Neil Munro (writer)

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Pastel sketch of Munro by William Strang in 1903.

Neil Munro (3 June 1863 – 22 December 1930)[1][2] was a Scottish journalist, newspaper editor, author and literary critic. He was basically a serious writer but is now mainly known for his humorous short stories, originally written under the pen name Hugh Foulis. (It seems that he was not making a serious attempt to disguise his identity, but wanted to keep his serious and humorous writings separate.) The best known were about the fictional Clyde puffer the Vital Spark and her captain Para Handy,[3] but they also included stories about the waiter and kirk beadle Erchie MacPherson, and the travelling drapery salesman Jimmy Swan. They were originally published in the Glasgow Evening News, but collections were published as books. A key figure in literary circles, Munro was a friend of the writers J. M. Barrie, John Buchan, Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham and Joseph Conrad, and the artists Edward A. Hornel, George Houston, Pittendrigh MacGillivray and Robert Macaulay Stevenson. He was an early promoter of the works of both Conrad and Rudyard Kipling.

He was born in Inveraray, the illegitimate son of Ann Munro, a kitchen maid; his death certificate gives his father's name as James Thompson Munro. He was brought up by his maternal grandparents and an aunt. He attended Glencaddie Primary School and Church Square Public School, leaving at 14. For five years he worked in the office of the Sheriff Clerk of Argyll, a fairly prestigious post which has led to speculation that he may have had undisclosed family connections.[2][4]

He then moved to Glasgow, and worked briefly in the cashier's office in an ironmonger's shop in the Trongate, before working as a journalist on the Greenock Advertiser, the Glasgow News, the Falkirk Herald and the Glasgow Evening News. He semi-retired from journalism in 1902 to concentrate on other writing, but returned in 1914 and became editor of the Glasgow Evening News in 1918.[2][4]

Munro published several novels under his own name. Initially he had some success writing historical novels, most of them with a Highland setting exploring the coming of change in the comparatively recent past. His best known novels from this phase of his writing were John Splendid, set around Montrose's campaign in the First Civil War and his attack on Inveraray, and Doom Castle, set around the 1745 Jacobite rising, dramatized by the BBC in 1980. Later he attempted to expand his range with more mixed success, writing novels with a contemporary setting including The Daft Days. In 1914 he returned to a Highland historical setting with the last and best of his novels, The New Road, dramatised by the BBC in 1973. He did not write any further novels, possibly concentrating on his journalism, and possibly affected by poor health and the death of his son Hugh in the First World War.[4] He died in Craigendoran, Helensburgh on 22 December 1930.[5]

His obituaries commonly claimed him to be the successor of Robert Louis Stevenson, and at his memorial service at Glasgow Cathedral, the noted critic Lauchlan MacLean Watt described Munro as "the greatest Scottish novelist since Sir Walter Scott". However, after his death his serious novels faded from view (with the partial exception of The New Road) and he became mainly remembered as the creator of Para Handy. This process of revising the importance of Munro's work was accelerated by Hugh MacDiarmid becoming a detractor of Munro's style. There was a minor revival of interest in him around the turn of the 21st century, including the publication of annotated versions of the Para Handy stories with some stories not previously published in book form.[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Munro claimed to have been born in 1864, and this incorrect date appears in a number of sources.
  2. ^ a b c d Brian Osborne and Ronald Armstrong, Introduction to "Para Handy: The Complete Edition"
  3. ^ Lendrum, Leslie (2004). Neil Munro: The Biography. Colonsay: House of Lochar. ISBN 1-899863-91-5. 
  4. ^ a b c Renton, Ronnie (1999). "The Official Site of the Neil Munro Society - Author of Para Handy". 
  5. ^ "Neil Munro (Hugh Foulis): Biography on Undiscovered Scotland". Undiscovered Scotland. Retrieved 7 May 2014. 

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