Off a couple of sunny but breezy days ago through hills and Tweed Valley to Biggar where Independent Bookseller of the Year for Scotland 2013, Atkinson Pryce (www.atkinson-pryce.co.uk), was holding one of a number of talks as part of a week-long national celebration of Independent Booksellers. In intimate surroundings, glass of wine in hand, we listened to Imogen Robertson talk about the way she writes, and about her latest novel The Paris Winter, published by Headline Review.
Biggar is a small, historic town full of museums, a puppet theatre too, and with a close connection to one particular Scottish writer and poet. Christopher Grieve (better known as Hugh MacDiarmid) lived for many years with his wife in a farm labourer’s cottage up a track a mile and a half outside the town.
A leading light of the 20th century Scottish Renaissance, MacDiarmid prompted controversy through his work and politics. He wrote in both English and Scots with probably his best-known work being his 1926 book-length A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, regarded as one of the most important long poems in Scottish 20th-century literature and one of the great poems of Modernist literature.
Brownsbank Cottage has been restored by Biggar Museum Trust to the way it was (artifacts and books included) during the period of MacDiarmid and his wife Valda – from 1959 until 1978 (when MacDiarmid died) to Valda’s death in 1989. During their lifetimes renowned literary admirers from near and far were drawn to the remote cottage.
Over the last 20 years writing fellowships have been offered to writers, willing to provide time each week to encourage and support writing in the community whilst pursuing his or her own work. To date, the Brownsbank Fellowship has been held by five writers – James Robertson, Matthew Fitt, Gerry Cambridge, Aonghas MacNeacail, Linda Cracknell and, most recently Andrew Sclater.
The drive back home in the late evening, surrounded by shades of green and with the sky still full of soft light, was a fitting end to an interesting visit.
‘…to be yersel’s and to mak’ that worth bein’ is surely a phrase worthy of remembering.