Scotland Inspired: James Robertson

James Robertson James Robertson is an author and poet who also publishes children's books in Scots

Who and what has shaped some of Scotland's most creative minds?

BBC Scotland has launched a major series - Scotland Inspired - tracing Scotland's artistic family tree, with prominent figures choosing Scots who have inspired them.

Poet and novelist James Robertson is also a publisher of poetry and of children's books in Scots.

Robertson is regularly cited as one of the best writers in Scotland and an exponent of the contemporary historical novel.

He was Booker prize-nominated for The Testament of Gideon Mack and his 2011 novel And the Land Lay Still garnered huge critical acclaim.

Robertson is a long-standing champion of the Scots language and was founder of Itchy Coo, the children's imprint for books in Scots.

BBC Radio Scotland - Scotland Inspired, Episode Six - Tuesday 5 June at 13:45

SIR WALTER SCOTT - writer and poet (1771 - 1832) JAMES ROBERTSON SAYS
Sir Walter Scott

"I didn't actually read anything by Walter Scott until I was in my early 20s. I think, like many people who have not read Scott, I had this idea it was going to be a bit 'tartan and shortbread'. I very quickly realised that was not the case.

"There is a level of irony and knowingness about how Scott writes about Scotland - and the highlands and the lowlands and the relationship between the two - that has been forgotten because so many people don't read Scott and have a stereotyped image of him.

"With each successive novel I read I realised that he was, in the early part of the 19th century, trying to map out a story of Scotland that hadn't been done before.

"One of the things I have always admired about him is that he goes for the big picture. He deals with society at moments of big change and looks at how those moments of historical change affect individual people.

"You have to remember that Scott in his day is the single most popular and successful author. He's massively successful in the British isles and right across Europe and America. He probably is the most widely-read author of the 19th century.

"The reason is, no-one has done before what he does with the historical novel. He says 'I'm going to write about people from previous ages and I am going to show you they are just like us'. He says 'I am going to demonstrate when big historical events happened they have a dramatic impact on the lives of ordinary people'."

HUGH MacDIARMID - poet and nationalist (1892 - 1978)


Hugh MacDiarmid

"MacDiarmid attacks Scott ruthlessly and described the Waverley novels as being the great source of the paralysing ideology of defeatism in Scotland. It is because of Walter Scott, as MacDiarmid sees it, that we have this terrible poverty of literature in 19th century Scotland and in 20th century Scotland political weakness as well.

"It is interesting because MacDiarmid and Scott are so completely different and come from completely different backgrounds. MacDiarmid is the son of a postman from Langholm, yet he also sets out the project, which is to remake Scotland and to wake it up to its full potential.

"I came to MacDiarmid in the year he died, 1978. I read the obituaries and thought 'this guy is important'.

"I was a student and I was rethinking my views about what Scotland was politically and culturally and MacDiarmid was a key for me to get into that.

"He made me rethink everything I had thought about language, literature, politics.

"MacDiarmid was a fiery influence on me, whereas Scott was a more measured influence.

"MacDiarmid basically said 'I am not happy with the condition of Scotland either culturally, politically, socially or in any other way and I am going to shake it up'.

"That's exactly what he did and he is to me the single most important cultural figure of 20th century Scotland."

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