The problem with identifying your top ten British authors is that there are so many to choose from – you’d think narrowing it down to a specific country would make it a bit easier. That proved not to be the case, so I limited it to Scottish authors who are alive at the time of writing, and I hope I haven’t just jinxed anyone. So here, in no particular order, is my entirely subjective list of favourite Scottish authors writing today:
No list of my favourite writers would be complete without Ali Smith, who I first discovered on the shelves of Edinburgh’s Word Power bookshop. Her novel which includes my introduction to her work, 2001’s Hotel World, are vividly realised, playing with form and language, but there’s nothing I like better than gorging myself on the short stories in her four brilliant collections.
Galloway writes novels, poems, short stories, prose poetry and libretti as well as non-fiction, and she does them all equally well. Her last novel, Clara, was based on the life of 19th Century pianist Clara Wieck Schumann and her award-winning ‘anti-memoir’ All Made Up is one of the best pieces of autobiographical writing I’ve ever read. In 2012, she celebrated winning the Scottish Book of the Year by having a cup of tea and watching telly with her husband.
When I first fell in love with Scotland as a dreamy pretentious teenager, I buried myself in Sir Walter Scott. Luckily my English teacher at the time, the Inverness born-and-bred Mrs Owen, marched me down to the library and watched like a hawk as I took out a copy of Bagpipe Muzak and my life and reading habits were never quite the same again.
For a writer who revels in a good bleak story, Kennedy is a surprisingly invigorating read. Unafraid of plumbing the depths either in her work or her hugely enjoyable Guardian column, she’s also a gifted performer of both her fiction and her wryly funny stand-up comedy. Luckily she’s also prolific, so readers new to her work have a lot to look forward to.
The youngest author on the list, Logan’s debut collection, The Rental Heart And Other Stories was released in March 2014 and her first novel, The Gracekeepers is due out in 2015 from Harvill Secker. The literary lovechild of Margaret Atwood and Angela Carter, Logan writes magic realism soaked with love, loss and transformation. She’s already started to rake in the awards, including the inaugural Dr Gavin Wallace Fellowship, and she’s poised to dominate the shortlists in the future.
Warner is best known for Morven Callar, but his disaffected heroine never spoke to me as much as the messy, intoxicated explosions of hormones that attend Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. I first stumbled across The Sopranos in a second-hand bookshop on a religious retreat to Llandudno with my convent school. I’d ditched the rest of the class, who in turn had ditched Sister Catherine and headed off to the arcade, forgoing the dubious delights of boys, smoking and alcopops for….reading about convent girls talking to boys, smoking and drinking alcopops. Along with Irvine Welsh, he was tagged as one of the Scottish Beat authors, but to my mind he’s far and away the better author. He has a new novel out later this year.
Even if it wasn’t for Greig’s wonderful 1992 novel Electric Brae, both his poetry and his latest novel Fair Helen would win him a place on this list. His work is wide-ranging but always innately Scottish – whilst I love his infinite variety, I can’t help hoping that he continues to explore historical fiction, since he does it so well.
Inspired by her childhood in the Scottish care system, The Panopticon, Fagan’s dizzyingly good debut novel, was the breakout book of 2012, earning her a place as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists, the only Scottish author on the list. Now Writer in Residence at Edinburgh University, Fagan is also an award-winning poet. Currently working on her second novel, The Sunlight Pilgrims – as soon as a publication date is announced, I’ll be counting down the days.
Hudson’s debut novel Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma captures the “sordid council flats, B&Bs, screeching women, feckless men, fags and booze and drugs and the dole queue” of a working class childhood, with enough piss and vinegar that it is bittersweet rather than bleak. Her second novel Thirst is out in July, a strikingly unconventional love story taking place in London and Siberia.
Some authors give you a perfect snapshot of a place you’ve never been – others shine a light on somewhere you think you know. There’s so much about Damian Barr’s 2013 memoir Maggie and Me that I love, but his account of growing up in Motherwell, Lanarkshire in the early years of Thatcher’s government, illuminates both his early years and a community devastated by the closure of the steel works. A beautiful memoir and a crucial piece of Scottish history.