There’s a splendid new project from the Scottish Book Trust.
Inspired by that here are my thoughts about one book that changed my life, my “comfort book” – Molly Clavering’s From the Border hills, published by Nelson in 1953. Molly Clavering was a novelist too, writing several titles from the 1920s onwards which have now faded from view. In her latter years she wrote stories for The People’s Friend
I remember picking up this book for the first time very clearly – it was in an auntie’s living room in Glencaple, in a book case by the fire, and I was alone in the room. That must have been the late 1960s. Why did it change my life ? Quite simply it was the first time I realised that a book could be about home, the places I knew, and the valleys I saw when Dad took us out on day trips to St.Mary’s Loch or Peebles. And of course Miss Clavering was a real local author, living on the edge of town, with the Moffat Water Valley virtually on her door-step. She lived with a black standard poodle – probably a succession of them actually, the one I recall was Bramble. She was a celebrity – I realised that there were writers even in Moffat.
It is a very conventional book of course , of a kind very common in 1953. The author or “authoress” then no doubt, simply goes for series of rambles in the hills and valleys near Moffat. But It was the book which really introduced me to Hogg, Scott, and Buchan, and to the Border ballads, and the supernatural world still lingering she suggested in the shadows of the valleys.
I come back to it regularly, usually to remind me of the tales associated with a certain bit of her journeys – last week I looked for Carterhaugh when I went on foot in search of Tam Lin. I also enjoy the glimpse of a post-war world, where the famous snow storms of the 19th century are still remembered, even as the cars increase on the road, and the electricity and telephone lines reach further into the country.
The book has dated now, but sheep do still look for scones from tourists at St Mary’s Loch and dark clouds do still make the valleys look foreboding. Today however Miss Clavering would have a hard time stopping for a night at The Crook inn or finding a bus to take her back to Moffat !
Find out more about this project from the Scottish Book Trust.