Amazingly, writing this blog actually involves some research. When I was in Edinburgh a week or two ago, I took some photographs though there was the flaw that it happened to be dark and they just didn’t come out right, sadly. Luckily, I was in Edinburgh during the day time and managed to get some photographs. But first some background.
I am a big reader. Being Scottish, I am a wee bit biased in prizing our nation’s literature above most others. As a nation, we are getting better at promoting our writers and our writing. One of the foremost examples of this is the Writer’s Museum, in Lady Stair’s Close in Edinburgh. It is a fine place with displays about Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns and Walter Scott. There are invariably temporary exhibitions too. Outside, in the close, are quotations set into the pavement from Scottish writers, some of whom are favourites of mine. I like to take a walk through there from time to time and always see something new. Some examples are below:
I particularly like the George Mackay Brown quote, chosen in 2005 and taken from his poem ‘Hamnavoe’. It’s a simple and direct description of what it’s like to write a poem or to write. We do put our hands in the fire. Sometimes we get burnt, though.
Nan Shepherd wrote probably one of my top three favourite books, The Living Mountain, which is about walking in the Cairngorms. It is also a very slender book that I read cover to cover within an hour. I remember it vividly: I was on holiday at my auntie’s in Aberdeen and was sitting on a summer’s night in her conservatory reading it. I had bought it that day at one of the National Trust castles somewhere in Aberdeenshire, possibly Craigievar or Crathes. I liked the look of the book and I think I had read about it in one of Robert Macfarlane’s books. I re-read it about once a year. In the best traditions of nature writing, Nan Shepherd’s writing is full of life, incredibly evocative and beautiful. If you take one thing from this, go read Nan Shepherd. You’ll be glad you did.
I wrote a little about Gavin Douglas in the post ‘South’, referring to a sculpture at Tullie House in Carlisle. The first line roughly translates into English as ‘make it broad and plain’, not a bad way to write, I would say.
Last but not least, John Muir. At some point, I will write in much greater depth here about Muir, a fellow Dunbar native and a figure I know more than a little about. This quote comes from his Life and Letters, published posthumously and edited by his literary executor William Frederick Bade. It is also the very last quotation in the video played on the middle floor in John Muir’s Birthplace in Dunbar.
There are many other quotes in Lady Stair’s Close, from Sorley Maclean to Naomi Mitchison, Iain Crichton Smith and Muriel Spark, leading down from the High Street through the Close down to the Mound. Have a walk through it some time. See where it takes you. It is, as Muriel Spark says, a ‘transfiguration of the commonplace’.