Posted by: scottishwriters | August 16, 2016

Scotland in Comics: From Our Past to Our Present

When we think about Scotland, there are a few key motifs from the country’s history and culture that stand out. The idea of Scottish people being warriors, the people’s religious views, the mythology surrounding the country, and the way Scottish people embrace their identity are all important aspects of how not only Scotland defines itself, but how the rest of the world views it as well. Here we will look at how comics from Scotland and the rest of the world display what makes Scotland the country it was, and the country it is today.

Scotland’s Past From The Outside: Jean-Yves Ferri, Asterix and the Picts (2013)Slide4

Asterix and the Picts, one of the most recent comics in the Asterix series, details the adventures of Asterix and Obelix as they encounter a Pict for the first time, and travel to Caledonia to help the Picts defeat the invading Roman army. Obviously as a children’s comic, characters are exaggerated (the Picts survive on “malt water” and all have names beginning with Mac) but the characterisation of the Picts rings true to the romantic literary tradition of portraying the Scottish people as brave warriors, fighting off the Romans with ease. This is something that is taught in schools, and that most people take as fact, despite there being little or no historic evidence to support it. Instead this is a myth that Scotland has perpetrated, and that the rest of the world has happily bought into. It can still be seen in media today, and is something that Scotland seems in no hurry to disprove.

Scotland’s Past From The Inside: John Ferguson, Saltire: Invasion (2015)Slide7

Saltire is a comic written and published in Scotland. The series, first published in 2013 and already in its fourth volume, takes the reader through the adventures of Scotland’s first superhero, the titular Saltire, from his creation to help defeat the Romans invading Scotland and beyond. Here again we have the idea of the Scottish as warriors, Saltire shown as singlehandedly taking on a Roman legion, and the creators of the series have made sure there are no doubts about the message they are trying to state. With blue skin, red hair, and a white X-shaped scar across his bare chest, Saltire is the personification of Scotland’s warrior spirit, something for its people to be proud of and embrace about themselves and their histories.

Contemporary Scotland From The Outside: Chris Claremont, The X-Men v1 #104 (1977)Slide10

During Chris Claremont’s long run on Marvel’s X-Men comic, the team of super powered Mutants make frequent visits to the fictional Muir Island, situated off the coast of Scotland. This means that when trouble inevitably begins, the X-Men often end up on the mainland, specifically in Ullapool or Stornoway (shown above). It is interesting to note the types of Scottish characters the reader is introduced to during these visits. There are the deeply religious, such as Rahne Sinclair (a young mutant girl from the Highlands, brought up to believe mutants are evil sinners), and the deeply prejudiced, such as Reverend Craig or Angus MacWhirter (above). The Scotland that Claremont portrays here is a deeply negative one, but one that has some basis in truth. With the reformation and men such as John Knox as examples of religion in Scotland, it is easy to see how the connections can be made, showing the reader another opinion of Scotland’s culture that is out in the world, and based on its past.

Contemporary Scotland From The Inside: Peter Davidson, Oor Wullie Annual (2000)Slide13

The Oor Wullie comic, like its companion The Broons, has been a staple of Scottish comics since the 1930s. Celebrating its 80th birthday this year, the adventures of Wullie have barely changed in all its time in print, acting as a reminder to Scots of their own histories and childhood. By tying in important Scottish holidays such as Hogmanay or Burns Night (above), Wullie is a celebration of what it is to be Scottish, as Scottish people want to be remembered. The fact that Oor Wullie is also written in Scots is a big part of that as well, embracing a piece of Scottish culture so that it is not forgotten.

