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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.
Ken McGoogan
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No rest for the wicked

Back from sailing in the Northwest Passage, our hero shifts into high gear. . . .
Monday, Oct. 19, 1 p.m., lectures at LIFE in Association with Ryerson University on the history and geography of the Arctic.
Wednesday, Oct. 21, 6:30 p.m., reads and entertains in The EH List Author Series at the Toronto Public Library, Northern District, 40 Orchard View Blvd.
Saturday, Oct. 24, 1 p.m., moderates a panel discussion on Writing Scotland's Past at the International Festival of Authors. Lakeside Terrace, 235 Queen's Quay West.
Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.