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This is a transcription of Episode 5 — Scotland: Wraiths, Rebels, and Royalty.
David: Hello, welcome to Strong Sense of Place. I’m David Humphreys.
Melissa: I’m Melissa Joulwan. In each episode we explore one destination through the pages of five books we love.
David: We search for books that are readable, engaging, opinionated, and tell you about the best.
Melissa: Fiction and non, contemporary and classic. These books help us understand the world and our place in it.
David: We’re on a trip around the globe. one great read at a time. Thanks for joining us. [music].
David: Welcome to season one, episode five of Strong Sense of Place. Today, we are all about Scotland.
David: We’re going to go through five books about Scotland, and we’re also going to talk to Tom Hodges, who’s a bookseller and a typewriter repair person at Typewronger Books in Edinburgh.
Melissa: I really enjoyed our trip to Scotland.
David: Yeah, I did, too.
Melissa: About a year or so ago. We were booksellers at a bookshop called The Open Book in Wigtown. There’s a special Airbnb and when you rent the Airbnb, you stay in the apartment above the bookshop and then you run the bookstore for a week. It is super fun.
David: It’s a little tiny town. Wigtown. It’s the National Book Town of Scotland and yeah, you just kind of feel like you’re part of that community for a week.
Melissa: Yeah. There’s somewhere between 10 and 14 bookshops depending on who you ask and which website you read and which ones are open when you’re there and you get to meet the other booksellers and set up window displays and sell books to people. Eat scones.
David: Yeah. [ laughs] Yeah. Right across from The Open Book is a nice little breakfast place. We got scones from there and bacon sandwiches and that was all great.
Melissa: Yeah, it’s as magical as it sounds. Yeah. Highly recommend that experience. Although I do believe that it’s booked for something, like, the next three years…
David: … which is about how long we waited. I think we’ve put in for it in 2016 and got in in December of 2018
Melissa: Yeah, we booked it while we were still living in the United States and it was just this magical date, far, far in the future, and we had no idea what we’d be doing and figured we would just figure it out when the time came. And the way we figured it out is that we went there with some of our favorite people. We traveled with Tillie Walden, who is a fantastic graphic novelist and Anne and Wil Bogel from the What Should I Read Next? podcast. We all nerded out about books for an entire week.
David: Yeah. So, Mel, you said you really enjoyed our time in Scotland.
Melissa: I did.
David: Give us the 101 Scotland.
Melissa: Okay. I’m pretty sure most people know this, but I’m just going to start from the most basic. Scotland is located in the United Kingdom. It’s just morth of England and they touch each other. So you can drive from England to Scotland…
David: For hundreds of years. people who are walking in, marching across that line too.
Melissa: Before we go any further, I want to talk about the difference between the UK and Great Britain because I found it confusing and even though I understand it now, I still have to think about it a little bit. So UK is shorthand for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It’s made up for what we would call ‘countries:’ England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. Great Britain, also called Britain, is not a country. It is a landmass and Great Britain is comprised of England, Scotland, and Wales.
Melissa: So if you think about the true name of UK, which is the United Kingdom of great Britain and Northern Ireland, all the information you need to remember it is in there. You with me?
David: I think so. So there’s the United Kingdom, which is [pause and laughter] England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales.
Melissa: Correct. Those things are not all one landmass.
David: There is on one landmass, which we call great Britain.
David: There’s Scotland, Wales and Britain…
Melissa: England. [David groans] Moving on. We call England and Scotland and Wales countries. They’re really more analogous to states in the United States because the UK is the country.
David: Because they’re all unified under one central government.
David: Also, all of this is subject to change because of Brexit, but let’s ignore that for now.
Melissa: And I think we’ve beat this horse, so let’s move on. [laughter] The two big cities in Scotland with which you’re probably already familiar are Edinburgh and Glasgow. Edinburgh is the capital. Lots of people when they go also visit a city called Stirling. One: because that was a really awesome castle. It’s beautiful and, two: because those three cities make a nice convenient triangle in the middle of Scotland so you can visit all three of them really easily if you want to stay in the city.
David: Yeah, they’re surprisingly close to each other. Something like 50 miles I think. Yeah, and you could if you wanted to buy or take a train or whatever between that in that triangle.
Melissa: Sample scones in every city.
David: That sounds awesome.
Melissa: Scotland is about the same size as the state of South Carolina, so for our friends in Europe who are not familiar with US states, that’s about twice the size of the Netherlands — so. moderately sized. The primary language is English, but people also speak Scottish Gaelic and Scotts.
David: Which are nothing like English.
Melissa: And nothing like each other. Scottish Gaelic is a Celtic language and Scotts is a Germanic language. Whatever sort of, maybe, stereotypical ideas you have about Scotland are not too far off. The scenery is absolutely very craggy and very beautiful. There are castles everywhere you look. Literally, when we were driving from Edinburgh to Wigton, we saw so many castles and ruins and towers. It’s amazing. There’s really excellent folk music, and there is a long and rich tradition of telling stories around the fire or down the pub.
Melissa: The Southern part of the country, which is closer to England, is moorland. So if you think of Northern England and the Brontes and Yorkshire, that moorish quality continues into Southern Scotland. And then when you go North in Scotland, you’ve got the Highlands with the mountains and really moody weather. And then around the whole country there are lots and lots of islands with plenty of atmosphere, lots of craggy coastline, lots of ghost stories, and we’re going to talk about some of that when we talk about our books later.
Melissa: This is my last tidbit, and it might be the best one. The national animal of Scotland is not sheep even though there are really cute sheep everywhere, and it is not the adorable emo Highland cattle with their bangs over their eyes, nor is it the Loch Ness monster. No, Scotland’s national animal since the 12th century has been the unicorn.
David: Oh, that’s nice.
Melissa: That’s very magical.
David: Yeah. So the unicorn has traditionally represented Scotland and the lion has traditionally represented England. And if you go to England and you see a shield, the lion is on the left hand side and the unicorn is on the right side. But if you go to Scotland and see a shield, the unicorn is on the left-hand side and the lion is on the right-hand side
Melissa: Taking petty to new level. I’m here for it. It’s also worth mentioning that Queen Elizabeth II is the queen of the UK. But in Scotland she is known as Queen Elizabeth, not the second because in Scotland they do not acknowledge the first Queen Elizabeth as the actual sovereign.
David: Still a little bit of rivalry.
Melissa: I mean, I enjoy it quite a bit.
David: Alright, so we’re gonna move on to two truths and a lie.
Melissa: Where we test my knowledge.
David: here we test your knowledge. I’m going to read three statements. Two of them are true, one of them is not. Mel is going to tell me which one is not. Are you ready?
David: Statement number one. Bagpipes are a Scottish invention.
Melissa: I just made a wincing face.
David: Statement number two: Ebeneezer Scrooge was inspired by a Scottish wheat merchant.