Scotland Today: David Baillie, Red Thorn v1 #01 (2016)Slide16

Since the first issue was released in January of this year, Red Thorn has been a great success, bringing Scottish culture and history to a wider mass market. Written by Scottish writer David Baillie, Red Thorn is published by Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics which is one of the two largest comic book distributors in the world today. Baillie has made sure that everything about the Scotland he is writing about rings true in the art, in order to create a real picture of Scotland rather than the vaguely Americanised ideas people are accustomed to seeing in mainstream comics. The above image is a perfect example of that, with a Barrowlands and Necropolis that would instantly transport anyone familiar with Glasgow there with one look. In a conversation with the writer himself, Baillie said of Red Thorn,
“I really wanted to try and get bits of Scotland that ordinary people would recognise onto the comics page. It’s easy to stop at the stereotypes – the shortbread and castles stuff, but I also wanted to show the pubs, streets and houses that we’re much more likely to frequent than tourist spots, and feature the sort of people that I grew up with. It’s great to possibly give all of the mythology a wider audience too, but for me it’s the real world that I wanted to showcase.”
Baillie is not only able to tie together how Scotland and the rest of the world should see Scotland, but he also is able to tie together the country’s past and present. Using this modern setting Baillie explores Scottish mythology, creating some of his own, but also staying true to what is already there to embrace important aspects of Scotland’s past.

Words by Andrew Smith.

Posted by: scottishwriters | August 15, 2016

Introducing Lea Taylor, Storyteller

Lea Taylor2


Storytelling in Scotland comes from a long history and diverse heritage of oratory literature. Telling tales connects people to literature in an accessible environment, both theatrical and intimate.

Storyteller Lea Taylor hails from the Cotswolds south of the Border, but was given a taste for this tradition while studying Scottish Ethnology at Edinburgh University. She has since developed a career by specialising in literacy and youth and children’s work. Now her stories appeal to audiences of all ages.

Her storytelling often includes song, and participation from audiences to encourage full immersion in the experience. Her biography on Tracs Scotland lists her specialities as “traveller tales, Celtic tales, international tales, fairy tales, wonder stories, environmental stories, peace tales and original stories.

She also works with the storytelling group BagaTelle, of which she is a founding member, as well as Young Storytellers Scotland.

At the Scottish Writers’ Centre, the magic of our events often springs from the delivery of stories by the writers present, whether that’s through readings of their work or the stories behind their work, about their inspirations, craft, and writing process. We can’t wait to hear what wisdom Lea has to offer in her ‘Storytelling to Nourish the Soul’ event, and invite you to come and find out with us tomorrow in the CCA Club Room at 7pm.

Read more about Lea’s work here. 

By Ellen MacAskill

Posted by: scottishwriters | July 29, 2016

The Good Dark by Ryan Van Winkle


Reading Ryan Van Winkle’s collection The Good Dark (2015) I began to feel as though I had entered into a new world. The poems within are self-standing and distinctive, but together they create a harmonious vision of melancholia and reflectiveness that is so self-aware that the work presents an electric shock to the staid trends of lyric poetry, a genre which today is so often discounted as being apart from experimental poetry. Images are refreshed and renewed. The hackneyed symbol of snow becomes startling again in ‘Untitled (The Decemberists)’:


I return to snow

Like a salmon and like salmon I know

the agony of arriving. Is this any way to spend

a day, a life, ploughing snow? Maybe I should

let them be, let the crystals pile high, raise

the roof beams – maybe this week or next

I will place one rare flake in a cigar box,

leave it at your door by way of explanation.

Recreating symbols in this way—rain is also renewed to amazing effect, and appears throughout the collection—brings them back to life, not least emotionally, allowing us to feel snow and rain again. The Good Dark is, in a way, just another break-up album, but unlike most break-up albums it never relaxes into cliché or emotional simplicity. Instead, reading it is like encountering heartbreak for the first time, with all the visceral bittersweetness that brings.

Behind every work of art that commemorates a break-up there is of course a failed relationship, and the collection does not shy away from the tension between this origin in failure and the success of the artistic project it has bequeathed. The stunning opening poem, ‘The Duke in Pines,’ ends with this acknowledgement:


If I ever woke

with Ellington and pines you know I would not

wake you to say, would not write it on scrap

paper and leave it for breakfast. I’d just keep

Duke Ellington in Pines in my mind, walk with it,

take it to the pictures, buy it a pop, let it rest on my shoulder

during long journeys. I would smoke Duke Ellington

in Pines with friends and so I am today, smoking

Duke Ellington, wanting to pin him down, write him,

in pines, to you.


