Sinful Davey Haggart

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John Hurt in his pre-chest burster phase.

Back in my post Phrens like these“, I discussed the phrenologist George Combe who had Corstorphine and South Gyle connections.

“George Combe was no stranger to [controversy]. In fact, on one occasion he examined the head of one David Haggart, a nineteen year old pickpocket and murderer from Dumfries. Combe claimed Haggart had developed “secretiveness” written on his skull. Haggart was later to be executed, but would write a moving autobiographical account, explaining how the murder had not been premeditated and that he was deeply sorry for it. News of Haggart’s account reached Blackwood’s Magazine and others, who used it to attack Combe.”

Sinful Davey

A friend of mine specialises in digging up obscure films, and recently, he found one from 1969 called Sinful Davey, also known as the The Sinful Adventures of Davy Haggart. Having more than one title is never a good thing for a film, and I doubt it did much good for Sinful Davey before it sank into oblivion…

It took me a while to make the connection between Sinful Davey and the David Haggart I mentioned above. There is a very Barry Lyndon-esque flavour to the story-line. This film doesn’t really deliver on the “sinful adventures” that it promises, apart from a few robberies, there is less smuttiness than a Carry On film, and it looks quite tame in this day and age.

The penny only really dropped when a phrenologist came in to measure the character’s head in Stirling Gaol. Unlike much of the film’s narrative, this appears to have happened.

Sinful Davey boasts a well known cast, and some awful attempts at Scottish accents. The main character Davey Haggart is portrayed by a baby-faced John Hurt. His love interest is played by the under-rated Pamela Franklin (who you may remember as Sandy in the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie). Supporting roles are played by Ronald Fraser (who does the most convincing of the Scottish accents), Robert Morley (hamming it up as he always did), Nigel Davenport, and Fionnuala Flanagan. It seems to have been entirely filmed in Ireland, and while Ireland looks reasonably like Scotland, the Irish extras seem to make little attempt to put on Scottish accents.

The film was also Anjelica Huston’s first role, although I was unable to spot her. Her father John Huston directed the film. (Huston’s films recently featured on the Pointless recently, and Sinful Davey wasn’t even mentioned among the “pointless” answers!)

David Haggart

According to his Wikipedia article (!), the real Davey Haggart seems to have originated in Goldenacre in Edinburgh, of all places…

“Twelve days before the trial he was visited in prison by George Combe, the phrenologist, and between the trial and his execution he partly wrote, partly dictated, an autobiography, which was published by his agent, with Combe’s phrenological notes as an appendix, and Haggart’s own comments. It is a curious picture of criminal life, the best, and seemingly the most faithful, of its kind, and possesses also some linguistic value, as being mainly written in the Scottish thieves’ cant, which contains a good many genuine Romany words. Lord Cockburn, writing from recollection in 1848, declares the whole book to be “a tissue of absolute lies, not of mistakes, or of exaggerations, or of fancies, but of sheer and intended lies. And they all had one object, to make him appear a greater villain than he really was”. On the other hand, the contemporaneous account of the trial, so far as it goes, bears out Haggart’s narrative ; Cockburn is certainly wrong in describing Haggart as “about twenty-five”, and in stating that the portrait prefixed professed to be “by his own hand”. This autobiography later served as the inspiration for the 1969 movie Sinful Davey. It is available in several reprint formats, but no new edition has ever been issued.

Kipling’s Sister

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Today, LitCors looks at yet another neglected female writer with local connections.

Rosie ?Bell left a pleasant comment on my last post about Nan Shepherd, letting me know about Alice “Trix” Fleming (1868 – 1948), who lived at 6, West Coates for a number of years. Trix was the sister of Rudyard Kipling, and like him spent some of her life in colonial India. The two of them appear to have collaborated on some early work, so it is fair to assume some level of mutual influence. Trix also had a number of her own pieces published in both India and the UK. The Kiplings seem to have been a very talented family – both Trix’s mother and her father were also notable in their own right.

