Monthly Archives: December 2016

Persevered: At Home with the Murrays

Today’s guest blog is by Peter Burns, Sports Editor of Arena Sport. Here he describes a recent visit to Dunblane to visit the grandparents of two of Scotland’s favourite sportsmen.

I took a road trip to Dunblane on Tuesday, to a house near a now iconic tennis club, to meet the grandparents of two of Britain’s finest ever tennis players and current kings of the world.


Jamie Murray with his copy of Persevered by Aidan Smith.


Roy and Shirley Erskine, Jamie and Andy Murray’s grandparents.

Over coffee and shortbread – the latter now famous in its own right after Sir Chris Hoy was pictured with it at Wimbledon – Roy and Shirley Erskine talk tennis, of their immeasurable pride in the achievements of their grandsons Jamie and Andy Murray, and of an astonishing end to 2016 that has seen the two brothers claim the world number one spots in both doubles and singles men’s tennis. They talk of the seemingly boundless energy of their daughter Judy and her relentless schedule, of their equal pride in all the various branches of their family, and they are as welcoming, charming and warm a couple as you could ever hope to meet.
Midway through our conversation, Jamie makes an appearance with his uncle Keith to walk Roy and Shirley’s dog around Dunblane golf course, the second tee of which lies just yards from the bottom of their garden. It is a wonderful moment to meet the elder Murray brother, Davis Cup and multiple Grand Slam winner and now ranked as the best doubles player in the world alongside his playing partner, the Brazilian Bruno Soares.

But tennis is not the reason for the visit. Rather, it is the other great passion in the Erskine and Murray households – Hibernian FC. (Keith, though, rather inexplicably supports Partick Thistle.) With the recent publication of Aidan Smith’s fantastic Persevered: How Hibs Smashed the Biggest Curse in Football, I got in touch with Judy, who I knew had been at Hampden with her family in May 2016 to watch Hibs finally put an end to a 114-year quest for the Scottish Cup. But why such a strong Hibs connection and why this trip to Dunblane, copies of Persevered in hand?

Roy Erskine enjoyed a modest professional football career turning out for Stirling Albion, Cowdenbeath and . . . Hibs. Although tennis had been his great sporting joy, he was unable to pursue it to any serious level because his football career meant that he was considered a professional sportsman and was therefore ineligible to compete under tennis’s staunch amateur rules.

‘My playing career was nothing much at Hibs, to be honest,’ says Roy with a dry smile. ‘Almost non-existent. But they were the club with the biggest name and Jamie and Andy used to go through to Edinburgh to play for the Hibs youth team, so when you combine all of that you can see why we all became Hibees.’

‘We’ve actually just been down the to road to see Graham Stewart,’ adds Shirley. ‘He’s a silversmith and has been commissioned by William Hill to make a commemorative trophy for Hibs. It’s a beautiful thing in the shape of a thistle, with all the team’s names engraved on it along with the goal scorers and time of the goals.’

We laugh as we discuss the content of Persevered. This is no simple story recounting a victorious cup run or the story of a single season. Aidan Smith peels back the bandage on a cup-less wound that has festered for 114 years, prodding at the most agonising losses with insight and wit and yet all the while wincing at the pain. This is a story that revels in ‘Hibsing it’, a phrase coined by Hearts supporters to describe a team throwing away a promising position at a crucial stage and crumbling to defeat. It is a deeply personal story that is also universal; it’s both poignant and laugh-out-loud funny. And like the best stories, the ones you want to re-live again and again, it has a happy ending.

‘We had a wonderful day out at the final, especially after so many years of agony,’ continued Roy. ‘It can be tough at times to be a Hibs supporter, especially when it comes to the Scottish Cup. So it was very special to be there at Hampden – and what a finish to a game. Fairy tale stuff.’

The Erskines know a lot of about fairy tale endings, especially in 2016. While the year may be regarded around the world as an annus horribilis by many, there were certainly enough golden elements to redeem these past twelve months for both the Erskines and the Murrays.

In doubles, Jamie won the Australian and US Opens and was awarded an OBE. Andy, meanwhile, finished runner-up at both the Australian and French Opens before hitting a purple patch that began in the summer and saw him claim a second Wimbledon title before going on to retain his Olympic tennis crown and carry the British flag at the opening ceremony in Rio. He continued this magnificent form all the way to the end of the year to claim the world number one spot from his old rival, Novak Djokovic, at the ATP World Tour Finals – in the same week that Jamie and Soares also rose to the pinnacle of the doubles rankings.

‘Andy also, rather wonderfully, made us great grandparents,’ said Shirley. ‘And she is just beautiful.’

Many pundits have regarded fatherhood as a crucial ingredient to Andy’s mid-season surge that swept all before him shortly after the arrival of Sophie.

You’d think the Murray brothers would now look to have a break to take stock of their achievements. Not a bit of it.

‘Andy’s off to Miami to do his pre-season training block and I’m heading off to Florida next week to do mine,’ explains Jamie. ‘Then I’m going down to Bogota for Christmas with my wife’s family for four days, then it’s back to playing.’