Melissa: Oh, we just watched that movie about how Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. Was that guy Scottish?
David: We did.
Melissa: He was terrible. I don’t know if he was Scottish.
David: Three. Final one. There is a knighted penguin at the Edinburgh zoo.
Melissa: I desperately want that to be true. I want him to have a little crown or something. Hoo-boy! Bagpipes… I’m going to say Ebeneezer Scrooge is not Scottish.
David: Ebeneezer Scrooge was inspired by a Scottish wheat merchant. According to legend, Dickens was in Edinburgh, Charles Dickens. And he took a stroll and he went past the Canongate Kirkyard, and he stumbled upon the grave of Ebeneezer Scroggie, Mealman. And meal is a way of saying wheat or grain or whatever. So he was a salesperson for wheat.
Melissa: That poor man had a terrible name that then became an even worse name.
David: Yeah. So the story is hat Dickens read ‘Ebeneezer Scroggie, Mealman’ as ‘Ebeneezer Scrooge, Mean man.’
David: And he wondered what you’d have to do to be so mean that somebody would write that on your gravestone.
Melissa: I love that so much.
David: I doubt there was a way to actually verify that, but that’s the story.
Melissa: Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. That has emotional truth.
David: Yeah. Isn’t that awesome? So the other two: the knighted penguin at the Edinburgh zoo and the bagpipes are a Scottish invention.
Melissa: I think there is a a knighted penguin at the zoo. I think that is true.
David: That is true. The knighted penguin, his name is Sir Nils Olav. His role includes inspecting the Norwegian guard when they come to the Scottish Capitol and since his knighthood in 2008, he’s been promoted to the ranks of Brigadier. His full name is Brigadier Sir Nils Olav. Isn’t that great? The story is that there was somebody from the Norwegian Guard from ages ago, saw a penguin, loved it, and the Scottish people humored him by bringing the penguin out to visit when they came to town and he gradually rose in ranks.
Melissa: That is adorable whimsy.
David: Yeah. So about the bagpipes: bagpipes, kilts and whiskey. The three things that we are strongly identify with Scotland, none of those were originally Scottish. Bagpipes were invented in Asia Minor and brought to Europe by the Romans. The kilt is an Irish invention, and a whiskey was invented in China. Scottish inventions, true Scottish inventions television, penicillin, asphalt, car rims and firemen.
Melissa: Well, those were all pretty good.
David: Yeah. So if you want to bring home a real souvenir from Scotland…
Melissa: …kidnap a fireman.
David: Okay. That’s two truths and a lie. Let’s move on to our books.
Melissa: My first book is a barn burner. It’s called The Blackhouse by Peter May, and it’s the first book in a trilogy of crime novels set on the isle of Lewis. The isle of Lewis is located off the Northwestern coast of Scotland. It’s in the Outer Hebrides and if you look at it on the map, it’s this rocky island at the very, very tip of Scotland. And between it and Iceland there are 600 miles of ocean. So it’s just taking the full force of the Atlantic all the time. And people live there.
Melissa: Good for them.
Speaker 4: So in this book, our hero, Finn McCleod is a detective who was originally from the isle of Lewis and he escaped the small town and went to Edinburgh and has been living and working in Edinburgh. And then there is a very, very gruesome murder on Lewis and it’s similar to a crime that happened in Edinburgh. So he’s assigned to go back to the Island and investigate because he’s familiar with the other crime, the related crime, and his superiors think because he’s from there, he’ll be able to get the people to talk to him and eventually be able to solve the crime. Which is challenging because it’s a super tight knit community.
Melissa: No one is happy about this. Finn doesn’t want to go. His wife really doesn’t want him to go. They don’t know how long he’s going to be gone. The cops on the Island resent someone from Edinburgh coming in and trying to steal their case and the people that he has not seen since high school who feel like he abandoned them are, like, ‘Oh look, Mr. Big-time is back.
Melissa: So all of the old resentments and past history is start bubbling up to the surface. And then this really cool thing happens in the book, which is, it starts out, um, very prominently about solving the murder. But as Finn is investigating, it really becomes about his life and his experiences growing up on Lewis. So you get a lot of psychological stuff about what it’s like to live in a small town that’s located on an isolated island and it is pretty bleak. And there are some stories about the things that he and the other children on the island did. And it was amazing. When I was a kid, I sat under the tree and read a book with my dog. I was not an adventurous kid getting into dangerous circumstances. And these kids, like, climb up on rocks above the beach and sneak into the school during the middle of the night and climb up scaffolding and terrible things happen to them. They beat each other up… It was grim. I did not remember childhood being that grim.
David: It sounds like a dark book.
Melissa: It’s really dark. It’s really dark. [laughs] But Finn has this really strong streak of humanity, and he is committed to doing the right thing all the time. He’s very flawed, but he’s always trying and somehow he keeps it from getting too dark and too creepy. Although the murder is really bad.
David: So this sounds like one of those books or stories where you get a lot from the sort of Northern… what do you call those?
Melissa: Scandinoir. It’s very much influenced by the Scandinavian noir genre.
David: Yeah. Where a dark hero is trying to prevent an even darker thing from happening.
Melissa: Yes. One of the things that we see as Fin is remembering things. They’re not really flashbacks; he’s remembering things. He remembers having to go on a guga hunt.
David: Uh, what’s a guga? [laughter]
Melissa: A guga is a Northern Gannett, which is a bird that’s native to the Outer Hebrides and the chicks are called Guga. This is a real thing. After I finished reading it in the book, I started Googling. I love a book that sends me to Google. So since the 1500s, the men of Lewis have participated in this very particular rite of passage where they take this really dangerous, harrowing, cold, scary boat ride from Lewis to an even smaller island that’s even further out in the Atlantic. And it’s literally just a big rock: sheer sides, very windy, very cold. Everything wet, salty.
David: Yeah. I’m kind of picturing the definition of wet and cold.
Melissa: Yes. So for two weeks, a crew of 12 people kill thousands of these Guga and they clean them and smoke them on the rock and then take them back to Lewis. Now back in the day, this was because there wasn’t a lot of food on Lewis and they actually needed them to eat. They were going out to get food to support their families for the year. Now, it’s a tradition and it’s protected and there’s a lot of debate between organizations like PETA and then people who are interested in protecting national heritage. Like, is this still the right thing to do? So, so far it’s still protected because environmentalist say that actually it’s not harming the overall bird population, but the description of this whole thing was amazing, super-intense, and I felt like I was there like I was cold, I was scared.
David: [laughing] Wrap another blanket around you.
Melissa: And it’s amazing. They transport on the boat, the parts they need to build scaffolding that goes up the side of the rock and then they have little carts that transport the birds back down. There’s a whole system because they’re basically processing thousands of birds during this two-week period, and they all sleep in a hut together. The description in the book is amazing.
David: Everything about this sounds deeply unpleasant.