The Scottish Connection

Alice Beatrice MacDonald Kipling was named after her mother Alice Kipling, née MacDonald. Like her children, Alice Sr. was a keen poet. She also had a Scottish family background, which was perhaps influential in bringing Trix to Edinburgh. At 21, Trix married Colonel John Fleming – I suspect from his surname he may have had a Scottish background too, but I would have to look this up.

Trix and her husband tried to move to Edinburgh in 1910, but the visit was brief. Her mother had died back in India, and her father died three months later. The stress brought on by the bereavement appears to have affected Trix quite severely.

She came back to Edinburgh in 1932, and lived here for the rest of her life. She was visited Edinburgh Zoo regularly, and spoke to the elephants there in Hindustani (the Indian lingua franca, before it divided into Hindi and Urdu). Rather like Arthur Conan Doyle, Trix took an interest in psychic phenomena and was said to have the second sight. Back in those days, this was a far more mainstream viewpoint.

Novelist

As well as being a poet, Trix also produced several novels and short stories. These include:

  • The Heart of a Maid (1890)
  • A Pinchbeck Goddess (1897)
  • Her Brother’s Keeper (1901)

Trix in fiction

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Mary Hamer has written a novel about Trix and you can read a piece she wrote about the novel here.

Apparently some of the later scenes take place in Edinburgh including the zoo.

Further Reading

I’ve only skimmed over a few pages on the internet to write this post, but there appear to be at least two major works which discuss Trix’s life and work a bit more fully.

One of them is Trix: Kipling’s Forgotten Sister, which includes a number of her pieces, plus some biographical notes.

The other is Judith Flanders’ A Circle of Sisters, which also discusses Trix’s mother and her three aunts, the MacDonald Sisters.

Online resources

Acknowledgements

I would of course like to thank Rosie ?Bell for telling me about Trix.

The two book covers above are used in good faith and to promote the works in question.

Into the Mountain

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Nan Shepherd has achieved some posthumous celebrity in Scotland in the last few years thanks to her appearance on a five pound note. Into the Mountain probably exists partly because of this new found fame and indeed bears the self-same striking image on the cover. Whatever the reason, Charlotte Peacock’s new biography is welcome, and gives a detailed account of her life and writings.

I am not very familiar with her fiction or poetry to be honest and am not even aware if it is currently in print. Like many people I mainly know her for the Living Mountain, a beautiful work which ranks alongside John Muir’s as a classic of Scottish nature writing.

Shepherd, like Helen Cruickshank was a product of the north east and indeed the two knew each other. Shepherd often visited Cruickshank at her home at Dinnieduff in Corstorphine. Into the Mountain contains copious references to Cruickshank, and thus has a lot of local interest as well.

If I may make one criticism of the book, it is that Peacock often conflates Shepherd’s fiction with autobiography. While it is true that Shepherd left little in the way of memoirs, and there appears to be a flavour of roman à clef about The Quarrie Wood (which I’ve not read) it is dangerous to rely on such works. As a would be fiction writer myself, I occasionally draw on my own life but often change many significant details – someone else would be hard pressed to guess which parts I had changed. I suspect Nan Shepherd did the same.

 

 

Hidden History: Station Road & the east of Corstorphine

In this piece, I write about the eastern part of Corstorphine – Olympic athletes, artists, some lost local buildings and the Oscar-winning actress Rachel Weisz.

Colin Jarvie (1962-2012)

Colin Jarvie was an acclaimed photographer, who grew up on Traquair Park West, and later went to Craigmount High School. I only got to meet Colin a couple of times, though I knew his parents a bit. Colin was extremely disillusioned, and had just returned to Edinburgh from London, so I think it is fair enough to say that I didn’t catch him at a good time.

Colin was mixed race and adopted by a white couple. He talked about his experience of interracial adoption on the radio and elsewhere. While at university, someone once referred to Colin as a “black bastard”. He replied, “You’re right, I am black and I am a bastard.”

