Issue 203
May/June 2018


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Jun 24, 2018
The Ultimate Travel Guide
Scotland's Stations - Northern Books

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    More literary diversity, please

    SCOTLAND has had excellent writers like Scott, Stevenson, Naomi Mitchison, Neil Gunn, Lewis Grassic Gibbon and George Mackay Brown. As 'gritty realists', present-day scribblers are/were mainly urban, e.g. Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin, William McIlvanney, Jim Kelman and Alasdair Gray.

    Admittedly, pockets of rural activity abound but mainly in performance poetry and theatre like the work of Caithness-based George Gunn.

    Scotland's preoccupation with nationalism, in determining a separate identity from the other three countries of the UK, has led to a parochial attitude where Englishness or the expression of anything other than the views of a Central Belt Scot, is considered suspect.

    Any writer who isn't immediately recognised as a Scot, is seen as English, just as most Anglo-Irish Protestant writers were considered English, like the satirist, Jonathan Swift and dramatists R. B. Sheridan, Oscar Wilde, G. B. Shaw and Samuel Beckett.

    Settling recently in southwest Scotland, I had a look at some Galloway favourites like S. R. Crockett (The Raiders), Stevenson (The Master of Ballantrae), John Buchan (The Thirty-nine Steps) and Dorothy L Sayers (Five Red Herrings); the first, many might claim, slots into the despised kailyard school, the second passes muster, the third is written by a right-wing Anglo-Scot while D. L. Sayers was an undeniable Sassenach.

    Then there's Gavin Maxwell, who wrote about his Wigtownshire childhood in The House of Elrig, but his fame stems largely from his famous account of keeping an otter as a pet in the West Highlands.

    Out of all post-war works of non-fiction, Maxwell's Ring of Bright Water reached third on the best-selling list, yet he is not regarded as mainstream Scottish, or having contributed to the development of a twentieth century Scottish consciousness like the Gaelic poet, Sorley Maclean or even Christopher Grieve (Hugh MacDiarmid).

    Never mind that Maxwell's most popular works concern Scotland, that he has influenced views on conservation and the environment and inspired a new generation of writers on nature like Robert MacFarlane (Landmarks) and Helen Macdonald (H is for Hawk), he's not seen as 'the real McCoy'.

    Maxwell's liquid prose, infused with a hard integrity of observation, marks him as one of the finest post-war prose writers in English.

    Perhaps the extreme popularity of Ring of Bright Water detracted from his literary genius, preventing him from being taken seriously by Scotland.

    Or maybe, like the Perthshire-born novelist James Kennaway, whose 1956 novel, Tunes of Glory was made into a film with John Mills and Alec Guinness, or even our octogenarian novelist Allan Massie, Gavin Maxwell was too much of a hybrid Scot to be fully accepted in the country of his birth and where he lived for much of his life.

    Mindful that the mongrel strengthens the gene pool, isn't there a place for more literary diversity in our Brave New Scotland?

    MARY GLADSTONE
    Mary's new book.The Moss of Cree – A Scottish Childhood, is due for publication on June 1.
    www.firefallmedia.com

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