The collection is also undeniably sad, as this extract shows. There is romantic sadness (‘So,/I want to say sorry//for forgetting to hang/my shirt where my shirt belonged’ is one poignant example) but there is also the sadness of growing old, and of no longer being a child. This nostalgia, defined most usefully here as longing for a home that no longer exists, is conveyed by Van Winkle with the same precision that he conveys heartbreak:



before time was something we counted. Before the street lights,

after the street lights – everything changed. 

The effect of this change upon the subject of the poems is also described in a few lines that exemplify the poet’s awareness of rhythm:


I was not always old

and stupid and mean. I was born

innocent. But the sun

made me brutal.


These two strands, of heartbreak and nostalgia, both so well articulated to the reader, make the collection into a kind of therapeutic space that remains artistically bold.

This is a sorrowful but cathartic collection. The Good Dark is painted with subtle hues of emotion that lead you, unprotesting and mesmerised, into the world within.


Ryan Van Winkle will be speaking at the SWC on the 2nd of August, at 7pm, in the CCA.  

Words by Donald Marshall. The Good Dark can be purchased at


Following on from our post on Literary Day Trips (thanks Rachel!), here are a few must-see locations around Scotland to interest younger bookworms. From picture books to YA fiction, children’s writing is rich in allusions to the landscape just beyond our front doors. We have rugged mountains and stormy seas, mysterious lochs and ancient cities – exciting settings for all kinds of stories are closer than you think!


Posted by: scottishwriters | July 27, 2016

Tendai Huchu at the SWC


Why am I putting my time and effort into this when things keep going wrong?

The above quote from Tendai’s talk is something that plenty of writers ask themselves in the process of writing, and Tendai himself is an example of why we should stick with it. At the Scottish Writers’ Centre to discuss his most recent novel The Maestro, the Magistrate & the Mathematician, Tendai points out that while this is his second novel, it was actually his eighth; the other six survive as unpublished manuscripts. His point that he has probably failed more than he has succeeded resonates with the audience as a reminder that all writers live with the fear of not being able to be successful.

Tendai talks about how important it is to work hard to perfect the craft, and how vital it is to edit your own work. He tells a story about the first manuscript he submitted which was completely unedited and, needless to say, never published. He managed to write his first published novel in a single two week stretch, and while he thought he would be able to achieve this with his next novel it actually took him three years to finish the manuscript for The Maestro, the Magistrate & the Mathematician. He talks about the craft of writing in terms of his favourite British saying, “how long is a piece of string.” Writing a book takes as long as it takes, a writer should just focus on making the most succinct version of an idea rather than worrying about how long it takes them to get there.

After discussing how he wrote the novel, Tendai moves on to talk about the novel itself, and how the form of the book is used to reflect the story and the characters themselves. The novel deals with three individual characters, the titular maestro, magistrate and mathematician, and was made up of three novellas cobbled together into a novel, as Tendai put it. The style in each of the individual characters’ stories is influenced by how the characters themselves act; the mathematician (a young postgraduate student) narrates in shorter sentences and heavy dialogue, speeding up the pace for the reader as they follow the story. Conversely, the chapters from the maestro’s perspective contain no paragraph breaks and much longer sentences, forcing the reader to slow down and concentrate on every word.

Tendai closes the event with some advice for aspiring writers to consider. He stresses the importance of trying to write short stories, and sending them into literary magazines to get published, so that writers can further learn the importance of editing as well as getting their name out there in the literary world. He also suggests that all writers should try their hand at writing science fiction, which develops skills in world building to create the universe your characters live in. Finally, Tendai advises that writers should ask themselves “what can I learn from a text?,” be it their own work, or something read as research, and apply that knowledge to their own writing.

Buy Tendai’s work here


Words by Andrew Smith.

