5 Writers of Edinburgh You Might Not Know (Advanced)

Did you know that Edinburgh is the world’s first UNESCO city of literature? Visitors to this city understand how it has attracted so many writers from all over the world. Whether it’s the Georgian buildings, the majestic scenery or the spiral towers, writers from the past and the present have come to Scotland to be inspired, expand their imaginations, explore their creativity and, most importantly, write.

Without these creative minds, we might not have such literary characters as Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes or Robinson Crusoe. Among the many literary icons are the ghosts of writers passed; from Walter Scott to Arthur Conan Doyle, J.M. Barrie to Robert Louis Stevenson. There are the celebrity writers – JK Rowling, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid – some grew up in Scotland, others raced up here for the freedom. This list is a mix of both Scottish writers and those that have come to Edinburgh to live and write. If you think this will be a list of dead white guys, you are mistaken.  


  • Gusto (noun) enjoyment and enthusiasm in doing something.
  • Majestic (adjective) having or showing impressive beauty or scale.
  • Spiral (noun) a spiral curve, shape, pattern, or object.
  • Born and bred (phrase of born) by birth and upbringing, especially with reference to someone considered a typical product of a place.
  • Ranked (verb) give (someone or something) a position or place within a grading system.
  • Century (noun) a period of one hundred years.
  • Contemporary (adjective) living or occurring at the same time.
  • Left her mark (phrase) If someone or something leaves their mark or leaves a mark, they have a lasting effect on another person or thing.
  • Contribute (verb) give (something, especially money) in order to help achieve or provide something.
  • Nobel laureate – an individual who has made outstanding contributions in the field of literature.
  • Premiere (noun) the first performance of a musical or theatrical work or the first showing of a film.
  • Serial novel (noun) a work of fiction that is published in sequential pieces.
  • Testament (noun) a person’s will, especially the part relating to personal property.

Robert Burns

No list of Scottish writers would be complete without mentioning Robert Burns. In Scotland the 25th of January is a big day: it’s Burns’ day. Celebrating the author of classics such as ‘To A Mouse’, ‘The Battle of Sherramuir’, ‘A Man’s A Man for A That’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Although Burns was born in Alloway, Ayrshire and died in Dumfries, he did come to Edinburgh, and he came by donkey.

When I stepped back and considered an entire day dedicated to a poet, I thought to myself, where else in the UK do we celebrate poets with as much gusto? I thought of my hometown, Cardiff, where my fellow Cardiffians are known to point out the church, where Roald Dahl was baptised or that it’s one of Dahl’s publishing anniversaries. We don’t have a Roald Dahl day. So Burns’ day is something special. It’s something that makes Scotland all the more impressive. It’s something that really makes Edinburgh a city of literature.

Dame Muriel Spark

A century ago, Dame Muriel Spark came into this world. Born and bred in Bruntsfield, Edinburgh, Muriel Spark was a writer, critic and traveller. She lived in Rome, New York, Tuscany and London, among many other places. She was the editor of the Poetry Review in the 1940s which made Spark one of the only female editors at the time. Her first novel was The Comforters which she published in 1957 however it was her 1961 novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie that made her a household name, putting her in the highest rank of contemporary Scottish writers. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is ranked number 76 in the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

Kate Atkinson

Although not Scottish, Kate Atkinson is one of our writers that moved to Scotland for university and remained. In 1995 she published her first book, Behind the Scenes at the Museum which won the Whitebread Book of the Year prize. She has won the Costa novel award twice, for Life After Life and A God in Ruins. She has written two plays for the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, one of which premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Atkinson is very much a part of the Edinburgh culture scene – contributing to newspapers and magazines, as well as working on her fiction.

Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith is a household name in Scotland. Smith was born in Zimbabwe and educated both there and in Scotland. He worked as a Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh but retired in 2005 to concentrate on his writing career. He is best known for his detective series, The No. 1 Detective Agency which gained him two Judges’ Special Recommendations at the Booker Prize for Fiction. In addition, Smith published a serial novel through The Scotsman newspaper called 44 Scotland Street. This may seem like a small thing but it’s worth noting that writers such as Dickens used to publish novels in newspapers and the fact that Smith still does this is a testament to his literature, his dedication and his drive. Alexander McCall Smith lives in Edinburgh and plays in the popular ‘Really Terrible Orchestra’.

Ali Smith

Described as “Scotland’s Nobel laureate-in-waiting”, Ali Smith is best known for novels such as The Accidental, How to Be Both (which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2014) and her cycle of seasonal novels, starting with Autumn. Originally from Inverness, Smith moved to Cambridge to study for her PhD in American and Irish modernism. She then moved to Edinburgh where she worked as a lecturer of Scottish, English and American literature. Although she has since moved away from Edinburgh she is a prominent figure at the Edinburgh Book Festival and has left her mark upon the city. She is of the same ilk as short story writers – fluid but with a deep control over her words

Come and experience the magic of Edinburgh!

Book your place on the Edinburgh Intrepid English Experience. With courses in May and September 2019, you have the opportunity to come and see why Edinburgh has inspired so many brilliant minds throughout history. To join us in May or September, please email us at Intrepid English to find out more, or book a free trial lesson with Lorraine.

If you have any questions, or you would like to request a topic for a future blog, you can contact us here or email us at Intrepid English










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