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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Scottish Miscellany in the Sunday Post

Last Sunday, my new book Scottish Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Scotland the Brave was featured in the Scottish Sunday newspaper the Sunday Post. I like the approach the reporter took to the piece (even though it wasn't what I had originally intended), I just hope the Scottish book-buying public take it with the same good humour.

Happy Saint Andrew's Day!

You may be surprised to learn that when it comes to the day dedicated to Scotland’s own patron saint, more of a fuss is made of it by Scots living abroad than by those living in Scotland itself. It isn’t even a public holiday in Scotland.

Although Andrew is now regarded as a good Scottish name, it originated along with the patron saint, in the Holy Land. Saint Andrew (who died circa AD 60) started out in life as a fisherman. His home was at Capernaum, a settlement on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and he was the brother of Simon Peter.

Andrew was actually a disciple of John the Baptist before he became a follower of Christ but nonetheless, in all four of the Gospels he is listed as being among the first four of Jesus’ apostles. He gets a special mention in the Bible for the part he played in the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:15-21) and also in the matter of the Greeks who wished to meet with Jesus (John 12:20-2).

Despite being such an important figure in the New Testament, scholars are not sure where he preached the Gospel (both Scythia and Epirus in Greece claimed him as their apostle), where he died or even where he was buried. However, the manner of his death is very well-documented.
According to tradition Patras in Achaia (in modern-day Greece) is said to be the place where Andrew was put to death as a martyr. He was reputedly crucified on an X-shaped cross, preaching to the people there for two days before he finally succumbed and died.

From the sixth century, his feast day of 30 November was universally recognised and celebrated. Churches were dedicated to him from early times in Italy, France and Anglo-Saxon England, where the earliest of which was in Rochester, in the county of Kent, the Garden of England.

Like most saints, a number of legends that have grown up about his life and holy work. One of these, regarding a journey to Ethiopia, is told in the Old English poem Andreas. But none of this explains how he came to be the patron saint of Scotland.

He was actually adopted as patron by a Pictish king called Angus, who was supposed to have seen a vision, when an image of the cross appeared in the heavens during a decisive battle. The saint’s relics were brought from Patras all the way to Fife by Saint Regulus, where he stopped at the place that now bears the saint’s name, the church at Kilrymont becoming the cathedral of St Andrews.

You can learn more about Saint Andrew and the Scottish city of St Andrews (along with its world famous university) in Scottish Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Scotland the Brave.

And did you know that when Prince William asked Kate Middleton to marry him, he joined a notable cohort of alumni from Scotland's oldest university. St Andrews prides itself on being "Britain's top match-making university". Prince William and Kate's romance really was "a match made in St Andrews", as Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, another graduate of the university, declared.

Wills and Kate met in September 2001 when they studied art history together, although the prince later switched to geography. At the prince and Kate's graduation ceremony in 2005 their university principal Brian Lang gave a speech saying one in 10 students could expect to go on to marry a fellow student.

On this day in Scottish History

30 November

1292 - John Balliol was crowned King of Scotland.

Balliol was the King to be crowned on the Stone of Destiny. Known as 'Toom Tabard', meaning empty coat, Balliol was seen as a puppet of Edward I of England. Edward had been chosen as an independent judge to select the new Scots king after the death of Alexander III. However, he chose Balliol in the belief that he would be most pliable in his attempts at gaining overlordship of Scotland.

1872 - The world's first international football match took place between Scotland and England.

It was played at West of Scotland Cricket Ground in Glasgow. Four England v Scotland matches had already been played at the Oval, Kennington. However, they had been played by Scots resident in London, and as such were not regarded as official. The final score was 0-0.

Monday, 29 November 2010

On this day in Scottish History

29 November

1489 - Margaret Tudor, English princess and Queen of James IV was born.

