The best books for the walking the wild side of the Scotland-England borderlands

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born in rural Bannockburn in Scotland, two fields from the site of the famous Battle (a rare victory over England) of 1314. From the start, the Past has always been very present to me. I have written 22 books: novels, non-fiction memoir, and poetry. In differing ways they all explore aspects of Scotland and being Scottish – our landscape, geology, history, culture, and psyche. I was brought up in East Fife, near St Andrews, and live in Edinburgh and Orkney; my mother was English, as is my wife, novelist Lesley Glaister. Which is by way of saying I am interested in writing the joys, aches, and complexities of being human, in the universal and the local, in our present and the Past that shapes it.


I wrote...

Book cover of Rose Nicolson: Memoir of William Fowler of Edinburgh

What is my book about?

Set in St Andrews, Edinburgh, and the Western Marches, in the unstable years following the C16th Reformation and the flight of Mary Queen of Scots, this story follows the struggles of a group of young people to survive and even prosper amid the shambolic governance of a riven society. They fall in love, make jokes, study, get caught up in plots and become enlisted in cross-Border reiving raids. Narrated in old age by real-life William Fowler of Edinburgh - student, businessman, sometimes poet, and would-be lover - we live his conflicts, the battles between faith and reason, love, friendship, and self-interest, told with high seriousness and low wit. It is a companion piece to the acclaimed Fair Helen, Greig’s earlier novel that lived out the romantic-tragic Border Ballad Fair Helen of Kilconnel Lea. To read this novel is to enter a world so different yet so present and suggestive of our own.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Steel Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers

Andrew Greig Why did I love this book?

By the author of the wonderfully wicked Flashman novels, this is simply the best book I know on the Reivers (Rustlers) of the Scottish-English Borderlands C14-16th. I referred to it often when constructing Rose Nicolson and Fair Helen. As with Flashman, it depicts resourceful, desperate men and women, trying to survive and prosper amid the shambles of History – in this case, the ungovernable Borderlands. Finely researched, vivid and balanced, Fraser brings to life the extraordinary people of Borders myth and history. Imagine a Wild West that lasted some 300 years of horse and cattle rustling, kidnap and ransom, protection rackets (the words gang and blackmail - black meal or black rent - come from the reivers exploits), with some great narrative poetry and jokes grim or hilarious. A Borderer himself, Fraser gets the romance and the less romantic necessities that governed these intensely-lived, skillful, precarious lives.

By George MacDonald Fraser,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Steel Bonnets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Title: The Steel Bonnets( The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers) <>Binding: Paperback <>Author: GeorgeMacDonaldFraser <>Publisher: SkyhorsePublishing


Book cover of Witch Wood

Andrew Greig Why did I love this book?

Often seen as the finest of the great thriller writer’s more serious historical novels. Buchan, like his hero Walter Scott, was of the Borders and deeply immersed in its history. Fortunately, he took Stevenson rather than Scott as his literary influence, and wrote atmospheric, vivid, and pithy prose, with a great sense of the land, the speech, the mindset, all shaped into strong narrative. The conflicting urges between decency and the psychotic, kindness and wickedness, rationality and wild superstition – which Stevenson himself displayed in The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde – run right through this book and, some would say, the Scottish psyche.

By John Buchan, John Buchan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Witch Wood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Buchan's favourite of all his novels, Witch Wood deals with the hypocrisy that can lie beneath god-fearing respectability.

The book is set in the terrifying times of the first half of the seventeenth century when the Church of Scotland unleashed a wave of cruelty and intolerance. Minister Sempill witnesses devil worship in the 'Witch Wood' and is persecuted. It comes with an introduction by Allan Massie.


Book cover of The Debatable Land: The Lost World Between Scotland and England

Andrew Greig Why did I love this book?

 I love this as something quite different – essentially a close encounter with the Border by bicycle. He knows his history, writes well, and brings it all down to ground level, and conveys the lasting atmosphere (lovely, bleak, ruinous, enduring) of these Debatable Lands. A fine piece of historical travel writing by a deeply knowledgeable and astute writer. Makes you want to go and experience for yourself – if you do, take this book in your pannier (preferably waterproof).

By Graham Robb,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Debatable Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An oft-overlooked region lies at the heart of British national history: the Debatable Land. The oldest detectable territorial division in Great Britain, the Debatable Land once served as a buffer between England and Scotland. It was once the bloodiest region in the country, fought over by Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and James V. After most of its population was slaughtered or deported, it became the last part of Great Britain to be brought under the control of the state. Today, its boundaries have vanished from the map and are matters of myth and generational memories. In The Debatable Land, historian…


Book cover of Kidnapped

Andrew Greig Why did I love this book?

