THERE are many ways in which Scotland has excelled at world level: finding ways to lose sporting matches from winning positions, discovering a multiplicity of foods to deep fry, plumbing extraordinary depths of self-loathing, and continuing to create words for being steaming, blootered or wasted with a capital F.

Most of the above demand a self-awareness, haggis, alcohol and a way with words so it is not difficult to discern why Burns Night has become so popular in Oor Rabbie’s native land.

My appreciation of Burns has grown over recent years as I came to him with all the lateness of a Junior centre half’s sliding tackle. It is extraordinary, but true, that I was never taught Burns at school, this merely being the most conspicuous symptom of the disease of Nae Scots History Nae Scots Literature that crippled the education system of yesteryear.

This neglect was particularly cruel given this is a nation of brilliant, powerful and insightful writers who have heavily influenced the development of the novel and forged distinct paths in poetry. They have also added to the gaiety of the nations.

I believe they and their work should be formally celebrated by a grateful nation. The following calendar is, in its foibles and fallibilities, a piece of fun. But it has one serious purpose: to remind ourselves that our nation can write more than a wee bit. And that is cause for a slice of deep-fried haggis, a large dram and the subsequent brutal self-examination that is the hangover.


RABBIE Burns has corralled this month. Any cancellation of this fixture would render redundant a corps of pipers, fiddlers, expert speakers and haggis makers. It would also be a calamity in that Burns and his works speak to the frailty and greatness of the human condition. And in a Scots accent.


A TOAST to the lasses. The formal celebrations of Burns can carry the heavy whiff of alcohol-flecked testosterone so it might be appropriate to follow the Ayrshire bard with a recognition of the great women poets of Scotland. These include Carol Anne Duffy, poet laureate, pictured below; Liz Lochhead, marvellous makar who puts the art into Newarthill; Jackie Kay, now makar; Kathleen Jamie, a wonderful chronicler and product of nature; Janet Paisley, author, scriptwriter and filmmaker who is probably also a more than decent tap dancer. Lochhead alone is worth a month of Scottish Sundays. There is no longer timespan than that.

The National:


A FINE month to return focus on the novel. Sir Walter Scott is a fitting starting point. Famously, he is credited with the birth of the novel. Wattie, as he was never known, has been given a veritable doing by some modern critics but his influence is strong. Tolstoy read him, admired him. Which would serve as a decent blurb.


THE cruellest month, according to TS Elliott in The Waste Land, his prescient poem of post-Thatcher Lanarkshire. So it’s back to poetry and men. The main artist to be celebrated is Hugh MacDiarmid, contrary and conspicuously brilliant while, of course, regularly dark. This apparent contradiction is the Scottish big yin and wee yang. Other Scottish male poets to be celebrated include John Burnside, Hamish Henderson, Norman MacCaig, George Mackay Brown, Sorley MacLean, Edwin Morgan, Edwin Muir, and Don Paterson. Plus, of course, James MacPherson, who inspired one of my pleas of mitigation: I’ve spent my life in rioting, Debauch’d my health and strength, I squander’d fast, as pillage came, And fell to shame at length.

I was, incidentally, given probation.


THE month of Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, in the Catholic calendar so it’s perhaps suitable to bow to the works of Muriel Spark, whose art was heavily informed by her conversion to Catholicism. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is an unneglected masterpiece but it is an article of faith that all Sparks are wonderful. The Driver’s Seat and A Far Cry from Kensington are personal favourites.


ROBERT Louis Stevenson. And why June? I always believe there is something sunny about RLS, despite his death at 44 and that Jekyll and Hyde business. It may have something to do with his travels on a donkey and his life in the South Seas, but it may owe more to reading Treasure Island as a young boy.

This is literature, I was warned. I was blessed that I thus learned early that literature – despite the admonitions that it was dull and ponderous – could be exciting, moving and life-enhancing. Wonderful.


A TWIN nomination of Alan Spence and Ali Smith, a fortnight each perhaps. They share a link with Aberdeen University (Spence was a lecturer in creative writing and Smith a first-class graduate). Spence, too, has connections to the West of Scotland’s Glorious 12th of July with his masterly and evocative collection of short stories, Its Colours They Are Fine. Placing Smith in June is a nod to her decision to write novels on the seasons, with Autumn already published. Summer, in typically Scottish fashion, is merely promised.


THE Glasgow boys. A split month for two distinct geniuses. First, Alasdair Gray, pictured below, whose presence is deeply felt in the West End of the city where his paintings are featured in pub and Tube. He deserves a month to himself for Lanark alone but we squeeze in James Kelman, of Govan and Drumchapel and the world. Bleak as a Scottish World Cup qualifying campaign but far more profound and ultimately significant. Astonishing range. Contrast How Late It Was, How Late to Kieron Smith, Boy.

The National:


LEWIS Grassic Gibbon. For A Scots Quair. With the strong recommendation to read the three novels that comprise it (Sunset Song, Cloud Howe and Grey Granite) this month.


A MONTH for Willie McIlvanney. He is rightly lauded for his inspiration to the powerful purveyors of Tartan Noir in such as Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Peter May. However, he is more than a mentor. The boy from Kilmarnock gave us Docherty (recently republished by Canongate with an eloquent and moving introduction from his brother, Hugh), an insightful testimony to a working-class life and the culture that sprang from it. His greatest achievement may be Laidlaw, a detective novel in the same way that Camus’s The Plague is a medical journal.


THE month of remembrance of saints and sinning souls. It may be appropriate to have a day each for those authors who may be forgotten to the larger world. So here are 30 for 30 with their best work (okay, what I believe to be their best work): Gordon Williams (Walk Don’t Walk), Allan Massie (A Question of Loyalties), Alan Sharp (A Green Tree in Gedde), Agnes Owens (For the Love of Willie), Jeff Torrington (Swing Hammer Swing), Naomi Mitchison (The Corn King and the Spring Queen) Alistair MacLean (HMS Ulysses); AL Kennedy (Day), Janice Galloway (The Trick is to Keep Breathing), William Boyd (Any Human Heart), Kate Atkinson (Behind the Scenes at the Museum), Iain Banks (The Crow Road), Neil Gunn (The Silver Darlings), Neil Munro (The Vital Spark), Edward Boyd (The View from Daniel Pyke), Jessie Kesson (Another Time, Another Place), Alan Warner (Morvern Callar), Michel Faber (The Crimson Petal and the White), Candida McWilliam (Debatable Land), Ian Crichton Smith (Consider the Lilies), Archie Hind (The Dear Green Place) Andrew O’ Hagan (Our Fathers), Robin Jenkins (The Cone Gatherers), James Kennaway (Tunes of Glory), Anne Donovan (Buddha Da), Dorothy Dunnett (The Game of Kings), George Macdonald Fraser (Flashman), Christopher Brookmyre (All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye), JM Barrie (Farewell Miss Julie Logan), Ronald Frame (The Lantern Bearers). Yes, I know Faber and Atkinson were not born in Scotland but they live and work here. So there.


THIS is the month of conspicuous consumption so it needs to celebrate those who write of the drugs and the damage done, whether it be alcohol or the illicit variety. It is then the month of Irvine Welsh, Alexander Trocchi and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his occasionally addled Sherlock.

The above list is only suggestive and has serious omissions, mainly because it is subjective and compiled by an eejit. It ignores non-fiction. It also has the major defect of including no Gaelic novels, largely because I have not read any. This is an admission rather than a boast.

It may give Oor Nicola a basis for further promoting literacy by acting on the Scots Writing Calendar. It may not. It will certainly provide the fuel for a rammy. In this, at least, it is Scottish to the marrow.