It is: The Galloway Collection. It's taken over my life for the last 18 months and now it's about time for some explanations, right?
With just a month to go till the 100th anniversary of S.R.Crockett’s death it's certainly time for me to address a big question: So why did I do this? (There have been times in the last year or so I’ve asked myself that, I can tell you!)
The story begins, as all good stories do, once upon a time and long ago... A slightly bemused and hard to employ moral philosophy graduate from St Andrews in 1984, unable to find work in Scotland, I 'followed the money'. Let's just gloss over the next 11 years. Exile is never a happy time.
Suffice it to say I moved back to Scotland in 1995, to Galloway to be precise, Older and a lot wiser (but no richer!) A big part of my relocation plan was to spend as much time out in the Galloway hills as possible. I even got to the point of buying a book by Paddy Dillon ‘Walking the Galloway Hills.’ But life’s not like that, is it? Instead by 1996 I was finally diagnosed with chronic bowel disease (diagnosis took the form of a week long spell in hospital, the shedding of over a stone of weight and a serious and prolonged lack of energy.) Walk the hills? For months walking up the stairs was a triumph. Walking down Castle Douglas High Street an infrequent event. I’d been ill and getting worse for several years but come 1996 the ‘diagnosis’ meant I finally had to accept that one of the things I was NOT going to be able to do was romp lightly over the hills of Galloway any time soon – or possibly ever again. I had to find a way to come to terms with that.
I went back to Dillon’s book, understandably pretty depressed, and found a reference to Galloway writer S.R.Crockett. That sent me to the local library in Castle Douglas, where I found a shelf full of Crockett’s works – and started with ‘Lochinvar.’ I loved it. Of course it wasn’t as good as getting out in the hills, but his writing style is so vivid in its natural description that it made me feel as close to getting there as I could. And this was the beginning of my ‘love affair’ with S.R.Crockett’s work and my own experience of history, adventure and romance in the Galloway Hills.
In the past 20 years, still unable to ‘walk the hills’ I have turned time and again to Crockett to fill the void and time and again he has come up trumps. The few people I’ve come across who have read any Crockett seem to have read ‘The Raiders’ (which was one of his first/breakthrough novels in 1894) and while this has sections set in the Galloway Hills, it is more famous for its fictionalisation of Hestan Island (his Isle Rathan) which features in a number of his subsequent novels and stories. Crockett writes a lot about smuggling and so a fair amount of coastal Galloway is described in his work, but for me it is the Galloway Hills setting which is the most compelling. I can live and breathe the experience of them vicariously in a whole range of his stories. Believe me, there’s much more to Crockett than ‘The Raiders.’ Suggesting otherwise is like reducing Shakespeare to ‘Love’s Labours Lost’ or Dickens to ‘Oliver Twist.’
During my time in Galloway my 'hometown' was Castle Douglas. Crockett fictionalises it as Cairn Edward and much of his writing is set in the mid-part of the Stewartry, within a 10 mile radius of where I lived. It was land that I knew quite well even if I couldn’t get out in it as much as I would like. Crockett writes of village life, of farm life and of the life of the herd and the tenant farmer up on the high hills. In his own day he was acknowledged as equal to Thomas Hardy in his powers of natural description. And it is this which most appeals to me. And then there are the characters. As a child I may have had the odd imaginary friend, but with Crockett’s work (in which I have been totally immersed in the past 2 years, preparing ‘The Galloway Collection’) I have found literally hundreds of imaginary friends. From Patrick Heron, to Wat Gordon; from Hector Faa to Saunders McQuhirr, I have become intimate with a whole panoply of characters and in that relationship I have felt a bond growing between myself and their author S.R.Crockett. I feel like I know (and like) both him and his characters better than I know most ‘real’ or ‘live’ people.
Crockett writes of ‘domestic’ heroes and ‘feisty’ heroines. His work explores the minutiae of rural Scotland from a time now long ago, but one still very real and immediate. It is often recognisable and a testament to the indomitable spirit of the rural Scot past and present. He writes of railways games of quoits, of ‘loons’, ‘lasses’ and ‘back end of the barn trysts,’ of smugglers and Covenanters and yes, ministers (Stickit and otherwise.) He writes of a time when the Kirk was important but community was more so. Reading Crockett is like taking a trip into Scottish social history all wrapped up in exciting adventures, with a cast of compelling characters and scenery which is often far from idyllic. And all tied up with a liberal dose of couthy ironic humour.
So why did I do this? I wanted to do something to pay back the joy he has given me, to offer a tribute. I’ve been a writer for 20 years and considerably less successful than S.R.Crockett so it doesn’t surprise me when no one has heard of my writing, never mind read it – but it galled me that Crockett, who could sell out 100,000 copies on the first day of publication, should have become equally invisible 100 years after his death. Crockett writes in the vein of Stevenson and Dumas, of Dickens and Hardy. His stories are episodic and fast paced with characters and settings which grip you and don’t let go. No, they are not ‘high’ literature, but they were never meant to be. They are unashamed popular fiction – easy to read but hard to forget. You carry the characters and the places with you long after you have turned the final page.
Now why is all very well... in my next post I'll look at the question of HOW.
In the meantime if you want to find out more about S.R.Crockett click HERE or to buy the books click HERE