Scots not to be missed

From thrillers to mem­oirs, our top Scot­tish in­ter­est books of 2018

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Books - COM­PILED BY BARRY DIDCOCK

Made In Scot­land: My Grand Ad­ven­tures In A Wee Coun­try by Billy Con­nolly (Ebury Pub­lish­ing, £20)

More a col­lec­tion of ob­ser­va­tions, rec­ol­lec­tions, con­ver­sa­tions and lists of favourite things than a mem­oir or au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Made In Scot­land’s ra­tio­nale is es­sen­tially to pick away at what it means to be Scot­tish and es­pe­cially Glaswe­gian. Con­nolly be­ing Con­nolly it’s laugh out loud funny, of course, but there’s plenty of bal­last here too: the con­ver­sa­tions are ex­actly that, tran­scribed chats be­tween Con­nolly and old friends such as artist and play­wright John Byrne and screen­writer Peter McDougall but to add weight there’s also one with Sir Ian Wil­mut, best known as the man who cloned Dolly the Sheep but who, like Con­nolly, has been di­ag­nosed with Parkin­son’s Dis­ease. It’s as life-af­firm­ing as you’d ex­pect from the Big Yin.

Le­gend Eter­nal by John Fer­gu­son, Ly­dia Praamsma, Toni Doya Here­dia and Re­becca Horner (Di­a­mond­steel, £19.99)

St An­drews-based comic and graphic novel com­pany Di­a­mond­steel pub­lishes in English, Gaelic and Scots and, un­usu­ally, most of its artists, colourists and writ­ers are women. Saltire, the pro­tag­o­nist of its Le­gend Eter­nal se­ries, clearly isn’t a woman: ripped and bearded, he’s a Scot­tish su­per­hero – the first, ap­par­ently – who ranges across time in sto­ries blend­ing folk­lore and fan­tasy with his­tor­i­cal fact. This bumper, 180-page edi­tion col­lects ev­ery story in the se­ries so far.

The Way Of All Flesh by Am­brose Parry (Canon­gate, £14.99)

Who is Am­brose Parry? Well, if you’re a fan of thriller writer Chris Brook­myre then you prob­a­bly al­ready know. If not, it’s the pseu­do­nym cooked up by him and his wife Marisa Haet­z­man, a con­sul­tant anaes­thetist, for a new se­ries of his­tor­i­cal mys­ter­ies with a med­i­cal theme. Haet­z­man has a Masters de­gree in the His­tory of Medicine and she puts her knowl­edge to good use in this macabre mur­der mys­tery set in Ed­in­burgh in 1847. It fea­tures priv­i­leged med­i­cal stu­dent Will Raven and one Sarah Fisher, a house­maid in the es­tab­lish­ment where Raven is about to start as an ap­pren­tice – the home of a cer­tain Dr Simp­son, the pi­o­neer of anaes­thet­ics.

101 Gins To Try Be­fore You Die by Ian Bux­ton (Bir­linn, £12.99)

Sure, Christ­mas and New Year are tra­di­tion­ally the time to en­joy a dram or three, but you can’t move for gin dis­til­leries in Scot­land these days and it’s a lit­tle-known fact that a great deal of Bri­tish gin comes from north of the Bor­der. Ian Bux­ton cer­tainly knows his whiskies – he’s the au­thor of Whiskies Ga­lore, a guide to Scot­land’s dis­til­leries – but here he tack­les the drink that used to be called “Mother’s Ruin” in a book that’s newly re­vised and up­dated to take into ac­count some of the new kids on the block. Among the pages you’ll find Bux­ton’s learned take on prod­ucts such as Har­ris Gin, which comes from the He­bridean is­land of that name, and Achroous, made by Leith-based craft dis­tillers Elec­tric Spirit Co. and served up in a bot­tle coloured a sort of elec­tric or­ange. And don’t think your choice of tonic wa­ter is any less open to in­no­va­tion and va­ri­ety.