Some of his earliest work was photographing some of the bands on the Fast Product label. These would have included some of the bands that he was at school with at Craigmount (and I discuss some of them in my review of the Big Gold Dream documentary: he was also a near contemporary of the novelist Louise Welsh)

He moved to London in 1982, where he became involved with the London College of Printing. He later taught at the LCP. In 1986, he “discovered” a very young Rachel Weisz and photographed her for Rimmel. Weisz has always acknowledged his role in launching her career, and would attend his funeral in 2012.*

Grant Jarvie (1955-)

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Just a couple of Grant Jarvie’s books

Professor Grant Jarvie is Colin’s older brother. He is notable for books on sport.

It is interesting to note that two of Grant Jarvie’s early books were about the role of race in sport. They were written in the apartheid era, but one wonders whether Colin’s own experiences of racism were any influence in this matter.

On a more personal note, Prof. Jarvie has written about the sporting careers of his parents David and Margaret, who were both top level swimmers at the Olympic level; David later became a member of the GB Olympic water polo team.

The Paddockholm

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Chris Hoy

The Paddockholm is the actual site of the old Corstorphine Station, which Station Road takes its name from. The station was built in 1902, nationalised in the 1940s, and shut in 1968. The Paddockholm estate itself was built in 1983 by MacTaggart & Mickel who seem to have built half this area. (South Gyle Mains, some of East Craigs, Broomhall & Wester Broom in a very differ.)

There is very little now to suggest that the Paddockholm was once a station. At the far end, there is a footpath leading down the old line, through the former Pinkhill Station* and down to Balgreen. Otherwise, the Paddockholm’s railway past is best reflected in the big wall along its north side, and its narrow shape. There are plenty of bossy signs in the Paddockholm – mainly about how evil cold callers are. And cold they may be, since the Paddockholm rarely ever seems to be gritted or cleared of snow during the depths of winter…

“Paddockholm” as a field name long predates the railway, and originally refers to the frogs or “puddocks” that used to live there. “Holm” merely referred to a piece of dry land in the marsh surrounding Corstorphine and its loch.

In his autobiography, Chris Hoy speaks about how he used to used to play on this abandoned line as a boy. Hoy grew up on the boundary between Corstorphine and Murrayfield – I gather his relatives used to run one of the local garages.

Traquair Park

This street is where the aforementioned Jarvies lived. It has some terraced housing at its west end, but mostly consists of bungalows. I have it on good authority that the terrace is built on a bitumen mat to protect its foundations from damp. It seems you can take the loch out of Corstorphine, but you can’t take Corstorphine out of the loch.

Traquair Park was built around 1890, and was originally a cul-de-sac. It takes its name from Maud Traquair, who was the mother of John & W. Traquair Dickson who were proprieters of Corstorphine House at the time. In 1925, the street was divided up into east and west sections.

We won’t keep the Red Flag flying here!

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The Auld Kirk seen through Corstorphine House Avenue

Station Road was built around the turn of the twentieth century. Like Castle Avenue, it takes its name from a long demolished feature, in this case Corstorphine Railway Station. But there are several others:

  • The former Chinese Consulate was near the corner of Station Road with Traquair Park West (number 43 I believe). When the People’s Republic of China decided to move their consulate out of Corstorphine, you might have thought that they would choose somewhere more proletarian instead… but far from it! The red flag now flies over Corstorphine Road in Murrayfield, next to the local tennis club. Arguably this reflects the somewhat confused politico-economic identity of the latter-day PRC. After the Chinese moved out of the consulate on Station Road, it was demolished, and a new block of flats built. Whether this was an economic decision, or something more cloak and dagger, I’ve no idea. The PRC has demolished vast swathes of historic buildings in the name of progress, particularly in cities such as Beijing, so this action is consistent with their more general policies.
  • Corstorphine House. This lends its name to several streets in the area including Corstorphine House Avenue and Corstorphine House Terrace.
  • The old archives, which were beside the Paddockholm. Truth be told, these were ugly warehouses, and won’t be missed by me. These have been replaced by flats in the last couple of years.

Notes

  • It is worth mentioning that Rachel Weisz’s sister Minnie is also a professional photographer. I couldn’t go to Colin’s funeral, because ironically I was at someone else’s.
  • Pinkhill Station still retains its old platforms and the former ticket office can be seen on the bridge above – this used to serve the zoo.