Posted by: scottishwriters | July 19, 2016

Trying to the Make the Poem ‘Work’ with Christine De Luca

“Its function is to house something / worth saying”
– From ‘Home for a Poem’ by Christine De Luca

The above quote encapsulates much of the wisdom Christine De Luca imparts at the CCA in our first July event. She discusses her process, her background, and individual inspirations for poems with frankness and charm. All in all De Luca’s talk completely lacks pretention: her ideas about poetry and the poet’s role all relate back to being able to communicate ideas that are worth something.

De Luca has held the post of the fourth Edinburgh Makar for two years now and discusses how writing a poem “from cold” differs from writing personal poetry with all the emotional push that precedes it, emphasising the fact that poems to order, like all poetry, must be “fit for purpose”.

The audience become curious as soon as De Luca introduces her Shetlandic work into the mix. She describes the background of the language and culture, blending Scots dialect and Norse, and the way she interchanges between languages in her writing depending on elusive factors such as personal relevance and subject matter. De Luca performs everything she reads in her, bringing poems to life with her melodic intonation and actions. Often she reads the Shetlandic version of a poem while projecting the English version onto the screen for the audience to read, so our ears become accustomed to the differences in pronunciation and dialect.

Her poems range in subject matter: from rugged island landscapes, a key inspiration to her as a former geography teacher; to conversations with the men made into statues on the Royal Mile, such as the poet Robert Ferguson and the philosopher David Hume; to the memory of escaping a storm on a croft as a child, recalled after seeing ‘The Scream’ by Edward Munsch.

To conclude, here are some condensed lessons in the art of poetry to take away from De Luca’s talk:

  • Make a poem look easy despite the blood sweat and tears that have gone into it.
  • Feedback from trusted friends and other writers is the most useful thing of all.
  • Identify something which anchors the poem and something which lifts it off.
  • Trust your intuition in creative decisions.
  • Form and shape can be added as a second layer to a poem after the first draft is written.
  • When you feel a poem is as good as you can make it, is it because it is perfect and ready for the world, or not good enough, a “so what” poem?
  • Finally, ask: is it worth saying? If the answer is unclear, return to it after a month’s break.

Read Christine’s poetry here


Words by Ellen MacAskill.

Posted by: scottishwriters | July 14, 2016

Gary Chudleigh at the SWC

Gary Chudleigh at the SWC

Gary’s talk ‘Putting Words into Balloons: a Guide to Writing and Making Comics’ may have focused on the medium of comics in writing, but there was an often repeated phrase that is important for every writer to know: write what you love and don’t be afraid to write to your style. As he points out, there is a tendency for writers to believe that they should only write what they know, and I’m sure every writer has seen or heard that advice at least once in their writing career. But Gary (the Clydebank born writer of Plagued, a comic suitable for all ages set in a post-apocalyptic Scotland) disagrees with that statement, instead suggesting that writers should right about what they love and then incorporate what they know into their writing as they go along.

Loving what you write is a big part of Gary’s talk, and his career as a whole. He speaks about writers not only having a passion for writing, but also for learning and the importance of doing research on your work, and you can see that passion come through in the science fiction worlds he creates within his comics. Freedom as well is a large part of writing to Gary, from the freedom that the medium of comics gives the writer to the freedom of letting your writing take control. He believes that you need to write what you should and not what you think you have to, illustrating this point by telling us how before he starting writing Plagued he had planned on creating a Star Wars –esque space opera, but that as he wrote the work took him another way.

Structuring comics is similar to the ways in which a writer would write a script for screen or stage, so the writer not only has to focus on putting the words on to the page but also directions for the artist and splitting the work into panels for the story to flow through. Gary talks us through not only his own process, but also those of the comics industry such as full script which is favoured by the industry as a whole, and the so called Marvel method popularised by Stan Lee. The importance of making the story flow structurally is something Gary touches on as well, and his preference for the three act structure used in movies such as Star Wars in his comics.

