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    Scotiana’s choice of books for Christmas 2018…

    In front of the fireplace

    “Heap on more wood! The wind is chill ;
    But let it whistle as it will,
    We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.”

    (Sir Walter Scott – “Christmas in the Olden Time”
    from Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field, 1808)

    With hardly one month left until Christmas, it’s high time for us to look for little treasures to put under the Christmas tree. As far as we’re concerned here, at home, most of these treasures will be books and we’d better hurry to our local bookstore and browse our favourite websites if we want to find “la perle rare”… or rather : “LES perles rares” for we need to find more than one 😉

    Below is my selection of books for Christmas: travel writing, fiction, poetry, children’s books, detective novels, ghost stories… not all these books have been written by Scottish authors but each of them is linked, in one way or other, with Scotland 😉

    I’ve browsed many books to find inspiring seasonal texts written by my favourite authors, literary gems to collect in  lovely notebooks ;-).

    The Gifts of Reading Robert Macfarlane Penguin 2017

    “This story like so many stories, begins with a gift. The gift, like so many gifts, was a book (…)”

    (The Gifts of Reading – Robert Macfarlane -2016)

    I’ve chosen to begin my selection with The Gifts of Reading by Robert MacFarlane, not only because its author is the one that has left the deepest mark on my mind this year but also because this wonderful little book (only 34 pages), with its beautiful cover by the artist Standley Donwood, is the best way I’ve found to introduce my page about Christmas books.

    A Time of Gift Patrick Leich Fermor John Murray 1977

    The Gifts of Reading directly leads to A Time of Gifts : in his little book Robert Macfarlane explains how Patrick Leigh Fermor’s travel book had been offered to him by his friend Don and how its reading had influenced him.

    “[Don] had left a few small tokens of thanks. The present on the table was a copy of Snyder’s Mountains and Rivers Without End. I walk into the other room. There was another present there, propped up against a lamp: a CD of West Coast jazz. And then in the room in which I worked, on my desk, was the third and last of his presents. It was a paperback copy of a book by Patrick Leigh Fermor that Don and I had talked about once in Beijing, drawn to it by our shared love of walking (which Don mostly did in cities, and I mostly did in mountains). Its title was A Time of Gifts.”


    “Almost everything in his prose leads to something else (path to path, culture to culture, word to word) and this abundance of connection is itself a kind of offering up or giving away. You feel, as a reader, passionately – perhaps even at times oppressively – hosted: Read this! Look here! Listen to that! Walk this way!”

    Robert Macfarlane’s little book had immediately made me want to read  A Time of Gifts  and I’ve just received an old edition of the book which, in 1986,  had been offered as a Christmas gift to “Mum” by her five children whose names I can’t decipher on the front page ;-). The luminous cover by John Craxton is quite lovely! I look forward reading this book and I’ve even printed a map of Leigh Fermor’s long travel from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople ;-).  I must just find time to face my reading list!


    Patrick Leigh Fermor's three travel books r1


    Patrick Leigh Fermor series :

    “This is a glorious feast, the account of a walk in 1934 from the Hook of Holland to what was then Constantinople. The 18-year-old Fermor began by sleeping in barns but, after meeting some landowners early on, got occasional introductions to castles. So he experienced life from both sides, and with all the senses, absorbing everything: flora and fauna, art and architecture, geography, clothing, music, foods, religions, languages. Writing the book decades after the fact, in a baroque style that is always rigorous, never flowery, he was able to inject historical depth while still retaining the feeling of boyish enthusiasm and boundless curiosity. This is the first of a still uncompleted trilogy; the second volume, Between the Woods and the Water, takes him through Hungary and Romania; together they capture better than any books I know the remedial, intoxicating joy of travel.” — Thomas Swick, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

    “If all Europe were laid waste tomorrow, one might do worse than attempt to recreate it, or at least to preserve some sense of historical splendor and variety, by immersing oneself in the travel books of Patrick Leigh Fermor.”—Ben Downing, The Paris Review

    The archive of the National Library of Scotland shelters a number of very interesting documents about Patrick Leigh Fermor. A new good reason to visit the Library next time we go to Edinburgh ;-).

