A Capital bid to book our rightful place in history
SHERLOCK HOLMES and Dr Watson, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver, even Toad and Ratty . . . they are immortal names in the world of adult and children’s literature, and they all originated in Edinburgh.
The city has been churning out great authors for centuries, yet you would be hard-pushed to know it given the apparent lack of promotion of Edinburgh’s great literary talents.
For while a web search for "Arthur Conan Doyle" throws up 262,000 matches, and search engine Google generates 236,000 results for "Robert Louis Stevenson", their home city doesn’t have a dedicated museum in commemoration of either.
Conan Doyle, creator of the perennially popular detective Sherlock Holmes and author of the world-famous Hound of the Baskervilles, has his very own Arthur Conan Doyle Society based in Canada. Yet all Edinburgh has hitherto been able to manage is a statue of Sherlock Holmes in Picardy Place. And even his childhood home of Liberton Bank House is set to be developed into a special school, rather than being turned into a museum celebrating the writer’s achievements.
Meanwhile, there are Robert Louis Stevenson museums in New York, California and Western Samoa, yet Edinburgh only devotes a section of its Writers’ Museum in Ladystairs Close to the author. And while there’s a small exhibition at the Hawes Inn in South Queensferry, where he was a frequent visitor, there is no statue in town to the author who gave us such gems as Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Kidnapped, A Child’s Garden of Verses and Travels with a Donkey.
And then there’s Walter Scott. The author of such famous works as Waverley, Marmion, Ivanhoe and The Heart of Midlothian is, of course, honoured in the form of the city’s famous monument in Princes Street Gardens. But a Scott museum is nowhere to be seen, despite the fact the whole of the Scottish tourist industry is based on the tartan and shortbread image he created of his native country.
More recently, Edinburgh has also turned out writers of the calibre of Muriel Spark, Kenneth Grahame, JK Rowling, Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin.
It all adds up to a pretty rich literary heritage by anyone’s standards and as a result begs the question: why isn’t the city making more of its world-famous writers - past and present? Are we really fully exploiting Edinburgh as a home of literary heritage, or could more be done to market the city as a literary hotspot?
The Arthur Conan Doyle Society certainly thinks more could be done - and is not surprised that one of the author’s homes is being turned into a school, rather than a museum. Society founder Christopher Roden says: "Edinburgh council had the opportunity to do something with his actual birthplace in Picardy Place years ago and instead decided to turn the area into a huge traffic roundabout.
"If the council had so little concern for Conan Doyle’s literary legacy to the city then, I don't see why they should feel any different now.
"Perhaps they feel it is sufficient that the city has a number of plaques and a Sherlock Holmes statue, and that the National Library of Scotland has one manuscript in the Blackwoods Archive and will receive a Sherlock Holmes manuscript under the late Dame Jean Conan Doyle’s will.
"But the problem is the window of opportunity to really celebrate Conan Doyle in his home town has been lost."
But Morris Paton, founder and director of the Scottish Literary Tour Trust, who has been operating the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour since 1996, disagrees that it’s too late. "It would be fair to say we haven’t really fully exploited our capacity to charm and woo international visitors to the city who are interested in literature. I don’t think the potential has been identified. We really need to attract more people into the city to explore the cultural heritage of Edinburgh in a more accessible way.
"Edinburgh has a very rich literary heritage, and it’s never too soon to start paying acute attention to our cultural heritage if we’re going to try to compete with the rest of the world," he says.
"The Scottish Writers’ Museum is a beautiful building, but it’s much too small and dated. There is perhaps something to be said for creating a new building for all our writers. Stevenson is one of our greatest unsung writers, so much more could be done to celebrate his life, and as for the development of Conan Doyle’s house, it stands to reason that key buildings like that should undergo a very thorough investigation before anything is done to them."
However, Paton is doing his bit. From May to October, he takes 30 to 40 visitors a day on a literary tour of Edinburgh, which begins at the Beehive Inn in the Grassmarket (where Robert Burns was thought to drink in the 1700s). Whether his tour will take in the 20ft statue of Stevenson’s famous Kidnapped heroes, David Balfour and Alan Breck, when it’s finally erected on the corner of Corstorphine Road and Ellersly Road, is yet to be seen.
But Paton says he "strives to raise awareness of Scotland’s rich literary history throughout the UK and abroad" through his tours and education packages for schools. "We’re comfortably carrying in excess of 10,000 people every year," says Paton, who also runs the tours four evenings a week during low season. "The Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour is now recognised as one of the must-do tours."
Yet he says things need to be developed. "We did a market survey two years ago where we polled people’s opinion as to how interested they would be in other kinds of literary tours. Eighty-one per cent of all respondents said they would be interested in engaging with a wider literary tour of Edinburgh."
It certainly seems to be a market worth exploiting. Back in 2000, the British Tourist Authority said cultural tourism accounted for 37 per cent of world travel, and it was growing at a rate of 15 per cent a year. But, according to the Edinburgh and Lothians Tourist Board, the problem is that literary tourism is too much of a specialist market to promote in a huge way.
"There are many aspects to tourism in Edinburgh and the Lothians, of which literature is just one. It is something of a niche market, like golf or genealogy, for example, and we have to market it accordingly," says a spokeswoman.
"However we have used Edinburgh’s literary connections in promotional campaigns for several years now, including quotes about the city from famous literary figures such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Ian Rankin.
"We also have a database of over 1100 people who are interested in receiving updates and information on literary events and tours in the city and who we contact on a fairly regular basis, and we promote cultural-themed short breaks through our Short Breaks website, which is one of our biggest marketing tools.
"The Writers’ Museum and Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour are members of the board and are included in our publicity material, and we are also supporting Edinburgh’s bid to be the Unesco World City of Literature."
Yes, you might not be aware, but Edinburgh is competing with Dublin, London and Oxford to be crowned the first World City of Literature. If successful, the move is expected to see the promotion of the Canongate area of the Royal Mile - where a statue to poet Robert Fergusson will soon be erected after years of debate - as a literary quarter.
Literary agent Jenny Brown, a former director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, is the project manager for the Unesco bid. "We’re putting a dossier for submission to Unesco this October and we expect to hear a year later," she explains.
The dossier, she says, will "highlight Edinburgh’s literary activity past and present, would include writing from Scott and Stevenson up to the present day, with writers like Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh and publishers like the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Canongate".
She adds: "There’s not very many cities where the main railway station is named after a set of novels and you come out and see a monument to the author of those novels. A literature centre is developing around the Royal Mile, with the Scottish Poetry Library, the Scottish Book Trust, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, the new Children’s Book Centre, Canongate Publishing, the Writers’ Museum, the Makar’s Court, as well as the National Library and the Central Library.
"In addition, there is the world-famous Book Festival. There’s a great deal happening with literature in Scotland and Edinburgh at the moment. This project is aiming to celebrate Scottish lit, highlight what’s here in Scotland and make international connections. It would also very much be one of our hopes that there could be some kind of redevelopment of the Writers’ Museum - something endorsed by the international writers’ association, PEN, and the Saltire Society."
Chaired by James Boyle, the chairman of the Scottish Arts Council, the Edinburgh World City of Literature Initiative committee features big names in the literary world, including Catherine Lockerbie, director of the Book Festival; Lorraine Fannon of the Scottish Publishers’ Association; Edinburgh and Glasgow city councils; Napier and Edinburgh universities; the National Library of Scotland; Ian Rankin; the Book Trust; Scottish Poetry Library; Ottakar’s, and Canongate publishers, with 100,000 in funding from the SAC and the Scottish Executive.
Meanwhile, Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh and Lothian is currently conducting an economic impact study of what it would mean for Edinburgh to gain the accolade.
"Looking at the other contenders, Edinburgh has definitely got a better case," says Rebus creator Rankin. "Edinburgh’s literary heritage has been going on for hundreds of years and the place is every bit as vibrant now as it was hundreds of years ago.
"You can start with Scott and Stevenson and Burns, then Muriel Spark, and now you’ve got Irvine Welsh and JK Rowling. Edinburgh has always punched above its weight. Try and name me another city of half a million people that has got such a strong literary heritage.
"We’ve also got a first-rate publisher in Canongate Books and we’ve got a series of best-selling writers. As well as a past, we’ve got a literary present that puts us in the premier league. If any city around the world is known for its writing, it’s Edinburgh."
And, says Lockerbie: "Edinburgh is a city with such a profound literary history. Now we’ve got some of the world’s best-selling writers living in the city. We’ve got the world’s biggest book festival - we have doubled our audience in the last three years. It’s a very startling and powerful demonstration that people are hungry to know more about books and literature."
But she admits Edinburgh needs to capitalise more on its literary heritage. "We have the greatest arts festivals in the world, but the bit that’s missing from the equation is this extraordinary legacy from the past and dynamism in the present [which] we should be celebrating and utilising to its fullest potential.
"Anyone, anywhere in the world, interested in literature should have Edinburgh on their mental map."
The Lord Provost has also given her endorsement to the World City of Literature bid. "We are doing all we can to assist this bid," says a spokeswoman. "Edinburgh has a rich and diverse literary heritage which is, and should continue to be, enjoyed and promoted at all levels."
With any luck, says Lockerbie: "In a few years’ time Edinburgh will be renowned as a literary capital."
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