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William McIlvanney

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William McIlvanney
McIlvanney at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2013
McIlvanney at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2013
BornWilliam Angus McIlvanney
25 November 1936
Kilmarnock, Scotland
Died5 December 2015 (aged 79)
Glasgow, Scotland
EducationUniversity of Glasgow
Notable worksDocherty (1975), Laidlaw (1977), Strange Loyalties (1991)
RelativesLiam McIlvanney (son)

William Angus McIlvanney (25 November 1936 – 5 December 2015) was a Scottish novelist, short story writer, and poet.[1] He was known as Gus by friends and acquaintances.[2] McIlvanney was a champion of gritty yet poetic literature; his works Laidlaw, The Papers of Tony Veitch, and Walking Wounded are all known for their portrayal of Glasgow in the 1970s. He is regarded as "the father of Tartan Noir" and as Scotland's Camus.[3]


McIlvanney was born in Kilmarnock on 25 November 1936,[4] the youngest of four children of a former miner, and attended school at Kilmarnock Academy.[5] He went on to study English at the University of Glasgow and graduated with an MA in 1960.[1] McIlvanney then worked as an English teacher until 1975, when he left the position of assistant headmaster at Greenwood Academy to pursue his writing career.[1] The writer's elder brother was the sports journalist Hugh McIlvanney.[1] His son, Liam McIlvanney, is also an author of the crime genre.[6]

In addition to his literary career, McIlvanney wrote regularly for newspapers, and was a writer and narrator of the BBC Scotland football documentary Only a Game? in 1986.[7][8]

McIlvanney held onto his strong socialist views throughout his life. In common with many from working-class backgrounds in Scotland, he was strongly opposed to Thatcherism. Later, he became disappointed by the shift of Labour towards the centre during the New Labour era under Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and by 2014, he had ultimately come to feel in a hesitantly manner; that Scottish independence might be the best political solution.[9]

William McIlvanney died on 5 December 2015 at the age of 79, after a short illness.[10] Following his death, a number of public figures, including SNP MSP Nicola Sturgeon, authors Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh, paid tribute noting both his inspirational writing and his likeable and gentlemanly personality.[11][9] The Telegraph obituary noted: "Many authors are admired. Many are respected. Few are loved as he was, for what they are as well as for what they have written."[9]


His first book, Remedy is None, was published in 1966[12] and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 1967.[13] Docherty (1975), a portrait of a miner whose courage and endurance is tested during the depression, won the Whitbread Novel Award.[14]

The Big Man (1985) is the story of Dan Scoular, an unemployed man who turns to bare-knuckle fighting to make a living. Both novels feature typical McIlvanney characters – tough, often violent, men locked in a struggle with their own nature and background.[15] The novel was adapted into a film in 1990 directed by David Leland, starring Liam Neeson, and featuring Billy Connolly.[16]

His novel, The Kiln (1996), is the story of Tam Docherty, the grandson of the hero of Docherty. It won the Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award.[17]

Laidlaw (1977), The Papers of Tony Veitch (1983) and Strange Loyalties (1991) are crime novels featuring Inspector Jack Laidlaw. Laidlaw is considered to be the first book of Tartan Noir, despite the author's calling the term Tartan Noire.[18]

McIlvanney was also a poet, and wrote The Longships in Harbour: Poems (1970), In Through the Head (1988) and Surviving the Shipwreck (1991), which also contains pieces of journalism, including an essay about T. S. Eliot.[19] McIlvanney wrote a screenplay based on his short story "Dreaming" (published in Walking Wounded in 1989) which was filmed by BBC Scotland in 1990 and won a BAFTA.[20]

From April 2013, McIlvanney's writing was regularly published on his own website, which features personal, reflective and topical writing, as well as examples of his journalism.[21]

His final novel, The Dark Remains, was completed by Ian Rankin and released in September 2021.[22][23]

The McIlvanney Prize, awarded by Bloody Scotland, is named after him.[24]


  • Gifford, Douglas (1976), review of Docherty, in Burnett, Ray (ed.), Calgagus No. 3, pp. 58 & 59, ISSN 0307-2029
  • Aitchison, James (1983), review of The Papers of Tony Veitch, in Lindsay, Maurice (ed.), The Scottish Review: Arts and Environment 31, August 1983, pp. 60 – 62, ISSN 0140-0894

