There is, and has always been, a wealth of wonderful and unique writing coming out of Scotland. Here are some of my favourite female Scottish writers, both long-loved and newly-discovered:
One of Scotland’s best-loved writers, Ali Smith is an author, playwright, lecturer and journalist whose novels and short stories have gathered multiple prizes and endless admirers. Born and raised in Inverness, a small city in the north of Scotland, Smith started writing poetry at just 8 years old.
There’s a long list of Smith novels to choose from, but my favourite is Hotel World, a mesmerising and inventive piece of writing in which Smith is beautifully playful with language – often going pages at a time without punctuating the stream-of-consciousness of her narrators.
“Stories can change lives if we’re not careful. They will come in and take the shirts off our backs. Tell the right stories, and we live better lives.”
– Ali Smith, during a radio interview in 2016
A poet and novelist, Fagan graduated from Greenwich University with the highest possible grade for a creative writing. She was was included in the most recent Granta list of the 20 Best Young British Novelists. In fact, she was the only Scottish writer on that list.
Her debut novel, The Panopticon, tells of Anais Hendricks, a teenage girl in care. Told in a first person Scottish vernacular, the novel pulls on Fagan’s own experience of life – she was looked after by the state for 16 years – without succumbing to the slightest hint of cliche.
“The sky is a vast black. Each star up there is just a wee pinhole letting in pure-white light. Imagine if it was all pure-white light on the other side of that sky.”
– Jenni Fagan, The Panopticon, 2012
Kirsty Logan is fiction writer, book reviewer and writing mentor. She lives in Glasgow where, according to her own website, she drinks coffee, listens to true crime podcasts and dreams of the sea.
Try The Gracekeepers, a magical story of a floating circus and two young women in search of a home. Filled with inspiration from Scottish folklore and fairytales, Logan’s lyrical debut made me think of Angela Carter’s writing in the best possible way.
“We don’t belong anywhere, because we can belong everywhere.”
– Kirsty Logan,
Another of Scotland’s most esteemed female writers, Galloway is the author of several novels, short stories and poetry collections. She has done extensive radio work for the BBC, and is a writer in residence at four Scottish prisons.
Her first novel, The Trick is to Keep Breathing, is widely regarded as a Scottish literary classic. Dealing with depression and trauma, it is bravely written and brutally honest, and manages to be exhilarating at the same time as full to the brim with despair.
“No matter how often I think I can’t stand it anymore, I always do. There is no alternative. I don’t fall, I don’t foam at the mouth, faint, collapse or die. It’s the same for all of us. You can’t get out of the inside of your own head. Something keeps you going. Something always does.”
– Janice Galloway, The Trick is to Keep Breathing, 1989
Cover photo credit: Kate Williams