Melissa: It does sound deeply unpleasant. And the thing that was really fascinating about the characters is that on one hand it’s this rite of passage that the boys see as their step into manhood. But on the other hand, they don’t really want to go. So when it’s their turn and they basically get called, it’s a little bit like ‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson. They have very ambivalent feelings about this experience and Finn in fact, when he was a teenager did not want to go and during his experience on the rock, something life-changing happened.
Melissa: So it wasn’t enough to just be out there for two weeks and climbing on the cliffs…
David: [laughs] Then something dramatic happened.
Melissa: Right! THEN something dramatic happened. This book — whew! — it really took me somewhere. It was great. One final thing on the Guga, the taste of the bird which has been cleaned and smoked is described as ‘salty goose’ if someone is being generous [laugher] or ‘rotten leather and fishy beef’ if they’re being honest. So all in all, this book has a tremendous sense of place. You will feel the salty air blowing up your nose when you read it [laughter] and it is saved from being way too dark by Finn who, bless his heart, is just going to do the right thing no matter what it takes. I finished the first book and then immediately read the second and the third.
David: It’s a series.
Melissa: Yes, it’s a trilogy. Yes. And this is The Blackhouse by Peter May and on our show notes and on the website we will have links to the other two books as well because they also delve into really cool, very clearly Scottish things. They’re great.
David: Now my first book is The Crofter and the Laird by John McPhee, which is set in almost exactly the same place that your book is, but it’s nonfiction.
Melissa: I love that we do that. We have a tendency to pick books about the same story, but I choose a novel and Dave chooses nonfiction. And then we get to talk about what we learned.
David: So… John McPhee is a phenomenal writer. He’s an amazing writer. He’s been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1965, so as long as I’ve been born, he’s been cranking out nonfiction on The New Yorker quality level. Since 1974 he’s been a professor at Princeton University..
Melissa: So he knows some stuff.
David: He has some bona fides. He’s won a honorary doctorate of letters from Yale. He is a four-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He finally won the in 1999. He is amazing as a writer. I highly recommend reading pretty much everything he’s done. John McPhee’s ancestors are from the little island of Colonsay, which is just off of the Scottish coast. They got kicked out a long time ago.
Melissa: Do you we know why they got kicked out.
David: The book tells you why. Yeah, why they got run out of Colonsay. They don’t tell you what happened after that, which I was kind of dying to find out.
Melissa: That’s brutal: ‘Get off of our little island.’
David: Yeah. You’re no longer welcome here. Yeah, and John McPhee went back with his family in the late sixties and spent several months there, I think over the summer, just to see what it was like and write about it. So you should know the crofter and the laird is a Renaissance-age idea. It is the idea that there is somebody who owns the land and somebody who works the land. Aand the owner of the land is the laird and the worker is the crofter and they have a rough relationship. Those two people as you can imagine, right. One represents status and money and the other represents hard work and they’re both kind of dependent on each other.
Melissa: Right. They have an interdependency, but one has so much more power and authority than the other.
David: Yeah. So John goes and observes that and talks about that. He talks about the relationships between all of these people on this little island and what that’s like, and it’s a really short book. It’s about, I don’t know, I think it’s less than 200 pages. You can read it fairly quickly and get a really good idea of what it must be like to live there. It was extraordinary. And again, like, like you said, you read the book and, like, the mist is hitting you in the face as you’re reading the book.
Melissa: Lewis Louis or one of the other islands of the Hebrides is definitely on my must-visit list for next time we go to Scotland.
David: There’s a sectino of the book that I thought was great that I want to read. This is just a paragraph from the book and I’m just going to read this out loud and and you’ll get a sense of both his writing and what the the book is like to read.
Melissa: Are you going to read it with a Scottish accent.
David: Ah, no. I wish I could.
Melissa: So listeners, when we were in Edinburgh, we were on a walking tour and we went into a cemetery and saw a poet’s grave and in our guidebook it had a poem written by that poet and we made David read it out loud to us with a Scottish accent, and it was amazing, but perhaps offensive if you’re actually Scottish… [laughter]
David: Certainly offensive if you’re actually Scottish…
Melissa: So we will avoid doing that on a podcast.
David: Here’s what John wrote. He said:
Colonsay is less like a small town than like a large lifeboat. By a scale of things that begins with cities and runs to hamlets, the island is some distance off the end. The usual frictions, gossip, and intense social espionage that characterize life in a small town are so grandly magnified on Colonsay that they sometimes appear in suprirsing form, in the way that patches of skin maginfied a hundred diameters may appear to be landscapes of the moon. Air and water, sea and sky, life is imploded upon the people here by the blue bottles that surrounds them.
Everyone is many things to everyone else, and is encountered daily in a dozen guises. Emmeshed together, the people of the island become one another. Friend and enemy dwell in the same skin. It has been said to me, for example – but never by either of the two men – that Donald Gibbie and Angus the Post share a deep and ramifying anipathy, and that this showed itself most notably when the new pier was built, and Angus the Post became an applicant for pier master, a job for which Donald Gibbie had apprenticed himself through years of loading people, sheep, and cattle into the ferries that met the steamer. Where I come from, a few angry words at a party can separate people for all time, but no amount of enmity could do that on Colonsay, where the sea is close in four directions and where vehicles meet and pass on a road that is eight feet wide.
Melissa: He’s like a word alchemist.
David: That’s astonishing writing. It’s just like…
Melissa: ‘Social espionage’ might be my favorite phrase I’ve ever heard.
David: [laughter] Yeah. So if that appeals to you, it’s a great book. And John McPhee is a solid, solid writer. Um, and that’s The Crofter and the Laird by John McPhee
Melissa: Is it okay if I sneak in a half book?
David: [laughing] Of course. Yeah.
Melissa: I read a book called His Bloody Project, which is specifically about crofters and lairds. It’s a murder mystery. It set on an island off the coast of Scotland and it was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2016. The story is told through diaries and letters. There’s a really brutal murder on this small island because tensions flared up between the crofters and the larid. And as you’re reading it, you’re reading the diaries of the murderer, you know who the murderer is from the beginning and you’re reading his diaries and you are very firmly on his side. It is a very sympathetic portrait of how hard his life is. They harvest seaweed that, yeah, I mean, it sounds absolutely brutal. It is the most subsistence living you can imagine.
David: You can imagine harvesting seaweed in the best of conditions would be pretty horrible.
Melissa: Yeah, not so fun. And then about two thirds of the way through the book, there’s a turn and you start to wonder if you really understand what happened or not. So it was phenomenal. And I think reading those two books together could be really fun because you get the nonfiction look at what that relationship is like and then you get this fictionalized account of what would happen if somebody murdered somebody on that Island. So that is. His Bloody Project.
David: So… deeply unreliable narrator.
David: Okay. What’s book three?
