Gil Sans is not a typeface myself or anyone else would favour generally for book work. In this occasion I thought it might work well. Alasdair agreed and Agnes was leaving the matter to us, so we went ahead.
Other than that Alasdair did everything, as many versions and varieties of versions as were necessary. I met him one afternoon up in his old Kersland Street flat to conclude the decision making process. At the risk of sentimentalising the occasion, I had brought a half bottle of uisque. Alasdair had a full yin. He sketched and did paste-ups as we went, checking the colours and colour combinations. The finished result is near perfect. It is a sumptuous book. Short story collections can be ‘sumptuous’, I enjoy holding the Lean Tales hardback, the sight and smell of it, Alasdair’s drawings, his design and graphics, his and Agnes’s stories.
It was a surprise to me when Jonathan Cape Ltd, an imprint of Random House, remaindered the book. Their decision coincided with the sale of the French rights. I am glad to say that Lean Tales continues to exist as Histoires Maigres, and may be read in French. In English the collection has been broken irrecovably. Alasdair’s ‘Lean third’ became part of his collected stories while Agnes included her ‘Lean third’ in her Complete Short Stories published by Polygon Books in 2008 . She was then into her eighties.
In October 2014 Agnes died. She was a wonderful writer and we were friends for more than thirty five years. I see her strength as a female strength. It is there in the characters who inhabit her fictions. It is not that these women are survivors, and many do not survive, but they engage in a struggle which is virtually insurmountable. They fight tooth and claw towards an end. This ‘end’ is taken for granted by a society that expects them to do likewise and punishes them when they don’t. This ‘end’ is the survival, health and well being of their children and young people. In all this time I knew her she lacked the freedom to explore her art with consistency of practice.
Those in a position to support her through the public purse failed to act. She never seemed “to qualify”. Yet against the odds she created an art that will endure . Her best stories are on a par with any.
James Kelman – A Lean Third – Afterword – December 2014