In his response to my letter about his use of Untold Stories, John MacLeod, author of River of Fire, takes issue with what he calls my 'wilder claims'.
He denies that he used the accounts of individual Untold Stories contributors in their entirety. Let me be absolutely exact. From Untold Stories, Mr MacLeod takes, verbatim, almost 8,000 words and about the same amount again when we count close paraphrase. For many of the accounts, his method is to quote a large section word for word and paraphrase the rest. For instance, from James Bowman's A Soldier's Homecoming (page 166), he quotes 770 of the 920 words (83 per cent) and paraphrases the rest. For David Dyer (page 222) it's 92 per cent, for J. Alastair Robertson (page 191), 100 per cent. These percentages are well beyond 'fair usage'.
As regards permissions, it's straightforward: John MacLeod did not seek permission to use the extensive material taken from the published, copyrighted book, Untold Stories. A meeting did take place between four members of Clydebank Lifestory Group, myself, and Hugh Andrew of Birlinn Publishers. Despite being offered several dates, Mr MacLeod did not attend. At the meeting, Mr Andrew offered the plea that he hadn't overseen River of Fire directly. He then said, 'if he [John MacLeod] had come to me with this amount of material, I would have said: Seek permissions.' To me, that amounts to saying Mr MacLeod acted incorrectly. On attributions, I asserted that his quotations from Untold Stories are not credited as such. His reply, that they are credited to individuals, is an evasion. Open Mr MacLeod's book at page 166, for example. Where is this story taken from? There's no mention of Untold Stories. Future publications will credit it to River of Fire. In fact, this has already happened.
Nor are any of the excerpts indexed as quotations from Untold Stories. In stark contrast to the treatment of quotations from Billy Kay, Untold Stories which should have over 30 references, does not appear in the index at all. Through his internet research, Mr Macleod has unearthed the information that the Clydebank Lifestory Group received a Heritage Lottery Award. 'Recently, they were awarded £2500 by the Heritage Lottery Fund', he reports. Actually, the award was made in 1999, and was returned unspent shortly afterwards. At one point, Mr MacLeod declares, 'We authors call this "research".' Well, us ordinary punters feel entitled to call it something else.
It would appear that he is to trying to dig up dirt on Clydebank Lifestory Group and besmirch their good name. In actual fact, when dealing with finance, they have been a model of probity.
That is what makes Mr MacLeod's attempt to smear them so shameful.
How dare he mention the local authority grant that went towards the publication of Untold Stories. In my 40 year career, I have never had the honour of being associated with a more worthy project. Never have 'public funds' been better spent.
It astonishes me that John MacLeod attempts to depict his bullying behaviour as victimhood. What we have is an established writer appropriating the work of a community group and then attacking them in tabloid language for complaining. His publisher backs him up by informing the group they should be pleased their work was taken without permission because it's now in a more important book. From the start, Mr Andrew's principal argument has been that River of Fire has been praised by reviewers. Much of the praise, of course, relates to the vivid accounts taken from Untold Stories, but basically his argument has nothing to do with the charge that the material was used illegally. Neither reviewers nor readers could have been aware of this fact.
What I find offensive and unworthy of a reputable publisher is Mr Andrew's willingness to echo John Macleod's lurid language when he uses terms like 'vendetta' with regard to Clydebank Lifestory Group. Mr Andrew also writes: 'Mr Stewart's own lack of clarity as to copyright shines through in his claim that permission should have been sought from the contributors, from himself and from his group'. I made no such claim. What I thought I was making absolutely clear was that if, John MacLeod had felt doubtful as to whom to approach about permissions, there were a number of possible lines of enquiry, and yet, he approached no-one. A final very important point relating both to Mr MacLeod's research and Birlinn's proclaimed lofty purpose. On page 223, of River of Fire, John MacLeod refers to a founder member of Clydebank Lifestory Group as 'Betty Smart - now Mrs Moore'.
Betty has been dead for several years. What happened to the research? Was she not an important enough person? The same uncaring approach occurs, more disturbingly, with regard to Helen McNeill, another much-loved founder member of Clydebank Lifestory Group, who is mentioned four times in River of Fire.
On page 269, Mr MacLeod gives a description of the reception after the Blitz memorial service in Kilbowie St Andrew's in March 2010.
He writes: 'Many more make themselves known: the mother of a boy, Iain Simpson, who was in my class at school, and John and Helen McNeill...' I caught my breath at that. In March 2010, when John MacLeod claims to have met her, Helen McNeill had been dead for 18 months. 'John' McNeill is, in fact, Mr James McNeill, Helen's husband and currently treasurer of Clydebank Lifestory Group. This insult to Helen, whose importance Mr MacLeod elsewhere purports to honour, is the most deeply offensive faux pas in River of Fire, and I find it close to being unforgiveable. Once again, a scintilla of research could have prevented it. What is worse is the absence of remorse. At the beginning of this year, I wrote to Hugh Andrew at Birlinn and told him how horrible I thought these errors were. I would have withdrawn the book for that alone.
Publishers have done so for less. The least I expected was a reply saying, 'Oh dear heavens! We're so sorry!' But no. It would appear they regard River of Fire as too important to be compromised by such petty matters. Acclaim in the big world of publishing trumps everything else.
In my view, the treatment of Clydebank Lifestory Group has been shabby, unprincipled, bullying and disgraceful. Liam Stewart, Glasgow