Edinburgh is known as the birthplace of Robert Louis Stevenson, one of the greatest Scottish writers, but did you know that the city’s history is wrapped up in the lives of many more famous novelists and poets? 

A tour around the city reveals remembrances of some of history’s finest authors. It isn’t called the “Athens of the North” for nothing.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 

Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle is of course known for creating the best-beloved fictional detective of all time, Sherlock Holmes. Raised in a squalid tenement and educated as a physician, Conan Doyle began writing short stories early; his earliest surviving work of fiction is The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe. He couldn’t get it published, but persevered to become an internationally popular author. 
Like his pipe-smoking detective, Conan Doyle was a fervent advocate of justice, and he was responsible for exonerating two men who had been condemned in closed cases. He also wrote more than just detective novels, delving into fantasy, science fiction, plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction and historical novels. 

Sir Walter Scott 

One of those few artists who gains international notoriety during his lifetime, Walter Scott was a man of great talent. Struck lame by a childhood bout of polio and taught to read by a loving aunt, he got Scotland’s oral tradition ingrained deep into his blood quite early, and that sensibility never left him. 
He learned the traditional tales of his homeland and began writing professionally at age 25. After a further 17 years of writing he was offered the position of Poet Laureate. His most famous works are easily recognizable today: Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, The Lady of the Lake, and The Bride of Lammermoor.

Kenneth Grahame 

This name ought to be familiar to the millions of children who grew up with the classics The Wind in the Willows and The Reluctant Dragon. Grahame has had fans from U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt to the kids who enjoyed Disney’s animated film versions of his books.
The stories are sweet, but Grahame’s life story is a little tragic. Uncared for by his parents, he was raised in his grandmother’s spacious, dilapidated home (which probably inspired the setting of Wind in the Willows). Denied the chance of going to college, he became a banker. His only child committed suicide before he his 20th birthday. Grahame’s epitaph reads, “To the beautiful memory of Kenneth Grahame, husband of Elspeth and father of Alastair, who passed the river on the 6th of July, 1932, leaving childhood and literature through him the more blest for all time”

Muriel Spark 

In 2008 The Times newspaper awarded Spark eighth place in its list of “the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.” Her unremarkable beginnings as an English teacher and department store secretary belied her future fame.
After World War II and her conversion to Catholicism, Spark began to write novels. She is perhaps best known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, published in 1961, which tells the story of six ten-year-old girls going to school in 1930s Edinburgh. 
Daniel Ogren [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

J.K. Rowling 

Arguably Britain’s most famous contemporary authoress, Rowling is known for the Harry Potter fantasy series, as well as her latest novel written for adults, The Casual Vacancy
Her story is inspiring. She went from feeling like a failure as a single mum living on welfare, trying to find a few spare minutes to write about an enchanted world of her imagination, to becoming the second-richest female entertainer in the world (right after Oprah). A fabulous author and generous philanthropist, Rowling has a great future ahead of her.
By TimDuncan (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons

Alexander McCall Smith 

Though he was born in what is now Zimbabwe and has done inspiring work in Africa, Smith studied law at the University of Edinburgh and lives in the city today with his family. 
His popular novels in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series are set in Botswana, and he has also set stories in Edinburgh. An amateur bassoonist and one-time Professor of Medical Law, Smith has a varied background to say the least.
By TimDuncan (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons

Ian Rankin

To end with another prominent Scottish mystery writer, Rankin is the author of the Inspector Rebus novels which follow an old-fashioned detective inspector around the more dangerous parts of Edinburgh. Rankin’s style is rather hardboiled, and has been called “Tartan Noir.”

Educated at the University of Edinburgh, he has written steadily since 1986, and I think we can expect much more of Inspector Rebus in the future.

Set in Edinburgh

Countless books have been set in the gritty Northern capital. Iconic masterpieces like Kidnapped and The prime of Miss Jean Brodie as well as more modern works such as 44 Scotland Street and One Day prove that Edinburgh has been a muse to many.
How many of these authors have you read?


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Written by Abigail Young

I've had a passion for everything British my entire life, despite being raised as a small-town girl in the American Midwest, After years of dreaming, I got the chance to live and work in England for an entire year. Now I write about my favorite country, and hopefully inspire my fellow Britophiles to get over there and experience it for themselves.

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