Award-winning writer Darren McGarvey credits JK Rowling with kickstarting his career


McGarvey, a political activist, commentator, broadcaster and former columnist for The Scotsman, recalled how he was the target of abuse from independence supporters when Rowling’s support for a crowdfunding campaign was exposed.

He also spoke of the efforts behind the scenes in Scotland’s cultural sector to try to prevent him from getting work and recognition.

Speaking at an “in conversation” Fringe event, McGarvey said Rowling’s support “changed the center of gravity” of her career, as she was the first major writer in Scotland to offer her support.

Writer, rapper and political activist Darren McGarvey speaking at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Photo: John Devlin

McGarvey, a prominent Yes campaigner ahead of the latest referendum, said he was “not particularly inspired” to fight for independence at the moment.

McGarvey, who grew up on the Pollock estate in Glasgow, was interviewed by poet Jim Monaghan at the New Town Theatre.

He revealed he was encouraged by Glasgow author Denise Mina to write a book after reading an article he wrote criticizing the cultural sector’s response to the 2014 fire at Glasgow School’s Mackintosh Building of Art.

He recalled how he was about to sign a book deal with publisher Glasgow Freight when contact was suddenly cut off.

McGarvey said: ‘I thought Freight was going to post me and then someone gave them some really bad advice.

“It was a time when I was creating a lot of friction as a working-class artist.

“Behind the scenes in various places, they were trying to stop me from having opportunities, whether it was in The List magazine’s hottest artist lists, Skinny magazine, bookings, publishing or whatever. .

“With freight, the phone stopped ringing, it went off. Luckily Gavin [MacDougall] in Luath had the idea [for Poverty Safari] and we just lit it.

“I had already built up a good clientele. He could see what I was bringing to the table.

“I refused to go the crowdfunding route at that time and took the riskier strategy of doing crowdfunding, which was quite successful and led to me writing the book. I had no idea how successful it would become.

Rowling donated £5,000 to McGarvey’s book and also provided a quote for its cover, describing it as “an unflinching account of the realities of systemic poverty”.

Asked by Monaghan about the criticism he had received from independence supporters over Rowling’s endorsement, McGarvey said: ‘They were [angry]especially the Yes supporters who had never supported anything I did and who wouldn’t like me for anything I did.

“I decided that I was not going to try to live my life pleasing these people who hate me when I have people who have shown me some level of kindness and generosity.

“She showed me a level of generosity and encouragement that I had never had from someone prominent in the industry in this way. It changed the center of gravity of my career. I will always be grateful.

“This [the cover quote] gave it such a level of prominence that people thought “it’s something I’ll have to check out”. But people thought I was being bought off.

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