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Famous Scottish Writers - Part One

Updated on October 23, 2013

Scottish writers often get thrown into the mix when English Literature is considered. Burns and Doyle and Stevenson are lined up next to Austen and Dickens and Shakespeare. But the truth of the matter is, writers from Scotland have their own unique voice. They have a dialect, culture, and perspective all their own.

Check out the famous Scottish authors listed below... I bet you didn't know they were all from Scotland! You will find short biographies, photographs, lists of notable works, as well as links to buy the writers' books on Amazon. Enjoy, and leave comments below!

R.M. Ballantyne

Born: April 24, 1825

Died: February 8, 1894

Robert Michael Ballantyne is well known for his adventure novels written for young adults. He was a prolific author (with almost one hundred novels under his belt!) who sought first-hand experience to give his writing depth.

Life: R.M. Ballantyne was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1825. His family was involved in the book-publishing industry; they even published some of Sir Walter Scott’s works. When Ballantyne was only sixteen years old, he began to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada. He returned to Scotland six years later and published his first book, Hudson’s Bay: or, Life in the Wilds of North America. Ballantyne worked sometime in the publishing business, but eventually concentrated on writing. Throughout his life, he wrote many adventure books, such as The Coral Island, which were geared toward young men. Robert Louis Stevenson (who was inspired by reading The Coral Island as a teenager) nicknamed this author “Ballantyne the Brave.” He died in Rome in 1894.

Notable Works:

The Hudson's Bay Company (1848)

The Coral Island (1857)

Personal Reminiscences of Book Making (1893)

J.M. Barrie

Born: May 9, 1860

Died: June 19, 1937

Sir James Matthew Barrie is best known as the creator of Peter Pan, which began as a play. He wrote a number of plays as well as novels, but his legacy will remain in the hands of the little boy who never grows up.


J.M Barrie was born in Kirriemuir, Scotland in 1860. He began his literary career as a journalist and drama critic. He grew in popularity as he wrote Scottish-life stories and, later on, plays. In 1894, Barrie married the actress Mary Ansell. They had no children, and eventually divorced in 1909 due to Mary’s affair with Gilbert Cannan. Barrie formed a lifelong friendship with the Llewellyn Davies family, starting in 1897. When their father, Arthur, died in 1907, Barrie helped the family out with finances. Sylvia, the mother, died in 1910, directing in her will that Barrie be co-guardian of her five sons. Barrie’s most notable work, Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, was first performed in 1904. This beloved story has been a huge cultural influence in the past century. There has even been a “syndrome” named after it – The Peter Pan Syndrome. In 1913, Barrie was knighted. J.M. Barrie died in 1937 of pneumonia.

Side note (because I’m a huge fan of Johnny Depp): A beautiful movie about J.M. Barrie was made in 2004, called Finding Neverland.

Notable Works:

Auld Licht Idylls (1888)

Sentimental Tommy (1896)

Margaret Ogilvy (1896)

Peter Pan (1904)

Dear Brutus (1917)

James Boswell

Born: October 29, 1740

Died: May 19, 1795

James Boswell, a writer in his own right, claims most of his fame from the name of another – Samuel Johnson. Boswell was a companion of Johnson and wrote one of the most famous biographies of all time – Life of Johnson. Boswell is also known for his extensive diaries.


James Boswell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1740. He was a sickly child, and was taken out of school to be instructed by tutors for a while in his youth. While he attended the University of Glasgow, Boswell determined to become a Catholic monk. His father forbade him, whereupon Boswell ran away for a time. His father regaining him, Boswell went back to school, eventually becoming a lawyer. Boswell spent a great deal of time traveling on the Continent, recording it in his journals. He married Margaret Montgomerie, his cousin, in 1769 with whom he had seven children. Boswell was wildly unfaithful, however, and he was often sick with venereal diseases. He was also addicted to alcohol and gambling. Boswell’s legacy came from his long friendship with Samuel Johnson, the famous English writer. After Johnson died, Boswell wrote his biography from a personal view, and Life of Johnson was published in 1791. Boswell, his health declining, died in 1795.

