S.R.Crockett Monthly –Sunbonnets and Free Radicals in the Glenkens.


There are few better places to spend a summer than in the Glenkens, and that’s what I’m encouraging readers to do.  This month I offer two Crockett novels for your reading challenge.  Both are set in the heart of the Glenkens. The first ‘The Lilac Sunbonnet’  may not be the first book you would turn to when considering a hot summer read.  But there’s much more to this erstwhile bestseller than meets the modern eye.

To fully appreciate ‘The Lilac Sunbonnet’ you have to come to it without any previous expectation that it is slushy and sentimental.  Instead, you need to read with an appreciation of ‘guid Scots humour.’  As with J.M.Barrie’s ‘The Little Minister’,  ‘The Lilac Sunbonnet’ requires an appreciation of the caustic wit of the writer. [And if you’ve never engaged with Barrie beyond ‘Peter Pan’ or his other dramatic works, I can heartily recommend you read some of his prose fiction.]

[picture 2 SRC biography]

In September Ayton Publishing will be bringing out a new edition of the definitive Crockett biography by Dr Islay Murray Donaldson. In it she offers  a spirited defence of ‘The Lilac Sunbonnet’ and does a comparative literary analysis of it with D.H.Lawrence’s ‘The Rainbow’ which is surely enough to convince any reader, or prospective reader, that the symbolism of ‘The Lilac Sunbonnet’ itself is sexual and that – as many of Crockett’s contemporary critics suggested – the novel is far more of an expose of rural ‘earthiness’ (they saw it as positively racy) then of the sickly sentimentality label with which modernists damned it.  You do have to approach ‘The Lilac Sunbonnet’ with an appreciation that it is of its time, and that it is dealing with matters such as sexual and religious repression – to fully understand it.  But it is a great summer read (whether that be a long hot one or dodging the showers).  It will take you away to Galloway through some wonderful natural descriptive passages and offers a glorious picture of the Glenkens especially.

[picture 3 Crae Bridge of old]

Craig Ronald, home to Winsome Charteris, is loosely based on Little Duchrae and the surrounding Hensol Estate.  So if you’re more interested in the history/geography of the landscape, there’s still plenty for you to enjoy.  And if you just love a good story well told – you can do much worse than tuck yourself up with ‘The Lilac Sunbonnet’ for a few hours. If you come to it fresh, without prejudice, and you love historical romance, you may well love it.

[picture 4 Crae Bridge today]



But for those who prefer a bit more adventure with their historical romance, the second Crockett novel I’m offering for this month is also set in the Glenkens, and more precisely in Balmaghie. ‘The Standard Bearer’ is Crockett’s fictionalised version of the life of the great Cameronian preacher (and minister of Balmaghie) John Macmillan. Crockett calls his ‘hero’ Quintin McLellan but the parallels are obvious.  You can read the ‘biography’ of the ‘real’ Macmillan as ‘A Cameronian Apostle’ by another Balmaghie minister Rev H.M.B. Reid. And for those who are truly interested in the history you can currently download a newly edited ebook version of this work from www.unco.scot  CURRENTLY FREE.

[picture 5 Balmaghie Kirk of old]

For those who prefer to stick with fiction, Crockett’s ‘The Standard Bearer’ offers all the history, adventure and romance you could wish for as you while away the summer hours with your head in a book. Taking you back into the world of the radical Cameronians, Crockett transports you back to the Glenkens of days gone by, and his humorous  though scathing comments on the people and the place are entertainment enough even for the most secular of readers.  If you are from or know Balmaghie at all, this is a must read.  And I think it’s an important work to read now for another reason.  Last year Balmaghie Kirk was finally closed, merging the parish with the one over the River Ken.  I suggest that there is something of the past to be found in the present – in terms of a crass lack of understanding of the nature of community – and an ‘eye’ on a bigger prize which in fact turns out to be of much lesser value.   That comment will become less cryptic if you read ‘The Standard Bearer.’

[picture 6 Balmaghie Kirk today]

Balmaghie has been in the news recently as the site for the Viking Hoard ‘find’.  It was found on the Balmaghie Kirk Glebe lands. It’s mind-blowing to think that Crockett would have walked over these very fields in his youth – and never knew the history, adventure and romance they contained.  I suggest at times we all suffer from not paying enough attention to things right under our feet and not appreciating what we have till it’s gone.  Reading Crockett can alert, and remind you, of times past and things forgotten which you then feel an urge to explore more closely.  His novels are more than just stories to pass the time. They are a link into times, places and people long gone but who still cast a shadow over our present – if we let them.

[picture 7 – Volume 2 of Discovering Crockett’s Galloway]

I am currently working hard on final revisions of ‘Discovering Crockett’s Galloway Volume 2 – Island and Inland Adventures’ – which ranges from the Solway Coast right into the heart of the Glenkens. It will be published in September with a launch in Laurieston on Crockett’s birthday, September 24th.  Both of the above novels, and many others, feature in this new volume – so that while I’m not actually in the Glenkens this summer- I am virtually there – and you can be too if you just pick up one of the novels I’m recommending this month. There are a whole host of other Crocket  novels set in the Glenkens. You’ll remember ‘Kit Kennedy’ from May and next month I’ll look at some of the ‘Drumquhat’ novels.  Happy reading in the meantime.

Wriren exclusivly for DGWGO By Cally Phillips

Find out more about S.R.Crockett at www.gallowayraiders.co.uk

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