Halfway to Paradise

When Thomas More sketched out his vision in the sixteenth century of a sun-struck island idyll bobbing away merrily in the Atlantic swell, he ignited a centuries-long quest in dreamers and seekers across the world: the search for Utopia. Some took the sun as their guide, heading south in their pursuit of perfection; others, seduced […]

Every Day’s A Schuil Day

Education and Literature are old school friends. With buttoned-up blazer and responsible shoulders, Education sits at the front of class, passing to its peers the tools needed to navigate the world that loiters restlessly at the gates. Literature, that wild-eyed dreamer, lurks at the back of the room, scars the desk with secrets and stories, […]

Ajockalypse Now

Whether it appears in the form of anthrax island, a vibrating nuclear presence on the west coast, or, indeed, a deadly virus, each decade appears to unleash new potential for human devastation in Scotland and beyond. Waters rise, social unrest threatens, an invisible, digital, all-seeing eye tracks our every move – and so we go, edging […]

Telling Tales

‘Trust the story. … the storyteller may dissemble and deceive, the story can’t; the story can only ever be itself.’ – And the Land Lay Still, James Robertson 2022 marks a celebration across the nation for Scotland’s Year of Stories – but what is a story without its storyteller? (A question on which I, and […]

Notional Boundaries

Should you ever find yourself roaming through woodland somewhere between the Rivers Sark and Esk, you might stumble across a long, linear, rather unassuming earthwork. You would be forgiven for carrying on your merry way without so much as a glance down at the unremarkable ditch-flanked bank, but stop! Haste ye back and look upon […]

what I love about newspapers is their etaoin shrdl

In the beginning – before the chapbooks and non-stop news cycle, the tabloids and Twitter – there was the word of mouth. In Scotland, town-criers shouldered the responsibility of sharing news among the local community, banging the clap to alert the townsfolk to new bylaws, official proclamations, or the arrival of fresh herring. While the […]

Edwin Only Helped

Anyone who has read Jacky Fleming’s The Trouble With Women will be familiar with Schopenhauer’s theory of masculine “Genius Hair”. Anyone who has looked at a picture of Hugh MacDiarmid – and witnessed therein a man trying, by force of will, to transform himself into a thistle – will know what “Genius Hair” looks like. […]

Bad Harsk Speech and Lewit Barbar Tung

Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water. —King James Bible, 1611: ‘The […]


Much of what is good and true in our laws and social customs, much of what is manly and vigorous in the British Constitution, and much of our intense love of freedom and fair play, is due to the pith, pluck, enterprise, and sense of justice that dwelt in the breasts of the rugged old […]


… I strolled on through the wood’s good offices, and duly fell to wondering if I hadn’t simply made it all up: you, I mean, everything, my entire life. Either way, nothing now could touch me bar my hosts, who appeared as diffuse golden light, as tiny spiders examining my hair . . . from […]

See You?

We are often urged, by such disparate individuals as Robert Burns and Boris Johnson (for, we suspect, very different reasons) to ‘see oursels as ithers see us!’ And, thanks to a large diaspora, a global media, and a strong graphic stereotype, we Scots are quite used to spotting our reflection in a variety of distorting […]

That Promethean Spark

In some ways the most real and rooted people whom Sandy knew were Miss Gaunt and the Kerr sisters who made no evasions about their belief that God had planned for practically everybody before they were born a nasty surprise when they died. Later, when Sandy read John Calvin, she found that although popular conceptions […]

The Tangle o the Isles

The earth belongs unto the Lord and all that it contains except for the West Highland piers for they belong to MacBraynes —Anon. Islands are finite spaces enclosed by boundaries of indeterminate extent. This is a result of the Coastline Paradox, and specifically the Richardson Effect, to wit: the sum of the segments is inversely […]

Not of the Race of Adam

Fairies — the Little People, the People of Peace; the Sigrave;th; the Tuatha dé Danaan — are an interstitial race. They lurk around the edges, on the borderlands and in the margins, and out the corner of your eye … Scotland is blessed with more peripheries (and peri-fairies) than most other nations, so it’s no surprise to find their tracks scattered across this country’s stories, and laced into its history.

Century Notes

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)— Walt Whitman, ‘Song of Myself’ Naomi Mary Margaret Mitchison, Baroness Mitchison, CBE (née Haldane; 1 November 1897–11 January 1999). How does one do justice to a writer who lived for over a hundred years? Who witnessed almost every single […]

Watching Us, Watching You

NOTICE: THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN REDACTED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PROVISIONS OF THE DEFENCE OF THE REALM (SCOTLAND) ACT Watching Us, Watching You This issue, The Bottle Imp gets political. We’ve got our ear to the ground, but you never know who’s listening … Politics, skulduggery and spies, enemies both foreign and domestic! Scotland’s writers ███ ██ […]

The Lie of the Land

It requires great love of it deeply to read The configuration of a land — from ‘Scotland’, by Hugh MacDiarmid Scotland is the land of the Scots. To what extent are the Scots the people of the land which bears them? It is a multitudinous terrain, from the lowing depths of the Devil’s Beef-tub in […]

Unwept, Unhonoured, and Unsung

It has become fashionable, of late, to point out that the novels of Sir Walter Scott are scarcely read, now; to remark that few would willingly pick up Waverley, let alone give shelf-space to Peveril of the Peak (it killed Prince Albert and it can do the same for you). Often this is framed within the kind of […]

Their Knife in Your Glands

In medicine the most practicianis, Lechis, surrigianis and phisicianis, Thame self fra ded may not supple: Timor mortis conturbat me. —William Dunbar, ‘Lament for the Makaris, Quhen He Was Seik’ The Scots have a peculiar relationship with medicine. On the one hand, we have pioneered many of the most important developments in medical science: world-shaking […]

I’ll tak’ it to avizandum

A lawyer without history or literature is a mechanic, a mere working mason; if he possesses some knowledge of these, he may venture to call himself an architect. —Sir Walter Scott, Guy Mannering Law is the basis for all literature. It is what the written word was created for. Folk memory could bear the thread of […]

As Others See Us

[…] others, when the bagpipe sings i’ the nose, Cannot contain their urine […] Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice The Scots are oddities, there’s no denying it: the most reliably peculiar inhabitants of the British Isles, blessed with a plethora of shibboleths, a host of identity tags from kilts and cabers, haggises and havers, to Whisky […]

The Only Art is to Omit

In this issue of The Bottle Imp, we celebrate the work—the art—of Robert Louis Stevenson. Why such focus on a single writer? Of course, we owe our very name to one of Stevenson’s South Sea stories, so perhaps we are biased: the first seven editions of the Norton Anthology of English Literature do not give him house room; and the Oxford […]

The Outward Urge

“The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads to England”, said Samuel Johnson. Like many of his countrymen his vision was impaired by the Great Wen: why else would he utter such a sadly parochial statement? As an Englishman – even more so as a Londoner – Johnson imagined […]

Tartan Nation

Once you can accept the universe as being something expanding into an infinite nothing which is something, wearing stripes with plaid is easy. — Albert Einstein Tartan is significant. Famously it was banned by the Hanoverian regime, following the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Later rebels of other sorts have taken to it too, from mohawk’d […]

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