THE SPIRIT OF ADVENTURE
RENEWING A SCOTTISH STORYTELLING TRADITION
It has always seemed to me that the adventure story, with its battles, escapes and pursuits, is a very distinctive part of the Scottish storytelling tradition. It began with Sir Walter Scott who created the novel as we know it today and invented not just the historical novel but also the adventure story. Ivanhoe remains one of the greatest adventures in literature, celebrating not only its bold knights and brave heroines, but raising up the common man to the status of hero. One of the boldest elements in the book is that two of its most outstanding and heroic characters are a jester and a swineherd.
Following on from Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, in addition to his other achievements, wrote two of the classic adventure stories, Treasure Island and Kidnapped. Some years later Arthur Conan Doyle established what we now call the detective story, but there is a reason the first collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories is called The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle was very much following the tradition of Scott's historical adventures in his own historical novels like The White Company and Sir Nigel, and this inspiration also spilled over into the Holmes tales. His greatest achievement in advancing the adventure story, however, was in The Lost World, that thrilling account of an expedition to a lost land of dinosaurs on a South American plateau.
John Buchan, also inspired by Scott, wrote many excellent historical adventures, my own favourites being Midwinter and The Free Fishers. But Buchan, of course, did more than this. With The Thirty-Nine Steps he created the modern thriller, in particular the sub-genre of the man on the run.
The Buchan influence is very strong in one of his most famous successors Alistair MacLean with his tales of spies and secret wartime missions. MacLean is at his most Buchanesque in a novel like When Eight Bells Toll, set among the islands of the West Coast. (If you watch the film of the book, during the scene where hero Anthony Hopkins is being beaten up by the villains, he rolls up against a grave marked with the name 'John Macnab', the title of one of Buchan's most celebrated novels.)
Without actually planning to, I have found myself plunging into the world of these authors and carrying on that spirit of adventure. The first of The Artie Conan Doyle Mysteries, The Gravediggers' Club, was originally intended to be the third in a series of Young Legends novels, following on from my telling of the fictional teenage exploits of Leonardo da Vinci and Will Shakepeare (Leonardo and the Death Machine and Will Shakepeare and the Pirate's Fire). It was my editor at Floris/Kelpies who suggested that the adventures of the young Conan Doyle should be a series in its own right. I was delighted to have the opportunity to create a number of new mysteries set in Victorian Edinburgh and taking their inspiration from Conan Doyle's originals.
While I was finishing the first of these, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to fulfil a long held ambition to continue John Buchan's Richard Hannay series on into World War II, something Buchan hinted that he himself planned do in the last novel written before his death. I had a plot in mind for quite some time, but it was only when I was put in touch with Polygon, who produce handsome editions of Buchan's novels, that I found a publisher who was ready to support my notion of continuing Hannay's adventures. The result was The Thirty-One Kings: Richard Hannay Returns.
While it is wonderful come up with stories that are completely new and original, most of us are writing in some sort of tradition and have much to learn from the authors who came before us and inspired us to take up the pen ourselves. Rather like a folk musician who mixes traditional songs with fresh compositions inspired by them, so there is a special joy in adding to a great heritage.
Both The Gravediggers' Club and The Thirty-One Kings: Richard Hannay Returns have met with an enthusiastic response from both readers and reviewers, which shows there is definitely an appetite for new tales in the adventure story tradition. This has encouraged me to continue with a few more such novels.
My hope is that, as well as producing richly entertaining tales of my own, I can also draw attention to some authors who have perhaps not received all the attention they deserve and spark renewed interest in their works.