Gary offers some advice during the talk which is important for all writers to remember. Redrafting is critical; no one gets it right the first time around. Gary himself redrafts several times before he sends it along to his editor to be further modified. Push past your fear of failure and just write, even if you just start small as Gary suggests and focus on writing short stories. He also speaks about finding your own avengers; joining a group to share your writing with so that you can receive feedback from your work. There are plenty of writing groups out there, whether they are based in Glasgow like those with the Scottish Writers’ Centre, or through social media sites such as the Glasgow League of Writers, which can not only help you gain feedback on your work but also make connections with others in the literary world.

Gary’s talk offers a lot of advice for inspiring comic book writers, but also lots of advice for writers of any medium to take to heart. The importance he put on writing what you love and having a passion for learning as well as writing are things that all writers can apply to their own work, whether you want to write comics, prose, or poetry. And as Gary suggests, let your work control you and let it lead you to where it wants to go.

Plagued can be purchased here through Black Hearted Press, and more of Gary’s comics can be found here.


Words by Andrew Smith.

Posted by: scottishwriters | July 8, 2016

A Quick Look at Writing for Children in Scotland

All across Scotland, the future of writing for children is looking bright. From the outer reaches of Islay and Stornoway to the heart of our biggest cities, children’s publishing houses are releasing a great range of new titles year on year. Young readers are spoilt for choice: we have books in Scots and Gaelic, contemporary stories and revivals of old myths, well-loved characters, and brand new favourites. Here is just a small selection of the brilliant children’s writing that Scotland has to offer.

Acair Books

Acair was established in 1976 to provide Gaelic language materials for children and is now a firm favourite in Gaelic schools across the country. They have an impressive back catalogue of more than 500 titles and welcome new writing alongside old classics.

Choice titles: Gaelic translations of Martin Waddell’s lovely Owl Babies and Oliver Jeffers’ more recent hit Lost and Found.


Black and White Publishing

Image result for black and white publishing

Black and White encompass the innovative Itchy Coo imprint, translating children’s favourites into Scots. The Twits are transformed into The Eejits, Fantastic Mr Fox is The Sleekit Mr Tod while Piglet, Owl, and Eeyore become Wee Grumphie, Hoolet, and Heehaw.

Choice titles: James Robertson’s translation of Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo’s Child, or The Gruffalo’s Wean as it is rewritten.


Curly Tale Books

Alongside their titles for children – with a special focus on all things Scottish – Curly Tale also have their own children’s bookshop! Pop down to visit them in Wigtown, home of the Wigtown Book Festival.

Choice titles: Alan Grant’s The (Quite) Big Rock about a rock with aspirations beyond his size sounds brilliantly unique.


Floris Books


The largest children’s book publisher in Scotland has a range of titles for all ages, carefully categorised by Scotland’s infamous loch dweller: there is a Picture Kelpies range for young ones, Kelpies for ages 8 – 12 and KelpiesTeen for older readers.

Choice titles: Scottish Mythical Creatures and Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales, both beautifully illustrated anthologies that can be easily dipped in and out of.


Serafina Press

serafina_pressSerafina Press focus on art-driven titles, releasing a selection of illustrated picture books with a strong sense of Scottish location: stories are set in St Andrews, East Neuk, North Berwick and the Borders town of Eyemouth where Serafina is based.

Choice titles: The Sea Dancer at St Abbs demonstrates this commitment to local texts, with illustrator Sophie Elm preparing by taking detailed photographs of the area so that the setting for the story would be instantly recognisable to the people who live there.


Posted by: scottishwriters | July 2, 2016

Introducing Christine De Luca

ChristineDeLuca2_36 (1)

Christine de Luca, originally from Shetland, has a writing career spanning decades and various literary forms including poetry, novels, and publications on art history. She currently lives and works in Edinburgh as the city’s fourth Makar.