Picture Credits

From Wikimedia Commons CC by SA:

  • Rachel Weisz – Credit: Neil Grabowsky/Montclair Film.
  • Chris Hoy – Credit: Mark Harkin

The pictures of the Auld Kirk and Grant Jarvie’s book covers were taken by me.

External links

How to Bury a body like Wendy – Corstorphine Festival 2018

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The Corstorphine Festival Bingo Card: I think I mentioned all but two of these.

Literary Corstorphine has talked a lot about writing, but not very much on how to write. In this post, I’ll talk about just that, with a bit of a hand from several published authors.

If you get a bit stuck, kill someone.” – Wendy H. Jones

Who could say this but a crime writer and get away with it?

On Wednesday, 30th May, the Hub on St John’s Road, Edinburgh hosted Corstorphine Festival’s Writers’ Night. Hosted by Corstorphine’s own Cecilia Peartree, the line up included Wendy H. Jones down from Dundee, Jane Riddell, Ann Stenhouse, and Kate Blackadder. As well as crime, these ladies have published in genres as varied as science fiction, YA (Young Adult), children’s, family relationship, historical romance and literary fiction.

I include some potted biographies of the other writers below, but some of the discussion may be of interest. These are taken from my own, somewhat chaotic notes.

Literary Corstorphine

Yours truly opened the discussion, and pointed out that I was something of a “rank amateur” compared to the rest of the line-up. I was the only one discussing non-fiction (or is it fiction? Let’s not go all meta!) Anyway, I hope to gear this blog post more towards other people’s opinions!

Talking of murder…

My own question: There being a lot of murder writers around these days, I asked the obvious… how do they research certain subject matter without causing too much alarm to the authorities? Looking up firearms and body decomposition online will probably land you on a watch list!

Me: I jokingly suggested no Google as an answer to this quandary. They store everything.

Wendy H. Jones fielded this question. She had worked in medicine, including a stint in an eye hospital in east Jerusalem where she would frequently encounter members of the public who had severe injury or trauma to other parts of their bodies. This meant that she is already au fait with a number of medical details.

She cultivated a friend in the police in Dundee and discussed. They will be able to provide you with a lot of up-to-date information.

  • Crime has been changed. Bodies can be fingerprinted and processed through the database in five minutes for example.
  • MITs (mobile incident teams) are also deployed across Scotland, since the merger of the forces.

Wendy admits “you have to play a little fast and loose” when it comes to such matters.

Research

Audience question: “How do you put yourself into the mindset of historical characters?”

Anne Stenhouse: She is adamant that she writes historical romance, and not historical fiction. Some research is necessary, but not so much as to bog the project down.

Anne points out that the position of women in the Regency Period was extremely different. Girls did not speak to adults in the same fashion that they do now. Women were effectively property until/unless they came to be widows – if that happened, then they gained a certain level of rights which were otherwise delegated to their fathers or husbands.

Wendy H. Jones: Two of her young adult novels are set in historic cultures: The Warriors in China and another is set in ancient Egypt. Wendy says that research is important as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the book.

Cecilia Peartree: Setting some of her work in 1950s Berlin provided a number of challenges, particularly as the city has been constantly changing over the past sixty years or so.

Consistency

And now onto the bane of writers (and film producers)… consistency. The way to deal with this problem is to go over your work thoroughly, and making charts & notes to keep track of it. And before publication, it is wise to have a number of people go over it, to try and find what you have missed. The ladies were extremely open about some of the issues that they had encountered in their own work.

Jane Riddell: Jane found out that one of her character was pregnant for 18 months.

Cecilia Peartree: Among her writing issues were a dog which had three different names in a single novel, and a baby which changed gender.

Wendy H. Jones: She recommends keeping tight control of what your characters look like – be consistent with things like eye/hair colour etc. All of this can be achieved through keeping notes separate to the story itself.

Other problems

The writers also pointed out some miscellaneous problems encountered by today’s writers:

Kate Blackadder: Kate points out that there has been a sharp decline in magazine outlets, partly due to the internet.

