SHE has long been known as one our finest actresses on stage and screen, and has also been a playwright of note, but could Gerda Stevenson now become even more famous as a poet?

Her first collection of poetry was published to critical acclaim in 2013, but as all writers will tell you, it is not until the second book or collection of work that you can really call yourself an author or poet.

Her many fans can anticipate success, however. Stevenson’s new collection of poetry to be published next month is certain to confirm her as a poet of considerable renown, not least because she has taken on a huge subject – the women of Scotland.

Quines, to be launched by Luath Press in early March, is an ambitious and challenging work that has already brought huge praise from Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, who was one of the first people to read the collection that profiles 68 women of Scotland – 11 of them forming the national Scottish women’s football team back in 1881, it should be said.

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“Clutch this book of wondrous odes to your bosom,” said Kennedy. “It will gladden your heart, sadden it, but also fill you with pride. What women they were that birthed our Scottish nation and here they are, exquisitely brought to vibrant life by that contemporary cultural quine, Gerda Stevenson.”

National columnist Lesley Riddoch’s verdict is straightforward: “Quines is a vivid explosion of thought, description and bold opinion, clothing Scots history at last with the myriad contribution of its women. This is a wonderful, life-affirming book.”

Richard Hollway said: “Reading it bites the heart.”

All that before a single copy is sold, and with a trio of events lined up for the National Library, the Scottish Poetry Library – the official launch on March 8, International Women’s Day – and her home village of West Linton on March 9, this will be book of poetry that many people will soon want to read and talk about.

Yet it came about almost by accident. Stevenson was filming for the television series Shetland when she decided she wanted to visit the Broch of Mousa, the ancient stone tower on its eponymous island. On her sole day off the weather was unkind, and instead she took herself to Shetland Museum in Lerwick.

She explained what happened next: “In the museum I saw this absolutely stunning reconstructed head of young woman dating back thousands of years.

“Her skull was next to the reconstruction, and it said that through carbon dating they were able to say she had died between the ages of 17 and 27.

“She looked as if she could be my daughter and I just stared at her for ages and imagined her life – by the time I was going home on the plane I was writing a poem about her.

“She was unknown, anonymous, we don’t know if she lived in a broch or wherever, and my imagination started up. I then thought this could be the first poem of a sequence.

“I was already thinking about other women, especially Fanny [Frances] Wright, who was a sort of daughter of the Enlightenment, born in Dundee in 1795. She wrote a play that was performed on Broadway and wrote other plays and books, and she was an essayist and social reformer, who deeply worried the American government because of her radical views – she was an atheist, too.

“She greatly influenced Walt Whitman, and when my play Federer v Murray was performed in New York as part of the Scotland Week celebrations, I went down to Long Island to the Walt Whitman birthplace museum and the first thing I saw when I went in the door were three portrait pictures – Whitman’s parents with a picture of Fanny Wright in between them, showing what he thought of her.”

YET very few people in Scotland know of Fanny Wright. So influenced by the unknown Shetland woman and Wright, Stevenson set out to find other examples of Scottish women who simply have not received the acclaim they would have gained in a more equal society.

“I used many sources of information,” explained Stevenson, “especially the Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women which is a fantastic resource, and googling, and talking to people, and buying second-hand books about these women, many of which are out of print. It’s not that they were written out of history, it’s just that were never written in.”

The book features portraits in poetry, most in English, a third in Scots, which tell the story of 57 individual women and a football team – the 11 Scottish women who beat England 3-0 in Edinburgh in May, 1881, the first recorded international women’s match, while the second game a few days later in Glasgow was abandoned when male protestors ran on to the pitch.

There’s a huge variety of women, including “half-hangit” Maggie Dickson, who survived hanging in the Grassmarket in Edinburgh in the early 18th century and became something of a local celebrity.

Isabel Wylie Hutchison, the botanist and Arctic explorer, is featured, as is Mary, Queen of Scots, and a fish gutter, an engineer and so many more – no spoilers here, so please find out for yourself.

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Stevenson’s first collection of poems, If This Were Real, has recently been translated into Italian and she is not long back from a launch of the book – “that was just thrilling”, said Stevenson, and again it has happened by accident as she met the translator at a poetry festival.

People reading Quines will learn a lot about Stevenson’s subjects as well as enjoying the poetry. The actress will forever be associated with Braveheart and so many screen and stage appearances that are too numerous to mention. Her acting career is now in its fourth decade, but poetry seems to suit her.

“I would love it if a copy of the book could go into every Scottish high school and university,” said Stevenson. “It was not consciously written as an educational project but as it developed that element came in.

“So many of the women are unknown. I have written about people that have grabbed my imagination, and I hope they will stimulate other people’s imagination, too.”