Real Scottish Fiction

The crisp onions were making a great crackling,
and on a cold night the smell was enough to
draw water out of dead teeth.

If you decided to write a romance, chances are you’d put your muscular man and breathless heroine in the highlands of Scotland.  Don’t do it.  There’s a flood of fake Scottish mumbo-jumbo on the market.  Ditto for historical fiction. 

Here’s a better idea.  Read some authentic Scottish fiction, written by a Scot.  You cannot improve on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped; I am especially fond of John Buchan and his sister Anna, who wrote under the pen name O. Douglas

The mother passed the cups of tea.
She had the natural air of
dispensing life’s mercies.

If you are sweet on Stevenson, if you love Buchan, Neil Gunn (1891-1973)  is another Scottish author worth a look.  Rick Steves, the travel guru, mentioned him in a guidebook.  Gunn is called “the most important Scottish novelist of the 20th century.”

Morning Tide, a coming-of-age story set in an impoverished fishing village takes you to the shore of the sullen, relentless sea and into the cottage of the MacBeth family. 

She could get up and lift a boiling kettle from the fire
while her husband was saying grace
without destroying the moment’s harmony,
as if wisdom dwelt also in her movements.

Life is harsh, difficult, but not without comfort of onions and the pleasure of practical jokes.  Twelve-year-old Hugh MacBeth is always hungry, often running, impatient with school, and coming to grips with the reality of a harsh life. 

He [the schoolmaster] was clever,
there was no doubt of that.
And he could speak seven languages.
Seven.  Ay, ay.
The old men nodded their heads.
Learning was a great thing.
They looked far beyond one another.
A great thing, learning.
A far and wonderful thing.
There was no denying that.
It was a strange thing, too.
Its strangeness excited them a little,
and its wonder.
Love of learning was in their marrow.

Gunn writes about the survival of the folk living in the fishing village.  The men leave in boats; the women wonder if they will make it back home.  Breakfast is always porridge; dinner is a question mark.  They stare death in the eye daily and yet clearly see the sweetness of life.  More Gunn here.  Particularly recommended to mothers (and fathers) of boys.


6 thoughts on “Real Scottish Fiction

  1. I do love Stevenson and Buchan, and am very happy to learn about Gunn!  For “Miss Read”-type novels set in Scotland, I don’t think one can do better than D.E. Stevenson.

  2. uggg, Scottish bodice rippers. Not well though of in Scotland! Queen Victoria’s Highland Journals are pretty interesting, it’s out of print but you can find bits and pieces of it on line. I’ll see if I can find the link. Kidnapped gets my vote for the best all time ever Scottish story!

  3. I guess I’m not really mature enough for real Scottish fiction…. I’m still in the visual stage….because all I have accomplished is to watch Braveheart over and over again Altho maybe I should read the poem that the movie is based on….. and that could count?

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