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Favourite Scottish Authors

Iconic Eilean Donan Castle, taken on my last visit to Scotland in August 2014

Iconic Eilean Donan Castle, taken on my last visit to Scotland in August 2014

Well, it has been a tense week as we all watched the Scottish Independence referendum with bated breath. We were quite emotional in our household when the results came in. In delighted recognition that Scotland has decided to stay as part of the United Kingdom, I thought I’d share some of my favourite Scottish authors with you (I’m including writers who have lived in Scotland for a long time or had Scottish parents, as well as natural-born Scots).

JK Rowling

Perhaps I should be starting this list with Robert Burns, but the Scottish author who has touched me most is J K Rowling, through her wonderful Harry Potter series. One of the most famous women in the world, her journey to stardom is as fascinating and inspiring as her books. Not only did she re-engage a whole generation with the magic of reading, but her recent career moves (like the Robert Galbraith series) suggests that the future is bright for this talented Scot.

Alexander McCall Smith

Technically, McCall Smith was born in Africa, but as he now lives in Edinburgh, I think I can call him an honorary Scot and include him in this list.  His No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series is one of those collections of books that I turn to when I need a little more sunshine in my live. Easy to read but deeply felt, the adventures and misadventures of Precious Ramotswe are an utter joy.

Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson is a Yorkshire woman like myself, but now lives in Edinburgh. I have to confess that until recently, I didn’t particularly ‘get’ Atkinson’s novels. I had read Behind the Scenes at the Museum a few years ago and, although highly regarded by many, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. However, that all changed when I picked up Life after Life last Christmas (I was inspired by Cornflower’s excellent post). In my opinion, that book is a future classic, I adored it and feel in love with Atkinson’s style. Since then, I have been working my way through her back catalogue and wondering why I waited so long!

William Boyd

I am including William Boyd in this list because, although he has not lived in Scotland after his university years to my knowledge, he is the son of Scottish parents and was educated in Scotland. Any Human Heart introduced me to William Boyd and it is an underrated gem in my opinion. I’ve rarely read such an insightful and mesmerising catalogue of one flawed man’s life. I have a soft spot for journal or diary-style novels and this, along with The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, is one of the best of the genre.

Sir Walter Scott

My personal favourite historic Scottish novelist is Sir Walter Scott. Ivanhoe has many faults, but I associate it with the romantic tales of my childhood, of Robin Hood, of the Saxons and Normans, dark forests and forbidding castles, of the Magna Carter and Richard the Lionheart. For that reason, I am very fond of it and I also like the way he illustrates the conflict between ideals and reality, a theme that is as relevant today as it was in the 1800s.  I keep intending to read more Scott…

There are many more Scottish authors that I have yet to try. On my iPhone notes  (do you do this, keep a wish list of books you’ve been meaning to read somewhere?) are Irvine Welsh and the poet George Mackay Brown among others. I also own an anthology of the work of Robert Burns which is lingering in my ‘to read’ pile. One day!


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Recently reading…

Recently, I have been catching up on my reading. Last weekend, I finally had a rare chance to enjoy a few hours curled up with a hardback and it was lovely. Here is what I’ve been reading:

1. Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

When this was released, I heard such mixed reviews about it that I put it away on my bedside table for a few months rather than reading it immediately. I wanted the reviews to fade so I could judge it fairly and, also, I wanted to read it at a moment when I could really savour it. I am glad I waited until last weekend, when I devoured most of it on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The central concept of Life after Life, that of re-living your live until you get it right, is not new or original. However, there is something here that is unique. Perhaps it was the quality of the writing, or the fact that WWII setting is new…I’m not sure but Life and Life lingered in my thoughts long after I finished it.

2. The Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

This was a retelling of the story of Katherine Parr, sixth wife of Henry VIII and one of the more neglected characters in this well-worm period. I enjoy a good historical romp now and again and that is exactly what The Queen’s Gambit is. I did find the ending frustrating, but the bare facts are historically correct, so perhaps it was simply real life that I was annoyed with! What I did like though was the relationship between Katherine and Dot and the significance Fremantle draws into the clothes Katherine wears; a form of armour against court intrigue and her mercurial husband. This would make a good, easy, holiday read if you like historic fiction.

3. A Guide to Elegance by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux 

This lovely little hardback is quaint and wise. I really enjoyed a glimpse into the rules of elegance in the early twentieth century. Although much of this is outmoded now (four outfit changes a day anyone?!), there are still some lessons that struck home. I think this would make a lovely gift for anyone interested in fashion and style.

What have you been reading recently?