    “Sir Patrick, who was universally known as Paddy, was the finest travel writer of his generation and has been described as “a cross between Indiana Jones, Graham Greene and James Bond.” He was a decorated war hero, adventurer, scholar and Hollywood scriptwriter who could count princes and paupers among his friends.

    The inventory alone runs to 81 pages and lists extensive correspondence from fans, friends and associates; literary manuscripts, often with numerous annotations and revisions; diaries; notebooks, passports; sketches; photographs; articles and research papers.

    One of the star items is the only surviving notebook from Sir Patrick’s youthful trek across Europe which began in 1933 and provided the source material for his most famous books A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water and The Broken Road. (…)


    The Old Ways Robert MacFarlane Penguin 2013 front cover

    Two of Robert Macfarlane’s fascinating books were offered to me by my daughter and son-in-law for my last birthday :-).  I immediately got immersed in The Old Ways… a book in which the author invites the reader to follow him along beautiful ancient paths and to rediscover them in a new way, trying  to feel the invisible presences of the people who had preceding him on these paths, to discover clues opening the way to vanished worlds. It is a fascinating book which makes me feel like reading the other two books of MacFarlane’s series. Wishful thinking! My reading list is growing dangerously.

    Robert Macfarlane three travel books r1

    The Old Ways is the third volume of what Macfarlane calls “a loose trilogy about landscape and the human heart”. Robert Macfarlane was born in Oxford but his grandparents lived in the Highlands of Scotland and there are many pages describing Scottish landscapes. I’ve bought the small book The Gifts of Reading and downloaded Mountains of the Mind and The Wild Places but so far they’re still on my reading list…

    • Mountains of the Mind (2003)
    • The Wild Places   (2007)
    • The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot (2012)

    The Old Ways entered the Sunday Times Bestseller Chart for non-fiction at number three, and stayed in the top ten for a total of half-a-year as hardback and paperback. It was chosen 18 times as a Book of the Year for 2012 (..) In the UK it was joint winner of the Dolman Prize for Travel Writing, was shortlisted for The Samuel Johnson Prize (the ‘non-fiction Booker’), the Jan Michalski Prize for World Literature, the Duff-Cooper Prize for Non-Fiction, the Warwick Prize for Writing, the Waterstones Book of the Year Award, and three other prizes. In the US it was shortlisted for the Orion Book Award. An abridged version was broadcast as Book of the Week on Radio 4 in June 2012.

    Macfarlane is seen as the influential inheritor of a tradition of writing about landscape, place, travel and nature which includes John Muir, Richard Jefferies and Edward Thomas as well as contemporary figures such as John McPhee, Rebecca Solnit, Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez and his friend Roger Deakin. He is associated with other walker-writers including Patrick Leigh Fermor, Nan Shepherd and Laurie Lee, and seen as one of a number of recent British writers who have provoked a new critical and popular interest in writing about landscape. Edward Thomas, in particular, prompted Macfarlane’s interest in the impact of British country paths and lanes on British writers.


    Two days short of the winter solstice; the turn of the year’s tide. All that cold day, the city and the countryside around felt halted, paused. Five degrees below freezing and the earth battened down. Clouds held snow that would not fall. Out in the suburbs the schools were closed, people homebound, the pavements rinky and the roads black-iced. The sun ran a shallow arc across the sky. Then just before dusk the snow came – dropping straight for five hours and settling at a steady inch an hour. I was at my desk that evening, trying to work but distracted by the weather. I kept stopping, standing, looking out of the window. The snow was sinking through the orange cone cast by a street light, the fat flakes showing like furnace sparks. Around eight o’clock the snow ceased. An hour later I went for a walk with a flask of whisky to keep me warm. I walked for half a mile along dark back roads where the snow lay clean and unmarked. The houses began to thin out. A few undrawn curtains: family even- ings underway, the flicker and burble of television sets. The cold like a wire in the nose. A slew of stars, the moon flooding everything with silver. (…)

    The Hidden Ways Alistair Moffat 2017

    The reading of Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways immediately made me think of Alistair Moffat’s The Hidden Ways, a book which I bought last year, as soon as he was published. I’m a fan of Alistair Moffat and I think I have most of his books in my library.

