The best Scottish books to lose yourself in the dream that is Scotland

Claire R. McDougall Author Of Veil of Time
By Claire R. McDougall

The Books I Picked & Why

Sunset Song

By Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Book cover of Sunset Song

Why this book?

Written in 1932, but set at the turn of the twentieth century, this beautifully written and evocative novel has been adapted to both stage and film. I love this book with a passion, because of the beautiful prose and because in a way it taught me how the ordinary lives of my people are inextricably intertwined with the land. Sunset Song follows the life of Chris Guthrie a young woman on the east coast of Scotland, her relationship to the land and to the poor farming community she has grown up in. Like my novel, it is the first installment of a trilogy. The novel is wildly popular in Scotland but under-celebrated globally. It is the favorite novel of Scotland’s prime minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

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An Eye on the Hebrides: An Illustrated Journey

By Mairi Hedderwick

Book cover of An Eye on the Hebrides: An Illustrated Journey

Why this book?

Hedderwick’s whimsical watercolors and text capture the heart of Scotland’s western isles and something essential about Scots, too. Over the course of a year, she travelled over the waters to and between these islands in her VW Camper, capturing with humor what makes these people tick – often just a brood of kittens nestled in a kitchen cupboard. I turn to this book when I am feeling nostalgic about Scotland. Hedderwick captures for me the undertones of Scottish life.

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The Scottish World: A Journey Into the Scottish Diaspora

By Billy Kay

Book cover of The Scottish World: A Journey Into the Scottish Diaspora

Why this book?

I value this book because, since joining the United Kingdom in 1707, much of Scottish history has been disregarded. Even though I studied history in my Scottish school to a high level, the details of our past were replaced with English history. Well-known radio personality, Billy Kay, brings together a wealth of information about Scotland’s outside influence through the ages. Scotland was one of the first countries to see the benefit of an educated working class, and in the countries to which they emigrated, their learning stood them in good stead. Scottish culture, over hundreds of years before it was incorporated into the United Kingdom, had well-established cultural centers throughout Europe and even as far as Russia.

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Dirt & Deity: Life of Robert Burns

By Ian McIntyre

Book cover of Dirt & Deity: Life of Robert Burns

Why this book?

This is an extensive biography of Scotland’s celebrated bard, Robert Burns, and includes a collection of unpublished letters. Scotland’s own “heaven taught ploughman,” gave life a run for its money, giving us in his few but fruitful years lines of poetry that match Shakespeare himself. 

Oh, would some 
Power the giftie
gie us
To see ourselves as
Others see us!

McIntyre gives Burns a good shot. No Scottish writer, including myself, could think of their career trajectory without Robert Burns standing out prominently along that line. He gave us the gift of hubris and the gift of the poetic gab. 

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Consider the Lilies

By Iain Crichton-Smith

Book cover of Consider the Lilies

Why this book?

The writing of Iain Crichton Smith is personal to me because he used to teach at my Highland alma mater Oban High School. I knew he was a well-known writer when I would see him in the corridors and that held quite a bit of fascination for me. The year I left that school, he also went his own way and would be awarded an Order of The British Empire medal in short order. Crichton Smith is another of Scotland’s under-celebrated, but powerfully evocative, writers, and Consider The Lillies is his most famous novel. This story takes place at the time of the Highland Clearances, when the new Scottish aristocracy drove peasants from the land they had crofted for generations, in order to graze sheep for better profits. Ian Crichton Smith delves into the heartbreak of an old woman in her last days in her croft, remembering a life soon to be lost.

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