Monthly Archives: December 2015

Birlinn’s Favourite Books of 2015

This year’s publishing schedule has been as wonderfully diverse as ever: from Rock ‘n’ Roll gents to political intrigue – fictional and true; from magical gardens in the Lanarkshire hills to couch surfing with game developers across the world, yes, there are treats for every taste. As we see out the year, let’s talk about some of our favourite books of 2015.

Little SpartaLittle Sparta
A Guide to the Garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay

Jessie Sheeler with Photography by Robin Gillanders

Little Sparta is one of the most extraordinary yet least known places in Scotland and is the creation and vision of Ian Hamilton Finlay. It combines in a unique way sculpture, landscape art, and a beautiful lush garden created from nothing on the bare and bleak Lanarkshire hills. Called Little Sparta, in an ironic reference to Edinburgh as the ‘Athens of the North’, the garden became a lifetime’s work and as a living artwork is still growing and changing years after its creator’s death. It is a privilege to publish the definitive book on this magical place, enhanced by the stunning photography of Robin Gillanders.

Hugh Andrew, Managing Director

Here Come the Trolls

Ron Butlin

Troll Rat Roaster (small)Here Come The Trolls by Ron Butlin is one of my favourite yarns of the year. It harks back to an earlier era when children’s tales often contained a dubious moral. This particular story tells the tale of what might happen should a troupe of Trolls infested your house. What would you do? – how would you get rid of them? (whilst still retaining your decorum of course). Ron Butlin’s gentle rhyming couplets are the perfect way of letting young readers know the answer.

James Hutcheson, Creative Director

Requiem for a Himalayan Kingdom

Andrew Duff

In Sikkim: Requiem for a Himalayan Kingdom Andrew Duff gives us a fantastic, fascinating mix of geopolitical history, fairy tale love story, court intrigue, personal travelogue and, well, just damn good storytelling. I’ve been introduced to a part of the world I knew nothing about and a story that should be more widely known.

Outside the good ship Birlinn, I have been palpitating in anticipation for Kevin Barry’s Beatlebone for most of the year, and oh! it didn’t disappoint. He’s the kind of author that really gets you excited about what a novel can be.

Vikki Reilly, Sales Liaison Manager

Embed with gamesEmbed with Games
A Year on the Couch with Game Developers

Cara Ellison

Lemmings, Theme Hospital, Tomb Raider, Golden Eye, Aladdin on the SEGA Mega Drive . . . the original Grand Theft Auto. How the memories came flooding back when I started reading Cara’s book! It reminded me of my original love of games and inspired me to explore lots of new games by today’s independent developers. This book is so much more than ‘a book about games’, it is an insightful travelogue, a portrait of the people responsible for some of the world’s most beautiful, engrossing and inventive games. It reminded me that games are a legitimate part of our artistic culture and should be debated and celebrated in the same way as we do with literature or film.

Anna Marshall, Events Manager

Lee Brilleaux aw.inddLee Brilleaux
Rock ’n’ Roll Gentleman

Zoë Howe

The man was an effortlessly cool frontman and class A reprobate, and Zoë Howe nails him (and the Thames Delta’s weird charm) through her meticulous research and joyful writing style. I can’t wait to see the 300-foot gold-plated statue of him that is proposed for Southend. He deserves it.

Alison Rae, Managing Editor – Polygon

Stained paper

Dacre’s War

Rosemary Goring

I have chosen this as my favourite of 2015 because it is a brilliantly clever piece of historical fiction with great characters, political intrigue, plenty of violence and an engaging plot. A gripping page turner from start to finish.

Jamie Harris, Sales, Publicity and Events Administrator


Scottish Nursery Rhymes - ppc artworkScottish Nursery Rhymes

Selected and edited by Norah and William Montgomerie

This new edition of a 1985 classic is a lovely book, restoring to Scottish parents and children the rich variety of Scotland’s oral tradition: counting rhymes, games, riddles, songs, animal and weather rhymes and many more. Joyfully illustrated by Norah Montgomerie’s deceptively simple drawings, this is a book that should be given to every new parent when the birth is announced!

Tom Johnstone, Managing Editor & Contract Manager

Beneath Troubled SkiesBeneath Troubled Skies
Poems of Scotland at War, 1914–1918

Edited by Lizzie MacGreogor

Going through these poems I was immediately struck by how the themes change as the war progresses: the pride and camaraderie of the earlier poems through to heartbreak and death. Hew Strachan writes in his foreword about the Great War being the first one to be fought by a literate generation and, because of the government imposed censorship, it was the poetry of these soldiers that provided a window into the devastating horror of the trenches. The reader lives through it in the lines of each of these pieces. This collection also presents the lives of those at home during the war years and it really shows what a sacrifice Scotland made. Like other war poetry collections it starts off with hope and pride and ends with the voice of defeat despite the victory.

Edward Crossan, Poetry Editor and Online & Digital Development

Requiem for a Himalayan Kingdom

Andrew Duff

As a teenager, Andrew Duff fell in love with the idea of the tiny kingdom of Sikkim. As he unravels its history, and its bid for independence during the 1970s, at a time of international upheaval, his love for the country and what it stood for strengthens. But with giants on all sides geographically, and strategically located, Sikkim didn’t really stand a chance. The ending, with the sad figure of the defeated Chogyal, his country destroyed through ambition and greed, and his fairy-tale marriage to the American Hope Cooke in tatters, is heartbreaking.

Debs Warner, Editor

Lie of the LandLie of the Land

Michael F. Russell

Among the many books I loved in 2015, Lie of the Land by Michael F. Russell was the one that gave me the creeps. The story of Carl Shewan, trapped in a remote Highland community after a technological catastrophe, is a chilling ‘what-if’ but also explores human feelings and fears. The story line is scary in its potential reality and makes you read the book until its very end (in one go…!) But I also liked how the characters seem so real, their reactions, faults and raw emotions are beautifully presented.

Darina Brejtrova, Finance Assistant

Penelope's WebPenelope’s Web

Christopher Rush

For as long as novels have been written in English, there have been attempts to write them on classical subjects. For the most part, these classical novels (very few of which have become the other kind of classics) are about the figures and events of ancient history (think I, Claudius, the Imperium trilogy or The Last Days of Pompeii). Only relatively recently has the modern genre of everyday life embraced epic, or even mythological, subject matter. Christopher Rush’s Penelope’s Web is a bold rendering of both Homeric epics told by Odysseus and Penelope as protagonists and myth makers alike. Both its structure and its unremitting soldier’s slang demythologise the Trojan War and return to Ithaca while simultaneously making them all the stranger. To mix mythological metaphors, it’s a Herculean work – both in the writing and the reading.

Kristian Kerr, Publicity Officer

We hope that you have enjoyed our picks of 2015. We have many more at a special festive discount on our website. Keep an eye on this blog for what we are looking forward to in 2016!