With all the new books about Scotland that hit the shelves of booksellers each year, it is amazing any writer can still find anything fresh to say.
But it is not a problem that seems to hamper Selkirk author and historian, Alistair Moffat, who has just seen his 25th book published by Birlinn.
Titled ‘Scotland: A History from Earliest Times’ the book starts with the Ice Age and spans the country’s history up to last year’s independence referendum.
And Moffat says, even after all these years of books and television programmes examining Scotland’s history, he still learned something new.
“In the Borders we are fond of congratulating ourselves on how blessed we are and perhaps we glory in being out of the Central Belt, the rat race, on the peaceful southern edge of Scotland, on the edges of history, But one of the many joys of writing my new history of Scotland was to confirm that throughout the last 11,000 years of our history, this heart-breakingly beautiful place has been absolutely central to our story,” he told us.
“In trying to grasp a real sense of our past we have a huge advantage over city dwellers. The marks our ancestors made on the land have not been obliterated by buildings, car parks, motorways and airports. In the Borders we can still see the banks and ditches of hill forts, the old trackways, the fields and the ruins of towers and castles, and we glory in the traditions our forebears handed down.”
Moffat says his latest book was a massive endeavour: “This book was a huge project, one that taught me a great deal. Perhaps most important, I learned that Scotland was never inevitable and that our history is little more than a recurring sequence of uncertainties. At several junctures we could have become Pictland, Alba, Norseland or Northern England. And nowhere is that sense of an alternative narrative more evident than in the Borders.”
And he says it was important he held off finishing the book until after the referendum: “My book would have gone instantly out of date had I not waited for the results of the independence referendum and the 2015 general election. And sure enough, the insistent theme of uncertainty continued.
“When I was a little boy, I used to help deliver the Store milk around the streets of Kelso and, up at 5.30am six days out of seven, I saw many dawns break. It seems that this moment in our history is a time of hesitation. For Scotland now, it seems that several dawns are possible.”
•On Sunday, at 7.30pm at MacArts in Bridge Street, Galashiels, Alistair Moffat will be talking about his new book and signing copies. Tickets are priced £10.
Box office: www.bordersbookfestival.org 0333 666 3366.