ANCIENT Chinese verse rarely read in its original form has been translated into Scots in a new book which closes the cultural gap between the two countries.

Translator Brian Holton spent years teaching Chinese at Edinburgh University.

Now the polyglot, who spent his early years in a multi-lingual home in Nigeria and studied European languages at school, has published a collection of classical Chinese works in Scots.

When asked the reasons behind the project, Holton replied: “How no?”

Holton, from Melrose, is related to celebrated Scots poet and language champion Hugh MacDiarmid and began work on the project 30 years ago and is thought to be the only professional Chinese-Scots translator.

The collection, whose title Staunin Ma Lane is taken from one of the featured works, includes drinking songs, comic verse, love poems and more from recognised masters like Du Fu, known as the “Chinese Shakespeare”, as well as “monie braw makars that’s been hauf-forgot”.

The originals date back as far as the eighth century and Holton, who says his Scots versions retains the emotional resonance, holds a strong respect for the material, saying: “If you step outside your own culture and start opening doors you never regret it.

“Pre-modern China is so different. There are more books in Chinese than any other culture in the world. It is the oldest continuous culture in the world.

“The book is an introduction to Chinese poetry in my attempt to show it can be funny and daft. It isn’t all sages sitting under trees.”

Born in Galashiels, Holton lived in Nigeria with his socialist parents, a former commando father who could speak French and Swahili and a Border Scots mum.

The family used local languages Hausa and West African Pigin in their daily lives and, returning to Scotland to attend school, Holton felt he had undergone “an expulsion from paradise”.

He went on to learn Latin and Greek but retained a love of the Scots spoken by his mother and grandmother.

Holton added: “I’ve been pushing for Scots all my life. It’s an old tongue with a long history and a big range.

“I want to say to the reader, ‘deek whit the mither tongue can dae – gin it can dae this, whit’ll it no can dae?’”

Published by Bristol-based Shearsman books, Staunin Ma Laneis the latest in a number of Chinese-Scots works by Holton, who has already begun his next project, the translation of a spy thriller from 1942 Manchuria.

His interest in that country’s literature came in a chance selection of an anthology at the school library and took the young reader on “an escape to a wonderful world and an escape from the drabness of Scottish life at the time”.

For a boy from Nigeria, it was “dour”, he said, adding: “We’d never seen winter.”

Speaking about his work, he said: “If I was Danish you wouldn’t ask why I would write in German.