Alright, so this timeless adventure starts in Edinburgh and moves through the Highlands and the West Coast of Scotland before returning to Lowland Scotland for its resolution, and takes place in 1751, after the Union of Crowns has finally settled the Borderlands. Yet in David Balfour and Allan Breck Stewart it dramatizes that same conflict between Reason and Impulse, the Romantic and Practical Necessity, that has its origins in the C16th-17th Catholic-Protestant struggle for hearts and minds and souls. It’s pacey, astute, unforgettable, while being highly insightful into the dual aspects of the Scottish psyche that the Reformation has left us with. Books like this formed my conviction that novels, however subtle and inward-looking, should also be at heart adventure stories.

By Robert Louis Stevenson,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Kidnapped as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12.

What is this book about?

Robert Louis Stevenson's classic, swashbuckling novel about a young boy who is forced to go to sea and who is then caught up in high drama, daring adventure and political intrigue.

Part of the Macmillan Collector's Library; a series of stunning, clothbound, pocket-sized classics with gold foiled edges and ribbon markers. These beautiful books make perfect gifts or a treat for any book lover. This edition is introduced by Louise Welsh and features black and white illustrations.

Headstrong David Balfour, orphaned at seventeen, sets out from the Scottish Lowlands to seek his fortune in Edinburgh. Betrayed by his wealthy Uncle…


Book cover of John Knox

Andrew Greig Why did I love this book?

So it is not a novel, but might as well be for its twists, turns, and transformations. Edinburgh in 1572 was a small town of some 3,000 families, so my real-life narrator William Fowler would know and meet one of its most notable citizens, Preacher John Knox of Haddington, along with his young and socially aristocratic second wife (the latter attribute was more a matter of gossip and criticism than the thirty-seven years age gap), and witnessed him being helped up into the pulpit at St Giles to give his congregation a last good talking to. This is the most recent (drawing on a major new cache of letters), and highly readable, life of the man who pushed Scotland towards a Presbyterian Calvinist form of Protestantism – crucially distinct from that evolving in England under the Auld Hag aka Elizabeth I. He is revealed as a much more complex and interesting character than I’d imagined. It’s a remarkable life of ‘the Great Rebuker’, whose years in exile had given him an English accent, except when rebuking, when he became broad as you like. He sounds like my father, a stern man who would occasionally made jokes, and was notably affectionate to his family.

By Jane Dawson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked John Knox as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The definitive biography of John Knox, a leader of the Protestant Reformation in sixteenth-century Scotland

"Never before has there been such a thoroughly and sympathetically critical treatment of the 16th-century Scottish reformer's thought and times. . . . A joy to read and a book to value."-Sean Michael Lucas, Gospel Coalition

Based in large part on previously unavailable sources, including the recently discovered papers of John Knox's close friend and colleague Christopher Goodman, this biography challenges the traditionally held stereotype of the founder of the Presbyterian denomination as a strident and misogynist religious reformer whose influence rarely extended beyond Scotland.…


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Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

By Helena P. Schrader,

Book cover of Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

Helena P. Schrader Author Of Cold Peace: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift, Part I

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I first went to Berlin after college, determined to write a novel about the German Resistance; I stayed a quarter of a century. Initially, the Berlin Airlift, something remembered with pride and affection, helped create common ground between me as an American and the Berliners. Later, I was commissioned to write a book about the Airlift and studied the topic in depth. My research included interviews with many participants including Gail Halvorsen. These encounters with eyewitnesses inspired me to write my current three-part fiction project, Bridge to Tomorrow. With Russian aggression again threatening Europe, the story of the airlift that defeated Soviet state terrorism has never been more topical. 

Helena's book list on the Russian blockade of Berlin and the Allied Airlift

What is my book about?

Stopping Russian Aggression with milk, coal, and candy bars….

Berlin is under siege. More than two million civilians will starve unless they receive food, medicine, and more by air.

USAF Captain J.B. Baronowsky and RAF Flight Lieutenant Kit Moran once risked their lives to drop high explosives on Berlin. They are about to deliver milk, flour, and children’s shoes instead. Meanwhile, two women pilots are flying an air ambulance that carries malnourished and abandoned children to freedom in the West. Until General Winter deploys on the side of Russia...

Based on historical events, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader delivers an…

Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

By Helena P. Schrader,

What is this book about?

Fighting a war with milk, coal and candy bars....

In the second book of the Bridge to Tomorrow Series, the story continues where "Cold Peace" left off.

Berlin is under siege. More than two million civilians in Hitler's former capital will starve unless they receive food, medicine and more by air.

USAF Captain J.B. Baronowsky and RAF Flight Lieutenant Kit Moran once risked their lives to drop high explosives on Berlin. They are about to deliver milk, flour and children's shoes instead. Meanwhile, two women pilots are flying an air ambulance that carries malnourished and abandoned children to freedom in…


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