Literary Scots who might surprise;Scottish books amp; resources

30th January 1998 at 00:00
DISCOVERING SCOTTISH WRITERS. Edited by Alan Reid and Brian D Osborne. Scottish Library Association and Scottish Cultural Press pound;7.95

If I were to ask you to cite a few of our greatest Scottish literary figures of the past, who would you name? Barbour, perhaps? Dunbar? Jessie Kesson? What about Byron? The notion that Lord Byron might be considered a Scottish literary figure took me by surprise. I must admit, even though he was "half a Scot by birth", few would consider him to be a quintessentially Scottish writer.

However, this is not intended to be a criticism of Discovering Scottish Writers, since it is probably impossible to select 80 literary figures without some controversy, and the editors admit that this collection of brief articles is subject to their own "prejudice and enthusiasm".

They are certainly to be commended for attracting contributors from many walks of life: in addition to Douglas Dunn's piece on Byron, there are articles by teachers, librarians and scribes of all description, each invited to submit 500 words on a favourite Scottish writer, the purpose being to produce a book which would be accessible for the "general reader" as well as students. In this, I think they have succeeded: the attractive page-per-writer format with photographs and illustrations is easy on the eye, and the alphabetical bold type titles help compensate for the lack of an index.

It is a book which many will browse through with pleasure: a friend was delighted to find R M Ballantyne, whose adventure stories lit up his childhood.

At any rate, whether you agree that Byron, or (unimaginably for me somehow) Kenneth Grahame are important Scottish authors, this attractive addition to Scottish cultural studies is welcome. One for the school library.

Fiona Norris is principal teacher of English at Eyemouth High School, Borders

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