Jane Riddell: Jane discussed the difficulty of finding a readership within cyberspace. She also says people often have to see something seven times for it to stick in their mind. Advertisers know this, which is why they are so persistent in repeating images.

Cecilia Peartree: There is a danger of real life intruding too much into novels. Cecilia does a lot of work in committees and there is the concern that if this features in her work too much that people will assume it is based on her real life and Corstorphine in general.

Chewing Gum on the Mantelpiece

Wendy H. Jones: Chewing gum on the mantelpiece is a metaphor for something mentioned early in a novel. It has to be relevant later in the plot, because a crime reader will assume it is a clue in the plot, and will be disappointed if it is left unresolved.

She has to do a lot of plotting “to keep track of the bodies and to control the police” within the story.

Characters that bully you

Wendy H. Jones: Sometimes she says “characters start to bully you”, i.e. they start to take on their own identity and dictate to you their likes & dislikes. This can sometimes be little planned. One character, for example, she felt would be a whisky drinker as she was writing the story.

My own trumpet

I talked about Corstorphine’s links to Elizabeth Gaskell, Dickens etc, the sculptures of writers in South Gyle and read out the Rival Bellmen by the local writer Robert Cuddie.

On a very different note, the audience learnt about Daphne du Maurier’s uncle. He was a one-time editor of the Daily Mail, who held some unusual notions about Edinburgh. Were Corstorphine Hill and Gogar featured in the Bible? Probably not, but he thought so.

Biographies

Jane Riddell

Jane writes novels and short stories about exotic locales and often uses photographs for inspiration. She works within contemporary fiction, and the family relationship genre. She has also written a series of books featuring a cat… the Bakhtin Chronicles, based on the Russian philosopher of the same name.

Her non-fiction work – Words’Worth: a fiction writer’s guide to serious editing – speaks for itself.

Anne Stenhouse

Anne writes historical romance, which is often set in Regency London. She sometimes uses Edinburgh’s New Town for inspiration. Her other works include a novel about Travellers set in Midlothian & a new novel set in the world of community theatre.

Kate Blackadder

Kate writes novels, short stories & serials, many of which are set in Scotland e.g. Melrose, Edinburgh and the Highlands. She says it is easier to set short stories in various locations than novels, as they require less grounding.

Her stories have been published in a number of places, but she has put them into three collections, which are available on Kindle.

Her breakthrough came after winning a competition in The People’s Friend.

Wendy H. Jones
Wendy writes about crime in Dundee, which is apparently the murder capital of Scotland. It is also, as she told us, the last resting place of one of the prime suspects in the Jack the Ripper case – William Henry Bury, who was executed at the Bell Street Police Station.

She has had two series of crime novels published and a third on the way. Many of these start with the word “Killer” e.g. Killer’s Crypt, Killer’s Craft etc. Her protagonist is D.I. Shona McKenzie, a native of Dundee, who was raised in Oxford and thus brings something of an outsider’s eye to the city.

Wendy has also written YA novels – the Fergus & Flora series, and a children’s book, called Bertie the Buffalo.

Cecilia Peartree

Cecilia Peartree is the pen name of a locally based author, who largely writes crime novels, and has also dipped her toe into science fiction.

Her crime novels are set in the fictional Fife town of Pitkirtly. She has also used 1950s Berlin & Barcelona as backdrops to her work.

External links

 

 

 

It’s here

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After much ado, Literary Corstorphine is here. It’s taken too long, I know… but further details will follow, when I get a few more things ironed out. Many thanks for your patience.

Muriel Spark & WWI

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During my researches, I have found several interesting links between our area and Muriel Spark (1918-2006). Spark is one of my favourite Edinburgh writers – and is best known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Like Walter Scott, or Robert Louis Stevenson, she probably needs little introduction. The Guardian has described her writing style as “waspishness, its spirit, [with] its curiously posh-Scottish camp”.

