This July I hope to return to Scotland as part of my new book’s book tour. I plan to revisit the place where the story begins, where this historical novel’s protagonists hail from – the charming, timeless town of Kirriemuir in Angus – to thank the kind people there who helped so much with my initial research.
And I’ll pay my third visit to the country’s proud capital, Edinburgh, the first city in the world to receive UNESCO’s “City of Literature” designation. For me, a college Lit. major, lifelong writer and book lover, who is half-Scottish by ancestry, Edinburgh is my Mecca.
I remember on my last visit there, in 2011, I happened upon Edinburgh’s Writers’ Museum, which celebrates the lives and works of three giants of Scottish literature – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
This free museum, just off of Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile, is home to portraits, rare books, and personal objects, including Burns’ writing desk, the printing press on which Scott’s Waverley novels were first produced, and a ring given to Robert Louis Stevenson when he lived in Samoa, engraved with the name “Tusitala,” meaning “teller of tales.”
Imagine, I thought as I wandered from room to room in this wonderful 17th century townhouse, a whole museum dedicated to WRITERS!
And the courtyard outside of the Writers’ Museum – a peaceful public space called Makars’ Court – is carpeted with flagstones inscribed with quotations from Scottish writers from the 14th century to the present. These writers’ words were not just printed, I thought then, they’ve been carved in stone!
Since 2004, when UNESCO graced Edinburgh with the first-in-the-world “City of Literature” designation, there has been a growing network of others. Today there are 28 “City of Literature” cities, in 23 countries, on six continents. Among those 28, there are four in the UK, two in the USA, and one in Africa. (For more, go to www.cityofliterature.com .)
Scottish literary giant Robert Louis Stevenson appears briefly in my historical novel because he and James (“Jamie”) Barrie, one of my protagonists, were in fact friends. Here is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Jamie’s Muse:
“It was during this time in Jamie’s life too  that he began receiving admiring letters from his hero Robert Louis Stevenson, then living in Vailima, Samoa. United in what he referred to as their mutual ‘Scotchness,’ Stevenson confided to Barrie: ‘It is a singular thing that I should live here in the South Seas under conditions so new and so striking and yet my imagination so continually inhabits that cold, old huddle of grey hills from which we come.’
“And in another letter to Barrie, Stevenson wrote of himself, ‘…I am a capable artist; but it begins to look to me as if you were a man of genius. Take care of yourself for my sake; it’s a devilish hard thing for a man who writes so many novels as I do that I should get so few to read, and I can read yours, and I love them.’
“Stevenson’s letters gave Barrie immeasurable pleasure. Barrie was becoming recognized, praised, and admired, not only in London, England, and Edinburgh, Scotland, but as far off as Vailima, Samoa, by a writer whom he idolized.”
At a time when, it seems to me, fewer and fewer college students, at least in the U.S., are majoring in Literature (Because it doesn’t pay to do so?) and fewer and fewer people in general take the time to read literature – that is to say, books of lasting merit — (Too busy? Too tired? Too distracted?), I sometimes wonder why serious writers bother.
When I ask myself why I’m making this pilgrimage to my Mecca this July, the best answer I can come up with is: To restore my faith.