James Robertson (novelist)

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James Robertson (born 1958) is a Scottish writer who grew up in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire. He is the author of several short story and poetry collections, and has published six novels: The Fanatic, Joseph Knight, The Testament of Gideon Mack, And the Land Lay Still, The Professor of Truth, and To Be Continued…. The Testament of Gideon Mack was long-listed for the 2006 Man Booker Prize. Robertson also runs an independent publishing company called Kettillonia, and is a co-founder (with Matthew Fitt and Susan Rennie) and general editor of the Scots language imprint Itchy Coo (produced by Black & White Publishing), which produces books in Scots for children and young people.

Early life[edit]

Educated at Glenalmond College and Edinburgh University, Robertson attained a PhD in history at Edinburgh on the novels of Walter Scott. He also spent an exchange year at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Robertson worked in a variety of jobs after leaving university, mainly in the book trade. He was a publisher's sales rep and later worked for Waterstone's Booksellers, first as a bookseller in Edinburgh and later as assistant manager of the Glasgow branch.


Robertson became a full-time author in the early 1990s. From 1993 to 1995 he was the first writer in residence at Hugh MacDiarmid's house outside Biggar, Lanarkshire. Robertson had already been heavily influenced by MacDiarmid and MacDiarmid's Scots language poetry prior to this appointment. His early short stories and first novel used contemporary and historical life in Edinburgh as a key theme, drawing on his experience of living there intermittently during his PhD and during the later 1990s before moving to Fife, and subsequently Angus. Each of his three novels has been influenced to a degree by where he was living when he wrote them. Joseph Knight is based on the true story of a slave brought from the Caribbean to Scotland, and the novel revolves primarily around the cities of Dundee, near where Robertson was then living, and Edinburgh. The Testament of Gideon Mack, meanwhile, is set in a fictitious rural village that resembles the villages of eastern Scotland bordering the Highlands between Dundee and Aberdeen where Robertson currently lives. His novels, therefore, feature the Scottish urban and rural landscape as prevalently as Scottish history between the 17th and 20th centuries.

While Robertson's first two novels featured the Scottish past (The Fanatic merged a story of contemporary Scotland in the months surrounding the 1997 election with a story of Scotland in the 17th century, while Joseph Knight was purely historical) he is not a historical novelist, and Gideon Mack was set in Scotland between the 1950s and the present day.

The other side of Robertson's career since circa 2000 has been Itchy Coo, a publisher of children's books in the Scots language. Initially funded by the Scottish Arts Council, Itchy Coo has proved to be a popular enterprise.[1] Robertson's interest in and use of Scots also features heavily in his poetry and prose, and notably in his first two novels, which blend modern English with Scots. Katie’s Moose won the early years category in the Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children's Books 2007.[2]

In 2011 Robertson contributed a short story "The Quaking of the Aspen" to an anthology supporting The Woodland Trust. The anthology - Why Willows Weep - has so far helped The Woodland Trust plant approximately 50,000 trees, and is to be re-released in paperback format in 2016.

Personal life[edit]

Politically, Robertson was involved in the political magazine Radical Scotland in the 1980s.
He was awarded an honorary degree by The Open University at the degree ceremony in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on 21 June 2014.[3]



Short stories[edit]

  • Close (Black and White Publishing, 1991)
  • The Ragged Man's Complaint (Black and White Publishing, 1993)
  • Republics of the Mind (Black and White Publishing, 2012)
  • 365: Stories (Hamish Hamilton, 2014)


  • Sound-Shadow (Black and White Publishing, 1995)
  • I Dream of Alfred Hitchcock (Kettillonia pamphlet, 1999)
  • Stirling Sonnets (Kettillonia pamphlet, 2001)
  • Voyage of Intent: Sonnets and Essays from the Scottish Parliament (Scottish Book Trust and Luath Press, 2005)
  • Hem and Heid (Kettillonia pamphlet, 2009)

Children's books[edit]

In Scots unless indicated.

  • A Scots Parliament (English, Itchy Coo, 2002)
  • Eck the Bee: A Scots Word Activity Book (Ann Matheson and James Robertson, Itchy Coo, 2002)
  • The Hoose o Haivers (Matthew Fitt, Susan Rennie and James Robertson, Itchy Coo, 2002)
  • Tam O'Shanter's Big Night Oot: Wee Plays in Scots (edited by Robertson and Fitt, Itchy Coo, 2003)
  • King o the Midden: Manky Minging Rhymes in Scots (edited by Robertson and Fitt, Itchy Coo, 2003) (also in a digest format, The Wee King o the Midden, Itchy Coo, 2008)
  • The Smoky Smirr O Rain: A Scots Anthology (edited by Robertson and Fitt, Itchy Coo, 2003)
  • A Moose in the Hoose: A Scots Counting Book (Robertson and Fitt, Itchy Coo, 2006)
  • Katie's Ferm: A Hide & Seek Book for Wee Folk (Robertson and Fitt, Itchy Coo, 2007)
  • Blethertoun Braes: More Manky Minging Rhymes in Scots (edited by Robertson and Fitt, Itchy Coo, 2007)
  • A Wee Book O Fairy Tales in Scots (Robertson and Fitt, Itchy Coo, 2007)
  • Rabbie's Rhymes: Robert Burns for Wee Folk (edited by Robertson and Fitt, Itchy Coo, 2008)
  • Katie's Moose: A Keek-a-boo Book for Wee Folk (Robertson and Fitt, Itchy Coo, 2008)
  • The Sleekit Mr Tod by Roald Dahl (Scots translation, Itchy Coo, 2008)
  • Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne (Scots translation, Itchy Coo, 2008)
  • Katie's Year: Aw the Months for Wee Folk (Itchy Coo, 2009)
  • Precious and the Puggies by Alexander McCall Smith (Scots translation, Itchy Coo, 2010)
  • The Hoose at Pooh's Neuk by A.A. Milne (Scots translation, Itchy Coo, 2010)
  • Katie's Zoo: A Day Oot for Wee Folk (Itchy Coo, 2010)

Edited works[edit]

  • A Tongue in yer Heid (Black and White Publishing, 1994)
  • Dictionary of Scottish Quotations (with Angela Cran) (Mainstream Publishing, 1996)


  • Fae the Flouers o Evil (Scots trans. Robertson of Baudelaire) (Kettillonia Pamphlet)
  • La A'Bhreitheanais or The Day o Judgment (Scots trans. Robertson of Dugald Buchanan) (Kettillonia Pamphlet)


  • scotgeog.com (A website spin-off from the Testament of Gideon Mack, 2006)



  1. ^ "Mindin' the mither tongue". Scotsman. 17 August 2002.
  2. ^ "Pupils choose best bedtime reads". BBC News. 22 November 2007.
  3. ^ The Open University, Scotland (22 June 2014). "OU Celebrates 40th anniversary of first graduation in Scotland". The Open University. Retrieved 24 June 2014.

External links[edit]

  • Itchy Coo, educational Scots language publisher for younger readers, co-founded by Robertson
  • Kettillonia, independent publisher run by Robertson
  • scotgeog.com, website authored by Robertson