News of the Dead
About this deal
The only copy of this book is kept in the library of the laird of Glen Conach, until it is destroyed by fire centuries later. Excerpts from the translated version of the book are included within the novel. Speaking to Baxter by Loch Lee in the film, Robertson says, “You come to a place like this and you find that your fiction is echoing things that really did happen.” Catholicism hasn’t, however, been completely banished: people like Will’s mother still attend clandestine masses. Mary, Queen of Scots has stayed loyal to the Old Religion and although she has abdicated the Scottish throne, stands a chance of taking over the English one. Meanwhile, Esme Stuart, James VI’s mentor, makes no bones about being a Catholic, and may even be plotting a Counter-Reformation. Scotland looks like being Protestant, but what kind of Protestant: Puritan or humanist? And could it not just as easily be Catholic, English (like the 1574 troops pulling the cannon to lay siege to the Castle) French (like the Queen) or (a bit of a push, this) British?
What I’m reading: James Robertson - Penguin Books UK
In ancient Pictland, the Christian hermit Conach contemplates God and nature, performs miracles and prepares himself for sacrifice. Long after his death, legends about him are set down by an unknown hand in the Book of Conach . Storytelling is a pervading theme of the book, whether that’s individuals’ own personal histories – the stories they tell about themselves – or how they are remembered by others. The book also explores the notion of what is true and what is invention, and how easy (or difficult) it is to tell the difference. Since the Book of Conach was later destroyed in a fire along with Charles Gibb’s transcription, only his translation (which became a joint endeavour with Jessie) remains. But who is to say that translation was faithful? After all, as Jessie asks at one point, ‘Do you think history must always be duller than fiction?’ In ancient Pictland, the Christian hermit Conach contemplates God and nature, performs miracles and prepares himself for sacrifice. Long after his death, legends about him are set down by an unknown hand in the Book of Conach.News of the Dead is certainly far from dull and the author manages to pull off several different styles, including passages in Scots dialect for the stories told by the irrepressible and accommodating Geordie Kemp, who never likes to disappoint a listener. Reading Scotland is an innovative Edinburgh International Book Festival project to find new ways to understand Scotland in a post-Covid era. Six Scottish authors were each invited to work closely with a filmmaker to create a short film inspired by their book. The films will be presented at the Book Festival this month alongside a conversation with each of the authors. This project is intended as a collaborative, internationally-minded exploration of how new Scottish writing and film-making can help citizens understand this country, its writing and its identity. Reading Scotland is supported by the Scottish Government’s Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund. Hidden in the breath-taking mountains of wild Scotland, Glen Conach is the home of secrets and stories, of fables and folklore. Over hundreds of years, three lives are woven together. In ancient Britain, the hermit Saint Conach performs impossible miracles, which survive as legend in 'The Book of Glen Conach'. Generations later in the nineteenth century, the book is rediscovered by charlatan Charles Gibb, who hustles his way into the big house at the heart of the village.
James Robertson wins Sir Walter Scott prize - BBC Scots author James Robertson wins Sir Walter Scott prize - BBC
I liked that about the book: it's place, and it's description. And I like stories which, without being too prescriptive about it, interlink a few different things. I also like historical fiction. The stories are of a modern day old lady, and how she got there; a three hundred year old diary of a traveller to the glen, and a historical tract about a saint from the Pictish times which said traveller is translating. Generations later, in the early nineteenth century, self-promoting antiquarian Charles Kirkliston Gibb is drawn to the Glen, and into the big house at the heart of its fragile community.
News of the Dead is a captivating exploration of refuge, retreat and the reception of strangers. It measures the space between the stories people tell of themselves - what they forget and what they invent - and the stories through which they may, or may not, be remembered.