The daughter of Henry VII of England, she became the wife of James in a political marriage known as the "Union of the Thistle and the Rose". It was through her bloodline that King James VI of Scotland was able to base his claim to the English crown on the death of his cousin, Elizabeth I.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

On this day in Scottish History

28 November

1666 - The King's army defeated Covenanting forces at the Battle of Rullion Green in the Pentlands. This battle was the conclusion of the Pentland rising which began in Galloway and led to a march on Edinburgh, which reached as far as Colinton before news of stiff defences in the city led to a withdrawal.

Friday, 26 November 2010

On this day in Scottish History

26 November

1836 - John McAdam, the inventor of the "tar macadam" road surface, died.

Although born in Ayrshire, McAdam had been a colonist in America, but returned after the American War of Independence, having supported the Crown. As a Deputy-Lieutenant in Ayrshire, he despaired at the condition of the roads, and began experimenting with different methods of road surfacing. He finally settled on a technique of using layers of crushed stone, getting smaller towards the top, which compacted under the weight of vehicles, creating a solid durable road surface.

1917 - Elsie Inglis, the Scottish nursing pioneer and suffragette, died. Inglis is perhaps best remembered for her role in the First World War, where, convinced that women could play an active role in the conflict, she led volunteer medical units of women who served in France and in Serbia, where Inglis herself was taken prisoner. Winston Churchill wrote that Inglis and her nurses "would shine in history".

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Scottish Miscellany reaches British shores at last

They've been a long time coming, but then it is a long way across the North Atlantic from New York to Ealing. Nonetheless I'm delighted to have my new hardback in my hands at last.

Happy Thanksgiving!

On this day in Scottish History

25 November

1835 - the steel magnate and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, was born in Dunfermline.

Carnegie's family emigrated to America when he was still a child, and after a succession of jobs working on the burgeoning raliways there, he became convinced that steel would be where his fortune was to be made. Deeply affected by the deaths of striking workers at one of his steel mills, Carnegie became convinced that he should use his wealth for the benefit of others. By the time of his death in 1919 he had given away over 350 million dollars.

1897 - Helen Duncan, the noted Scottish medium, was born in Callander.

In 1944, she became last person in the UK to be tried, convicted and imprisoned under the 1735 Witchcraft Act. While in prison she was visited by Winston Churchill, who repealed this law on his return to power in 1951.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

On this day in Scottish History

24 November

1996 - Sorley MacLean, the noted Scottish poet widely regarded as the greatest Gaelic poet of the Twentieth Century, died.

MacLean is credited with giving a new literary standing to a language which at times seemed close to extinction. Famous works of his include Dain do Eimhir agus Dain Eile (Poems to Eimhir and Other Poems), a selection of mainly love poems written after MacLean returned from service in North Africa in 1943.

1572 - John Knox, the leading light of the Scottish Reformation, died. Knox had been taught by Calvin in Switzerland and was a fierce champion of Presbyterianism. It was Knox's sermon at St John's Kirk in Perth that set the fire of the Reformation ablaze in Scotland, and also led to the iconoclasm that destroyed much of the nation's artistic heritage.

1542 - The Scots army was defeated at the Rout of Solway Moss. King James V had sent a huge force of 10,000 men into England which was defeated by an English force under the command of Sir Thomas Wharton. James died shortly afterward, and was succeeded to the throne by his baby daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

On this day in Scottish History

23 November

On this day in 1909 the historical novelist, Nigel Tranter, was born in Glasgow.

Tranter is known as the most prolific Scottish writer of all time, leaving five books written but not yet published at his death. His novels were all based around Scottish history, and many Scots felt that their first introduction to their own history came through these books.

You can read more about Nigel Tranter and
his work here.

On this day in 1844 Thomas Henderson, the famous Scottish astronomer, died. Henderson was the first person to measure the parallax, or distance, of a star (alpha centauri), from the Earth, and from the Sun. Henderson went on to become the first Astronomer Royal of Scotland.

Did you know that The 1830s version of the "space race" was to be the first person to measure the distance to a star using parallax?