Notable Works:

The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)

"No Abolition of Slavery" (1791)

numerous journals 

Robert Burns

Born: January 25, 1759

Died: July 21, 1796

Robert Burns is considered the national poet of Scotland. There is even a holiday named after him – Robbie Burns Day on January 25. Burns wrote poetry during the Romantic Movement, like John Keats.

Life: Robert Burns was born in Alloway, Scotland in 1759. He worked much of his childhood on a farm and received a lot of his education at home. When Burns was sixteen, he wrote his first poem, “O, Once I Lov’d A Bonnie Lass.” He continued to write poetry on the side while he worked on the farm. Burns joined the Freemasons at the age of twenty two, and became a respected leader among them. Burns had numerous romantic relationships, and not a few children. In 1788, he married Jean Armour with whom he already had children. They eventually had nine children together. Burns wrote hundreds of well-loved poems and songs, exhibiting great skill in writing the Scot dialect. He also helped preserve many Scottish folk songs. However, Burns lacked business sense, and some say he was given to drink. Robert Burns died in 1796 at the age of thirty seven.

Notable Works:

"Holy Willie's Prayer" (1785)

"To a Mouse" (1785)

"Auld Lang Syne" (1788)

"Tam o' Shanter" (1790)

"My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose" (1794)


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Born: May 22, 1859

Died: July 7, 1930

Conan Doyle is considered a master at detective stories. His creation Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous detectives in the literary world. But Doyle wrote more than just mysteries; he also wrote science fiction, historical fiction, poetry, and more.

Life: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1859. He was close to his mother growing up, perhaps due to the fact that his father was an alcoholic and was eventually committed to an insane asylum. Doyle was given a Catholic education, but eventually became an agnostic. Doyle studied to be a doctor, while writing stories on the side. In 1885, he married Louisa Hawkins with whom he had two children. Louise died in 1906 from tuberculosis. A year later, Doyle married Elizabeth Leckie, who gave him three more children. Sherlock Holmes first appeared in the novel A Study in Scarlet in 1887. He had a long career fighting crime in fifty-six short stories and four novels. Doyle not only solved fictional mysteries, but he also helped bring two real-life cases to justice. He wrote some political pamphlets, and was knighted in 1902. Late in life, Doyle became involved in the beliefs of spiritualism, and was even convinced that Houdini had magical powers, despite Houdini’s own admittance to the contrary. Arthur Conan Doyle died of a heart attack in 1930.

Notable Works:

A Study in Scarlet (1887)

The White Company (1891)

The Adventures of Shelock Holmes (1892)

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902)

The Lost World (1912)


Kenneth Grahame

Born: March 8, 1859

Died: July 6, 1932

Kenneth Grahame was a writer whose most notable work was The Wind in the Willows, a children's book about talking animals.

Life: Kenneth Grahame was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1859. He, in fact, spent most of his growing up years in England with his grandmother, after his mother died. After going to school, Grahame worked at the Bank of England for almost thirty years. He married Elspeth Thomson in 1899, and they had one son, Alastair. Alastair, who was the inspiration for “Mr. Toad,” committed suicide before he reached his twentieth birthday. Grahame had small success publishing short stories, but his legacy is The Wind in the Willows, which was published in 1908. Kenneth Grahame died in 1932.

Notable Works:

Pagan Papers (1893)

The Golden Age (1895)

Dream Days (1898)

The Wind in the Willows (1908)


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    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      7 years ago from Michigan

      Evgeni, Kidnapped is on my "Someday" List :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Definitely read Kidnapped by RL Stevenson.

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      8 years ago from Michigan

      gulnazahmad, I'm glad you enjoyed this! These authors have written a lot of good books - happy reading!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      They all are great writers and their writing will be read again and again. I really enjoyed reading this one of your hub because from the list of these books I can choose for reading.

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      8 years ago from Michigan

      cdub77, thanks for your visit. Above you will find a link to Part Two :)

    • cdub77 profile image


      8 years ago from Portland Or

      Fascinating start to this series. I'm excited to read more of what you have to say on Scottish writers.