    Alistair Moffat was born in Kelso, Scotland, in 1950. He is an award-winning writer, historian and Director of Programmes at Scottish Television, former Director of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and former Rector of the University of St Andrews. He is the founder of Borders Book Festival and Co-Chairman of The Great Tapestry of Scotland.

    In The Hidden Ways, Alistair Moffat traverses the lost paths of Scotland. Down Roman roads tramped by armies, warpaths and pilgrim routes, drove roads and rail roads, turnpikes and sea roads, he traces the arteries through which our nation’s lifeblood has flowed in a bid to understand how our history has left its mark upon our landscape.

    Moffat’s travels along the hidden ways reveal not only the searing beauty and magic of the Scottish landscape, but open up a different sort of history, a new way of understanding our past by walking in the footsteps of our ancestors. In retracing the forgotten paths, he charts a powerful, surprising and moving history of Scotland through the unremembered lives who have moved through it.

    Who Built Scotland McCall Smith Moffat Crawford Robertson Jamie 2017

    Travel and History: five Scottish authors have chosen to write about five places to make us discover great pages of Scottish history. It’s very interesting. We learn and dream to go and visit the places which are so lively described.

    Kathleen Jamie, Alexander McCall Smith, Alistair Moffat, James Robertson and James Crawford travel across the country to tell the story of the nation, from abandoned islands and lonely glens to the heart of our modern cities. Whether visiting Shetland’s Mousa Broch at midsummer, following in the footsteps of pilgrims to Iona Abbey, joining the tourist bustle at Edinburgh Castle, scaling the Forth Bridge or staying in an off-the-grid eco-bothy, the authors unravel the stories of the places, people and passions that have had an enduring impact on the landscape and character of Scotland.

    Below is an alternative to the book’s contents. I’ve found it useful to make a list of the essays classified by author.

    Kathleen Jamie

    • Geldie Birn : Signs and Traces
    • Mousa Broch : The Stone Mother
    • Glasgow Cathedral : The Mason’s Marks
    • Anniesland Court : Views and Vision
    • Maggie’s Centre : Caring for the Carers

    Alexander MacCall Smith

    • Iona Abbey : They came in a Small Boat
    • Charlotte Square : The Making of a Classical Gem
    • Bell Rock Lighthouse : On This Rock
    • Surgeon’s Hall : Surgery’s Temple
    • The Italian Chapel : Far From Home

    Alistair Moffat

    • Cairnpapple Hill : The Sky Temple
    • Edinburgh Castle : Rock of Ages
    • Glenlivet Distillery : The Fire of the Dram
    • Glasgow School of Art : A Little Girl Remembers
    • Inchmyre Prefabs : Arcadia

    James Robertson

    • Calanais : Who are You, and What do You Think You’re Looking at?
    • Innepeffray Library : Never-Failing Springs in the Desert
    • Auld Alloway Kirk: Kirks Without People
    • Abbotsford: Nothing Like My Ain House
    • The Forth Bridge: The Greatest Wonder of the Century

    James Crawford

    • The Great Hall, Stirling Castle : Cool Scotia
    • Mavisbank House : The Lost Estate
    • Hampden Park : The Bewteis of the Futeball
    • Sullom Voe : Homecoming
    • Sweeney’s Bothy : A View with a Room



    James Crawford three books with aerial photography of Scotland

    James Crawford series of aerial photography : a wonderful series making us discover Scotland as it is actually and sometimes as it was…

    I never tire of opening these books.

    • Above Scotland
    • Above Scotland cities
    • Scotland’s Landscapes


    Scotland from the Sky James Crawford

    And a new volume has just been published !

    A Literary Christmas - An Anthology

    The beautiful cover of this Christmas anthology is an invitation to read it… most of the authors appearing in this volume are famous and two of them are Scottish: Kenneth Grahame and George Mackay Brown.

