• Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Local literature: three Scottish Writers you are missing out on!

The World's Wife book by Carol Ann Duffy standing up on a table

Walter Scott (my mortal enemy) is not mentioned, I promise.

Right. I’m going to assume some things about the readers of The Student. Firstly, you are a student at the University of Edinburgh. And secondly, as only 33% of students at our university are Scottish – some of you may be lacking in your knowledge of Scottish Literature.

Enter me! As 1. A Scottish person and 2. A Scottish Literature student – I come bearing good news: my top three Scottish writers and some of their best work, and I promise Walter Scott (my mortal enemy) will not be mentioned once!

Janice Galloway’s The Trick Is To Keep Breathing

If you take one thing away from this article, it is to read The Trick Is To Keep Breathing. Set in the east coast of Scotland, Galloway tells the story of Joy, a teacher suffering a breakdown after the untimely death of her partner. Galloway shows an absolute masterful control of her page, leaving the reader constantly feeling the sly smirk of both Galloway and Joy, who seems to be acutely aware her thoughts are being read, and chooses when the reader gets an unfiltered insight. Tenderly told yet full of humour, The Trick Is To Keep Breathing is genuinely one of the best books I have ever read – although fair warning, the experience of reading this was like seeing every sad thought I have ever had about womanhood, ageing, guilt and love written down in front of me.

Douglas Stewart’s Young Mungo

Stewart’s sophomore novel received almost as much praise as his debut Shuggie Bain. Young Mungo tells the story of Mungo, a gay working class boy living in 1980’s Glasgow. Perhaps in one of the bleakest and most destructive periods of Glasgow’s history, Stewart tells a story full of complex characters in exceedingly difficult positions. We see gang violence define young men’s lives, patriarchy and classism try and destroy a young girl’s attempt at moving on from a life fraught with addiction and poverty, and sectarian violence try and destroy young love. I see myself not painting a very happy picture, but that is reflective of the experiences Stewart is drawing from in this novel. And yet, when I recall reading this book, I remember the moment Mungo has his second ever kiss, which he gently compares to “warm, buttered toast”. If anything, what Stewart manages to do in Young Mungo is highlight that Glasgow, especially the Glasgow of the eighties which is a byword for violence, poverty and general misery, still has warmth. There were still people falling in love, there were still people laughing; Glaswegians were still people, deserving respect and your carefully listening ear (something many conservative politicians – looking at you Penny Mordaunt – have delighted in trying to deny us).

Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife

Look. I know. But I can’t have a list of Scottish writers and not include the legend that is Carol Ann Duffy. Scotland’s first female Poet Laureate, Duffy is a shining light of the Scottish poetry scene, and nothing for me shows this more than her collection, The World’s Wife. A series of poems dedicated to the perspective of various women (both fictional and real) Duffy provides a beautiful insight into the minds of women everywhere. My personal favourites being Havisham (which features the opening line “Beloved sweetheart bastard.”) and Anne Hathaway (Shakespeare’s wife, not beloved The Devil Wears Prada actress), which reimagines the reasons Shakespeare had for leaving his wife ‘the second best bed’ ending in the bittersweet line “I hold him in the casket of my widow’s head, as he held me upon that next best bed.” With every poem genuinely memorable – Duffy’s The World’s Wife highlights the sheer versatility of her writing, with some being only two or three lines of hilarity, whilst others being heart wrenching reimagining’s of often forgotten women.

World Book Night! 11/03/04” by sarahgb(theoriginal) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0