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‘The Sound of My Voice’ on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Scottish Literature podcast

Spring has finally sprung, and it’s the perfect time to get outside with a good book! To inspire your choice, Kristian and I bring you the latest episode of our podcast The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Scottish Literature, where we will be celebrating one of Scotland’s finest contemporary writers, Ron Butlin. We have just published a new edition of Ron’s brilliant debut, The Sound of My Voice, a definite cult classic – famous fans include Irvine Welsh, James Robertson and Ian Rankin – and a novel that really deserves a place on your bookshelf! We’ll be talking to Ron Butlin later on in the podcast about his debut and his varied and prolific output. We round off the podcast with Ron performing a couple of his poems from The Magicians of Scotland.

Sound of My Voice, TheThe Sound of My Voice is a gem of book that looks at how we choose to live – or not – when the reality of our lives does not meet expectations. Its protagonist, Morris Magellan, has a well-paid job, a smart house and garden, a loving wife and two kids, and a raging alcohol problem. In beautifully-crafted, pin-point prose, we delve into the inner turmoil of Morris, confused about his past, particularly his relationship with his father, and unable to look forward, unless it’s to his next drink. Though the book revolves around a serious subject matter, it is full of great humour and empathy, whether we are with Morris at work in the biscuit factory or feeling every nuanced moment between him and his wife, Mary.

It’s had amazing reviews, with Butlin being compared to Saul Bellow, Franz Kafka and James Kelman, and those who have read the novel really, really love it:

‘Playful, haunting and moving, this is writing of the highest quality . . . One of the most inventive and daring novels ever to have come out of Scotland’ – Ian Rankin

‘One of the classic post-war Scottish novels. It’s simply a roaring success on all levels; it’s a genius piece of fiction’ – Irvine Welsh

‘A profound and beautifully written study of human fragility in the face of the brutalism of modern life’ – James Robertson

‘Artistic, insightful, philosophical, psychological. Above all it is human and compassionate. At its core is a kindness and an attempt at understanding the worst of times with the belief that only then can we appreciate the best of times. Few writers have the ability, and indeed, the desire to examine and understand what it means to do more than simply exist as Ron Butlin does’ – Scots Whay Hae

So, we think it’s time you should read the best Scottish novel you’ve never heard of, now that you’ve heard of it!

Vikki Reilly, May 2018

Books also mentioned in the podcast were The Magicians of Edinburgh, and Steve and Frandan Take on the World

You can listen to this episode, and catch up on previous episodes, on iTunes and on SoundCloud:

What is your love story

A Human Love Story – Journeys to the Heart

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we thought, what better way to celebrate than by sharing some love stories. Matt Hopwood, author of a Human Love Story – Journeys to the Heart, has written a blog piece here telling us about his journey from Lindisfarne to the Isle of Lewis, gathering people’s stories of love. He selected 34 of those stories for you to share in his book that is being published on the 14th of February.


Since A Human Love Story began in 2011 I have walked thousands of miles through the United Kingdom and beyond sharing love stories with local people. During that time I have told and retold my love story to strangers; on the path, in the streets, towns and villages I pass through. And in those exchanges I have sought to create a safe space, where an individual can be heard, can speak his or her story, and where they have an opportunity to open up and be vulnerable. This is my heart-led activism in the world. It is my compassionate practice.

500 Miles Through Scotland

In the spring months of 2017 my journeying brought me to Scotland. I walked some 500 miles from Lindisfarne in the North Eastern corner of England to the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis, far out in the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Scotland. Along the way I sought hospitality, a bed for the night, food, shelter, a welcome. I moved as a stranger through the land looking for connection, searching out the narratives that shape this part of the world. As ever, I sought to connect with people through the stories of their heart; those stories of love that have formed their human experience profoundly. I met with folk on the path, in the pub, by the shore, in the cities and in the villages. We spent time listening to each others stories, opening up a little, shedding some tears, testing our vulnerabilities, exploring our truths.

Human Love Story SingleThe Book – ‘Journeys to the Heart’

Since that walk I have spent time editing together a collection of the stories I shared during those early months of 2017. They are now brought together in the book A Human Love Story – Journeys to the Heart. They are for you to read and share. They are not perfect: but they are perfect. They do not resolve, begin or end as fictional stories might. They start where we found ourselves meeting on that day; with those experiences we were going through at the time. Each story reflects an experience of love and connection. They explore our desires to be heard and seen, and touched and wanted; our desire to belong. They express the importance of ‘home’, of ‘welcome’ and ‘connection’. They are sad, joyful, ecstatic, hard, glorious, life-long and momentary. In a sense they are universal stories and could have been heard anywhere around the world, because in the end we are all lovers and hermits, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, migrants and refugees. We are all lost and all found.

What are your stories of love and connection? How do you belong? What does ‘home’ mean for you?

Matt Hopwood

You can get your hands on a pre-publication copy here! There is also an enhanced eBook available, click here to get your hands on a download.


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Happy Birthday, Muriel Spark!

Today is Muriel Spark’s 100th birthday. Last night we celebrated Spark’s centenary with a fantastic event in a jam-packed Usher Hall in collaboration with the Edinburgh International Book Festival hosted by Alan Taylor and Rosemary Goring, and starring Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith and the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. And this is only the beginning of the celebrations for Muriel Spark’s centenary year with more events planned at book festivals, film festivals, schools, universities, bookshops, libraries and galleries across the UK and beyond. To catch up on all things #MurielSpark100, please visit the website

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Muriel Spark, copyright: London Evening Standard.

We at Birlinn are delighted to be the publisher at the centre of the Muriel Spark centenary celebrations with the release of our Centenary Editions – all 22 Muriel Spark novels republished as gorgeous, collectible hardback editions to be released throughout the year. Nine are already available in all good bookshops and online, and you can also sign up to receive the whole set gift-wrapped, posted directly to your door with our Year of Spark offer.

Kristian and I have planned to do a Muriel Spark episode of our Hitchhiker’s Guide to Scottish Literature podcast since we started, so we’re happy to bring it to you now. In this episode, we start at the very beginning, talking about Spark’s debut novel, The Comforters. It’s a wonderful, impressive, beguiling novel that surprises the reader over and over again. It’s a book about books, a book about faith and worship, a rigorous exploration on truth and knowing all wrapped up within a shaggy dog comic crime caper. There was a lot for Kristian and me to unpack!

Appointment in Arezzo 2We also talk to Alan Taylor about his fantastic memoir, Appointment in Arezzo: A Friendship with Muriel Spark, and his stewardship as the series editor of our Centenary Editions. His memories of Muriel are special, and his respect and admiration for her work sends you back to her novels with even more joyous anticipation!

We hope you enjoy this episode, and we hope to see you at the many Muriel Spark events over the coming year!

You can listen to this episode on iTunes or on SoundCloud, or below: