IFOA: Here come the Scots!

Meanwhile, here in the Big Smoke, the International Festival of Authors has a Writing Scotland theme happening. The National Post is running a Q&A with some of the participating authors, our hero among them. . . .

This year, the International Festival of Authors has joined forces with the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Scottish Government to present Writing Scotland, a celebration that coincides with Scottish Homecoming and the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth. IFOA has even registered their own tartan! Scotland and Canada have a long and rich history: more than four million Canadians have some kind of Scottish heritage, including many of the Canadian authors at this year’s festival: Alice Munro, Alistair MacLeod, Linden MacIntyre.

Throughout IFOA XXX, The Afterword will introduce readers to some of the Scottish writers attending this year’s festival.

Today: Scottish-Canadian author Ken McGoogan, who is currently working on a new book about Scottish influences in Canada called Bravehearts & Brassy Lasses: How the Scots Invented Canada.

Q: The population of Scotland is a little over 5 million people, yet it supports such a robust literary culture. What gives?

A: This goes back to the sixteenth century and, ironically, to the fanatical John Knox, the father of Presbyterianism. Knox decreed that every Scot should be able to read the Bible and dispute its teachings. This led to widespread literacy (and disputatiousness), which spawned the Scottish Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. The Scots have been reading, writing and arguing ever since. That`s just who they are.

Q: This is the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth – what’s your favourite of The Bard’s poems?

A: Ae Fond Kiss. Read about the love affair Burns had with his Clarinda. Then check out this love song as performed by Eddi Reader. Make sure you have a hanky handy.

Q: Canada has a rich history of Scottish immigration — over 4 million Canadians have some degree of Scottish heritage. Do you feel a connection to the country when you read Canadian literature?

A: According to the 2006 census, 4.7 million Canadians claim Scottish heritage – 15 per cent of our population.. That percentage has remained virtually unchanged since Canada`s first census in 1871. Yet the Scottish influence on Canadian literature has been profound. Our passion for historical novels, for example, derives generally from Scotland (we never severed ties) and specifically from Sir Walter Scott. As for Canadian writers of Scottish heritage, in non-fiction we have such seminal figures as Harold Innis, Donald Creighton, George Grant, John Kenneth Galbraith, Marshall McLuhan, and Farley Mowat. In fiction, the list starts with L.M. Montgomery, Hugh MacLennan, Margaret Laurence, W.O. Mitchell, Alice Munro, and Alistair Macleod, and keeps on growing. Ann-Marie MacDonald? Linden MacIntyre?

Q: Who’s the most under-rated Scottish writer, dead or alive?

A: That`s easy: James Boswell. He turned Samuel Johnson, that English eccentric, into a towering literary figure. Without Boswell, Johnson would today be a footnote. Not only that, but Boswell created a genre – contemporary biography – while he was going about this work. And then he got slagged for his . . . questionable lifestyle choices. It`s not right.


  1. andrew werner on February 1, 2022 at 5:20 pm

    Dear Ken
    My name is Andrew Werner and I have recently returned from my second stint as a seaplane bush pilot based in Cambridge Bay. While there I had the good fortune of recieving a copy of Fatal Passage. As I am fascinated the history and stories of the northern passage I found your book a compelling and truly wonderful read. I Knew that Rae had been unfairly maligned but not to the extent that you had indicated. You obviously worked hard to accomplish this mission of setting the record straight,congrats.

    What I would like to tell you about is that a pilot I know well had found some artifacts on the shore near Albert Edward Bay, Victoria Island west of King William Island which apparently were connected to the Franklin expidition spoons, forks with in scriptions,and a heavy wooden ship block and tackle. I believe there were other artifacts,I dont,recall but the could find out if you are interested. Again thanks a great book.
    Best Regards
    Andrew Werner

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