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The Very Best of Birlinn’s Books You Must Read in 2017

We are super excited about the year ahead, each of us for different reasons. In this blog we tell you which books we are looking forward to seeing come in from the printers and hitting the shelves in bookshops near you.

Tattie Bible WIPThe William Shearer Tattie Bible

Liz Ashworth

‘Boil ’em! Mash ’em! Stick ’em in a stew!’ It’s high time that we honoured the words of Samwise Gamgee and paid tribute to the versatility of the humble potato. After years as a cash-strapped student spent eating potatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I thoroughly wish I’d had a copy of this book to inspire my potato-filled culinary endeavours and open my eyes to the mouth-watering possibilities. Did you know you can make biscuits using potato? And pudding too? Revelations abound, The William Shearer The Tattie Bible should be a staple in every kitchen. All hail the king of carbs!

Abigail Salvesen

An Unlikely Agent
Jane Menzcer
The Thirty One Kings
Robert J. Harris

For me, 2017 is all about our spy fiction. We have two very different spies in two novels that are both rich in twists, turns and derring do!

First, in May, we have Jane Menzcer’s debut An Unlikely Agent, set in an Edwardian London terrorised by unpredictable anarchist cells. Margaret Trant is a new recruit to Bureau 8, and soon discovers she’s going to need more than her impeccable eye for detail to topple those hellbent on violence and power at any cost. Loyalties are tested, memories are not to be trusted, and no one is quite what they seem. This rollicking story kept me guessing until the final scenes!

31KINGS CoverSecondly, we have always been proud publishers of John Buchan’s back catalogue, so we are doubly delighted by Robert J. Harris’s brand new Richard Hannay thriller, The Thirty-One Kings, coming in October. Hannay thinks he’s about to settle into comfortable – if dull – retirement, but the Nazis are on the rise, and while on a supposedly relaxing tramp in the hills, he’s brought back into his life of intrigue. Fast-paced, action-packed from the get-go, and hugely enjoyable, this should be the book on everybody’s Christmas list.

Vikki Reilly
Sales Liaison Manager


The HebridesThe Hebrides
Paul Merton

Paul Murton has been the perfect travel companion around Scotland and its islands on the BBC for years, so it is hugely exciting to have him taking us around the Hebrides in his first book, coming in July, just in time for your summer travels! In this beautiful book, filled with stunning images, Murton takes us on his own personal journey across all the islands, meeting the locals, sharing the histories, myths and legends, and celebrating the breath-taking scenery. It really is a book to savour.

Anna Marshall
Events Manager

Deirdre of the SorrowsDeirdre of the Sorrows
Kenneth Steven

Mythology has always fascinated me, at school the tales of the Iliad and the Odyssey of ancient Greece thrilled me. Scotland and Ireland too have their own mythology and it wasn’t until later that I discovered these tales. It makes up a major part of our heritage; it’s a constant reminder of who we are and where we come from. When Kenneth Steven first told me about Deirdre of the Sorrows and how this was inspired by his mother singing Deirdre’s Farewell to Scotland, at the close of family ceilidhs, I was spellbound by the tale. Told as a poetic sequence Deirdre of the Sorrows is a heart-breaking story of a love that traverses the Irish sea.

After you have read this book look up Deirdre’s Farewell to Scotland on Spotify and play it as you contemplate this tragic story and its doomed characters.

Edward Crossan
Poetry Editor
Online & Digital Development

Walking MountainWalking Mountain
Joan Lennon

Well, I loved Silver Skin and Joan Lennon has done it again! Walking Mountain is a staggeringly imaginative story of wonder and adventure, taking you on an epic journey that will stay with you long after you turn the final page. The world is like nothing you’ve ever seen, told through a group of fantastic characters who find themselves standing between the world they know and complete disaster. It’s cosmic, it’s crazy, it’s wild and totally, totally brilliant. This book can’t come soon enough!

Jamie Harris
Sales, Publicity and Events Administrator

Well of the WindsThe Well of the Winds: A DCI Daley Thriller
Denzil Meyrick

I have always devoured Denzil’s manuscripts when they come in but this takes his writing to another level. Superbly plotted, this book is based on a number of real events; like all the best writing it raises some deep, awkward questions about Britain, its history and links the past with current events. Readers will know exactly what I mean when they come to the last revelation on the final page.