Monday, 22 November 2010

A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle

22 November 1926
On this day in Scottish history, the poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle by Hugh MacDiarmid (Scotland's Greatest Twentieth Century poet) was published. MacDiarmid was the principal character in the forming of the Scottish Renaissance of the inter-war years and a founder member of the National Party of Scotland.

There's plenty more about the thistle and its connection to Scotland in Scottish Miscellany, available now from Skyhorse Publishing.

For example, did you know that the Scots or Scotch thistle is more commonly known as the cotton thistle, or, to give it its Latin name, Asteraceae Onopordum. However, there are other contenders for the title of Scots thistle. Among them are the spear thistle, the musk thistle, the melancholy thistle, the stemless thistle and Our Lady’s thistle.

Monday, 15 November 2010

On this day in Scottish history

15 November 1996 - The Stone of Destiny was finally returned to Scotland.

Legend has it that the stone is a relic from the Holy Land and once belonged to the biblical Jacob. Whether this is true is doubtful to say the least, but from an early date the kings of Scotland were inaugurated sitting on a royal chair with the stone in its base. In 1296 Edward I removed the stone and installed it at Westminster Abbey. It remained there until it was kidnapped by Scottish nationalist students in 1951. They managed to hide the stone in Scotland for four months until it was found and returned to Westminster. It was moved from there to Edinburgh Castle in 1996 amid much celebration.

You can read more about the legendary Stone of Scone in Scottish Miscellany, by Jonathan Green, available now from Skyhorse Publishing.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

On this day in Scottish history

14 November 1797 - Sir Charles Lyell, the important Scottish geologist, was born. In his seminal work, Principles of Geology, he challenged the dominant thinking of the time which was based on the biblical viewpoint.

Building on the ideas of James Hutton, by careful observation he concluded that the Earth's physical features and its inhabitants were the result of continuous physical and chemical processes occurring gradually over long periods of geological time. Lyell's theory was revolutionary and infuriated the devout majority.

He later supported Charles Darwin's ideas about evolution.

You can find out more about famous Scots in Scottish Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Scotland the Brave, by Jonathan Green.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

On this day in Scottish history

13 November 1850 - Robert Louis Stevenson, author and poet, is born in Edinburgh's New Town.

He is perhaps best loved for creating the lastingly popular adventure stories Kidnapped and Treasure Island, though he also wrote the darkly complex novel Jekyll and Hyde - the archetypal tale of conflicting alter egos was inspired by the well-known story of Edinburgh figure Deacon Brodie, who was a respectable citizen by day and a thief and murderer at night.

My latest writing project - the Pax Britannia novel Anno Frankenstein - features one of Stevenson's most memorable creations, along with one of Mary Shelley's. But to find out precisely which ones and why, you'll have to pick up Anno Frankenstein when it comes out next year.

In the mean time, there's more about Edinburgh as well as famous Scots men and women in Scottish Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Scotland the Brave.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

On this day in Scottish history

Today is Martinmas, otherwise known as Scottish Quarter Day. The feast of St Martin of Tours was traditionally the day for slaughtering livestock and salting it for preservation through the winter.

11 November 1918 - Armistice Day, marking the end of hostilities in World War I.

The guns were finally silenced on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Though Scots made up only 10% of the UK population at the time, a total of 147,609 Scottish people were killed during the war, a fifth of Britain's total dead.

You can find out more about traditional winter practices in Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas, while there's plenty more Scottish history in Scottish Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Scotland the Brave. Both are available now from Skyhorse Publishing.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

On this day in Scottish history

10 November 1871 - The journalist Henry M Stanley found the missing Scottish missionary David Livingstone.

Rumours were circulating that the explorer had been murdered. The New York Herald sent Stanley to find the truth, and indeed he did, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania, where he uttered the immortal line, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" Livingstone's tales of his adventures in Africa were a revelation to 19th century Western society which knew very little about the continent at the time.

You can find out more about famous Scots men and women in Scottish Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Scotland the Brave, by Jonathan Green.

