A FORMER tour guide turned author has released a new history atlas of Scotland aimed at helping children learn more about some of the most important periods in the country’s history.

David MacPhail and illustrator Anders Frang have already released An Amazing Illustrated Atlas of Scotland, which was filled with fun facts about various geographical regions across the country. 

Upon finishing this, MacPhail, who is based in Perthshire, realised he had enough material for around three books.

The pair’s latest – An Amazing History Atlas of Scotland – breaks down the country’s past by time period.

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In an exclusive chat with The National, MacPhail spoke about how his life as a tour guide informed his new book and what it’s like writing history for children.

‘A dream to write’

The author admits that it has always been a “dream” to write and that the success of his first book immediately sparked an interest in developing his ideas.

“I had all this knowledge of history so I thought why not write something about it all. I take a child’s-eye view on things”, he explains.

“I started trying to write for adults but ended up putting in a bunch of purile jokes and realised I was better writing for young people.

“When I look at any historical location, I’m always thinking about what might interest your average nine-year-old.

“I’m not bothered about stately rooms, I go for the dungeons and ghosts so I think I’m a good person to write about all this stuff.”

Writing history for children

MacPhail says that the key to writing history for children is very much about simplifying things where possible although that in itself is not always an easy process.

With so much history to choose from, how do you pick and choose what would be of interest to children and how do you get across the more complicated parts?

“It can be hard to find the appeal for kids so you have to find the right angle. How do you explain the Covenanters or the Bishops’ Wars or the divides in Scottish society that were all so important.

“But ultimately sometimes there’s no getting round the facts. They are what they are and you just have to find the best way of expressing things.”

He does add however that it wouldn’t be wise to assume that all children are squeamish and that in fact the more “gruesome” elements of history can be appealing.

MacPhail explained: “I often find, when you sit down with a group of kids, surprisingly not many of them know that much about Scottish history.

The National:

“But when you start talking about the Stuarts for example – a dynasty that lasted hundreds of years, it sounds dry but the fact a lot of the met a gruesome ends sometimes means I can stand and talk about it for 15 minutes.

“They like ghosts, they like witches and people no matter what are still drawn to Mary, Queen of Scots (above) who of course met a gruesome end as well.”

Working as a tour guide

Prior to working as an author, MacPhail used to spend his evenings on The Cowgate giving guided ghost tours of Edinburgh.

As well as this, he took a lot of private guided tours around Scotland and loved the storytelling element of it all.

He hopes that this new book will be a success and explained a bit more about what to expect.

“We’ve done the history atlas differently from our previous book in that this one is broken down by time period.

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“We have a section on the Neolithic period and it’s all about Skara Brae – a prehistoric village found in Orkney.

“We talk about the Wars of Independence as well. I just love all of it and I’m obsessed by history, especially when you can actually see what it looked like.”

An Amazing History Atlas of Scotland is available to buy NOW.