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A Chat with David Carroll

Author of
Literary Lives & Landscapes

By Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA, U.S.A.

Q:  Judging by the number of books you have published, you’ve been writing for a long time.  How did you start your career as a writer, and when did you decide to become a “full time author” as you are described on the book jacket?

A:  I am in my mid-fifties and have been writing on and off since I was a teenager.  We moved north from London to Dumfries and Galloway in 1988, and I decided that was the time to see whether or not I could make some kind of living by writing full-time. I was very lucky in those early days because right at the beginning I was commissioned to write for a magazine for a year. This led to my first book, which came out in 1992, and I’ve been writing magazine articles and books ever since.

Q:  This is an excellent book regarding the literary figures from Scotland who either lived in or were drawn to Edinburgh.  What compelled you to write a book about these men?

A:  The idea for writing this book came out of the fact that 2004 marked the 21st anniversary of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Writing a book about literary Edinburgh seemed an appropriate way to mark the occasion and the book duly appeared as the Festival got under way. However, I should stress that the book wasn’t officially linked to the Festival in any way.

Q:  I am always interested in how long it takes an author to write a book.  From its conception in your mind until this book was completed, how much time transpired?  Did you have a publisher before you began the book?

A:  Nearly three years elapsed between having the original idea and the date of publication. From the outset, I developed the project with my editor at Sutton Publishing, the firm which has brought out the majority of my books over the years.

Q:  For the benefit of young writers, is your work done by computer, typewriter or in longhand?  Do you have any comments to inspire these young men and women?

A:  I always write my first drafts in longhand, whether they are magazine articles or chapters for books. Only after that do I start working with the material on my computer: refining it, expanding it, and generally – hopefully – improving it to final draft status. On the whole, writing is a precarious business, and if you want to see your work in print you just have to be patient and persistent and expect to receive a lot of rejection slips along the way. But the first acceptance is a magic moment and makes all the hard work and frustration worthwhile.

Q:  Seeing that you live near Dumfries, have you ever considered writing a book on some aspect of Robert Burns?

A:  I did write a book about Robert Burns. It was called Burns Country and came out from Sutton Publishing in February 2000. It’s out of print now, but remainder copies are still available, I believe, if you can find them.

Q:  It is difficult to talk with someone who lives in Dumfries-shire without talking about Scotland’s National Bard.  What are the local events observed or celebrated in honor of Burns in the 21st century?

A:  Local events relating to Burns are pretty much what you would expect, and include Burns Suppers on his birthday and wreath-laying at the Burns Statue in Dumfries to mark the anniversary of his death. Recently, a very tasteful statue of the bard’s wife, Jean Armour, has been erected on a green opposite St. Michael’s churchyard, where he is buried.

Q:  The book jacket is very attractively presented.  Any particular reason that Burns was not chosen to be on the jacket?

A:  My editor at Sutton Publishing wanted only writers native to Edinburgh featured on the jacket, and for that reason Burns was not included.

Q:  Sir Walter Scott is pictured on your book jacket.  More and more, I see Scott being read and quoted.  Do you think there is an upsurge in Scott’s popularity today?

A:  I have always read Scott – and returned to his work over the years – in the same way that I read and re-read – say – Austen, Dickens and Troppope. As with all these great writers, he goes out of fashion but always comes back. I think there is an upsurge of interest in his work at the moment, resulting not least from a heightened sense of nationalism that has followed the setting up of the Scottish Parliament.

Q:  How do you justify not including the Edinburgh poet, Robert Fergusson, in your book on literary figures of Edinburgh when one considers the great influence he exerted on Burns?  Actually, he was Burns’ favorite poet.

A:  I wasn’t able to include a separate chapter about Robert Fergusson because I was restricted to 45,000 words in the finished text, and there were so many people to be included. However, I wove him into the chapter on Burns (and included a full page photograph of his gravestone) and, in that way was able to paint a vignette of him. I agree that in a larger work on the subject he should be given a much more prominent place.

Q:  What two or three books did you use in your research that you would recommend to our readers who want to go a bit farther in their studies of these literary figures without having to go through a textbook?  Can you be even more specific regarding the 18th Century?

A:  Obviously there are many biographies relating to the figures I have written about in the book, and the bibliography that I have included may prove useful. On a more specific note, I would particularly recommend Trevor Royle’s Precipitous City: The Story of Literary Edinburgh (Mainstream Publishing 1980), and Henry Cockburn’s Memorials of His Time (A & C Black 1856). 

Q:  Nigel Tranter always said that he never finished one book without having another book to write.  Where do you go from here?  What’s the next book we can look forward to?

A:  I’ve just begun work on a new book, again for Sutton Publishing, to be called Dumfries and Galloway’s Own. It will comprise a series of pocket biographies of people who have some connection with the region, by birth or choice, and who have risen to some eminence in their chosen field.

Q:  Thank you for the courtesies extended to me by you and your wife.  Is there a last word you would like to leave with the readership of

A:  I hope you find something to enjoy in my book about literary Edinburgh, and that it may inspire you to visit what the author and politician Roy Hattersley has described as “still the most elegant city in the United Kingdom”.

Return to October/November 2005 Index page  |  Return to Frank Shaw's Page


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