Melissa: My next book is a lot lighter and more fun than the previous, but it’s a ghost story. It is City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab. I didn’t know this when I started reading it, but it’s a middle grade book. I had no idea. I was just reading it as a really good book and then found out it’s for children.
Melissa: Victoria Schwab is better known for her adult fantasy novels and she is very gifted at building distinct fantasy worlds with kind of macabre shade over them. And this was her first middle grade book. The heroine of the story is Cassidy Blake. She’s 12 years old and she’s the narrator and she’s had an experience, which I won’t divulge because it’s a really interesting part of the story, but she had an interesting experience that has made her able to travel through the veil between the living and the dead and her best friend is a ghost. So it’s a really sweet setup if you like go stories. She’s adorable. She’s got a lot of spunk and heart and she’s very brave even when she’s scared. So I really, really loved Cassidy in an ironic twist. Her parents are the host of a TV show called the Inspectres, where spectres is spelled like ghost spectre.
David: So they’re ghost hunters.
Melissa: They’re ghost hunters, except neither of them actually believe in ghosts. And there’s Cassidy, who’s best friend is a ghost and she’s crossing through the veil and running into ghosts all the time. And as part of her parents’ TV show, they travel to Edinburgh where there are plenty of ghosts for them to interact with. So Cassidy and her ghost friend get caught up in a dangerous situation in a very famous cemetery and they run across the Raven in Red.
David: Who is a raven?
Melissa: It is not a Raven. The Raven in Red is a ghost. And the legend is that her son went out into the snow and never came back.
Melissa: She went to search for him and she wore a red cloak so that if he was out there, he would be able to see her. And she called and she sang, but he never came. And then something broke inside her and she began to sing to attract other children and steal them. So like a good ghost story, it starts out quite melancholy and then turns kind of evil and scary.
David: Yeah, good one.
Melissa: So Cassidy and her friend are investigating and trying to get out of this dangerous situation they’ve gotten themselves into, and it is about the ghost story, but it’s also really about their friendship. I was really moved by it, and I can imagine if you were 12 this would really have an impact on you because they’re just super-accepting of each other and they’re very vulnerable with each other and really care about each other. But they also get into little tiffs and disagreements and it felt as realistic as a relationship between a little girl and a ghost can feel. I really, really enjoyed it.
David: So it’s a buddy story.
Melissa: It is definitely a buddy story. One of the reasons I love it for Strong Sense of Place is that the book opens with a map of all of the places that the parents think they’re going to find ghosts in the city of Edinburgh, and they just so happen to align with most of the tourist sites you would want to visit if you were visiting Edinburgh, so the Royal Mile and the castle, the Southbridge Vaults, Mary King’s Close.
Melissa: When we were in Edinburgh, we went on a tour of Mary King’s close and the, the closes… I guess is the plural of the close? [laughs] the closes are these very narrow passages between tall buildings in the old heart of Edinburgh. And there are ghosts there.
David: I mean obviously.
Melissa: Obviously. And there’s a really rich history, so that part of this book was really fun to see all of those places through Cassidy’s eyes. And I read this book before we went to Edinburgh and then when we went, we went to almost all of the places that she went in the book and it was absolutely delightful. Adult, child, whoever reads this book, I think they would be delighted by that. It was really fun.
David: Part of Edinburgh’s real history is that once a plague came through town and they add the officials of Edinborough decided to solve the problem of people being diseased by boarding up their homes, potentially with people inside of it, and maybe slipping through food through a slot.
Melissa: Sounds so terrible.
David: Which is the only detail you need to know to know that all of Edinburgh is clearly haunted.
Melissa: One of the pivotal scenes in the book is a showdown at the Friarsgate Kirk. Kirk is the word for cemetery, and one of my most memorable experiences in Edinburgh is when we went walking in that cemetery after dark at night.
David: I enjoyed that more than than Mary’s King’s Close, which is sort of set up as a spooky encounter. Just walking through the graveyard at night and letting your imagination go a little bit was less sufficient.
Melissa: Very fun, very atmospheric and I think Victoria Schwab does a really nice job of capturing that atmosphere on the page. Now that I’ve been there in person, I can say yes, she definitely got it. It was great.
Melissa: One piece of exciting news that I want to share is that the CW is actually developing a one-hour drama series based on the book. But Cassidy instead of being 12 is going to be 20, and some people were disappointed by that, but Victoria Schwab went on Twitter and this is what she said and I think this is brilliant. She said,”Evergreen reminder that no matter what happens with a TV show or movie adaptation, there is no way anything can ruin the book. The book is the book.” And I thought that was a really great attitude, and it made me really excited to see the show because the idea that someone would take her rich story and adopt that into a different thing that’s related but not exactly the same as fun because then you get both.
Melissa: So that is City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab.
David: I think I would love that book.
Melissa: I think you would love that book too. And there’s a second book set in Paris called Tunnel of Bones, which takes place in the Paris catacombs. Victoria Schwab is great.
David: My next book is Made in Scotland by Billy Connelly.
Melissa: I love Billy Connolly. He has such a good face.
David: He does have such a good face. Billy Connolly is one of those actors. He’s been an actor forever and a standup comedian and a musician. I don’t think it’d be wrong to say that he’s Scotland’s Robin Williams. He’s just beloved, particularly in Glasgow where he grew up, but just all over Scotland recently. A few years ago, they had a series of murals of him painted on three different walls in Glasgow. So there’s multi-story tributes to Billy throughout Glasgow.
David: Yeah, that’s really sweet. So he had just an amazing career. In 2018 after 50 years of working on stage, he announced his retirement from live stand-up. Since he retired, he’s written a couple of books, one of which is, Made in Scotland, which is his autobiography, another one of which is his collection of his stories, which is also lovely.
David: He has had an amazing life, and I think that’s it started with when he was four. His mother abandoned her children. While his father was serving as an engineer in the Royal air force in Burma, she just left one day.
David: She ghosted. She did. He later wrote that ‘I’ve never felt abandoned by her. She was a teenager. My father was in Burma fighting a bloody war, and the Germans were dropping all kinds of crap on my town. We lived on the docks. So that’s where all the bombs were happening. And she was a teenager with two kids and Islam. And along came a guy who said, I love you. Come with me. And she left and he said, given the choice, I think I’d have gone with him.’
Melissa: That is so sad.
David: Isn’t that heartbreaking? And that’s where it starts.
Melissa: And also that poor mom.
David: Yeah, I know, right. You extend your empathy to her and it’s just like, it’s heartbreaking.
Melissa: Also, he sounds like a really gracious person just based on that one quote.
David: Yeah. So from there, he goes to live with his aunt who are apparently horrible to him.
Melissa: No, I was hoping they were going to be really cute and making tea.
David: I know. I was hoping that too. Nope, they’re horrible people. And then his dad came home eventually.
Melissa: And his dad was great!
David: No, also horrible.
Melissa: No, come on.
