List Five : Scottish Authors

This week I’ve taken my inspiration from the kilt wearing bagpipe player outside the supermarket this morning and have gone for a list of five Scottish authors. There have of course been many great authors born and bred in Scotland (I blame it on the bad weather forcing people to stay indoors) so it’s a bit of a challenge to limit it to just three but I’ve gone for some of my favourites. I should say, these are in no particular order as their books are so different it is impossible to compare them.

1. Ian Rankin

First on the list and arguably one of the most famous current Scottish authors Ian Rankin. It was my Dad who started me on Ian Rankin’s books as he was a big fan and at that point I was going through a bit of a crime phase (reading wise not mugging little old ladies).

He is probably best known for the Detective Rebus series which is set in his home town of Edinburgh (capital city of Scotland). It’s your standard grumpy, middle aged detective and his younger female partner who work in the homicide department investigating murders. Despite some of the clichéd characters they are enjoyable reads. There have been a couple of attempts to turn them into a TV series but in my opinion these were not particularly successful. I much prefer the books but then I usually do.

2. Christopher Brookmyre

Another mystery and thriller writer whose books have been turned into a TV series. The most well known of his books is Quite Ugly One Morning which was the first in the Jack Parlabane series and the one turned into a TV series starring James Nesbitt as the reporter who is dragged into a murder investigation. As well as the Jack Parlabane series, he has a couple of other series as well as quite a few standalone works.

What I love about his books are the fantastic titles, “Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks” springs to mind, as well as the generally incompetent villains who are often more of a danger to themselves than anyone else in the book. The other thing I really like is that they are for the most part set in west central Scotland which is where I live and work. Books feel so much more real when you can visualise a particular place.

Occasionally there is a bit too much social or political commentary for my tastes and they can be a bit blokey with big long sections on computer games, football or music but that can be forgiven as he is the author of one of my all time favourite books The Sacred Art of Stealing.

3. Jenny Colgan

Just to prove that it’s not all crime and murder in Scottish books I thought I’d better include Jenny Colgan chic lit author extraordinaire. Currently lives mostly in France but was born in Prestwick on the west coast of Scotland.

I’ve been reading Jenny’s books ever since I first picked up Looking for Andrew McCarthy many years ago. Her books are funny, quirky, occasionally sad and have an interesting mix of characters. Most of the latest ones have had some sort of food related theme (sweetshop of dreams, beachfront bakery, cupcake café etc) which is great because who doesn’t love reading about cakes and sweets. What makes them even better is that they tend to include a selection of recipes to try at home. I still use the cupcake recipe as it never fails despite how incompetent I am in the kitchen. (she also posts them on her blog which you can find here)

As a random fact, she recently wrote an episode of Doctor Who which is one of my favourite TV shows.

4. Stuart MacBride

…and it’s back to crime and murder. This time mostly in the Aberdeen area (north east of Scotland).

Stuart MacBride books tend to get compared with Ian Rankin but I actually kind of prefer them in some ways. His most famous series features police detective Logan McRae who seems to end up investigating an inordinate number of serial killers. What makes the stories so great is how real the characters feel. They avoid a lot (although not all) of the clichés such as the alcohol problem and the ex wife and all of the characters develop and change over the course of the series.

There is quite a bit of humour, mostly dark, a lot of bad language, usually some pretty gruesome deaths and some violence. Main character Logan is pretty likeable, doesn’t want to be a hero just wants to keep his head down and stay out of trouble, but the big draw for me is the cast of supporting dysfunctional characters who tend to make me laugh. I also love the constant commentary on the miserable weather. It is almost always raining which to be honest is pretty true to life in Scotland. The running joke here is that you know it’s summer because the rain’s warm.

5. Lewis Grassic Gibbon

I have to admit I’ve only read one Lewis Grassic Gibbon novel, Sunset Song, but it had such a big influence on me I had to include him in the list. He was born in Aberdeenshire in 1901 and passed away in 1935 but I think his books will remain classics forever.

Sunset Song is the first in the Scots Quair trilogy and was a set text when I was in secondary school meaning I was essentially forced to read it, or at least that’s how it felt at the time. At the start I absolutely hated it. It’s a very difficult book to read as the language includes a lot of words local to the area and the time which I had no idea of the meaning of. I spent probably the first quarter of the book flicking to the back pages where there were translations for some of the terms. It’s very difficult to get into a book when you have to keep looking words up.

However once I started to pick up the language I found I really loved it. It was one of the first books I had to really think about and which raised a lot of issues about the impact of the war. The characters were so real and the story captivating. It broke my heart in places.

Anyway, that’s my list for this week. What do you think? It’s got me thinking about how many crime writers there are in Scotland which is a bit of a worry but I promise it’s not all crime and death.

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