    For as long as Christmas has been celebrated, poets and writers have sought to explore every aspect of it, whether the story of the Nativity or the festive traditions that have grown up over the centuries. A Literary Christmas is a seasonal anthology that collects poems, short stories, and prose extracts by some of the greatest poets and writers in the English language. Like Charles Dickens’s ghosts of Christmas past and present, these texts are representative of times old and new—from John Donne’s Elizabethan hymn to the baby Jesus to Rudyard Kipling’s Christmas in India, from Thomas Tusser counting the cost of a Tudor feast to P.G. Wodehouse’s wry short story about Christmas on a diet. Enjoy a convivial Christmas Day as described by Samuel Pepys, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, or Nancy Mitford. Venture out into the snow in the company of Jane Austen, John Evelyn, and Dickens’s ever-popular Mr Pickwick. Entertain the children with the seasonal tales of Dylan Thomas, Kenneth Grahame, and George Mackay Brown.

    I’ve found the anthology’s detailed contents on the description of its audio version:



    1. Clement Clarke Moore: The Night Before Christmas
    2. Laurie Lee: Cider with Rosie [extract]
    3. William Wordsworth: The River Dudden
    4. Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights [extract]
    5. Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol [extract]
    6. Thomas Hardy: The Oxen
    7. Saki: Bertie’s Christmas Eve

    8. Christina Rossetti: A Christmas Carol
    9. John Donne: Nativity
    10. G K Chesterton: A Christmas Carol


    11. Samuel Pepys: Diary [extract]
    12. Anthony Trollope: Orley Farm [extract] Christmas Day, 1662
    13. Robert Louis Stevenson: Christmas at Sea
    14. George Eliot: The Mill on the Floss [extract]
    15. Rudyard Kipling: Christmas in India
    16. Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol
    17. Thomas Tusser: Christmas Husbandly Fare [extract]
    18. Thomas Haynes Bayly: The Mistletoe Bough
    19. Nancy Mitford: Christmas Pudding [extract]



    1. Dylan Thomas: A Child’s Christmas in Wales [extract]
    2. Kenneth Grahame: Wind in the Willows [extract]
    3. Richard Middleton: Carol of the poor children
    4. Louisa May Alcott: Little Women [extract]
    5. George Mackay Brown: The Lost Boy


    6. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Christmas bells
    7. Thomas Hardy: A Christmas Ghost-Story
    8. G K Chesterton: The Truce of Christmas
    9. Cyril Winterbotham: Christmas Prayer [From the Trenches]
    10. W H Davies: The Holly on the wall

    11. John Evelyn: Diary [edited extracts]
    12. John Gay: Trivia, or The Art of Walking the Streets of London [extract]
    13. Henry James: English Hours
    14. William Shakespeare: As You Like It [extract]
    15. Jane Austen: Emma [extracts]
    16. William Makepeace Thackeray: The Mahogany Tree [extract]
    17. Charles Dickens: Pickwick Papers [extract]


    18. Percy Bysshe Shelley: Dirge for the Year
    19. Thomas Hood: Christmas Holidays
    20. Robert Herrick: Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve
    21. Alfred Tennyson: Ring Out, Wild Bells

    Andrina George Mackay Brown Birlinn 2010

    George Mackay Brown: “The Lost Boy” which appears in this anthology is a short story which was published in Andrina and Other Stories

    “A boy I had never seen before was sitting at the table. he might have been about my own age, and his head was a mass of bronze ringlets. On the table in front of him were an apple, an orange, a little sailing ship crudely cut from wood, with linen sails, probably cut from an old shirt. The boy – whoever he was – considered those objects with the utmost gravity. Once he put out his finger and touched the hull of the toy ship; as if it was so precious it had to be treated with special delicacy, lest it broke like a soap-bubble. I couldn’t see the boy’s face – only his bright hair, his lissom neck, and the gravity and joy that informed all his gestures. These were his meagre Christmas presents; silently he rejoiced in them.”

    That’s a beautiful moving extract from “The Lost Boy” but the whole story, though it has only three and a half pages, says much, much more!  It’s a wonderful, luminous Christmas story…


    Winter Tales George Mackay Brown 1975 montage Scotiana

    … and GMB was second to none to write short stories… he wrote many stories like “The Lost Boy”.