Ri­val Queens: The Be­trayal Of Mary, Queen Of Scots by Kate Wil­liams (Hutchin­son, £25)

With Josie Rourke’s starstud­ded film about the ill-fated queen open­ing in Jan­uary

– Saoirse Ro­nan plays Mary, Mar­got Rob­bie is El­iz­a­beth and David Ten­nant gets to climb into a mon­strous beard for his role as old fun­bags him­self, John Knox – Christ­mas is prob­a­bly a good time to mug up on the ac­tual his­tory be­fore you’re faced with the screen ver­sion. For her new re-telling of the story, his­tory pro­fes­sor and TV pre­sen­ter Kate Wil­liams has gone back to the ar­chives and to Mary’s let­ters, fo­cussing in par­tic­u­lar on the mur­der of Mary’s hus­band, Lord Darn­ley, in 1567.

Love Is Blind by Wil­liam Boyd (Vik­ing, £18.99)

The lat­est novel from the Scot­tish nov­el­ist and a wel­come re­turn to the epoch- and con­ti­nentspan­ning for­mat of his stand­out nov­els The New Con­fes­sions and Any Hu­man Heart. Like The New Con­fes­sions, Love Is Blind be­gins in Ed­in­burgh where we find young Brodie Mon­cur, a 24-year-old son of the manse, work­ing as a pi­an­otuner with Chan­non & Co., sup­pos­edly Bri­tain’s fourth largest mak­ers of pi­anos. The year is 1894. Over the next decade, we fol­low Mon­cur as he trav­els first to Paris and then to pre-Rev­o­lu­tion­ary St Peters­burg, and em­barks on a se­ries of ad­ven­tures fu­elled by his con­sum­ing pas­sion for a Rus­sian opera singer.

St Kilda: The Silent Is­lands by Alex Boyd (Luath Press, £20)

Us­ing a bat­tered old medium for­mat cam­era that once be­longed to Fay God­win, doyenne of Bri­tish land­scape pho­tog­ra­phers, Ger­man-born and Ayr­shire-raised pho­tog­ra­pher Alex Boyd doc­u­ments the for­bid­ding ter­rain of the re­mote ar­chi­pel­ago. As shrouded in story and con­tro­versy as its mon­u­men­tal sea cliffs are ob­scured by cloud and mist, it’s no longer de­serted – there’s an ever-chang­ing com­mu­nity of mil­i­tary per­son­nel, sci­en­tists, vol­un­teers and con­ser­va­tion­ists – so Boyd is able to also turn his cam­era on St Kilda’s 21st cen­tury in­hab­i­tants.

Nut­meg: The Scot­tish Foot­ball Pe­ri­od­i­cal (Nut­meg Mag­a­zine, £40 for a

Christ­mas gift sub­scrip­tion)

A quar­terly pub­li­ca­tion de­voted to all as­pects of the beau­ti­ful game as viewed from our chilly north­ern lat­i­tudes, Nut­meg boasts a rolling ros­ter of top­class writ­ers – Wil­liam McIl­van­ney, Archie Macpher­son, Stu­art Cos­grove and Lawrence Done­gan have all graced past is­sues – and adds ex­quis­ite de­sign and lay­out to the mix. Don’t think it’s all Old Firm ei­ther: you’re as likely to find hymns to the joys of the Scot­tish Ju­nior Cup team and eru­dite dis­cus­sions about the finer points of away strips as you are any­thing Ranger­sor Celtic-re­lated. They even print po­etry, for heaven’s sake. The Christ­mas gift sub­scrip­tion gives you all four 2019 edi­tions plus the cur­rent edi­tion – so your kids, wife, hus­band (or man­ager?) have some­thing to wrap for the big day.