Prizes and awards[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Scotland's Writers - William McIlvanney". BBC Writing Scotland. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
  2. ^ "William McIlvanney: not just godfather of 'Tartan Noir' but lion of literature". the Guardian. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  3. ^ Massie, Allan. "Scotland's master of crime is also its Camus". 25 May 2013.
  4. ^ "William McIlvanney" in Contemporary Authors Online, Gale Thomson, entry updated 23 April 2001.
  5. ^ "William McIlvanney (b.1936)". Kilmarnock Academy. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  6. ^ Guardian Staff (21 September 2018). "Liam McIlvanney wins Scottish crime fiction award named after his father". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  7. ^ "Only a game?". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 13 December 2013. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  8. ^ "Scots author William McIlvanney dies, aged 79". www.scotsman.com. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  9. ^ a b c "William McIlvanney, novelist - obituary". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  10. ^ "Scottish writer William McIlvanney dies aged 79". The Guardian. 5 December 2015.
  11. ^ "Crime author William McIlvanney dies aged 79". BBC News. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  12. ^ Morton, Brian (27 September 1990). "Glasgow no mean Hamlet". The Times.
  13. ^ a b Taylor, D. J. (28 January 1989). "Fist-fights and metaphors from Kilmarnock: D J Taylor on William McIlvaney, a Scottish storyteller launching guerrilla attacks from the front line". The Independent.
  14. ^ Williams, John (3 September 1991). "Jack of all genres, master of one – William McIlvanney's new detective novel continues his seamless document of Scotland". The Guardian.
  15. ^ Bailey, Hilary (5 September 1985). "A matter of manner/ Review of new fiction". The Guardian.
  16. ^ Brown, Geoff (21 August 1990). "Youth hogs the old spotlight". The Times.
  17. ^ a b Cochrane, Lynn (28 November 1996). "The Kiln is named book of the year". The Scotsman.
  18. ^ Kelly, Stuart (27 August 2006). "A writer's life: William McIlvanney". The Daily Telegraph.
  19. ^ Duncan, Lesley (1 May 1999). "Cherishing the kitten". The Herald (Glasgow).
  20. ^ a b McGinty, Stephen (21 March 2010). "Big Man hits the small screen as writer turns actor in music video". Scotland on Sunday.
  21. ^ Mclaughlin, Martyn (11 August 2013). "McIlvanney work-in-progress on Connery goes online". The Scotsman.
  22. ^ Flood, Alison (5 December 2020). "Ian Rankin to complete William McIlvanney's final novel The Dark Remains". The Guardian. Guardian News & Media Limited. Retrieved 5 December 2020.
  23. ^ "Interview with Ian Rankin". Radio New Zealand. August 2021.
  24. ^ "Rankin 'honoured' to complete McIlvanney novel". BBC News. 30 August 2021. Retrieved 1 February 2023.
  25. ^ Dening, Penelope (1 October 1996). "Honour in his own country". The Irish Times.
  26. ^ a b "The CWA Gold Dagger". The Crime Writers' Association. Archived from the original on 14 January 2012. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
  27. ^ Linklater, John (17 December 1992). "Readers stay loyal to McIlvanney with second win in People's Prize". The Herald.
  28. ^ Linklater, John (4 June 1992). "Awards and votes of confidence for authors". The Herald.
  29. ^ "William McIlvanney to receive the Fletcher of Saltoun Award 2013". Saltire Society.
  30. ^ Ferguson, Brian (30 November 2013). "Rediscovered William McIlvanney picks up award". The Scotsman. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
  31. ^ "Glasgow University to honour late author William McIlvanney with doctorate". The Courier. Dundee. 1 April 2016. Retrieved 5 November 2020.

External links[edit]

References to reviews of work[edit]

  • [1] McLuckie, Craig. "Researching McIlvanney. A Critical and Bibliographic Introduction", Scottish Studies International 28 (Scottish Studies Centre of the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz in Germersheim), 1999.
  • Newton, Ken. "William McIlvanney": Literary Encyclopedia
  • William McIlvanney at British Council: Literature
  • [2] McLuckie, Craig. "Postcolonial Resistance: Class, Gender and Race in McIlvanney's The Big Man," Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses (RCEI) 2002; 45: 151–67.
  • [3] McLuckie, Craig. "William McIlvanney and the Provocative Witness: Resistance in the 'Laidlaw' Trilogy," Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses (RCEI) 2000 Nov; 41: 87-101.