William McIlvanney or Willie to his nearest and dearest was single-handedly responsible for the genre of Tartan Noir, the bleak and rainy Glaswegian streets, grisly crime screnes steeped in whisky and venomous characters that were the stomping ground of characters like Inspector Laidlaw (changed to Taggart for the famous TV show).
All other Scottish crime writers like Ian Rankin and so on, were only dreaming of their creations before him and all other Scottish writers are influenced by him. McIlvanney is the writer’s writer. He was born into a working class family from Kilmarnock (a town 30 miles out of Glasgow) during the war years. He vividly depicted the beauty, heroism sorrow at the heart of Scottish working class life.
In Docherty, probably one of my favourite books, and listed as one of the 100 best Scottish books of all time. McIlvanney takes us into the strangely familiar surrounds of a west coast town (the Kilmarnock of his youth becomes the fictional Graithnock) at the beginning of the 20th Century. Central character, miner Tam Docherty has an impulse to do the right thing which often ends to troubling violence. Tam and his sons Conn, Angus and Michael wrestle with inarticulacy about how they can properly express their experiences of poverty, hard labour, war and love.
It was his stated purpose to create a series of books that would give flesh to “the unfulfilled stature” of people’s dreams, or at least their daily struggle.
It’s the kind of writing and kind of story that stays in your mind long after you’ve finished it. After reading Docherty, I saw McIlvanney at the 2013 Edinburgh Book Festival and listened to him read it live to the crowd. There was a visible hush of awe in the audience as he read. A whole generation of grey haired people born during the war in Scotland all nodded in deep kinship to the reading. Here was a man who could reach into the psyche of what it means to be Scottish. Who could accurately capture a sense of time and place, the right mix of personal, social and political and made it come together with seamless craftsmanship.
He was a tall, dapper good-looking guy with a wispy moustache and high cheekbones
McIlvanney wrote his novels longhand and then got them typed up
Read more on his lovingly maintained personal blog – Personal Dispatches