Isn’t the idea of getting back on the treadmill of the tour and all the training and travelling an exhausting prospect?

‘No, I can’t wait. I’ve had two weeks off since the world tour finals and it’s probably the longest I’ve had off . . . well, ever. I can’t wait to get a racquet back in my hand. I get restless if I’m not playing and I’m really looking forward to this training block.’

I’ve heard about these training blocks. They sound horrific. How can you look forward to something like that?

‘Jamie just loves tennis,’ explains Roy. ‘Always has done. He can’t get enough – Andy’s the same. And they know that if they’re going to enjoy it they have to put in the work.’

That, perhaps, is in itself a little window on how you get to number one. Perseverance has been the hallmark of Hibs’ 114-year quest to regain the Scottish Cup, it has adorned banners at Easter Road and around the country, there is a pub in Leith named ‘Persevered’ and Aidan Smith entitled his latest work thus. And it is a word that is as apt as any to describe the success story of the Murray family.

There is a lot ahead for the Erskines and the Murrays in 2017. But first there is Christmas – and some quiet time by the fire to sit and relive a glorious season for the men at Easter Road – one that will be remembered and cherished for many years to come for all fans of Hibernian FC, among them a certain pedigree sporting family from Dunblane.

Peter Burns
Editor, Arena Sport
December 2016

Birlinn’s Favourite Books of 2016

This year has been particularly eventful, whether you’ll look back fondly or with dread, you can’t deny that it has been interesting. In this blog we take a fond look back at some of the highlights from our 2016 publishing list.

1588: A Calendar of Crime by Shirley McKay1588-a-calendar-of-crime

1588: A Calendar of Crime is an absolute masterclass in historical crime fiction. Aside from the book simply looking fantastic, the stories within are beautifully written, dripping with atmosphere and at times surprisingly light-hearted. Shirley McKay achieves that perfect balance whereby you are completely absorbed in the stories and at the same time are learning so much about the history of St Andrews. From murders, to ghosts, to dark comedy, this is a book that has a little something for everyone.

Jamie Harris
Sales, Publicity and Events Administrator

un-discovered-islandsThe Un-Discovered Islands by Malachy Tallack and Illustrated by Katie Scott

The Un-Discovered Islands is easily one of the most unique books I’ve read this year. Malachy Tallack’s desire to render the map a little more mysterious in the age of satellite imaging has produced a book which takes the reader on all sorts of intriguing and fantastical journeys across the ocean. As perfect for dipping in and out of as reading all at a go, the various islands discussed are vividly rendered by Katie Scott’s detailed illustration work. The result is a charming exploration of the unexplorable.

Jan Rutherford
Publicity and Marketing Director

Young Soul Rebels Vis 16Young Soul Rebels by Stuart Cosgrove

A passionate, funny and insightful romp through the history of northern soul for aficionados and the curious alike. Underpinned by meticulous research and Stuart Cosgrove’s ebullient writing, this is personal, political and musical history at its best. A gem of a book that will have you reaching for old vinyl or heading to YouTube to find those killer tunes.

Alison Rae
Managing Editor


Beneath the Skin by Sandra Irelandbeneath-the-skin

I enjoyed Sandra’s book very much – it’s a spine tingling story exploring human relationships and their struggles with the past. The dark atmosphere is pronounced by the story being set in a taxidermist studio, located in the basement of a Victorian house in Edinburgh’s beautiful Stockbridge area. It is slightly creepy and occasionally scary but at the same time very tender, and it is a human journey through the psychology of post-traumatic stress disorder. The characters are all people we can easily relate to and maybe even recognise them in our own circle of friends and neighbours. Sandra writes in a very enjoyable way; you won’t be able to put the book down until the end!

Darina Brejtrova
Finance Assistant


Scotland: Mapping the Islands by Christopher scotland-mapping-the-islandsFleet, Charles W.J. Withers and Margaret Wilkes

I’ve long been a fan of the Scotland: Mapping the Nation, and as a sailor I was particularly excited when I heard we were doing a similar book on mapping Scotland’s islands. The finished article is stuffed with maps, bursting with cartography, and overflowing with fascinating facts. I’ve been dipping in and out of it for weeks and there’s still plenty more to discover. The quality of the reproductions and the variety of maps displayed really makes this book a visual treat as well as an engrossing read.

Anna Marshall
Events Manager
fugitive-coloursFugitive Colours by Liz Lochhead

Liz Lochhead’s new collection, the first in quite a few years, is filled with moments of poignancy and fragments of joy – it encompasses a life enriched with people, places and relationships. Liz skilfully navigates through some of the more sensitive details of her life and relationships with humour, empathy and compassion. Written beautifully, there is sadness, truth, hope and optimism throughout the five sections, each varied in scope but woven together as part of a life. Fugitive Colours is beautiful, sensitive, adept and brilliant.