Curriculum Vitae (1992) is her autobiography, and has been criticised for the various things which it does not deal with. However, it is also one of her most interesting works, particularly to folk who are interested in her Edinburgh background.

In Chapter 3, we are told:

“…My father’s younger brother, Harry, died of the effects of poison gas to which he had been exposed in the trenches during the First World War. I remember my Uncle Harry only as being first young and merry, next, suddenly thin, bent and ghost-like and very soon afterwards not there at all. He was buried in a Church of Scotland graveyard at Corstorphine. Some of my father’s sisters accompanies his wife, Bessie, and my parents to the funeral; they came afterwards to our house, wearing black clothes.”

WWI still casts a long shadow over our world, and it is one that seems to have grown ever longer since the centenary commemorations. None of its survivors are still with us.

Picture credits

The cover image provided is under “fair use”. I do not own the copyright on it, and trust that the estate, illustrators and publishers shall understand is used in good faith, and for the promotion of said work.

External Links

Rebecca West

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A lot of things come through Facebook – good, bad, and often ugly – but it was interesting to see this quote from Rebecca West (1892-1983), which many will agree with, and some even recoil from. Rebecca West was a highly interesting woman, and  a sometimes contradictory one.

She is also part of the story of literary Corstorphine.

Who she?

Rebecca West was born Cicely Fairfield in County Kerry. She was a noted journalist, author, literary critic, and also the “other half” of the science fiction writer H.G. Wells. Their son, Anthony West was a noted writer in his own right.

Her output was huge, and she contributed articles to major newspapers and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. It is difficult to summarise it all here.

Cicely (Rebecca) had a difficult childhood. Her father, Charles Fairfield was an Irish journalist who went bankrupt. He abandoned his family when Cicely was only eight, leaving Isabella, his Scottish wife, to raise them by herself. Isabella took the family to Edinburgh, where Cicely went to George Watson’s Ladies College on a scholarship. Cicely left school when she was sixteen with little or no formal qualifications.

Despite her father’s abandonment, she and her sisters all went on to lead successful middle class lives. One became an early female doctor and barrister.

Cicely herself would attend the Women’s School of Gardening at Kaimes Road in Corstorphine (on the west side of the zoo). This was a pioneering feminist institution – and other graduates included the Borders poet Madge Elder. Both of them would end up being involved in political activism, and the women’s suffrage movement.

She took her pen-name, Rebecca West from a character in one of Ibsen’s plays, a reminder of her career as an actress.

Novelist

West wrote fourteen novels, several of which were published after her death. Return of the Soldier (1918) is about the effects of WWI, while The Judge (1922) deals with the women’s suffrage movement. Many of her other works are romans à clef – i.e. disguised semi-autobiography such as Harriet Hume which is about an accomplished piano player held back by her husband (much as her mother Isabella had been).

Influence

No single form or genre was sufficient to contain her energy, and she lived as hard as she wrote. Rebecca West went everywhere, read everything, knew everyone. As Bonnie Kime Scott says in her editor’s introduction, “To read her letters in an informed way is to receive an education in the culture of the twentieth century.”

  • Hilary Mantel, in “Conservative Rebel”, a review of Selected Letters of Rebecca West, in The New York Review of Books (29 June 2000)

West accepted a DBE in 1959. By this stage, she had swung well away from the left-wing politics of her earlier life, so this was hardly a surprising decision.

She was responsible for covering many of the major events of the twentieth century – the beginnings of formal apartheid in South Africa in 1960, the Nuremberg Trials after the Second World War, the trial of “Lord Haw Haw” and many others.

External Links

One Boy’s Dinner

contentI’m just having a look at One Boy’s Dinner Please by Alan Bews.. Interesting account of how the author went to work at Gylemuir Works as a brass turner in the 50s in his mid teens, and how he encountered sectarianism there.

Part of the reason people asked you what team you supported was to find out what religion you were” (chapter 15), urgh! That kind of crap never changes… and is part of the reason I’m not much into football… the other thing they still ask is which school you went to, but let’s not go there…

There are other mentions of Corstorphine in the book as well.