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks for reading, Ladybythelake... I'm part Scotch-Irish too :)

    • Ladybythelake55 profile image


      9 years ago from I was Born in Bethesda, Maryland and I live in Chicago,IL

      I am part Scottish and Irish and I love the Scottish poets and writers. Well done.

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      Pamela, thanks so much for reading! So many books, such a short lifetime...

      It's nice to meet a fellow Hawaii hubber!

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Dapples 

      9 years ago from Just Arizona Now

      Thanks for a very exciting hub which leads one to many new explorations; all those books you've mentioned.

      You and I both live in Hawaii. Recognize the Kinnaird name from Scotland?

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      I love them too! Thanks for visiting, habee!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 

      9 years ago from Georgia

      Love Barrie and Burns! Great job!

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      katiem2, I'm so glad you found me too :) I really appreciate the ratings! Scottish things (and especially people) are indeed fascinating. There really are a lot of Scottish authors. Thank you for reading!

    • katiem2 profile image

      Katie McMurray 

      9 years ago from Westerville

      Rose, WOW WOW WOW I'm so glad I found you. I love all things Scottish I can't wait to plow through your hubs, amazing titles. I loved this hub it's so packed with great information. Rate this up for sure. Writers from Scotland is particularly interesting. Thanks and Peace :)

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      Jane, what a great story about how you discovered Burns's house! Sometimes the best times are completely unexpected and unplanned. And I always think that it's incredibly enlightening to visit the place an author comes from.

      Funny you should ask about George MacDonald... There are so many authors from Scotland, that I made two hubs. MacDonald is in Part Two. (I couldn't very well forget him, you know, his Lilith was one of my favorites...)

    • Jane Grey profile image

      Ann Leavitt 

      9 years ago from Oregon

      What an incredible collection of bios! You have certainly done an immense amount of research. When my sister and I were in Scotland, we dashed inside a pub doorway to get out of the rain and to eat lunch. Turns out it was the Robert Burns Pub, and the walls were decorated with quotes and sayings and titles that he had written. We asked the waitress more about it, and she said we could visit Robert Burns' home just a few blocks down, which we did!

      One more thought-- are you familiar with George MacDonald, the inspiration of C. S. Lewis? He was a Scot through and through; his characters' thick Scottish brogue was hard to understand because of the strange spelling unless you read it aloud!

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      billyaustindillon, Burns's poetry is beautiful... you know, I've been meaning to watch that movie, only I am a bit afraid Downey, Jr. as Holmes just doesn't fit right. I guess I'll have to watch it to really see though.

    • billyaustindillon profile image


      9 years ago

      Great Hub - Robbie Burns one of the true legends of any nationality. Off the topic but I did see the new Sherlock Holmes movie the other day not bad and a some homage paid to Conan Doyle there.

    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      tonymac04, what nice childhood memories you have! There's just something special about parents reading bedtime stories to their children... I think my parents reading and telling stories to me is partly what gave me such a love for literature. Thanks so much for reading!

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      I really enjoyed reading this Hub as itbrought back many good memories of my childhood! I used to go to sleep most nights with my father reading to me from books like Ballantine's, Grahame's and Barrie's. And of course the great Rabbie Burns - who can forget him?

      Thanks so much

      Love and peace


    • Rose West profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose West 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      Kendall, you know Ivanhoe is just one of those books you know you should just read, but never get around to. At least, that's how it is for me :) Finding Neverland is the best - I just watched it again tonight.

      Muriel Spark - I confess I had not heard her name before, though I think I have heard of that movie. I'll have to look into that more - thanks for the tip! Nice to hear from you, as always!

    • Kendall H. profile image

      Kendall H. 

      9 years ago from Northern CA

      Lovely hub as always Rose! I've been meaning to read Ivanhoe for some time now. Now I must! Finding Neverland is one of my favorite films, excellent choice. The only other author I didn't find was Muriel Spark who wrote the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie set in Edinburgh during the 1930s. Maggie Smith won an academy award for her portrayal in the film. It's wonderful!


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