Hugh Andrew
Managing Director

Ghost of Helen Addison (early)The Ghost of Helen Addison: A Leo Moran Murder Mystery
Charles E. McGarry

When I first read Charlie’s script I couldn’t help falling in love with Leo Moran, the eccentric protagonist. He is an avowed aesthete and connoisseur of the finer things in life, who tootles around in a 1956 Humber Hawk and relaxes by listening to Beethoven dialled to eleven – a man out of step with the modern world. Set in the atmospheric wintry location of rural Argyll, this is a truly original take on crime fiction. Exhilarating, funny and poignant in equal measure, the supernatural twists lift this book above the ordinary.

Alison Rae
Editorial Manager (Polygon)

EriskayEriskay Where I Was Born
Angus Edward MacInnes

Eriskay Where I Was Born has always been one of my favourite island books since it was first published in 1997. It includes the very funny true story behind the wreck of The Politician which inspired Whisky Galore, but there is much more to it than that. Angus Edward, a native Gaelic speaker who did not start to learn English till he went to school, wrote as he spoke. He was a wonderful storyteller and his account of Eriskay and a large cast of Eriskay characters is a compendium of tales about everything from ghosts to giants, truancy officers to second sight, crofting life to worldwide travel and tragedies at sea. This welcome new edition makes available again what I now consider to be a Scottish classic.

Tom Johnstone
Managing Editor

Enlightenment EdinburghEnlightenment Edinburgh: A Guide
Sheila Szatkowski

This is a unique introduction to Edinburgh during the most exciting period of its history. Unlike other books on the subject, it’s about the physical city – the places associated with the great figures of the Scottish Enlightenment , like Walter Scott, Adam Smith and David Hume, and the new architectural style which gave us the New Town. Modern photographs, period illustrations, biographies and features all help to build a fascinating picture. Each chapter deals with a different area and covers all the main points of interest (as well as some of the hidden gems). Maps are also included so those who want to see the places for themselves can easily find them.

Andrew Simmons
Editorial Manager (Birlinn)


KM_C754e-20170202113721Tìr a’Mhurain
Paul Strand

Paul Strand’s photographs of South Uist or Tìr a’Mhurain is a book I was thrilled to have us publish. Here Strand’s work is re-produced to an exceptional standard; there never being more than one image to a page. Meanwhile Basil Davidson’s commentary interjects at the most apposite moments meaning image and text reinforce one another beautifully. The result is the sensation of being at the photographer’s elbow in his three month task. An achingly poignant book, this edition showcases the calibre of Strand’s work whilst re-delivering the important message at its heart.

Emily Don

We hope you have added some of these to your ever-growing reading lists. Keep an eye on our digital channels to see when they become available.

Celebrating Burns with a new podcast, sponsored by Birlinn Limited

This year, my colleague Kristian Kerr and I thought we’d do something a little special as part of Birlinn’s 25th anniversary year celebrations. 25 years! Can you believe it?

Anyway, there’s no denying that both of us get excited about books. A lot. Loudly. We’re constantly comparing reading notes, and talking about how books link up with each other, so we thought, why not talk out loud about Scottish books and get everyone joining in the conversation? And so our podcast, A Hitch-hiker’s Guide to Scottish Literature was born.

Podcast Logo1
In each episode, we’ll talk about a particular text, whether a novel, a collection of poetry, a play or classic non-fiction. We’ll chat about its themes, context and our own responses. We’ll also interview writers, include performances, and host a segment celebrating the Birlinn list, on works that connect with the main subject of the episode. There are a lot of books to choose from!

Robert-BurnsWe’ve just uploaded the very first episode, where, as it’s January, we talk about Robert Burns and his first collection, The Kilmarnock Edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. It has been fascinating to read his first published poems knowing what was then to follow: his fame, his death, his legacy, and it was also great to read poems that are maybe not as widely known now, or don’t form part of his ‘greatest hits’; hidden gems that actually enrich our understanding of the man. We also talk to our author, Chris Whatley, about his recent book Immortal Memory: Burns and the Scottish People and how Burns has been marshalled and mythologised since his death. And to top it off we have the poet, William Letford, performing a few of Burns’s best-loved poems.

It’s all very exciting!

Vikki Reilly

So, please, have a listen here, or sign up to Podomatic, while your enjoying your haggis, neeps and tatties. And if you need any more inspiration for celebrating Burns, here are some more reading suggestions from the Birlinn backlist.

Best Laid Schemes
New Poems, Chiefly in Scottish Dialect
Robert Burns and all That
MacSween Haggis Bible

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