From Robert Lewis Stevenson novels to the hugely popular work of Ian Rankin, Edinburgh has inspired creation of some of the world’s best literature. Many of city’s prolific writers have felt compelled to set their narratives here because of the wealth of ‘character’ found in the place – its local people and its surroundings.
The following excerpts from novels, written by top Edinburgh literary talent, provide the starting points for a grand literary tour.
Sir Walter Scott references The Royal Mile in The Heart of Mid-Lothian, best known of his magisterial Waverly novels. Note the scene’s atmosphere of oppression, as prison blends into adjoining city centre.
“He stood now before the Gothic entrance of the ancient prison, which, as is well known to all men, rears its ancient front in the very middle of the High Street, forming, as it were, the termination to a huge pile of buildings called the Luckenbooths, which, for some inconceivable reason, our ancestors had jammed into the midst of the principal street of the town, leaving for passage a narrow street on the north; and on the south, into which the prison opens, a narrow crooked lane, winding betwixt the high and sombre walls of the Tolbooth and the adjacent houses on the one side, and the buttresses and projections of the old Cathedral upon the other.”
Irvine Welsh’s modern classic, Trainspotting is written in thick Scottish dialect. It provides an amusing and raw depiction of Edinburgh’s ‘Leith Walk’ through the troubled underclass perspective of Sickboy.
“Supposed tae be a rank. Supposed tae be a fuckin taxi rank. Nivir fucking git one in the summer. Up cruising fat, rich festival cunts too fuckin lazy tae walk a hundred fuckin yards fae one poxy church hall tae another fir thir fuckin show. Taxi drivers. Money-grabbin bastards … Sick Boy muttered deliriously and breathlessly tae hissel, eyes bulging and sinews in his neck straining as his heid craned up Leith Walk.”
Robert Lewis Stevenson‘s Kidnapped is set in 18th-century Scotland and brings historical drama thrillingly to life.
“We came the by-way over the hill of Corstorphine, and when we got near to the place called Rest-and-be-Thankful, and looked down on Corstophine bogs and over to the city and the castle on the hill, we both stopped, for we both knew without a word that we had come to where our ways parted.”
Views from the castle are just as spectacular.
Ian Rankin has used Edinburgh’s dark secrets and alleyways as backdrop to his Inspector Rebus novels for the past 24 years. In A Good Hanging, Parliament Square’s bloody history sets the tone for murder.
“It was quite some time since a scaffold had been seen in Parliament Square. Quite some time since Edinburgh had witnessed a hanging, too, though digging deeper into history the sight might have been common enough. Detective Inspector Rebus recalled hearing some saloon-bar story of how criminals, sentenced to hang, would be given the chance to run the distance of the Royal Mile from Parliament Square to Holyrood, a baying crowd hot on their heels. If the criminal reached the Royal Park before he was caught, he would be allowed to remain there, wandering in safety so long as he did not step outside the boundary of the park itself … Frankly, Rebus would have preferred the noose.”
Parliament Square is a relaxing part of the old town where you’ll find street performers and many striking civil buildings.
Where to stay and other attractions
UNESCO’s first City of Literature, Edinburgh has many literary attractions to offer, including lots of writerly pubs, and The Writers’ Museum.
If you’re looking for somewhere comfortable and central to stay try Edinburgh B and B. It hasn’t appeared in a novel yet, but its grand Georgian history doubtless contains many a fascinating story. From your room you’ll get a fantastic view of the city and Edinburgh Castle.