The book was published in Australia, where the author now lives, so not readily available here, but if you want a look at a copy, it’s in the National Library now, thanks to my request!

External links

Picture Credits

The cover picture falls under copyright, but hopefully is considered fair use, as it promotes said item. No infringement is intended, and it will be removed on request.

Edinburgh West MPs… and literature

Thomas Buchanan
Thomas Buchanan

The words “politicians” and “literature” aren’t one you might immediately associate with each other. Probably a bit unfairly, since even though many present-day politicians are raving philistines, the relationship between politicians and literature goes back thousands of years… to Ancient Greece and beyond.

Of course, when it comes to fiction written by your MP, the best bet is to look in Hansard, not your local bookshop or library. Some of the material in politicians’ “autobiographies” is complete fiction too – but they tend to be ghost written by someone else these days. There are notable exceptions of course. Benjamin Disraeli* and Winston Churchill were accomplished writers in their time. Then, of course, there’s Jeffrey Archer – I actually found some of Archer’s earlier novels surprisingly enjoyable. (I can’t believe I just said that.) His novels have certainly sold in respectable quantities, but he’s a bit unfashionable these days, truth be told.

Closer to home, the former Scottish secretary and ambassador to Australia Helen Liddell wrote a trashy novel called Elite. Elite appears to be roman à clef (i.e. disguised autobiography), mixed up with a large dollop of wish fulfilment. Like the works of Jeffrey Archer, which are also in extremely bad taste, I enjoyed this book more than I should have. But when I enjoyed Elite it was usually for reasons other than the author intended.

Edinburgh West may have produced no Disraelis – or Archers – but its MPs have made their own contributions to literature:

Viscount Woolmer
Viscount Woolmer

* Viscount Woolmer (1859-1942) aka William Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selborne, was Liberal MP from 1892-1895. He was the author of Letters from Mesopotamia, about his role as a colonial administrator. I have not read this book, but I suspect like many such works, it probably holds more than a few lessons for present-day British politicians who feel like getting involved in the Middle East. (Pedants please note – he was styled Viscount Wolmer between 1882 and 1895 – and became 2nd Earl later. That’s how he could stand for parliament.)

* Vivian Phillipps (1870-1955) was Liberal MP from 1922-1924. His autobiography My Days and Ways came out in 1943 but was privately circulated. Douglas in The Dictionary of Liberal Biography describes My Days as “a useful record to how matters looked to a devoted Asquithian.” Sadly, it is hard to get hold of, and it is not in the National Library of Scotland. Phillips also wrote a guide to German literature.

* Lord James Douglas Hamilton (1942-), was Tory MP from 1974 to 1997. He has produced some work as well. In particular, he has written about his father and Rudolf Hess’ flight to Scotland during WWII. Lord James claims that his father has been misrepresented in this whole affair by certain parties, and has tried to set the record straight. A number of Lord James’ papers are also lodged with the National Library, but you will have to ask his permission if you wish to use these for research.

* Thomas Buchanan (1846-1911), Liberal MP from 1885-1892, was a devoted bibliophile, who left his books and various historical manuscripts to the Bodleian Library and Edinburgh University.

* John Avon Clyde, Lord Clyde (1863 – 1944), was Tory MP from 1909-1918, and was also on the board of the National Library…

While not at the apex of Scottish literature, these men have all made some contribution. Local historians might find these works of interest.

Devolution of literature?

Our MSPs, unfortunately, have not kept up the tradition. Still, it’s early doors yet, since the Scottish Parliament has barely been on the go for a generation. Like their Westminster predecessors, though, they may well be fodder for academics and historians. I suspect Margaret Smith of the Liberal Democrats shall be remembered as something of a trailblazer – she was the first openly lesbian MSP, and also the first into a civil partnership in 2006. These two facts will merit her a mention in any forthcoming books on Scottish LGBT history. Will she ever write an autobiography? Well, it seems she is quite a private person, so I wouldn’t bet on it.

Footnotes

*Disraeli’s novel Lothair features a character based on someone with Corstorphine connections. But if you want to find out who, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for the book of Literary Corstorphine!

External Links