Anne Donovan (author)
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Anne Donovan is a Scottish author from Glasgow best known for her award-winning novel Buddha Da (Canongate, 2003). Her short story collection Hieroglyphics and Other Stories was published in 2001 and her second novel, Being Emily, in May 2008. Her most recent novel is Gone Are The Leaves (Canongate, 2014).
Anne Donovan and her Work
Originally from Coatbridge, Anne Donovan studied English and Philosophy at the University of Glasgow then became an English teacher. She continued in this role in various secondary schools until 2003 when, after the publication of her first novel, she made the transition to full-time writing.
Like many graduates in English, Anne Donovan found the process of studying the classics of English literature somewhat inhibiting to her own writing at first, discovering like many writers that analysing the work of the great names of the past can undermine self-confidence. She continued, nevertheless, in this post-university period, to write short stories sporadically, whenever her teaching duties permitted. A number of these later found their way into Hieroglyphics and Other Stories (2001), the first collection of her works to be published.
A breakthrough for her writing had come when she attended an Arvon Foundation writing course at Moniack Mhor in the Scottish Highlands in 1995, tutored by the novelist A.L. Kennedy and the poet Bill Herbert. This was the first time she had really shown her work to anyone of the calibre of Kennedy and Herbert, both of whom she found encouraging in their comments. It was here that she began to feel what she calls ‘a huge internal shift in my consciousness’ in that exposure to critical analysis and encouragement of this kind made her feel writing was a wholly ‘normal’ activity and that she had a role to play in the writing community.
In the period before embarking on the Arvon course, she had written most of Hieroglyphics, the short story which later gave its name to the Hieroglyphics and Other Stories collection. This was a significant moment in her writing career since it was her first short story in the Scots vernacular, with which her work has come to be closely associated. Having most of this story to hand, she decided that it would be one of the pieces she showed to Bill Herbert, an acknowledged expert in writing in Scots. His positive reaction led to the final section of that particular short story being completed at Arvon.
This new-found confidence saw Anne Donovan in the late 1990s continuing to work on short stories which were later published in Hieroglyphics and Other Stories. One of these, "All that Glisters", won the Macallan/Scotland on Sunday Prize in 1997, further boosting Donovan’s belief in herself and bringing her work to the attention of an increasingly interested public.
Underlining her commitment to writing was her decision to embark on the M. Litt course in Creative Writing run by the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde, a bold step given her existing work-load from her teaching, to say nothing of the growing demands of her own writing. This augured well for the future, since on the day Anne Donovan began this course in 1999, she discovered that her short story "Millennium Babe" had won the Canongate Prize for New Writing and was to be published in 2000 in the prize-winners anthology, Scotland Into The New Era. Thus began a hugely fertile period in her development. During these study years, she was tutored by Margaret Elphinstone and Willy Maley, both of whom she found highly constructive critics of her work. Of this period she comments:
- It is always difficult to understand where influence is coming from. I think I already had a fairly clear idea (maybe too clear!) of what I was doing at that time. But writers such as Grassic Gibbon, Tom Leonard, Liz Lochhead and Alan Spence among others were influential. I also think that, as well as the tutors, the other students were a great support. We were all working to improve our writing and there were folk around who wanted to talk about, read and discuss it.
Midway through her part-time course, the Scottish Arts Council awarded Anne Donovan a bursary in 2000 which allowed her to cut down on her teaching commitments and concentrate more on writing.
This intervention was timely. Around this same time the Canongate publishing house, which had already acknowledged her talent with their earlier award, stepped back into her life. Jamie Byng, the owner of Canongate, had been a judge both in the Macallan award and in his own Canongate Prize. Anne Donovan comments:
- At the awards ceremony for the Canongate award Jamie spoke to me, saying he’d only ever judged two competitions and I’d won both, so perhaps I should send him work! By then I had written quite a few stories and was starting what would become ‘Buddha Da’. I got a contract for Hieroglyphics, to be followed by Buddha Da when it was finished. Canongate were quite visionary in publishing short stories.
Her collection Hieroglyphics and Other Stories was published in 2001 to considerable acclaim. In 2003 the publication by Canongate of her first novel Buddha Da was followed soon after by its inclusion on the short-list of potential winners of the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction. Shortly afterwards Buddha Da was nominated for the Whitbread First Novel Award, sealing Anne Donovan’s place as one of the leading writers of her generation. In 2004 Buddha Da was shortlisted for the Scottish Art Council’s ‘Book of the Year’ and won Le Prince Maurice Award in Mauritius. The same year saw Donovan adapting the short story "Hieroglyphics" into a one act play which was staged at Oran Mor in Glasgow and later published in an ASLS anthology, Plays for Schools. A second novel, Being Emily, followed in 2008. Gone Are The Leaves has been short-listed for the 2014 Saltire Scottish Literary Book of the Year Award.
She is a Cultural Fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University.
- Nicol, Christopher 'Anne Donovan's Buddha Da' Scotnote No 27 (Glasgow: ASLS Publications, 2010)
- Interview with Anne Donovan at The Barcelona Review
- Short story: But at Scottish Book Trust
- Short story: Glasgow Pants at Glasgow 2020
- BBC Learning Zone: All That Glisters dramatised short story
- Glasgow Women's Library: Lassie Wi A Yellow Coatie podcast