she published her first full-length work of nonfiction, On Bullfighting. Although the topic seemed an unlikely one for the Scottish fiction writer, Kennedy’s approach to bullfighting was hardly that of a conventional sportswriter. She begins On Bullfighting with an account of her own depression, following a painful slipped disc in her back, a close friend’s death, and the end of a relationship. Sitting on a fourth-floor window ledge, Kennedy considered suicide, and that moment of closeness to death is very much present in her account of the fatal beauty of the bull ring.
In On Bullfighting, Kennedy claimed to be bound by writer’s block, but her fictive powers seem to have resurfaced. She returned to the novel form in 1999 with Everything You Need, which combined a nod to William Shakespeare’s 1674 play The Tempest (a father and daughter on a remote island) and satire of the British literary scene (an editor at a London publisher’s party says, “This is what hell will be like, you know?”) in its tale of an exclusive writer’s colony and its eccentric denizens. Nathan Staples, a failed literary novelist turned successful thriller writer, arranges to bring his daughter, Mary, herself an aspiring writer, to the island writing colony where he lives. Mary has grown up with a gay uncle and has no idea that Nathan is her father. Booklist wrote, “The question whether Nathan will tell is basically the only conflict in the tale, but it is strong enough to hold this engaging and sustaining novel together.” Kennedy continues to write short fiction as well; in 2002, she published her third short-story collection, Indelible Acts.