City of Literature

This July I hope to return to Scotland as part of my new book’s book tour. I plan to revisit the place where the story begins, where this historical novel’s protagonists hail from – the charming, timeless town of Kirriemuir in Angus – to thank the kind people there who helped so much with my initial research.

And I’ll pay my third visit to the country’s proud capital, Edinburgh, the first city in the world to receive UNESCO’s “City of Literature” designation. For me, a college Lit. major, lifelong writer and book lover, who is half-Scottish by ancestry, Edinburgh is my Mecca.

I remember on my last visit there, in 2011, I happened upon Edinburgh’s Writers’ Museum, which celebrates the lives and works of three giants of Scottish literature – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Some of the books I used to research my historical novel based, partly, in Scotland

This free museum, just off of Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile, is home to portraits, rare books, and personal objects, including Burns’ writing desk, the printing press on which Scott’s Waverley novels were first produced, and a ring given to Robert Louis Stevenson when he lived in Samoa, engraved with the name “Tusitala,” meaning “teller of tales.”

Imagine, I thought as I wandered from room to room in this wonderful 17th century townhouse, a whole museum dedicated to WRITERS!

And the courtyard outside of the Writers’ Museum – a peaceful public space called Makars’ Court – is carpeted with flagstones inscribed with quotations from Scottish writers from the 14th century to the present. These writers’ words were not just printed, I thought then, they’ve been carved in stone!

Since 2004, when UNESCO graced Edinburgh with the first-in-the-world “City of Literature” designation, there has been a growing network of others. Today there are 28 “City of Literature” cities, in 23 countries, on six continents. Among those 28, there are four in the UK, two in the USA, and one in Africa. (For more, go to .)

Scottish literary giant Robert Louis Stevenson appears briefly in my historical novel because he and James (“Jamie”) Barrie, one of my protagonists, were in fact friends. Here is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Jamie’s Muse:

“It was during this time in Jamie’s life too [1890] that he began receiving admiring letters from his hero Robert Louis Stevenson, then living in Vailima, Samoa. United in what he referred to as their mutual ‘Scotchness,’ Stevenson confided to Barrie: ‘It is a singular thing that I should live here in the South Seas under conditions so new and so striking and yet my imagination so continually inhabits that cold, old huddle of grey hills from which we come.’

“And in another letter to Barrie, Stevenson wrote of himself, ‘…I am a capable artist; but it begins to look to me as if you were a man of genius. Take care of yourself for my sake; it’s a devilish hard thing for a man who writes so many novels as I do that I should get so few to read, and I can read yours, and I love them.’

“Stevenson’s letters gave Barrie immeasurable pleasure. Barrie was becoming recognized, praised, and admired, not only in London, England, and Edinburgh, Scotland, but as far off as Vailima, Samoa, by a writer whom he idolized.”

At a time when, it seems to me, fewer and fewer college students, at least in the U.S., are majoring in Literature (Because it doesn’t pay to do so?) and fewer and fewer people in general take the time to read literature – that is to say, books of lasting merit — (Too busy? Too tired? Too distracted?), I sometimes wonder why serious writers bother.

When I ask myself why I’m making this pilgrimage to my Mecca this July, the best answer I can come up with is: To restore my faith.

18 thoughts on “City of Literature”

  1. Bonnie, we head to Edinburgh Tuesday to celebrate George’s 89th birthday. He chose Scotland as the place he most wanted to visit, because Edinburgh is the home of one of his favorite writers. Writers DO matter! Best of luck on your July trip.

    1. How wonderful, Marge, that you’re off to Edinburgh! I hope you’ll have a chance to visit the Writers’ Museum. I know you and George will love it. Have a beautiful trip!

  2. How wonderful that your new book is moving along and you are planning a trip to Scotland in July. I hope one day you will see YOUR words “carved in stone” .

    1. Thanks, Lyn. Yes, those Scots have certainly gotten around! They say the most traveled road in Scotland is the road OUT. (Lots of people over the centuries haven’t been able to take the weather there.)

  3. Bonnie I look forward to reading your latest book! Made me realise I would love to learn more about the Welshman miners and Norwegian ship builders I smell from!
    Hugs kate

    1. Thank you, Kate. Yes, it’s exciting to investigate our forebears’ lives. I’m so glad I did, and I hope my new book inspires others to do the same.

  4. I enjoyed reading about the relationship between Barrie and Stevenson. I love books and will be looking forward to reading yours.

    Will move to San Miguel August 1 and will contact you.

    1. Wonderful news, Helaine! Looking forward to seeing you here in August. In the meantime, I’ll be sure to let WOW readers know exactly when my new book will be available. Stay tuned!

  5. Dear Bon,

    I am very excited that you have written a historical novel, as it has always been one one of my favorite genres to read. I am familiar with four Barrie plays and one novel. Many years ago I read The Little Minister, which I remember as charming. The few Scots words I know come from that, ( e.g. auld licht kirk). I have never read anything by Stevenson, but I would like to.

    I feel drawn to the period from 1880-1918, so I know I will find your book fascination. I’m curious to know if you read things from the period as background. This is exciting, and I can’t wait to hear more about it.

    Much love,

    1. Dear Paul — Do you mean you’ve never read Robert Louis Stevenson’s TREASURE ISLAND??? It features prominently in my new book. I know you’d love it; it’s such a guys’ book. I’ll send you (separately) more info about the book, to respond to your finer points… — xx

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.