David: Yeah, there’s stories about that. Billy goes to work on the Glasgow shipyards, and that is my favorite part of this book — him talking about working in the shipyards and the pride he had in working in the shipyards.. that he got to see it. He paints portraits of some of the characters there and what they did and all of that stuff. I just love that part of the book. And then his career takes off. He leaves the shipyards to start a career as a folk singer.
Melissa: Wow. I didn’t know he was a singer.
David: Yeah. Keep in mind that it’s the late sixties. He eventually hooks up with Gerry Rafferty.
Melissa: Who is Gerry Rafferty?
David: Gerry Rafferty wrote the song ‘Baker Street.’
[snippet of Baker Street plays]
Melissa: Wow. That just time-traveled me back to my dad’s bar and the jukebox and my dad’s bar. [laughing]
David: Yeah. And they had an act together for a while and then they eventually went their separate ways. Somebody comes along and says to Billy, you know, you’re funny, you should probably talk instead of playing the guitar. And Gerry Rafferty went on his own way to be Gerry Rafferty.
Melissa: All right, well we’ll put some videos in show notes so you can see and hear Billy Connolly.
David: So this is just his biography. It goes through his life. I don’t want to spoil more of it than I already have. But he is a just a lovely man and you get to, I got to the end of that book, the, I got to the end of that book and I was just, it felt like, like the literary equivalent of being in a bar that it’s about to close and you don’t want it to close yet and you want to hang out with him for a little bit longer. And you also know time’s winding down. Whew… that was a lot. But um, yeah, it was a really great book. I highly recommend it.
David: I wanted to read a section, which every time I read it makes me well up a little bit.
Melissa: You going to be able to do it? You going to get through it?
David: Let’s find out.
Melissa: Are you going to read this one with this Scottish accent?
David: I’m a little bit actually, cause it’s, some of it’s written in a Scottish accent, so I’ll slip a little bit of it in. And Billy Connolly at one point was knighted.
Speaker 4: Aw. Like the penguin. Oh my God. Do you think they hang out?
David: They must.
Melissa: Do they have a club for people who are knighted and they can just go have drinks and snacks and talk about how cool it is that their knights.
Melissa: It’s Ian McKellen, Paul McCartney, penguin, and Billy Connolly are all in a bar somewhere.
Melissa: And then Dame Judi Dench shows up and she’s like, ‘Hey boys.’ [laughter] Okay, new goal, get knighted so I can hang out with all of them.
David: Yes, absolutely. Okay, so this is just a little bit from the book.
After my knighthood was announced, a woman from the BBC came to Glasgow to interview me. We sat down in a lovely hotel and a nice part of town and she hit me with her first question. This must mean a lot to you with you coming from nothing. I looked at her and I laughed. I didn’t come from nothing. I told her I come from something. I mean I’ve never hidden that. I come from humble stock. I grew up in the tenements of postwar Glasgow. In fact, I used to specify exactly where on stage it was on a kitchen floor on the linoleum. Three floors up. The early years of my life were spent in grinding poverty, but it wasn’t nothing. It was something something very important. There is this viewpoint that if you’ve come from the working class, you’ve come from nothing. Whereas the middle and upper classes are something, and I don’t hold with that opinion. I think the working class is something. It’s everything. There are builders of society and without them the whole house falls down. I’m very proud to be working class and especially a working class Glaswegian who’s worked the shipyards. It is something and don’t you forget it. I come from something. I come from the working class and most of all I come from Scotland.
Melissa: I almost just wanted to break into applause.[David laughs] That was a very rousing and I repeat that. He seems like a lovely and gracious person and we should go to Scotland right now and become best friends. Billy, if you’re listening, we have room in our friends circle. Join us.
David: That’s Billy Connolly’s Made in Scotland.
Melissa: Well, that is a tough act to follow but I have something really good for my final book. My final book is Haunted Voices, and it’s a short story collection that was edited by Rebecca Wojturska and what makes this book really special is that it’s meant to be consumed as audio. It is available in print form in both ebook and hardcover, but this is a celebration of Gothic oral storytelling from Scotland.
Melissa: it was amazing and I have to tip my hat to Twitter because I often complain about how social media makes me feel really awkward, but I found out about this book on Twitter so I’m very grateful that I was able to learn about it. It’s from a small independent publisher called Haunt Publishing and they are devoted to Gothic literature and this is their first output and it’s a homerun as far as I’m concerned. What Rebecca did was find Scottish storytellers who are out there doing spoken word performances or writing stories online and invited them to come and record their stories and be part of this collection. And then the collection also includes archival recordings from the ’50s to the ’80s and those are amazing because these are just regular people who like to tell stories who are recorded by the University of Edinburgh.
David: This sounds phenomenal. So it’s little stories told by people over the last 50 years.
Melissa: Yes, most of them are contemporary. Most of them are people who are performing in Scotland right now. And part of the project is supporting this storytelling tradition. And when I started digging into it, I was like, ‘Holy cow! There are a lot of people who are going into pubs going into theaters and telling stories.’ Which I feel like we don’t… we have definitely a theater in the United States, but I don’t feel like we have this rich tradition of telling stories to each other.
David: Also, I want to point out something obvious. These will all be in a Scottish accent.
Melissa: The array of Scottish accents is a rainbow of sound. [david laughs] So good and I always wonder because Americans are of course enthralled by any kind of accent and I wonder how the Scottish accents sound to people who are Scottish. They’d probably just sound normal, but to me it really added to the pleasure of listening to these stories and the first archival recording I had a really hard time to ciphering what the gentleman was saying, so I got the ebook and read along with the recording and that was an awesome experience.
Melissa: I don’t do that very often, but it’s really fun to listen to a story and also read along. It’s great. It was very rich and rewarding.
Melissa: I usually gravitate toward audio books that have a full cast and sound effects and music, and I will say that this is just people’s voices and it’s one of the most compelling things that I’ve heard. The performances are phenomenal because these are not just writers. These are people who are devoted to telling a story and that makes all the difference in the world. They’re stories that they have written so they know them inside out and the performances blow the roof off as far as I’m concerned.
David: That’s fantastic. I love everything about this.
Melissa: It’s like you can imagine yourself sitting in a pub, maybe there’s a fire in the fireplace and then somebody’s maybe halfway into their tea cups and they stand up and start telling you this incredible yarn.
David: Yeah, so do yourself a favor, download this immediately. Pour yourself out a little bit of whisky and hit play.
Melissa: Pretty much. There are 27 stories in the collection and they range in length. Some of them are just a couple of minutes, maybe three to five minutes and then some of them go on for 10 or 15 and there are a couple that really stood out. So I just want to give a couple examples of what kind of stories are waiting for you in this collection.
David: All right.
Melissa: I think my favorite one was called ‘Soulmates’ and it actually takes place in Greyfriars Kirkyard, which is the cemetery that we talked about before and it’s about a goth couple and a love that will not die, which sounds very creepy, but it was also really, really sweet and it’s a short story so I don’t want to give too much more away, but if a goth couple who falls in love and Greyfriars Kirkyard sounds like your kind of thing, you will like this.
