S.R.Crockett – The Galloway Raider.

If you’ve heard of ‘Scotland’s Forgotten Bestseller’ S.R.Crockett, it’s probably in the context of his most famous novel ‘The Raiders.’ First published in 1894 it was his ‘breakthrough’ novel – one of four published in that year by T.Fisher Unwin. The other titles on offer were two short novellas ‘Mad Sir Uchtred of the Hills’ and ‘The Playactress’ as well as ‘The Lilac Sunbonnet,’ which had been serialised throughout the year in ‘The Christian Leader’ magazine.
Bringing out four titles in one year was a statement of intent from the publishers, that this was a ‘new’ writer to be reckoned with. Crockett himself had been published in periodicals and magazines for some ten years prior to this ‘breakthrough’ and his first published collection, ‘The Stickit Minister’ had been a huge success for T.Fisher Unwin the previous year. Crockett dedicated that work to Robert Louis Stevenson. The two men never met, but Stevenson was something of a mentor to Crockett. Stevenson wrote Crockett a poem in response to the dedication – ‘Blows the wind today’ which features on The Crockett Memorial at Laurieston, and claimed that Crockett’s writing was ‘drenched in Scotland.’
[above  picture Crockett memorial]

In 1894 Stevenson died and Crockett was well placed to take on the mantle of writer of historical adventure romance from the man he so admired. ‘The Raiders’ had proved a huge success on its publication in spring but by the time news of Stevenson’s death filtered through in December, its significance somehow grew. There could be no more from Stevenson’s pen, but Crockett would do his best to fill the void.
‘The Raiders’ is an 18th century smuggling tale, set in Galloway and told in the first person by a retrospective narrator, Patrick Heron. This allows Crockett to employ his trademark ironic humour; with the older man chiding the folly of youth, while denying us none of the adventure along the way. ‘It was with me the time of wild oat sowing, when the blood ran warm.’
The story opens on a May evening at Isle Rathan (Crockett’s fictionalised version of Hestan Island) and Patrick’s journey in search of the kidnapped May Maxwell soon takes us into the heart of the Galloway Hills. Crockett’s facility for natural description is well established in ‘The Raiders’ and remained a key feature of his work through till his death in 1914.
[picture Hestan/Rathan island] 1 a 1 a crocket  heston rathan
Crockett was a true Galloway Raider. He borrowed from historical and fictional sources to flavour his adventure stories and he took the natural delights of his native land and brought them to life in a lively and skilful manner. Indeed, it is not too much of a claim to make that Crockett writes of the Galloway countryside every bit as successfully as Hardy did for his native Dorset. From the descriptions of a May morning on the Galloway Coast to the harsh snows on the hills in the ‘Sixteen Drifty Days,’ Crockett brings the Galloway countryside alive to the reader.
Like a good Raider, Crockett takes from everywhere but this does not make him derivative. His influences included Sir Walter Scott, James Hogg, John Galt and R.L.Stevenson and he in turn influenced writers as diverse as J.R.R.Tolkein, John Buchan and D.H.Lawrence. Throughout his long career he maintained a unique voice and established a style of fiction which is recognisable, and strangely addictive. Once you get used to the episodic nature of his work you find that the characters and stories hold you in thrall from first to last page.
[picture Raiders cover]1 a 1 a crocket . raiders cover
‘The Raiders’ is a great example. The plot may be simple, though it takes many twists and turns to achieve resolution but the characters, particularly Silver Sand, Patrick Heron and May Maxwell, all come to life off the page. Yet Patrick is a ‘bonnet laird,’ a man of little substance and Silver Sand is a gypsy. They illustrate Crockett’s penchant for writing about ordinary people, showing us their lives and loves in a way that is captivating. There is no such thing as a small character in a Crockett novel. Even the most minor character is drawn with care and his female characters are especially well rounded. And all the characters play their part in the fast paced adventure which is Crockett’s stock in trade.
While ‘The Raiders’ is a good introduction to Crockett’s work (especially for those who like Stevensonesque smuggling stories) one cannot reduce his 70 + novels to this one, any more than one could sensibly say of Shakespeare, ‘he wrote Timon of Athens.’ Like his native Galloway, there is much more to explore than first meets the eye. Indeed, ‘The Raiders’ is only one part of a loose trilogy (we’ll look at this next time).
For the reader new to Crockett, it can be bewildering knowing where to start. ‘Raiderland’ (Tales of Grey Galloway) published in 1904 gives an introduction to some of Crockett’s other fictional work as well as his own thoughts on Galloway from Dumfries right through to Wigtown. It also gives the reader an insight into his notion and use of ‘Scots humour’ without which his work is often misunderstood. 1 a 1 a crocket on heston rathan
[picture Galloway countryside]
In the months which follow we will tell you more about the writing and the places of S.R.Crockett in the hope that you will venture into his fictional world and from there take your own real life journey into the countryside of Galloway. A great place to start is by joining The Galloway Raiders which is a free online S.R.Crockett society, offering much more information about his work and whose members can get discounted copies of his works in digital and paper formats.

1 a 1 a crocket  galloway collection[picture Galloway Collection]
‘The Galloway Collection’ has been republished by Ayton Publishing to mark the 100th anniversary of his death, so there is no longer the excuse that Crockett novels are hard to get hold of. The only difficulty is deciding where to start. And that is your own choice, because it is a journey unique to each reader.
To travel with Crockett is not just a journey through history and geography, but a journey of the imagination. Armed with Crockett’s novels, a map and a pair of stout shoes, you can get out into the Galloway countryside and find all kinds of places you never knew existed. In this slot we hope to give you some guidance in the months to come – but ultimately, it will be your own adventure.

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