Literary critiCism

In March, The List launched the biggest ever campaign for Scottish books with the publication of the 100 Best Scottish Books of All Time. Making a selection that did justice to the breadth of Scottish writing was no easy task, as the editor reflects.

he public response has been overwhelmingly

positive. readers have rediscovered forgotten

classics. bookshops have been piled high with new Scottish writing and the votes have been rolling in. But at the same time. the debate on which titles should be counted as being the l()() Best Scottish Books ofAll Time has been raging. I knew that it would be impossible to please everyone and that entering the lists involved issuing a challenge. but some of the criticism has taken the biscuit and ground it into oatmeal.

When asked to edit the list I declined. suggested alternatives. and got on with writing about 16th century texts while reading unpublished manuscripts by authors soon to be household names. The List‘s Robin Hodge and Scottish Book Trust‘s Marc Lambert proved persistent. and said something curious. They didn‘t want me as an academic to edit the guide. they wanted me as they knew I would be passionate. I thought I knew what they meant: ‘Pulse before pedantry.‘ So [set out to blow long and lotid for Scottish literature. compiling a list of 100 Books of Scotitude with attitude. including the thistles and some jaggy nettles as well as bonny blooming heather.

The first thing I did was plunder previous efforts. In 1987. lidwin Morgan was asked to produce a Scottish companion to Margaret Drabble‘s Tii'entieth Century Classics. Most of the authors Morgan chose. none of whom were poets or playwrights. are on the list I edited. as are most of the titles Morgan selected for his Twentieth Century Scottish Classics. Morgan explained in his introduction that he‘d restricted himself to novels. ‘but where a fiction writer excelled in short stories I did on occasion include a collection of these’. This allowed him to include Alan Spence. a writer of stature yet to publish a novel.

Morgan covered the first 8(l—odd years of the 20th century. confining his list to one book per author. an example I followed. A lot of books have passed under the bridge of my nose since I987. and my list reflects that recent flowering. Frederic Lindsay’s Brond from 1984 was Morgan’s most tip to date ‘classie‘. Morgan acknowledged that ‘whether a novel that is only three years old can be a “classic” is arguable. but risks are there to be taken‘.

The list I edited set out to celebrate the diversity of

Scottish literary culture and testify to the spark and spirit of Scottish prose over five centuries. [I paid homage to close to 25() writers. where Morgan was only able to list 54. The risks were multiplied. btit so were the rewards. And the burden was shared. Where Morgan provided all the entries. I did only two of the top 100. with the rest championed by others.

10 THE LIST ‘J 915 Jun 7005)


Morgan included No Mean City in his list. and who

was I to argue with Scotland‘s greatest living writer‘.’ If

a cheeky chappy choice like The W’e Mar‘greegor is good enough for the makar it‘s good enough for me. I defer in all my choices to the opinions of others. but remain resolute about the ‘three indulgences’. Virginia Woolf set her best book in the Hebrides. George Orwell wrote his on Jura. And Joseph Conrad published his in Edinburgh. The grumbling about such seemingly ‘non— Scottish‘ writers rumbles on and much illiberal comment has been vented in that direction.

Favourites are funny things. I prefer Something Happened to Catch-22. and was delighted to learn it was Joseph lleller's favourite too. But that doesn't mean it's his best. only that the opinions of the author and one reader equally weighted happen to concur. Contrary to reports. not all the works in the final list were chosen by me. Like Quality Street. every one is someone‘s favourite. Remember. this was a list intended to go against the grain of dry-as—dust bookishness. It had to make sense in the street as well as the seminar. There was extensive

months after my initial long list. That‘s why it‘s such a rich list. ftill of the personal. the provocative. the problematic and the predictable.

There are. inevitably. some oversights. Duncan McLean is a glaring omission. Maley culpa. I can’t believe nobody spotted that until after the list had gone to press. William Boyd. Jenny (Tolgan. Margaret Thomson Davis . . . the list of those left off goes on. As for the list. I’m proud as a punch-drunk pugilist. I’d defy anyone to produce a tastier assortment.

I For the latest voting results see page 24; and for details (if/10W to vote/or )‘(mrjai'ourite Scottish hook turn to page 56.

Maley (faMght) talks books at the Word Festival, Aberdeen

consultation over a period of


sco‘i‘iisii seek

As part of our 100 Best Scottish Books campaign, we invite public figures to nominate their own choices.


l have always felt fondly towards George Macdonald Fraser, despite the author greeting his dotage by bec iming a roaring misanthrope. While working tOr The Herald. Macdonald Fraser lifted the bully from Tom Brown '3 Schoo/days and turned him into one of the great comic anti- heroes of Scottish fiction. Sir Harry Flashman was one of the few jOys of my schooldays: a cowardly, libidinous arch cad whose adventures through a world I had yet to see thrilled this boy from the Highlands.

Mainly though. my gratitude is due to Flashman in the Great Game. After reading about Sir Harry getting caught up in troubles of Cawnpore and Lucknow, I chose to write my 0 Grade thesis coold it really have been called a thesis? on the Indian Mutiny. To everybody's astonishment, including my own. I received an A. It's nearly 20 years since I spent any time with Flashman. but the days when I shared his journeys are important to me. The novels I read then. and F Iashman was very much part of them. sparked a never extinguished desire for adventure.

So if Macdonald l'raser wants to hang out on the Isle of Man and rant about the l U, good luck to him. I worry though. that his most famous character might find it all a bit of a bore.

I To vote for your favourite Scott/sh book, text the word ‘VO TE’ and the name of the book to 81800. The winner Will be announcer! in August.