Melissa: There was also a story called ‘The Keep,’ which really stood out to me because of the narration. The woman’s voice was ethereal. It just kind of wrapped itself around my brain and gave me shivers at the back of my neck. And the story itself is really unsettling because you’re dropped right into a story in progress and you’re not really sure what’s going on, but it’s very compelling and the details are really rich and then you slowly realize what’s happening. And I remember exactly where I was when I was listening to it. I was walking along the river here in Prague and, like, my blood ran cold when I figured out what was going on. It was the most delicious, wonderful feeling. I loved it. The second to last story in the collection is another favorite for me. It has a completely different tone than the rest of the stories.
Melissa: It’s actually a little bit funny and it’s about this woman who has a very over the top madcap adventure again in a graveyard, but the narrator reminded me a lot of Phoebe Waller-Bridge from Fleabag when she was telling the story. I was kind of imagining Phoebe, so that was really fun and it was nice to have one that was funny after some of the creepier ones, but they’re all Gothic. They all are exploring mysterious happenings and atmospheric settings and maybe ghosts, demons — there’s a retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s, the Raven, which was really fun. I listened to it from beginning to end and then I listened to several of the stories a second and third time and I can imagine going back and listening to the whole thing over again. It was just phenomenal.
David: I have a Scottish friend and I love listening to him talk, but every once in awhile he really leans into it usually to make a point or to mock his own people, and when he leans into it, I’m like, just stay there. Gimme more of that.
Melissa: Can you turn that up to 11.
Melissa: One other thing to note about this storytelling project is that live performances of the stories are part of it, so haunt publishing has been taking some of the people in this recording project and going out and doing live performances around Edinburgh. So if you’re visiting Edinburgh, it is worth stopping by the Haunt Publishing website to see if there’s a performance. And if you want to see live storytelling while you’re visiting Scotland, there is a storytelling center in Edinburgh that puts on performances and we’ll put links to that in the show notes so that you can make some live stories part of your visit to Edinburgh because it is really a magical experience.
David: The storytelling center is really easily accessible too. It’s right on that…
Melissa: It’s on the Royal Way. It’s right in the middle of the tourist center, really and they have a great bookshop
David: I was gonna say, there’s a nice little bookstore there as well…
Melissa: and cafe, so you can have tea and coffee, read a book.
David: Hang on and hear somebody say something nice.
Melissa: Something nice in a brogue. Yeah, so that is Haunted Voices: An Anthology of Gothic Storytelling from Scotland and it was created by Rebecca Wojturska. and it’s available from Haunt Publishing.
David: Fantastic. So those are five books we love set in Scotland. Visit our show notes at strongsenseofplace.com for links and details. Mel, can you tell us about the blog post you wrote for this episode?
Melissa: We have a lot of tasty Scottish content on the blog to go along with this episode. I wrote a story about the Lewis Chessman, which are a very special chess set found on the isle of Lewis and carved from walrus tusks.
David: They are both adorable and their backstory is phenomenal.
Melissa: Yes. Both of those things. They’re so cute that I’ve considered learning chess solely so that I can get a Lewis Chessman set to play with. Then we also have two food and fiction posts. We’ve got gluten-free shortbread and we’ve got gluten-free scotch eggs and two great novels to go along with them. The House Between Tides, which is kind of a historical mystery and Broken Ground, which is a contemporary murder procedural by Val McDermid, who is one of the most adored authors in Scotland. We’ve got an article about Typewronger Books. We’re going to be talking to Tom Hodges later in this episode about his magical bookstore in Edinburgh. We also have a post with more novels set Scotland because before we went on our trip there, I went a little nutty and read a whole bunch of books. So I wrote about all of them for the website and we have a photo album from our experiences in Wigtown when we ran the bookstore. So there’s lots of good stuff, strongsenseofplace.com and next David is chatting with Tom Hodges, the founder of our absolutely favorite bookstore in Edinburgh, maybe the world: Typewronger Books.
David: I’m here with Tom Hodges. He’s a bookseller and a typewriter repair person. He runs the lovely bookstore TypeWronger Books in Edinburgh, Scotland. Tom, thanks so much for being here.
Tom: It’s a pleasure. Thank you.
David: I have to say I loved your bookstore so much. I walked into that room and wanted, if I hadn’t read it, I wanted to read it. It was just excellent selection of books and quality and, and everything I would want in an independent bookstore.
Tom: Thank you! But that comes down to a couple of things. Poverty and luck [laughter]… At the end of the day, you know, with many bookshops when they’re starting up, they’ll start out with a large amount of money, you know, with some investments, some capital, something like that. And and I didin’t. I started off selling books in the street. When eventually I was able to build a shop up to the level it’s at, at the moment. I still don’t have a large, you know, a fund operating behind the shop, which means only really afford, you know, one copy of anything that we’d want to have in stock at any one time. And that means that the books that we have and that we display really have to earn their place. We can’t afford filler. It’s simply not possible. So that’s the poverty element of it.
Tom: The life elements of this is the other thing, which is that I, and I often say is I didn’t design the shop for you, which sounds like a very rude thing for me to say. But I didn’t design it with customers in mind at all. I never thought, ‘How am I going to sell these books?’ and ‘What sort of titles will fly off the shelves?’ or anything like that at all. I simply thought to myself, ‘If I walked into a bookshop, what would I like to experience? What would I am to see? What’s going to get me excited and interested?’ And so the luck element is that obviously people who walk in and have to like the same kind of things as me.
David: Now I know that you have worked at some of the best bookstores in, in Europe. You’ve been to Hayward Hill in London, you worked in Shakespeare and Company in Paris. You worked at Desperate Literature in Madrid.
Tom: Oh, yes, yes.
David: Have you been pursuing owning your own bookstore or did this idea present itself after working in bookstores?
Tom: That is an interesting one. I have wanted to own my own bookshop since I applied for my first proper book selling job. But there’s a little bit of a back story to this. In 2012, I was a whisky taster, wonderful profession, a noble profession.
David: Of course.
Tom: I used to get a lot of free whisky. And I used to, I used to do training to teach people how to talk about whisky. And mostly I enjoyed that. It wasn’t really what I wanted. What I was interested in was books. Was reading, was writing and sort of creativity. And so I ended up quitting the job that I had and I hitchhiked all the way down to Paris and turned up at this bookshop Shakespeare and Company, which is very, very well known. And I think many people know that you’re allowed to sleep in the bookshop if you’re working on your own writing artistic projects.
