Duncan McLean (writer)

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Duncan McLean, Inishbofin, 2010

Duncan McLean (born 1964) is a Scottish novelist, playwright, and short story writer.

Life and works[edit]

Duncan McLean was born in Fraserburgh[1] and has lived in Orkney since 1992. While based in Edinburgh in the 1980s, he started writing songs, stand-up routines, and plays for the Merry Mac Fun Co,[1] a street theatre and comedy act with agitprop tendencies. The Merry Macs won various awards, and were twice nominated for the Perrier Comedy Award.[2]

In the 1990s McLean was part of a loose grouping of writers centred on Edinburgh whose characters were mainly poor, working class and young, whose themes were drugs, drink, dance music, violence and alienation, and who took their inspiration variously from the Glaswegian writers of the previous generation, notably James Kelman, and from overseas writers like Richard Brautigan[3] and Knut Hamsun.[4] Among the so-called "Beats of Edinburgh", besides McLean, were Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner, Laura Hird and Gordon Legge, along with the publisher Kevin Williamson.[5]

In December 1990, with the writer James Meek, McLean set up and ran the Clocktower Press, a small but influential publishing house, which helped bring a new generation of Scottish writers to wider attention. McLean, Meek and the artist Eddie Farrell invested £50 each to print the first booklet, Safe/Lurch, with both writers contributing a story and Farrell illustrating the cover.[6] After the first three booklets Meek moved to Kiev and McLean went on to publish seven more, including the first separately-published extracts of what would later become Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting.[7] The fifth of the Clocktower series, it was printed in April 1992 in an edition of 300 under the title Past Tense: four stories from a novel.[6][8]

In 1992, McLean published his first book, a collection of short stories called Bucket of Tongues,[1] and since then has published several more books, including the acclaimed coming-of-age novel Blackden and a collection of plays, entitled Plays:One. In 1995 he published the novel Bunker Man and in 1998 his travelogue Lone Star Swing was published, which saw McLean tracing the roots of country music precursor Bob Wills.

In recent years, he has divided his time between writing, music, and running an off-license. In 2006, he won the prestigious trade award, UK Restaurant Wine Supplier of the Year, and ten years later a major New Zealand Wine merchant award. In 2007 he founded the annual Orkney Wine Festival, the only event of its kind in Scotland.[9]

A new series of theatre pieces began with a translation of Aalst, a Belgian play by Pol Heyvaert, which toured the UK and Australia for the National Theatre of Scotland in 2007.[10] McLean leads a western swing band called the Lone Star Swing band, which in 2009 and 2010 toured Scotland and Ireland in a new McLean play, "Long Gone Lonesome." With a slightly different cast, the play toured five US states in 2012. Telling the story of the reclusive Shetland musician Thomas Fraser, the play was produced by the National Theatre of Scotland, and directed by Vicky Featherstone. 'Long Gone Lonesome' was featured in the BBC TV documentary, 'National Theatre of Scotland: A Dramatic Decade' broadcast in September 2016.[11]

The 2015 St Magnus Festival staged a new play, 'Telling the Truth Beautifully: The Trial of James Kirkness' - a story of gin smuggling and political change in 19th century Kirkwall.[12]

In November 2015, McLean launched a new lo-fi imprint, the Abersee Press, with a booklet of contemporary Orkney-language writing by eight poets and story writers, including Harry Giles and Alison Miller. Abersee's professed goal is to kick-start a new wave of north-isles writing, as the Clocktower Press did for Edinburgh in the 1990s. A second anthology was published in May 2017; titled Speak For Yourself, it featured three New Zealand writers - CK Stead, Hera Lindsay Bird and Craig Marriner - as well as three Orkney writers. An introduction by McLean speaks of the legacy of pioneering New Zealand writer Frank Sargeson and his role as an inspiration for writers from outlying communities. He has also written about Sargeson for the London Review of Books.

In 2017 and 2018 three further Abersee Press publications appeared, 'Swiet Haar,' an anthology of three Orcadian and three Shetland writers, including Amy Liptrot and Christine de Luca, 'Dark Island,' a booklet of short stories by McLean, and 'Turangawaewae, Beuy' a second collection of writing by Orcadians and New Zealanders including Paula Morris and Steve Braunias.

List of works[edit]

Short Stories[edit]

  • 1992 Bucket of Tongues
  • 2017 Dark Island


  • 1994 Blackden
  • 1995 Bunker Man


  • 1999 Plays 1: Julie Allardyce, Blackden, Rug Comes to Shuv, One Sure Thing, I'd Rather Go Blind
  • 2007 Aalst


  • 1997 Lone Star Swing: On the Trail of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys

As Editor[edit]

  • 1997 Ahead of Its Time
  • 2015 Orkney Stoor
  • 2017 Speak For Yourself
  • 2017 Swiet Haar
  • 2018 Turangawaewae, Beuy

Literary Awards[edit]

  • 1993 Somerset Maugham award
  • 1998 Scottish Arts Council Book Award


  1. ^ a b c Kravitz, Peter (1997). The Picador Book of Contemporary Scottish Fiction. Picador. p. 553. ISBN 0-330-33550-2.
  2. ^ Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Awards 2013 - Best Comedy Show
  3. ^ Williamson, Kevin (1998). Introduction to Richard Brautigan's Sombrero Fallout. Rebel Inc. ISBN 0-862-41801-1.
  4. ^ McLean, Duncan (2001). Introduction to Knut Hamsun's Hunger. Canongate. ISBN 1-841-95206-0.
  5. ^ The Beats of Edinburgh - New York Times
  6. ^ a b Mclean, Duncan (1997). ahead of its time. Vintage. p. ix-xxii. ISBN 0-099-26848-5.
  7. ^ Munro, John Neil (2013). Lust for Life: Irvine Welsh and the Trainspotting Phenomenon. Edinburgh: Polygon. p. 113. ISBN 978-1-84697-242-3.
  8. ^ Welsh, Irvine (1992). Past Tense: four stories from a novel. Clocktower Press. ISBN 1-873-76702-1.
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ Duncan McLean | An introduction to Aalst | National Theatre of Scotland
  11. ^ "BBC 2". National Theatre of Scotland: A Dramatic Decade. 27 September 2016.
  12. ^ [2]