IT was just after the SNP’s Holyrood election victory in 2007 and Alasdair Gray was the man of the moment.

Throughout the campaign, senior SNP figures had referred to the phrase “work as if you live in the early days of a better nation”, which they ascribed to him.

I was editor of the Sunday Herald, which was not at that time an independence-supporting newspaper but was on the road to becoming one. I asked Gray to write an article explaining what inspired the phrase and what it meant to him. He agreed and we decided he would visit the office the following Saturday – deadline day – to write it.

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When he arrived there were a number of challenges to overcome. First, he couldn’t use a computer. The fairly simple solution was to assign a reporter and a separate room where the author’s words could be taken down.

The second, more serious problem, was that Gray hadn’t written the phrase. It was, in fact, the work of Canadian author Dennis Lee, which Gray was quick to point out. Nevertheless he agreed with its sentiments and the project proceeded.

It did not go smoothly. At one point our reporter emerged from the room scratching his head and describing the article as “gobbledygook” about 15 minutes before deadline.

But when he returned to the task at hand Gray completely restructured his words and delivered a fantastic piece at the allotted time.

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When it was agreed the Sunday Herald would come out in favour of a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum there was only one man who could help us announce the decision with style and passion. And so I found myself asking once again for Alasdair Gray’s help by designing a front page I hoped would become iconic.

When I arrived at his home to look at his designs I naively thought he would have a finished or at least half-finished page.

Instead we spent the next two hours searching through scraps of paper bearing doodles and designs. Eventually we collected a series of emblems which we agreed would work together.

Again Alasdair Gray had pulled eloquence and intelligence from chaos. I still look back on that front page with wonder and deep gratitude. It did the job.