Tom: If you read a book a day, if you write your biography on one sheet of paper, if you work two hours a day for the shop. And so I turned up and of course you can’t book a room. It’s not a hotel. It might very well be full. When I arrived, it was full. It took me five days until I eventually was able to get into the shop and I started sleeping in bookshop, working in a bookshop, living around the bookshop. And I found the place an incredible inspiration. The people that work there, I found so fascinating. They all have their own different ideas and interests and areas and things that they read. They all read different things and specialized in different things. And so the conversations that we would have drinking red wine by the Seine, smoking Gauloises… it was all very, you know, very stereotypical.
Tom: I admit, you know, that’s the life that I led there, and I enjoyed it.
David: It sounds fantastic.
Tom: It was a deeply silly and Bohemian life that I led for about six months though. Usually people stay in the shop for about a week. So six months was a long stay. And I thought to myself, ‘I really, really like this book selling life.’ I would pick out these odd shifts, extra shifts at Shakespear and company. I’d be working away there, and it was then that I realized I really, really, really desperately wanted to become a book seller. But, yeah I decided that I would like to move over to the London trade — moved to London, find out about the book trade there. So I arrived in London. A friend of mine I’d met through Shakespearian and Company actually had a spare room that I was able to kip in for a month whilst I was finding my feet, and I applied to just about every independent book shop in London.
Tom: And two of them got back to me and one of them was, ‘Hey, we need help.’ Just so happened they were looking for someone for the Christmas period. The Christmas rush. And I turned up, I had my hair cut short. Obviously, you won’t be able to tell this. It’s not a video, but I am a gentleman who enjoys the long hair as a rule. But I had short hair. I had shiny shoes. I had a suit. I had a tie. I looked sharp when I went in there because it was a very well-established bookshop, a wonderful historic bookshop. I arrived — bombastic Bohemian Tom. But in disguise, you know, it was short hair and shiny suit…
David: Trying to pass…
Tom: I did! They gave me the job. It was extraordinary. Extraordinary time. That’s where I trained under the very watchful eye of a Venetia Vivian — such a wonderful name. She used to sign invoices with a sort of intercrossed Vs which looked really classy. But she was very, very particular about how everything was done. You know, everything had to be done to a very high standard, which as a silly Bohemian whatnot, I maybe didn’t quite manage to get up to that standard a lot of the time. [laughter] She soon whipped me into shape and yeah. And I learned, I learned a great deal from her and from the other people working there.
David: So then you returned to… Edinburgh’s your home…
Tom: Edinburgh, in a way, is my home. I’ve lived a lot in Edinburgh. I grew up just down the road from Edinburgh. But I arrived back in Edinburgh in 2017 in October. First thing, a friend of mine just so happened to have a flat. You know — ‘mate’s rates’ kind of thing, which was helpful cause I was skint. So that was, that was obviously a great start. Next thing I did, another friend of mine worked for Saint Margaret’s House, which is a set of artist studios out in the London road. I was looking for premises. I was looking for possible pop applications and things like that. They were having a ‘door’s open day’ and my friend needed volunteers to warden people around the building — show people around the building, that kind of thing. So I said, ‘Well, I’m unemployed. Fair enough.’ So I turned up and spent the day, you know, showing people around this artists studios complex and chatting to people.
Tom: And I met someone else who also works in the same place — My friend Johanna Cecile who works for the Edinburgh Tool Library. And I was saying, ‘I’m just looking for a wee place. I’ve been thinking about ideas, and I was thinking getting a police telephone box would be good.’ At this point, she actually said, ‘Hang on! I actually know where you can rent a police cell phone box.’ I was like, ‘You kidding? That can’t be. I can’t have just lucked out on this one, can I?’
Tom: Yeah, the Tool Library rent one… The Leith Walk Police Box, we rent it from this woman called Montey; I’ll give you her details.’ So I got Monteys details from Cecile and contacted her and said, you know, ‘What are the rates like? Can I rent it every Sunday you know, to test out my idea.’ She said, ‘Yup, sure, yeah, no problem at all.’
Tom: And at that point, I’d committed to opening on the 5th of November 2017 — opening a bookshop.
David: So this is a police phone box…
Tom: A police telephone box…
David: So do you pick it up and carry it with you, or…
Tom: No, that would be tricky. It’s made of cast iron. It very much, very much stays where it is. And so police telephone boxes were used in the United Kingdom — these ones date from the 1930s — but basically at times when there were not necessarily radios or mobile phones that could be easily used by the police, and they didn’t necessarily have cars, so the little boxes would stand on street corners and police could do their paperwork in them, all that kind of thing. And they could, if necessary, incarcerate local drunks in them and they’d send the wagon round at the end of the evening, picking up all the drunks or whatever, you know, taking them back to the main station and picking up all the paperwork at the same time.
Tom: The ones in Edinburgh are called Edinburgh mobile policeboxes, and they are oblong-ish metal things with little windows in them. The ones in Glasgow are called Glasgow mobile policeboxes, and they are square and tall and blue. And those were later copied by Sheffield and by London. And if anyone who’s listening to this is a fan of Doctor Who — and I’m a massive fan of Doctor Who— you will recognize the Glasgow mobile policebox as the same as the TARDIS, the Doctor’s traveling machine. I had my own TARDIS! The Edinburgh ones looked slightly different, but it’s a policebox so I consider it a TARDIS. In fact, I used to, when I was starting off standing in the streets, I would be wearing my big Doctor Who scarf, my big long Tom Baker-style scarf. Because you know, why not pretend you’re a superhero whilst you’re selling books?!
David: [laughing] Well that’s fantastic. So now you’ve got a shop, but I know that you also do typewriter repair.
Tom: Ah, yes. Well, so this is the name of the shop, and I suppose I should say this goes all the way back to when I was still at Shakespeare and Company because I… I’m the son of two journalists. I’ve gott it in the veins. I have always used a typewriter. And when I was at Shakespeare and Company, I had my own typewriter back in my apartment, but the typewriters in the library were all broken and I… this was massively depressing as far as I was concerned because these things are meant to be used. So what I did, I started sneaking them home with me at night and I would go online, go to YouTube, and find out how to repair them if I could… I was starting to look at other discussion forums and things like that and eventually I repaired all of the typewriters at Shakespeare and Company. I then started buying and selling typewriters on the side and offering typewriter repair. And I traded as ‘Typwronger, Paris’s only typewriter mechanic.’ When I moved back to Edinburgh, I thought, ‘I’m going to keep this. I’m going to keep the typewronger name and I got Typewronger.com all that kind of thing. So I had it for the business. I thought, ‘Right, these are the colors I’m going to fly under.’ But we’re a bookshop and a typewriter repair service because we believe in both reading and writing.
David: I love that! That’s fantastic. So let’s talk about books. And specifically, can you recommend anything that has, that represents Scotland to you, that has a strong sense of place of Scotland?