    George Mackay Brown is my favourite Scottish writer. Definitely. Each page I read is a page I love. We went twice to Stromness, Orkney, to see the place where the poet spent his last years and also to visit the very interesting Stromness Museum situated 52 Alfred Street just in front of GMB’s house in Mayburn Court. There is a corner devoted to GMB in the Museum. Before leaving Orkney, we went to Warbeth cemetery, not far from Stromness, to put wild flowers and little pebbles in front of GMB’s moving gravestone which stands in the landscape the poet loved so much, with Hoy in the background.  An admirer of GMB had left a little teddy bear in front of the grave and another one a pen… there were many moving testimonies. GMB’s gravestone bears an inscription taken from the last two lines of his 1996 poem, “A work for poets”. It reads “Carve the runes and then be content with silence’…

    The story of our “pilgrimages” can be read here : ‘Carve the runes and then be content with silence’…

    Consider the Lilies ICS 2018 50th edition Orion Publishing 2018

    How happy I was to discover the new 50th anniversary edition of Consider the Lilies, my favourite book by Iain Crichton Smith, first published in 1968. I have several editions of this great novel with different covers and I find this new one particularly moving! It conjures up the idea of a lively and peaceful countryside, with its typical croft, as it existed in the Highlands before the tragedy of the Clearances when the villagers were brutally expelled from their homes, their houses burnt and their cultivated fields turned into sheep grazing land… many of the chased villagers being forced to emigrate to the New World.

    The reading of this book is at the origin of our first travel to Scotland years ago…

    On the Island Iain Crichton Smith Victor Collancz Ltd 1979

    “It was winter time and the snow was billowing round the cottage where Iain stayed with Kenneth and his mother, and the glittering light was almost dazzling. So attracted was Iain by the waves of snow and the light that he put on his wellingtons and went outside.

    In front of him and around him he could see the houses of the village, with snow on their roofs and doors, as if they existed in a fairy tale. (…).”

    After the Dance Iain Crichton Smith Polygon 2017

    “Murdo’s Xmas Letter”
    Dear Friends,
    Another Christmas has come again, and I am sending you a report of my activities during the year.
    It doesn’t seem so long ago since last Christmas was here, but as we all know it is twelve months ago – no more no less. (…)


    Christmas in the Olden Time Sir Walter Scott 1882

    An anthology of poems about Christmas published in 1882, fifty years after Sir Walter’s death

    A Gathering Alexander McCall Smith 2018

    This anthology is a personal curation and not just a simple collection of poems. Each poem, handpicked by Alexander McCall Smith, leads the reader from one poem to the another. Intimate in tone, the editor shares the pleasure he finds in these poems through short epigraphs written for each piece.

    Grouped together in themes, from: Islands, Friendship, Love and Marriage, through to War and Conflict, Secrets, and Joy, this book would make the prefect gift for any occasion. It is a book for readers with a deep love of poetry, as well as those who are looking for the key that will open up the world of poetry.

    It includes poetry from: Hugh MacDiarmid – George Mackay Brown – Edwin Muir – Sorley MacLean – Naomi Mitchison – Robert Louis Stevenson – Sir Walter Scott – Nan Shepherd – Iain Crichton Smith – Muriel Spark


    The Lost Words Robert MacFarlane 1

    Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children. They disappeared so quietly that at first almost no one noticed – until one day, they were gone. But there is an old kind of magic for finding what is missing, and for summoning what has gone. If the right spells are spoken, the lost words can be brought back . . . All over the country, there are words disappearing from children’s lives. Words like Dandelion, Otter, Bramble, Acorn and Lark represent the natural world of childhood, a rich landscape of discovery and imagination that is fading from children’s minds. The Lost Words stands against the disappearance of wild childhood. It is a joyful celebration of the poetry of nature words and the living glory of our distinctive, British countryside. With acrostic spell-poems by peerless wordsmith Robert Macfarlane and hand-painted illustrations by Jackie Morris, this enchanting book captures the irreplaceable magic of language and nature for all ages.


