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

Who am I?

There is a saying that you can take the girl out of Scotland but not Scotland out of the girl. I am that girl. Born and raised in Scotland, I earned an MA from Edinburgh University and a M.Litt from Oxford. I met my husband during the summer at  Dartmouth College and the rest, as they say, is history. Or, at least it would be, except for the hankering back to Scotland that never leaves. My novel set in Scotland was published by Simon & Schuster.

I wrote...

Veil of Time

By Claire R. McDougall,

Book cover of Veil of Time

What is my book about?

A recent divorcee, Maggie Livingston, escapes from the city to rural Argyll to heal. Her rental cottage sits in the shadow of the famous hill of Dunadd, where the kings of Scotland were once crowned. Maggie’s epilepsy causes her perception of time to be distorted, and during one seizure she finds herself back in the pagan Dunadd of the 8th Century. It is here she slips into the compelling company of Fergus McBridghe, a royal in the line of the ancient Picts who once held court here.

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The books I picked & why

Sunset Song

By Lewis Grassic Gibbon,

Book cover of Sunset Song

Why did I love 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.

By Lewis Grassic Gibbon,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Sunset Song as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Twice Voted Scotland's Favourite Book

'Left me scorched' Ali Smith
'Unforgettable' Guardian

Faced with a choice between a harsh farming life and the world of books and learning, Chris Guthrie chooses to remain in her rural community, bound by her intense love of the land. But everything changes with the arrival of the First World War and Chris finds her land altered beyond recognition.

One of the greatest and most heartbreaking love stories ever told,, Sunset Song offers a powerful portrait of a land and people in turmoil.

An Eye on the Hebrides: An Illustrated Journey

By Mairi Hedderwick (illustrator),

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

Why did I love 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.

By Mairi Hedderwick (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Eye on the Hebrides as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mairi Hedderwick embarks on a six-month-long journey to 40 islands from Arran to Lewis, recounting her pilgrimage around the archipelago of the Western Isles with which she has had a lifelong love affair.

Filled with wit and wisdom that is matched by her spell-binding illustrations, Mairi Hedderwick portrays the islands in all their diversity, with swift and perceptive cameos of everyday life drawn with humour and affection alongside gorgeous landscapes which capture the truly magical beauty of the Hebrides.

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

Why did I love 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.

By Billy Kay,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Thaim wi a guid Scots tongue in their heid are fit tae gang ower the warld'

In The Scottish World, renowned broadcaster Billy Kay takes us on a global journey of discovery, highlighting the extraordinary influence the Scots have had on communities and cultures on almost every continent.

While others have questioned the self-confidence of the Scots, Kay has travelled the world from Bangkok to Brazil, Warsaw to Waikiki and found ringing endorsements for the integrity and intellect, the poetry and passion of the Scottish people in every country he has visited.

He expands people's view of Scotland by relating…

Book cover of Dirt & Deity: Life of Robert Burns

Why did I love 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. 

By Ian McIntyre,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dirt & Deity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This biography illuminates and explores the complexities and contradictions of Burns's character and personality, untangling the myth from the legend. Based on new evidence from 700 letters Burns wrote during his life, McIntyre concentrates on the circumstances of the writing of poetry itself, and paints a vivid picture of Burns's emotional and impulsive political views, the cruelty and gentleness of which he was capable, stressing the importance and the quality of the satirical poetry as well as the unforgettable love poetry immediately associated with his name.

Consider the Lilies

By Iain Crichton-Smith,

Book cover of Consider the Lilies

Why did I love 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.

By Iain Crichton-Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Consider the Lilies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

50th anniversary edition of a true modern classic.

'Vividly depicted ... sheer beauty' OBSERVER

'A masterpiece of simplicity' FINANCIAL TIMES

'A simple but noble book ... this deserves to be read' SCOTSMAN

'When she rose in the morning the house at first seemed to be the same. The sun shone through the curtains of her window. On the floor it turned to minute particles like water dancing. Nevertheless, she felt uneasy ...

What had the girl said? Something about the 'burning of houses'. They just couldn't put people out of their houses, and then burn the houses down. No one…

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