Fiction Map of the World – Scotland

by Travelbag on 04 August 2014, 09:08AM


This week sees us exploring the delights of Scotland and the inspiration its artists have drawn from the countries colourful history, beautiful highlands, countryside and vibrant cities.

Scottish Highlands

Essential Holiday Reading
For Scotland it seems appropriate to look to its first superstar writer, Sir Walter Scott, for appropriate holiday reading. Initially famed for his poetry, it is his full length novels that have secured his lasting popularity. As Scotland is a country steeped in history, one of tumultuous political uproar even to this day, choosing one of Scott’s historical fiction novels is my recommendation.

Waverley is regarded as the earliest example of historical fiction in the western tradition and was Sir Walter’s first novel. A story about the Jacobite rebellion it follows Edward Waverley on his journey and sees him take part in the Battle of Prestonpans, be arrested for desertion, and his meeting both Rose and Flora whose contrasting personalities, one rational, the other passionate, represent two differing approaches to change in the establishment. The novel was immediately popular despite being published anonymously, and also led to Scott meeting George, Prince Regent as he ‘wanted to meet the author of Waverley’.

Walter Scott

Notable Scottish Authors
There is one name that stands alone in Scottish literature, a name so entwined in Scottish heritage we can overlook the fact he was a poet and not a novelist: Robert Burns. Celebrated for his poetry, often written with a scots dialect, for example in Tam O’Shanter, he is a Scottish icon.

Scottish fiction is alive and well today with popular crime writers such as Ian Rankin (the Rebus novels) and Val McDermid, both exponents of ‘tartan noir’. Irvine Welsh is another prolific Scottish author, perhaps most well-known for his novel Trainspotting which went on to become a cult film too. The late Iain Banks was another prolific Scot who wrote popular fiction but also science-fiction under the name Iain M. Banks. Perhaps most famous of all, though, is the creator of the ever popular Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. From Holmes’ first appearance in A Study in Scarlet in 1886 he has been one of the most prominent figures in British fiction.

Robert Burns birthplace

Notable Scottish Books
Having already mentioned a few titles, it’s fair to say Scotland has a deep literary history. More recent novels are often noted for very gritty and brutal depictions of life as well as dealing with hard-hitting subject matter, novels such as Trainspotting, or The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks are renowned for this. A Place of Execution by Val McDermid, The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh or Under the Skin by Michael Faber are all good examples of brutal and eerie subjects explored expertly.

And the historical novel, as previously mentioned with Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley (see also Rob Roy or Ivanhoe amongst others), is another genre still in good health. Consider the Lillies by Iain Crichton Smith is a more recent example. There are also novels with a more personal, human element, and exploration of the psyche and emotions such as The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway and Buddha Da by Anne Donovan. Scottish literature is home to some startlingly original works across many genres.

Notable Scottish Films
In line with British productions there are an array of excellent low budget films set or produced in Scotland. The Wicker Man (the 1973 original, not the ill-fated American remake!) is revered as one of the greatest British horror films and has one of the most iconic endings in cinema. Another Scottish produced, Scottish set low budget cult classic is Shallow Grave, the directorial debut of Oscar winner Danny Boyle and containing an early performance from Ewan McGregor. Both films have contrasting settings that reflect the differing appeals of Scotland.

Two coming-of-age tales told in vastly different styles and tones are next up. Gregory’s Girl, written and directed by Bill Forsyth (see also Local Hero) is a more innocent, comic tale, whereas Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen is a gritty, hard-knuckled approach with a filthy mouth. Speaking of a filthy mouth, it’s also hard to ignore the film adaptation of a previously mentioned novel. Trainspotting caused a storm at the time of its release over claims of glamorising drug use but is generally acknowledged as being one of the finest films of the 90s.


Essential Holiday Listening
Whether you’re relaxing by the Lochs, maybe even monster hunting, or living it up in the fast-paced cities, there’s an album for you. A particular recommendation would be Puzzle by Biffy Clyro, a mixture of choppy guitars and powerful slower tunes with the quirks now associated with Biffy, all presided over by Simon Neil’s strongly accented vocals. It is simply a fantastic album and one that truly launched Biffy Clyro into the mainstream.

If you’re looking for something more chilled out look no further than Paulo Nutini’s debut album These Streets as the perfect slice of fun pop songs. An album somewhere in between the two would be The Man Who by Travis, containing some of their finest singles such as Driftwood, Turn and Why Does It Always Rain On Me, it launched Travis into the mainstream.
Notable Scottish Musicians
Scotland’s musical heritage is much broader than just I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers (who also happen to be far more than just that one song with 9 studio albums under their belts). There are several popular rock bands that arose during the 00s during the indie rock boom such as The Fratellis, The Editors, Franz Ferdinand and Snow Patrol, with Glasvegas coming a little later.

We can take a step back in time to the influential Lonnie Donegan, or Mark Knopfler, co-founder of Dire Straits but also an accomplished film scorer, his credits including the aforementioned Local Hero and The Princess Bride, he is also a celebrated guitarist. There are also longstanding cult bands such as Mogwai and Belle and Sebastian still active today and popular singer songwriters like Paulo Nutini, Amy McDonald and KT Tunstall too. And a special mention to Midge Ure, co-writer of Do They Know It’s Christmas, one of the highest selling singles in UK chart history, as well as being a successful musician in his own right, particularly with Ultravox during the 80’s.

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