I was warned ahead of this week that the theme of one of my blog posts would be “Share Your Shelf”. And, if I’m honest, I’ve been putting this one off because it was always destined to out me as a nerd of the highest (or should that be lowest?) order.
My bedroom shelf contains very little in the way of fiction. It is largely stocked with books that have gathered more dust than an Egyptian mummy, and might one day find their way into a Museum of Nerdery.
Specifically, my shelf runneth over with titles relating to either Scottish history and geography, or to seabirds. In some cases, my books are dedicated specifically to Scottish seabirds. As a boy, I was obsessed with how many pairs of Manx shearwater bred on the Isle of Rum, or how many gannets occupied the Bass Rock as opposed to St Kilda or Ailsa Craig. I was consumed by a need to visit all of the major seabird colonies around our shores. Ailsa Craig regrettably remains on my bucket list, but if you haven’t set foot on Hirta or the Bass Rock, I can assure you you’re missing out!
The seabird obsession may be slightly less sociopathic these days, but it does linger. My debut book Craggy the Coo Wants a Place to Call Home was never going to be complete without the protagonist paying a visit to the puffins on Lunga in the Treshnish Isles. And, if a sequel follows, I’ve already pitched the idea that Craggy spends a little more time in the company of Scotland’s diverse wildlife.
The need to know everything about my native land – its past and present, its people and its places – has certainly played a role in crafting Craggy’s journey. And while many of the books on my shelf haven’t been picked up in a couple of decades, they’ve certainly stayed with me.
My shelf’s token concession to the world of creative writing is the works of our national bard, Robert Burns. I’ve always been in awe of a man who had so much time for boozing and womanising and yet produced a legacy that still forms a key part of the Scottish collective consciousness - despite dying at an age four years short of my own. I can (on a good day) still recite Tam O’ Shanter off by heart, and revel in the wizardry of its wordsmith. Every couplet overflows with atmosphere, humour and roguery.
The more pensive poetry of Burns has also made its mark, not just on me but on popular culture, with two of the great American novels – John’s Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (which I referenced yesterday when discussing my inspirations in fiction) – both taking their titles from the bard’s back catalogue. In Atlanta, Georgia, where I lived for a couple of years a producer for CNN, the local Burns club recreated the poet’s Alloway cottage a century ago and still meets in the life-size replica to this day.
So, despite the unabashed Scottishness of the shelf that I’ve shared with you, it’s fair to say that this wee country has had a very big influence globally. As I travelled the world with work, and as I now embark on a side career as a children’s author (words I never imagined I’d type), I’ve brought a little bit of Scotland to everything I’ve done. And I’m not done sharing Scotland’s stories yet.