Drop me a line

You can now email me direct with any queries or comments about my books or my blogs at

I look forward to hearing from you in due course.

As long time followers of this blog (and my many others) will already know, I currently juggle about eight blogs, updating people on various aspects of my writing, and - to be honest - it was all getting a bit much, especially when there are effectively two blogs for the same book, only one of them for the American market and one for the UK.
So, I've decided to merge the two blogs for Christmas Miscellany and What is Myrrh Anyway? in one, easy to manage, dot com, called...

Click this link and check it out for yourself. In fact, why not bookmark the site and add it to your favourites today?

It's still a work in progress at the moment, but over the coming weeks I'll be adding more features and content all the time. And you can already email me all your Christmas questions direct at

I look forward to seeing you there.

Monday, 8 November 2010

On this day in Scottish history

8 November 1736 - The poet and playwright Allan Ramsay opened Scotland's first public theatre in Carrubber's Close, Edinburgh.

Unfortunately the strict Presbyterian Kirk's disapproval was swiftly felt as magistrates declared Ramsay's theatre illegal soon after it opened, forcing its closure. The theatre was not reopened until 1767 when David Ross, a London actor, managed to fulfil Ramsay's dream. As well as theatre, Ramsay had a passion for books, and indeed was responsible for providing Edinburgh residents with the world's first lending library from his bookshop on the Royal Mile.

You can find out more about the history of Edinburgh in Scottish Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Scotland the Brave, by Jonathan Green.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

On this day in Scottish History

6 November 1887 - Celtic Football Club was formally constituted in Calton.

The club was the brainchild of an energetic Irish priest known as Brother Walfrid who devoted his life to helping the poor. Following the success of Edinburgh's Hibernian club, it was decided that the poor inhabitants of Glasgow's East End would benefit from a similar Irish team, and the first Celtic Park was established on a vacant lot next to St Mary's church.

You can find out more about the history of sport in Scotland in Scottish Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Scotland the Brave, by Jonathan Green.

Friday, 5 November 2010

James Bond in the buff!

A nude painting of Sean Connery has been unearthed in Scotland. Before launching his acting career, Connery acted as a nude model for art students. The newly-discovered work was created in 1951, 11 years before his debut as 007.

The painting was discovered among a pile of works by artist Rab Webster, who lived in Selkirk, Scotland until his death last month. “He said Connery treated it just as a job and that he didn’t say very much,” explains Nick Bihel, a relative of Webster. “I have no idea how much the painting of Sean Connery would be worth. At the moment we are just taking stock of the situation but we would like to put them on display in Selkirk in the near future.”

Should you care to see what Connery once looked like in the nude, the painting will soon be part of an exhibition in the UK.

Bonfire Night and the Scottish Connection

Today is 5th of November, which in the UK is Bonfire Night. Bonfire Night commemorates The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when a group of provincial English Catholics led by Sir Robert Catesby failed to assassinate King James I of England by blowing him up at the State Opening of Parliament.

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...

But what does this have to a blog about a book about Scotland? Well, quite simply, James I of England was also James VI of Scotland and many people in England resented being ruled by a Scotsman!

You can find out more about James VI in Scottish Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Scotland the Brave, available now from Skyhorse Publishing.

Monday, 1 November 2010

All Hallow's Eve

Did ye ken...?

The origins of Halloween come from the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, as well as the festival of the dead called Parentalia, and (of course) the Celtic festival of Samhain. The name is derived from Old Irish and means roughly "summer's end". A similar festival was held by the ancient Britons and is known as Calan Gaeaf (pronounced Kálan Gái av).

The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. The family's ancestors were honoured and invited home while harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks. Their purpose was to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus avoid harm.

In Scotland the spirits were impersonated by young men dressed in white with masked, veiled or blackened faces. Samhain was also a time to take stock of food supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. All other fires were doused and each home lit their hearth from the bonfire. The bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames. Sometimes two bonfires would be built side-by-side, and people and their livestock would walk between them as a cleansing ritual.

So there you go!