If it’s November 13th its RLS Day…

Look, I’m really happy to announce that this is the first Robert Louis Stevenson Day.  I’m a Scot. And with our football and rugby teams the way they are, we need all the causes of celebration we can get right now! I’m not a fan of Burns Night. I mean Burns is good and all that but it’s all a bit sycophantic and over-rated for my liking. And I can’t shake the conviction that so many of the people who BIG UP Burns every January would be shocked if they actually READ a lot of his work or KNEW a lot about his life.  So celebrating Burns the MYTH is something I find a bit distasteful. Celebrating MYTHS in general is something I find distasteful.

For 3 years in Dumfries (where Burns died and is treated as a ‘native son’ – sorry Ayrshire!) I went around abusing my position as Writer in Residence by suggesting that there were other GREAT WRITERS who had as much (if not more) claim to being mentioned in despatches. Largely this fell on deaf ears. When (at a lecture on Barrie) I suggested we rename the Robert Burns Film Theatre the J.M.Barrie Film Theatre there was the closest thing to a riot you’d find in modern day Dumfries!   I gave up after that.  I did my bit through 2002-2004 to promote the work of Barrie and his ‘connections’ to Dumfries (they were every bit as strong if not stronger than Burns. Barrie first went to the theatre in Dumfries Theatre Royal (the oldest working theatre in Scotland) and he went to school at Dumfries Academy. There’s cause to say he ‘invented’ Peter Pan in the garden at Mote Brae. In my day this was falling down. Now I believe there is a Mote Brae Trust which is trying to rescue it finally!  I’m no longer resident in D & G so I don’t have that much info and have to do my ‘promotion’ from a distance.   I’ve just published my Omnibus edition of The Admirable Crichton (and my own updated version DOWN THE LINE) as an ebook to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 100th anniversary celebrations I organised in Dumfries.  I was active in 2004 on the 100th anniversary of Peter Pan (and have 2 years to find my resources from that to re-publish!) And I still say that there are many great writers in D & G who have been overlooked and ignored. I do what I can to rectify this. It’s part of my ‘personal’ journey if you like.

And this is what really brings me to the point about Robert Louis Stevenson (and his first DAY) . I have a claim to fame in that I can say I’ve slept in his bedroom. ( Was babysat on occasions by the owners of 17 Heriot Row, in the 70’s  and slept in his room – I’m guessing not his own bed, on one occasion.) It gave me a personal reason to think RLS was a cool dude!  Maybe it was the start of my quest to ‘promote’ and ‘reclaim’ GREAT FORGOTTEN SCOTTISH WRITERS.  I’d like to think so.

What amazes me is that here we are in 2012 and there IS an RLS day.  Because when I  was at University in 1980’s Scottish literature in general and RLS in particular were kind of sniffed at. Any GREAT Scottish writer was nicked for the ENGLISH cannon – thus Sir Walter Scott could feature in an English Literature course but Stevenson couldn’t.  Looking back it shocks me that in a great Scottish University (the BEST) Scottish literature was spurned.  But then, in those days we were indoctrinated rather than taught about literature (maybe the reason I defected to Philosophy where independent thought was actually encouraged) and the apogee was Spenser’s Fairie Queene (I kid you not!!!!)  Henry James got a look in (uh, wasn’t he American literature?) but Stevenson was… oh.. like an unpleasant smell.  And Barrie. Don’t get me started. The man wouldn’t get a mention in a place of learning. Despite having been Rector of the University!!!  Yet now Stevenson is not just brought into the canon of English literature and not just upgraded from being a great Childrens writer, but he’s a GREAT SCOTTISH WRITER with a Day of his own.  He’s been ‘rebranded’ as the ‘father’ of Tartan Noir and even the academics have good things to say about him.

Today’s post is kind of rushed off but I don’t want you to think that it’s without much thought. I’m on a personal journey to discover why our culture has to discriminate between literature and fiction and what the discursive reasons for that may be.  I’m doing a PhD on it. Well, not at a university you understand. I’ve finished with Universities. I have degrees coming out of my ears but I’ve finally realised that the things I want to research are NOT the things that academia ‘privileges’ so I’m using my research skills and gained knowledge to do what I’m calling a ‘People’s PhD’ (should I trademark this?)  and the literature/fiction debate is part of it.  My fellow writers may say I’ve lost the plot. The academics will do what they do and say that unless I work within their framework I’m not to be taken seriously.  There is a serious point there. It’s to do with FASHION in literature.  I feel quite strongly about this. RLS IS a great Scottish Writer. He was a great Scottish Writer in the 19th century and the 20th century and the 21st century. He was fashionable in 19th century and becoming so again in 21st century. He was NOT fashionable in 20th century. That says more about fashion than RLS doesn’t it?

So. Fashion in fiction. Something to think about. To study. To research. From outside the hallowed portals of places which set the fashion.  That’s what’s consuming me at the moment and for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, can I just say HOORAY for the RLS day and for appreciation of this writer. But can I add a caveat. Please, please, read RLS and find out for yourself. Don’t just jump on the ‘fashion’ bandwagon.  Don’t just ‘go with the flow’ and think that RLS is good because you like Ian Rankin.  That’s sort of backward logic.   It pleases me that so many modern Scottish writers claim that RLS is an influence on them/their writing and that by MODERN popular writers bringing his name to the fore means he’s become accessible and ‘fashionable’ again – but READ him. For himself. In the context of his time.  Not because he’s this month’s literary flavour!


To find out more about RLS Day 

To buy the OMNIBUS (Admirable Crichton/Down the Line) on Amazon UK or Amazon US or Kobo (epub) 


About callyphillips

6 Responses to If it’s November 13th its RLS Day…

  1. Jennifer Wilson says:

    Sterling stuff, Cally – and Happy Day too. Reading RLS aloud (as I occasionally do for a friend with dementia) is really pleasurable; RLS and Kipling both deserve some more of the sun.

  2. debutnovelist says:

    My great great great uncle (or something similar) was a pal of RLS. About time I got beyond Kidnapped. AliB

  3. Susan Price says:

    I never went to University, Cally, and so was never told what was good literature and what was not. I stumbled across stuff by myself, and I like what I like.
    Speaking as a Sassenach, I love Burns. Well, some of it. Know nothing about his myth – don’t know much about him at all. Just love some of his poems.
    Don’t know much about Barrie, but remember enjoying an old black and white film of The Admirable Crichton.
    I LOVE RLS. Stumbled into ‘Kidnapped’ when I was about 20 – long before he was ‘popular’ it seems – and just totally loved it. Read his essays and took to heart his comment, ‘There is only one way in all the world to be clever in narrative, and that is to be exact.’ Read ‘The Fight in the Roundhouse’ from Kidnapped, and you’ll see exactly what he means.
    Love the Master of Ballentrae, love his short stories. Just love the man. And my brother-out-law is organising a walk that traces Davy Balfour’s journey from the point where he’s shipwrecked. He loves Stephenson too.

  4. Noel Bodenmiller says:

    Thank you Cally, for your mention of RLS day in your blog. Who doesn’t love Treasure Island and Kidnapped? These are some of the more exciting stories of our youth that cause ourselves to be creative as adults. Thank you, RLS, for taking us from our ordinary, everyday surroundings to somewhere so intriguing.

  5. RLS has been a huge influence on me. I dramatised Kidnapped and Catriona in ten hours of radio, followed by Treasure Island. I love all of these, but Catriona best of all perhaps. I realised much later that his ‘voice’ had influenced me really strongly when I was writing The Physic Garden.

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