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Issue 85 - Alanna Knight: What I Love About Scotland

Scotland Magazine Issue 85
February 2016


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Alanna Knight: What I Love About Scotland

A series in which well known individuals based around the world express their thoughts about the Scotland they know well

Walking the paths and touching the stones is an essential part of my research as a writer of historical fiction and I am fortunate to live on the edge of an extinct volcano with the runrig lines of the ancient settlers who farmed on Arthur’s Seat still visible. Every step I take across leads into history. Dalkeith Road was once a drove road from the south side of Edinburgh, down through the ‘Debatable Lands’ of the Borders into England. Just five minutes away is a handsome Georgian house once home to Dr Knox, notorious in 1826 for buying corpses from Scotland’s first serial killers, Burke and Hare. Heading city-wards, down the Pleasance, there is the Flodden Wall, built to keep the English at bay after the ‘flowers of the forest’, the tragic harvest of the Scottish nobility who died at their King’s side on Flodden Field in 1513. At a stone’s throw distance stands the Old Quad of Edinburgh University, built on the rubble of Kirk O’ Field, blown up in 1567 with Lord Darnley, Mary Queen of Scots’ unpleasant second husband found dead, smothered in its gardens. The jury are still out on who planted the gunpowder and whose hand was on the fuse!

Born and reared on Tyneside, I came north by way of marriage to a science graduate from St Andrews to learn more about Scotland beyond school lessons than good Queen Bess and her wicked cousin Mary who fancied the English throne. My father’s folk were originally from Orkney, via a shipwrecked sailor from the Armada, so I was told, and I hoped my DNA would be Viking.

No, Scots and Irish but with one surprise – 1 per cent Native American. Could this be my sea captain great-great grandfather’s so-called Spanish bride, brought home from one of his voyages between Montrose and the New World? The family had shaken heads. Not one word of Spanish did she speak, not even English. Two hundred years later, have I solved this mystery why, as a youngster watching westerns with Dad, my sympathies were always with the Red Indians and I hated the cowboys? (Sorry, John Wayne!) At home in Aberdeen, with glorious Deeside the wild frontiers of my new world, its many castles were like turning the pages of a history book. I began writing for D. C. Thomson. While waiting for two small boys in the car at nursery school, a notebook was always at the ready. There were some rejections until 1968 when I clutched my newest baby, dressed in a handsome book jacket, close to my heart. Then came the day that was to change my life.

My son Christopher needed help with a school project on Robert Louis Stevenson; when I opened Treasure Island, I found that it was written at Braemar, just 40 miles away. Here was my inspiration. Compiling a reference book in pre-computer days meant photocopying and weekly travel from Aberdeen down to the National Library in Edinburgh. A good friend, abroad for that summer, offered the Knights her elegant flat and we were welcomed with a promising Festival and enchantment un-bounded. One day, a man in a deerstalker cap and Inverness cape walked past our window. I thought he might be a Victorian detective. I never saw him again, but my Inspector Faro was born that day.

Time for decisions. My husband was newly retired. Our boys were fledglings so we didn’t need that big Aberdeen house. Why not give Edinburgh a try?

Thirty years later, solitary now, but never lonely with family visits from England, caring friends on all sides, and so many places in Scotland still unexplored. I write my next book watched over by Arthur’s Seat’s brooding charm, in an ever changing skyscape of pure magic. All are very good reasons why I love Scotland.

Author biography

Alanna Knight is co-founder and Honorary President of the Scottish Association of Writers and Edinburgh Writers’ Club. She has written seventy published books to date and was awarded an MBE for services to literature. Her latest historic crime novel Akin to Murder – An Inspector Faro Mystery is published by Allison & Busby, £19.99 ISBN 978-0-7490-1919-S.