Back Issues

The Bottle Imp was first published in May 2007. You can browse all our back issues here:

Scotland is the land of the Scots. To what extent are the Scots the people of the land which bears them? Landscape settles into language, hills and lochs and stones are built up into stories. Moods shift like wind on water: clouds scud, sun gleams, snow falls, ice cracks. Environment informs us, infuses us: quite literally, from our bones on up, it is the making of us. In this issue, we go for a stravaig into Scotland — Caledonia stern and wild, that fairyland of poesy, deer on high hills, shipyard, kailyard, fernie brae and all — in search of its natural heart.

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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). But — controversial, I know — might there be a tad more to Scott than everything we already know about him, having never read him? He did more-or-less invent the historical novel, after all. And his stuff was popular. I mean, wildly popular, from Siberia to Alaska and back round again the other way.

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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 highlights include, but are by no means limited to, the clinical trial; the general anaesthetic; the hypodermic syringe; penicillin; beta-blockers; ultrasound scanners; full-body MRI; the Glasgow coma scale; and apoptosis. On the other, we might consider the deep-fried Mars bar; alcoholism; and the phrase “just an ordinary sword”. It is remarkable that so much effort has been expended in the fight against sickness and untimely death by a nation whose people sometimes seem to pursue those ends with such wanton abandon. Scotland’s medical schools blossomed in the Enlightenment, and Scottish doctors and surgeons came to dominate the field. It’s not surprising, then, that there should be such an overlap in Scotland between leeches and letters.

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Stevenson — widely celebrated in his lifetime, and in the years following his untimely, early death — suffered an artistic eclipse in the aftermath of the First World War. Perhaps, like Sir Walter Scott, he was too associated with that prelapsarian Victorian age, too much a favourite of the old men; perhaps as well he failed to fit within the modern structures of literary criticism being raised in clean concrete on the ruins of the nineteenth century. A minor writer, a purveyor of sea-stories, of boys’ adventures; not fit for adult consideration, among the bakelite and aspidistras of last century’s avant-garde But times have changed, and are changing still. The odd half-baked opinion aside, Stevenson is now receiving the recognition his life and work deserves. Strongly, proudly Scottish, and at the same time international, a world writer and writer of the world, Stevenson is an artist whom few can equal.

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Are we Scots more naturally adventurous, then? Going a-roving and a-reiving have been Scottish specialities, celebrated in poetry, prose and song, since the days of Dál Riata. We have breenged, wambled and jouked across the globe, for god, king, and country, fun and profit, romance, revenge, science and spite. High roads and low roads, we’ve taken them all, and got in there early, too, most times. The first bootprints on the moon belonged to an Armstrong: no surprise to those who know the folk of Liddesdale. In this issue, The Bottle Imp sniffs out the trail of some of our nation’s greatest wanderers.

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Tartan makes a good blanket term to drape across Scotland, this country which it has colonised for its own. Our warps and wefts cut over and under each other, threads running down through history and across geography: green and gold, black and white, red white and blue; woven by time and far from finished yet. Bloodlines mix and mingle, peoples shuttle in and shuttle out; diasporas loom large. In this issue, The Bottle Imptakes on issues of ethnicity and notions of nationality, and looks to tease out some home truths, and waulk the line between fact and fancy.

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This issue, The Bottle Imp inflates its lungs, throws back its head, opens its mouth and belts one out – or rather, several, as we wax lyrical about Scotland’s songs. Music, song and literature have always intertwined, of course, and nowhere more so than here. Perhaps it’s the bardic tradition, or the close-grained friction between the oral and the written cultures – Scottish writers and musicians have been crossing over each other for a very long time …

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For this issue, The Bottle Imp pokes its nose into the world of children’s literature – that strange country where every work is in translation. Scotland’s books are no strangers to controversy in this field, from accusations of racism directed at Helen Bannerman’s Little Black Sambo to accusations of Satanism aimed at J K Rowling’s Harry Potter books. There are other forms of censors, too: we shall find one peculiar to this corner of the world, planted not in a pulpit but instead behind the eyes, lodged within the heads of Scotland’s children.

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Readers of a nervous disposition, turn away! This issue of The Bottle Imp pursues the spectre of the Gothic. Naught but ruined towers, blasted heaths, and cold wastes lie within. Scotland takes the Gothic to heart, and it is engrained in our literature. Hardly a single Scottish writer is wholly free from its cold fingers. Stevenson was so wrapped up in it he couldn’t keep it out, even from his Boys Adventure stories; think of Treasure Island‘s Israel Hands, or the strange, disturbing ‘Tale of Tod Lapraik’ which lurks between the pages of Catriona, waiting to pounce on the unwary reader …

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