Donald S. Murray shares his sources of inspiration, from early books and encouraging school teachers, to music, film, and poetry.
'In terms of writing, my first inspiration was Bimbo. A name which now has rather unfortunate connotations, it was once the title of a comic for pupils in their first year or so of primary school and served as a model for my earliest pieces of writing. I recall once sitting re-creating on the floor of our sitting room and asking my Dad to take it to the local shop and sell it for me. He came home the following evening with an old threepenny glinting in his fingers, telling me he had received this for my scrawls and scribbles.'
I was also lucky in a number of my teachers, especially the late Charles Macdonald or Tearlach Louis, the headmaster of Cross Primary School in Ness who provided me with a plethora of thick red notebooks for my ramblings. (They were invariably based on spy stories I had read.) Later there was Tom Clark who was my English teacher in the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway. He particularly noticed my fondness for drama, encouraging me to write plays for the local SCDA (or Scottish Community Drama Association) Festival. It was probably through this that I met Norman Macdonald, who wrote ‘Calum Tod’ and ‘The Shutter Falls’ – the latter quite remarkably a BBC Play for today in the early seventies.
Among his work, too, was the first Gaelic account I ever read of the Iolaire disaster – ‘Call An h-Iolaire’. He showed this to me in its draft stages. Sometimes life goes round in circles.
Peculiarly it is largely Europeans who have taught me new ways of writing non-fiction. These include the works of Dutch writers like Geert Mak and Cees Nooteboom; German authors such as W G Sebald and Volker Weidermann; Poles like Ryszard Kapuscinki. (There are a number of these – like Sebald and Kapuscinki – whom I am aware are not always accurate in their observations, but their work sings!)
In addition, there are those who write on foreign parts. They include Neal Ascherson, Timothy Garton Ash, Colin Thubron, the Irish travel-writer Dervla Murphy, the astonishing Jonathan Raban and Rebecca Solnit – whose thoughts and ruminations are always interesting.
I have more than a sneaking regard for some of my fellow Scots, including Neal (above) but also Roger Hutchinson, Kathleen Jamie and James Hunter.
This list could be endless. Among my fellow Scots who have inspired me include Neil Gunn, George MacKay Brown, Iain Crichton Smith, James Robertson, Grassic Gibbon, Allan Massie, William McIlvanney, Edwin Muir, Sorley Maclean, Jessie Kesson...
My favourite short story-tellers include Clare Keegan, Mary Costello, Alice Munro, Alistair Macleod, Bernard MacLaverty, T C Boyle, James Joyce, Michael MacLaverty, early Hemingway...
My favourite novel ever is ‘Middlemarch’ by George Eliot, though there are many competitors, including ‘A House For Mr Biswas’ by V S Naipaul, ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison, the works of Kadare, Gunter Grass, Joseph Conrad, ‘Cloudstreet’ by Tim Winton, ‘Sunset Song’....
I could probably come up with an entirely new list tomorrow/next week/in an hour’s time…
Alice Oswald, Don Paterson, Norman MacCaig, some of the Scots I have already mentioned, Jen Hadfield, Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Bernard O’Donoghue, Michael Longley, Louis Macneice, George Herbert, Rilke, Ian Duhig, Mandelstam, Blake, Yeats, Yeats, Yeats, Heaney, Heaney, Heaney... The plays of Brian Friel, Martin McDonagh, Conor MacPherson ...
On film and music:
Too many to mention - though I have a special fondess for ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’, ‘Tree of Wooden Clogs’, early Scorsese films, ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, (the original) ‘Whisky Galore’, ‘Godfather 1 and 2’, ‘There Will Be Blood’...
I find myself listening to the following a great deal.
Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Richard Thompson, Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, Leonard Cohen, Paul Weller, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Nick Cave, the Unthanks, Jackson Browne...
I also listen to a great deal of Gaelic music - but I’m terrified to mention names, living or dead, in case I miss anyone out. I love the songs of Murdo MacFarlane.