The Scot­tish Clear­ances: A His­tory Of The Dis­pos­sessed by TM Devine (Allen Lane, £25)

A gi­ant of Scot­tish in­tel­lec­tual life, Pro­fes­sor Sir Tom Devine is an al­ways clear-eyed guide to the coun­try’s his­tory and a firm be­liever in this sim­ple truth: that to un­der­stand the prob­lems of to­day and the sit­u­a­tions that arise from them, you need to look to the past. Here he tack­les a trans­for­ma­tive pe­riod of Scot­tish his­tory which changed even the land­scape and saw the forced mass mi­gra­tion of thou­sands of peo­ple, much of it at a time when the Scot­tish En­light­en­ment was birthing the idea of Scot­land as a for­ward­think­ing and mod­ernising so­ci­ety. It isn’t just a High­land story. Devine looks at dis­pos­ses­sion in the Bor­ders – clear­ances be­gan there two gen­er­a­tions be­fore they did in the High­lands – and, just as sober­ing, the 300-year span of his story runs up to 1900 and the dawn of the 20th cen­tury. Not an easy read, but you have some down­time over the fes­tive pe­riod why not ed­u­cate your­self? This is a his­tory that still mat­ters.

Mac­beth by Jo Nesbo (Vin­tage, £5.99)

There prob­a­bly isn’t much crossover be­tween fans of Vir­ginia Woolf and fans of Nor­we­gian crime writer Jo Nesbo, whose most fa­mous cre­ation is mav­er­ick Oslo cop Harry Hole. But that didn’t stop the high heid yins at Hog­a­rth Press, the pub­lish­ing house Woolf co-founded in 1917, from ask­ing Nesbo to join lit­er­ary lu­mi­nar­ies such as Mar­garet At­wood, Jeanette Win­ter­son and Ed­ward St Aubyn in their on­go­ing project to re-tell and reimag­ine Shake­spearean clas­sics. Here, Nesbo turns to “the Scot­tish play”, turn­ing the tit­u­lar Mac­beth into a po­lice of­fi­cer and the world of the orig­i­nal play into a dystopian al­ter­na­tive Scot­land where the se­cond big­gest city is called Capi­tol, the year might be 1970. We’re told in the open­ing chap­ter that it’s a quar­ter of a cen­tury since the end of the Se­cond World War – and much of the ac­tion takes place in Fife. A great in­tro­duc­tion to the play for devo­tees of Scandi crime nov­els – and a whip-smart take on the orig­i­nal for those who their Ban­quo from their Fleance.

The Last Wilder­ness: A Jour­ney Into Si­lence by Neil Ansell (Tin­der Press, £9.99)

Short­listed for the 2018 Wain­wright Book Prize, awarded to the best Bri­tish-based travel book about na­ture or the out­doors, The Last Wilder­ness is Neil Ansell’s ac­count of his jour­ney through the Rough Bounds, that area of the west High­lands which stretches from Loch Moidart to Loch Hourn and takes in the Knoy­dart penin­sula. Wild, rugged, in­ac­ces­si­ble and sparsely pop­u­lated, its si­lence is the si­lence of wilder­ness, though Ansell’s sub­ti­tle has a se­cond mean­ing: the Brighton-based jour­nal­ist, TV pre­sen­ter and au­thor made five vis­its to the Rough Bounds over the course of a cal­en­dar year and with each one his hear­ing, prob­lem­atic since his 20s, be­came rapidly worse. “My hear­ing is a re­treat­ing glacier that is shrink­ing un­con­scionably fast,” he writes. Or, even more poignantly, he lists the birds whose songs he can no longer hear.

A Year Of Spark (Bir­linn, £200)

We cel­e­brated the cen­te­nary of the birth of the great Scot­tish nov­el­ist Muriel Spark through­out 2018 but if you hap­pen to find this bumper col­lec­tion of her works in your Christ­mas stock­ing you’ll be cel­e­brat­ing her well into 2019 too. Although ex­pen­sive, this pack­age from Scot­tish pub­lisher Bir­linn con­tains all 22 nov­els, reprinted and repack­aged in beau­ti­ful cen­te­nary edi­tions with newly-com­mis­sioned in­tro­duc­tions from lead­ing au­thors. They’re also throw­ing in a copy of Her­ald jour­nal­ist Alan Tay­lor’s mem­oir about Spark, Ap­point­ment In Arezzo, in which he de­tails his many vis­its to the au­thor’s Ital­ian home and the friend­ship that grew up be­tween the pair over the years.

Main image: St Kilda. Top, Muriel Spark and, above, Sir Tom Devine – our guide has some­thing for ev­ery­one

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