Tom: Well, that’s tricky in a few ways. I immediately am going to think about Edinburgh, because that is my Scotland in many ways, you know this is where I’ve mostly lived in the country. So I’m going to be biased in favor of Edinburgh books and I’m going to consider classics immediately. One of which would be The Prime of Miss Jean Brody by Muriel Spark. And Muriel spark had centenary quite recently — they published a whole bunch of her stuff, and I’ve been reading more of her recently. She’s a fascinating, deadpan kind of author. The Prime of Miss Jean Brody is set in the 1930s this girls’ school and their teacher Miss Jean Brody is trying to make these girls the crème de la crème, the very best. And she teaches them all kinds of things. It’s a book that is partially about our heroes and how fallible human beings can be. Miss Jean Brody at that time is a big fan, for instance, of Mussolini and can see how some of some of the book will develop, but it tells you so much about the character of Edinburgh that is still present to this day, much of the sort of historic kind of social character and fabric of the city. So I think that’s definitely worth having a read, I would say.
Tom: Something by Robert Louis Stevenson is always wise. I’m a big Stevenson fan. And in fact there’s a wonderful book. It’s published by, I don’t know if you’ve heard of this publishing company. It’s called Typewronger Books [laughter]… The guys at Typewronger, those crazy kids, have published an otherwise unpublished Stevenson novella: The Misadventures of John Nicholson, which Stevenson wrote for a Christmas compendium, one of these big sort of magazines back in the day. This is back when a magazine would actually contain, like, a few novellas and various other things in it. So Stevenson wrote this farce — it’s a total joke — about this character John Nicholson, who’s basically an idiot and he falls into bad company and all kinds of things go terribly wrong for him. Set between Edinburgh and the States, in fact, but mostly Edinburgh, and it features a murder and a mugging on Calton Hill, which is just around the corner from the shop and illegal drinking establishments and a, a comedy cab driver and all kinds of different things. And there’s lots of lovely bits of Edinburgh name dropping and stuff all the way through, so it’s kind of fun to read it for that. I would say that similarly, if you want to read a bit of crime whilst you’re on holiday, Ian Rankin is going to be a lot of people’s go-to for mentioning bits of Edinburgh. Pro tip: Try reading some Claire Askew. She also like a citizen of crime writing in Edinburgh.
David: Can you repeat that name?
Tom: Claire Askew.
Tom: She’s local author and as has done some, some fun crime writing in Edinburgh that has a great feeling of the place and with the Stevenson, if you can’t get to Typewronger Books for whatever reason and pick up a copy of The Misadventures of John Nicholson, which by the way, it’s illustrated by Joanna Robson and is priced at a very reasonable 8.99 — [laughter]
David: That was a very subtle pitch.
Tom: They don’t call me Subtlety Hodges for nothing. You could do a lot worse than looking at just more Stevenson, especially Jekyll and Hyde, which is allegedly set in London, but it’s a London that is a very thinly veiled Edinburgh. And we use some history of Stevenson —he had this house that he lived in, this beautiful facade down on Harriet Row out the front and out the back is absolute sort of massive buildings that don’t really make any sense.
Tom: And Stevenson used to have a key to the back of his parents’ house — not the front. So he was the living his parents, you see, back in the day and he used to go off down into old town, whoring and smoking marijuana and he’d come back at night and you’d go into the disreputable entrance at the back of the house. And this idea of having the sort of public face that is sort of very respectable. And then the other side of you, the dark site, this was something Stevenson saw in the buildings. If you read Jekyll and Hyde, it doesn’t read like London very much to anyone who knows the two cities. It’s pure Edinburgh. But but there we are. If you wanted to go for a famous and readily available Stevenson that I think has an Edinburgh connection.
David: Those are all excellent recommendations. Thanks for doing that. So let’s see. Are you prepared for the speed round?
Tom: Let’s do this.
David: Carry on or checked baggage.
Tom: Carry on.
David: Favorite mode of transportation.
David: Must have in suitcase or carry on.
David: Good answer. Solid answer. [lots of laughter] How do you document your travels?
David: If you could go right now to an airport or a train station and visit a location, where would you go?
Tom: I;d to to Paris and see my friends back in the good old Bohemian land.
David: Aw, that’s nice. What’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?
Tom: I think it would be one morning when I was living in St. Andrews, so not very far from here. I went to university just up the coast and St. Andrews and it a May Dip, that’s a tradition that we had at the university of running into the sea to cleanse our academic sins. [laughter] But I do remember one in particular where we had a spectular sunrise and that’s always stuck in my head as an image.
David: Well, that’s lovely. What’s your favorite book format?
Tom: Ah, what do you mean, like paperback or hardback
David: Paperback. Hardback. Audio book. Ebook.
Tom: [fake coughs[ I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that last one. [laughs] Paperback with flaps. You know the gatefold French flaps? I like a paperback because it’s nice and portable, but I like the flaps. They just make me feel classy.
David: Nice. Yeah. — Who or what do you think of when I say I’m a big fan?
Tom: I just see an enormous electric fan.
David: [laughs a lot] A name of book you haven’t gotten to yet.
Tom: I really want to read Paul Bowles The Sheltering Sky. It’s been on the list for so damn long, I’ve never got around to it.
David: Describe your perfect book in three words.
Tom: Psychological. Powerful, by I suppose I mean grand, but powerful. And short.
David: Finally, if you could magically transport into any book, fiction or nonfiction, what would it be?
Tom: Well, you want me to quick response and the first thing that came to my head, for some reason, God knows why, was _The Wind in the Willows.
David: Oh yeah.
Tom: Because I would love to, I would love to just be having lovely times on the river bank. Little picnic. Little adventure. Ooooh, maybe it’s a bit scary, you know, here or there or whatnot. Not having the piper at the Gates of Dawn and the weird sort of magical relationship with the god Pan and the dawning of the natural world, you know. Oh yeah. There’d be a lot going on there.
David: I love that answer.
Tom: People ask me what my favorite book is, and I often say The Wind in the Willows. My grandfather used to read it every year. I read it most years. And there’s a strong sort of thing going on. It’s very well written.
David: Tom, thank you so much. That was a real pleasure.
Tom: Well, thank you. Cheers.
David: You can find Tom at typewronger.com or at his Instagram account, that’s instagram.com/typewronger.
David: Okay. Thank you for listening to Strong Sense of Place. For more on Scotland, including the books we discussed today. more book recommendations, information about our guests and literary landmarks in Scotland, visit our website at strongsenseofplace.com.
Melissa: Be sure to sign up for our free weekly newsletter. It’s packed with our favorite book- and travel- related things, and please follow us on Instagram for photos, illustrations, short book reviews, and other things we love. We are @strongsenseof.
David: If you enjoyed the podcast, please rate it, review it, and most of all tell somebody else. That would really help us. And don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss an episode. Mel, what are we covering in our next show?
Melissa: We’re feeling the salt spray in our faces and braving the waves of the sea.
David: Thanks for listening. Thanks for your time and happy reading.
Top image courtesy of Jezael Melgoza.
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Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
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