One of de Luca’s most widely acclaimed poems in this role is ‘The Morning After’, read publicly for the first time the week before the independence referendum in 2014. The poem is worth revisiting once again in the wake of the Leave vote in the recent EU referendum as all eyes are on both our parliaments and our people to decide our social and political path in Scotland, the UK, Europe, and the world. ‘The Morning After’ appeals to our shared consciousness of compassion and care, challenges divides and hateful sentiment, and asks what we really hope to gain from political progress:

Was it about the powers we gain or how

we use them? We aim for more equality;

and for tomorrow to be more peaceful

than today; for fairness, opportunity,

the common weal; a hand stretched out

in ready hospitality.

Read the full poem here.

De Luca’s poetry has cross-cultural appeal, having been translated into numerous other languages from Icelandic to Bengali. As an artist she nurtures her Shetlandic heritage, a language and culture often forgotten by a creative industry focussed on the Central Belt. De Luca also works on a project called Inta Shetland, which translates a range of global literature into Shetlandic.

Quoted in the Edinburgh Evening News after the announcement in 2014 that she was to become Makar, she said:

“I write in whichever language comes to the poem. I might write about Edinburgh in dialect and then write about Shetland in English. My work involves both languages equally and that’s something I would like to help with – people feeling good about their mother tongue.”

Check out De Luca’s website for more information on her work, or better still come to the Scottish Writers’ Centre event at the CCA Club Room at 7pm this coming Tuesday 5th July to give her a warm welcome and hear her advice on ‘Trying to make the poem “work”’.


– Ellen MacAskill



Posted by: scottishwriters | June 29, 2016

SWC’s Literary Day Trips

Seeing as you all enjoyed our last summer-themed post so much, the SWC is back with more recommendations.  Whether you’re a student with the whole summer break stretching in front of you, or just looking to make the most out of your weekends, the SWC is full of suggestions for exciting, literary-inspired day trips across Scotland.


Glasgowglasgow uni

Image credit: University of Glasgow,

As the home of the Scottish Writers’ Centre, Glasgow’s literary scene is well-documented in this blog, but it’s always a pleasure to be a tourist in your own city!  Stroll around Park Circus to explore Glasgow as shown by Alasdair Gray in his excellent novel Poor Things, or walk along to the University of Glasgow to wander around the beautiful courtyards and cloisters.  The university has been attended by writers as diverse as Christopher Brookmyre, Zoe Strachan and Janice Galloway; plus (and this probably only applies if you’re an avid Harry Potter enthusiast) you can’t deny that the main building looks like Hogwarts.




Image credit: Writers’ Museum,

As a UNESCO City of Literature, Edinburgh is brimming with literary associations.  Check out the truly dazzling profusion of literature-based tours that are always running: specifically designed tours cater to eager fans of Harry Potter, Trainspotting or literary pubs, or for the more general book lover, there’s a plethora of routes to choose from.  Visit the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile to experience the art of true live storytelling – and if that motivates you to spin your own tales , then consider one of the Centre’s workshops on the ‘Art of the Storyteller’ running throughout July.  And there’s always the Writer’s Museum, hidden in Lady Stair’s Close off the Royal Mile: it’s a veritable treasure trove celebrating the work of three of Scotland’s most famous writers, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and, of course, Robert Burns.


Beyond the cities…

walter scott

Image credit: Abbotsford House,

This year, Abbotsford House are hosting an exhibition of literary reviews from Sir Walter Scott’s journalistic career, titled ‘Rave Reviewer: Scott on Frankenstein, Emma and Childe Harold’: situated in the historic Melrose in the Borders, the house will also showcase Scott’s first edition copies of classic novels Emma and Frankenstein and highlight an important, although often overlooked, aspect of Scott’s career.  And if you’re a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (recently made into a successful TV series), then look no further than the tours run by Wow Scotland: although many of the places mentioned in the books are fictional, the tour aims to capture the historical spirit of Gabaldon’s series and offers an exciting vantage point from which to explore the Highlands.


Image credit: Standing stones at Callanish,

Let us know in the comments if there’s any places you’d recommend for literary day trips across Scotland!

Words: Rachel Walker

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