It’s hard to pick one favourite, so I just had to pick two. My other choice was Jenni Fagan’s The Dead Queen of Bohemia. This collection has a lot to offer: the writing is honest, humorous, sharp, witty and has a wry sense of humour to it; you live alongside these pieces in each line and the imagery stays with you. I find myself repeating some of the lines, triggered by something I have seen on Edinburgh’s streets.

Edward Crossan
Poetry Editor and Online & Digital Development


my-italian-bulldozerMy Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith

My Italian Bulldozer whisks the reader away to Tuscany on a delightfully absurd, Planes, Trains and Automobiles-esque adventure. It’s a true feel-good book that gives us everything we’ve come to love about Sandy McCall Smith’s writing – the gentle satire, quirky characters and light-hearted philosophical teachings. The Italian spirit is captured brilliantly, and McCall Smith’s insight and subtle remarks on human nature leave us feeling wiser, as if we know the world a little better having read the book. Lessons in life, love, and how to drive a bulldozer through rural Italy . . .  perfect reading therapy.

Abi Salvesen



The Brilliant and Forever by Kevin MacNeil

I’m choosing (of course!) Kevin MacNeil’s The Brilliant & Forever. It is the perfect novel to read to see us out of this ‘eventful’ 2016. It’s a satire on what culture means to us, how we treat outsiders and how we foster a sense of belonging, but it’s more than yer usual . . . We’re bombarded with satire’s cruelty, cynicism and snark, so it’s refreshing to read a satire shot through with generosity that still hits its mark. We talk so much about literature fostering connections and empathy – this is a novel that really interrogates how it does so.

Vikki Reilly
Sales Liaison Manager


wild-islandWild Island by Jane Smith

First of all Wild Island is a series of gorgeous paintings that you would like to hang on your wall, guillemots, starlings, cuckoos, gannets and more, captured in the limpid light of Oronsay by a wildlife artist in her prime. Second, there is the story of an island owned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds devoted to the conservation of birds and animals whose existence is threatened by the disruptions of climate and habitat change. Third, there is the warm and witty account of the events, the people and wild creatures the author/artist encounters during a year on this magical island. So, I’m struggling to see any reason why you shouldn’t own this book.

Tom Johnstone
Managing Editor


a-rum-affairA Rum Affair by Karl Sabbagh

A Rum Affair is a tremendous story of detection and fraud which is almost completely unknown. This new edition brings to light new evidence on the extraordinary deceit practised by one of the most respected botanists in the UK and its exposure by an intrepid graduate with a forensic eye. A ripping yarn about the Hebrides. What more could you want?

Hugh Andrew
Managing Director


hebridean-alphabetA Hebridean Alphabet by Debi Gliori

It’s a pleasure to discover that a book you knew would be absolutely delightful surpasses even soaring expectations. Debi Gliori’s A Hebridean Alphabet is not your standard ‘A is for apple, B is for barnacle, C is for croft’ alphabet book. It’s a story of a day’s adventuring on an unspecified Hebridean island from the morning’s first breath of rarified Air to the Zzzzs of a boneless sleep. The book’s trick is in its alliterative and assonant text, which progresses through the alphabet as the day waxes and wanes. As a girl, boy and their dog wind their way across beach, bog, dunes, and machair, Gliori’s watercolour illustrations are packed with alphabetically appropriate objects, making each read-through an I-spy. The book’s combination of sight and sound is ingenious. It’s been a real hit with everyone I’ve gifted it to, the readers and read-to alike.

Kristian Kerr
Publicity Officer



The Book of the Howlat by James Robertson and Illustrated by Kate Leiper

My favourite Birlinn book of 2016 is The Book of the Howlat – a stunning picture book for adults and children alike. James Robertson has extracted gems from the old Scots poem and the writing has some wonderful details – such as the Swallows delivering invitations as fast as the Wood Pigeon could write them – which make the story come alive. This book is truly a piece of art thanks to Kate Leiper’s illustrations, and you can spend far too long just admiring each page. A beautiful, relaxing read.

Eden Baigent Wright


Ferry - cover artworkThe Ferry Board Book by Benedict Blathwayt

It is really really good ‘cos it has got lots of boats in it and a blue camper van which is really cool. My favourite bit is when the dolphins are jumping out of the water beside the big boat. I counted at least twenty seagulls! The captain looks a bit scary but I like this book because the pages don’t crease even when I jump up and down on it. Amazing!

Liz Short (from a childlike perspective)
Production Manager


Celts and All That by Allan Burnettthe-celts-and-all-that

Chariots, Corgi’s, Bog butter . . . Burnett and Anderson’s latest in the And All That series is as fun and fact-filled as ever, only this time with an extra dose of woad. These are some of my favourite books for young readers. Never patronising and endlessly entertaining, in this book Allan Burnett brings the Celts to life along with the world they inhabited. The author’s humour and insight makes reading about these people truly engaging for both adult and young readers alike, and Scoular Anderson’s illustrations provide their own factual contributions whilst leaving you grinning like a fool.

Emily Don


We hope that this post will make you feel a little better about this year, and that you find something for your Christmas list.

And of course, all of the books are available online and in all good bookshops.

We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a great 2017!

The Birlinn Team