    The Reluctant Dragon Kenneth Graham Illustrated 1st published in 1898

    Everyone knows St George has to do battle with the dragon, but what can the boy do when the dragon simply won’t fight St George? This is a timeless children’s classic from Kenneth Grahame (1859 -1932),  a British writer, most famous for The Wind in the Willows (1908), one of the classics of children’s literature.

    The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston

    “This is a book . . . to own and read aloud and come back to over and over again. It is one of the best fantasies I have ever read.”–Horn Book

    “There is so much to recommend here: a ghost story, a Christmas story, and elements of magic and the fantastic.” (from I. Sondel’s comment on Amazon)

    “Green Knowe”, the name of the castle where the action takes place in Lucy M. Boston’s book reminds me “Greenknowe Tower”, the 16th-century ruined tower-house which is located just west of the village of Gordon, in the Scottish Borders. We visited it several years ago. It’s a lovely romantic place.
    The Ghosts of Scotland Sean McLachland Charles River Editors 2018
    (The Ghosts of Scotland Sean McLachland Charles River Editors 2018)

    Without her ghosts, Scotland would no longer be Scotland! For the amateur of the genre, I’ve just found (and not read yet) this new collection of Scottish ghost stories.

    • Haunted Castles
    • Haunted Roads
    • Haunted Pubs and Churches
    • Remote Ghosts


    “In Scotland, beautiful as it is, it was always raining. Even when it wasn’t raining, it was about to rain, or had just rained. It’s a very angry sky.” – Colin Hay

    Scotland is a fascinating and ancient land filled with history. It has produced explorers, warriors, inventors, writers, and more than a few murderers. For many centuries, it fought bitter wars against England to maintain its independence, and even when those wars were finally lost, Scotland retained its distinct culture and identity. Though a part of the United Kingdom, it would be a mistake to lump it in with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, as Scotland has its own tales to tell and traditions to maintain.

    Not everything in Scotland is as it appears, however. Some Scots say this is a land haunted by spirits, a place of strange disappearances and unexplained phenomena. There is no shortage when it comes to the strange stories Scotland has to offer, and the legends and lore have compelled many to dig a little deeper and even explore this wonderful land for themselves.

    Some of those tales are downright grisly. Scotland has always been a rival to its southern neighbor, and the rivalry extends to the number of hauntings in its medieval castles, stately homes, and old cobblestone streets. While many Englishmen claim that their country is the most haunted, the Scots can point to their own stories of ghosts as evidence they may beat the English in this dubious distinction.

    The Ghosts of Scotland: A Collection of Ghost Stories across the Scottish Nation is a collection of such tales, just a few among the thousands of local legends and modern sightings that make Scotland one of the most haunted countries in the world. It is part of a collection of other books written by Sean McLachlan, including The Ghosts of England: A Collection of Ghost Stories across the English Nation and The Ghosts of Ireland: A Collection of Ghost Stories across the Emerald Isle. For other strange occurrences in Scotland, ranging from Nessie to jelly falling from the sky, check out another title in the series, Weird Scotland: Monsters, Mysteries, and Magic Across the Scottish Nation. Along with pictures of important people, places, and events, you will learn about the ghosts of Scotland like never before.” (Source: Amazon)

    Agatha Christie Postern of Fate Fontana 1976

    (Agatha Christie Postern of Fate – Fontana 1976)

    ‘Books!’ said Tuppence.
    She produced the word rather with the effect of a bad-tempered explosion.
    ‘What did you say’ said Tommy.
    Tuppence looked across the room at him.
    ‘I said’ “books”,’ she said.
    ‘I see what you mean,’ said Thomas Beredford.

    (Agatha Christie – Postern of Fate)

    Bonne lecture and happy Christmas shopping !

    Á bientôt.


    Below is a wonderful video of Scotland which just makes me want to go back there 😉


    and a little bonus for children of all ages… “whoo-oo-oo-oo…”

    I never tire of watching this old series, with the extraordinary interpretation of Mrs Oldknow by Maggie Smith, the unforgettable Minerva McGonagall in the “Harry Potter” films…


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