Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

I missed out on doing Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times which is hosted by Judith@ Reader in the Wilderness last week, I had every intention of doing it at some point during the week and then found myself at the next Friday with it still undone, a bit like me!

It’s a very weird thing but despite the lockdown and obviously being nowhere at all apart from house and garden and a walk for the Guardian every morning, I seem to have less and less time for doing stuff. How did I fit in visits to interesting places before the lockdown? It’s a mystery.

Anyway, I’m so behind with things I’m using the same shelves as last time and highlighting just three books, still Scottish ones obviously as they’re from some of our Scottish book shelves.

Scottish Books 1

Scottish Books 2

Trumpet cover

Trumpet by Jackie Kay was published in 1998. The blurb says – Joss Moody was a celebrated trumpeter, he has just died and the jazz world is in mourning. But in death Joss can no longer guard the secret he kept all his life, and Colman his adoring adopted son, must confront the truth: the man whom he believed to be his father was in fact a woman.

Jacky Kay was herself adopted and is better known as a poet nowadays. Trumpet was her first novel and it won the Guardian fiction prize, she is the third modern Makar. (Scottish poet laureate) You can read about her here. I find it hilarious that she says that Scottish people still ask her where she is from – as if having dark skin means they must mean which country she is from. I’m always asking other people with Scottish accents where they are from and other Scottish people ask ME where I am from. We just mean – which part of Scotland (town) do you come from!

Joseph Knight cover

Joseph Knight by James Robertson was first published in 2003. This is historical fiction which is I believe based on fact.

After the Battle of Culloden young Sir John Wedderburn is exiled to Jamaica where he makes a fortune as a sugar planter. Returning home to Scotland to marry and re-establish his family name , he brings with him a black slave, one of the first in Scotland. But slavery was illegal in Scotland and there’s a big court case to prove that slave laws of Jamaica do not apply in Scotland.

This story is based on a true situation, but this tale is full of enslavement – of the colliers, spinners, women and even the imperialists – it sounds interesting.

Glitter of Mica cover

Glitter of Mica by Jessie Kesson was first published in 1963 and it’s Kesson’s second book. It’s an autobiographical novel and the setting is rural Aberdeenshire. Helen Riddel is the daughter of the head dairyman at Darklands farm. She has just returned from university where the world has been opened up to her, will she cut off the ties to her family and opt for a new life away from the narrowness of her previous rural existence?

As ever I hope to get around to reading these books sometime soonish although I must point out that I didn’t buy any of these books – they’re all Jack’s fault!

The Setons by O. Douglas

If you have a look at my library thing you’ll see that I’ve been reading John Buchan’s Witch Wood, but I have to admit that I only got to page 43 before deciding that I wasn’t in the mood for it. I almost never give up on a book completely so it’s just waiting until I feel more like reading it, or as we used to say in Scotland – until it comes up my back. Do not ask me where that saying comes from as I haven’t a clue!

Anyway, I felt that John Buchan’s sister O. Douglas matched my mood more, so I settled down with The Setons which was first published in 1917.

This book follows a now familiar pattern of a family with widely differing ages of children. It’s set in Glasgow and of course it’s the Seton family who live there, the father being a widowed church minister. Elizabeth, his daughter, is in her 20s and she takes the place of ‘mother’, especially to her brother ‘Buff’ who is only five years old.

It’s a comfy book, very autobiographical I’m sure, it’s probably an accurate depiction of the sort of life which O. Douglas experienced when the Buchan family was living in Glasgow, no doubt she used plenty of her acquaintances as characters. There is inevitably quite a lot of Scottish Presbyterianism and mentions of the Bible.

She was very fond of having a wee boy who was doted on in her books, it seems such a shame she only had brothers and never had any children of her own. Although the mother in this book is dead, the Buchan’s mother was very much alive and the book is decicated to her.

They sought the glory of their country: they see the glory of God.

Towards the end of The Setons the Great War rears its ugly head and it moves from being the usual cosy, romantic and amusing tale with interesting Scottish social history, to something altogether more sad but no doubt it echoed so many peoples’ experiences at the time.

I of course enjoyed it for the Glasgow setting, as I was born there and brought up not far away from the streets mentioned. There were quite a lot of visits to shops and Glasgow owned up-market department stores which I had remembered being in as a child. They’re all gone now, such a shame, but it was quite a nostalgia trip for me. It’s always good to be able to imagine an exact location, even when almost 100 years has gone past since the book was written. I think you can get The Setons from Project Gutenberg.

The 39 Steps by John Buchan

I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages, mainly because John Buchan was a local lad, having been brought up in Fife. His father was a Free Church of Scotland minister in Kirkcaldy.

The book was first published in 1915. Buchan had been ill and had run out of reading material so decided to entertain himself by writing the sort of book which he enjoyed reading.

His main character Richard Hannay finds himself on the run from the police and whoever had murdered his neighbour who had been hiding in Hannay’s London flat.

The murder victim had warned Hannay of an assassination plot which could bring the country to the brink of war.

Hannay makes for his native Scotland with both the police and the murderers hot on his tracks. Travelling all over the country he is helped by various inhabitants but still finds himself in sticky situations.

I enjoyed reading this classic adventure book and will read the sequel Greenmantle too. Good bedtime reading, I think.

The local legend is that Buchan named the book after the 39 steps leading down to the beach at the side of Ravenscraig Castle in Kirkcaldy. Here is a photo of the steps. (There are actually more than 40. We counted.)

The 44 Steps

But like every other coastal place there are plenty of steps to choose from leading down to various parts of the beach.

The book was made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935, but the film is completely different from the book. The most memorable part of the film doesn’t even appear in the book – when Hannay is scrabbling about on the Forth Bridge. But who could blame Hitchcock for changing things, the bridge is a gift for a thriller.

Hitchcock definitely improved the storyline thriller-wise as the Forth Bridge is such a wonderful iconic structure that it seems a huge gaffe on Buchan’s part not to include it in the book. The bridge also featured in the 1959 film starring Kenneth More. Maybe Buchan was just a bit blasĂ© about the bridge – as you tend to be if something is in your own back yard.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thriller and Suspense Reading Challenge.