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Another Country by John Herdman


Another Country

An Era in Scottish Politics and Letters

Much of the history of the literary-political Edinburgh of the 1960s and 1970s is either already forgotten or unknown to younger generations of writers and readers. John Herdman's memoirs restore to us some of that lost history. This new and revised edition will be welcomed by those who were there, and those who were not can now be astonished by events that involved backstabbing and territorial infighting amongsth poets, national firebrands and luminaries of Edinburgh pubs. But here are also sharp insights into McDiarmid, MacLean, MacCaig and many another writer. In the second part of the book Herdman takes a more distanced but always keen look at the literary tensions and controversies of the period.


'A highly perceptive critic' — John Burnside, Scotsman

'Every so often... something delicious comes through the post. John Herdman's account of an er in Scottish politics conforms delightfully to the dictum that brevity id the soul of wit... This little memoir is a labour of love... Herdman parades a series of characters, describing them with a keen eye for the ridiculous but nearly always with an amused affection. For all their eccentricities, they played their part in the creation of the political concensus that has now led to a Scottish Parliament.' — Arnold Kemp, Sunday Times

My Wife's Lovers, Ghostwriting, Imelda and The Sinister Cabaret are available direct from publishers Black Ace for £9.95 [P&P free]

My Wife's Lovers by John Herdman


My Wife's Lovers

This collection of ten tales, by one of Scotland's foremost practitioners of the novella and short story, is remarkable for its range and variety: from the virtual-documentary to the outlandishly surreal; from the comic and satirical to the uncanny and disturbing.
With his customary playful inventiveness, Herdman moves lightly from the moral equivocations of a desperate literary biographer, in pursuit of a femme fatale, to the sad case of a heretical clergyman who goes on fire during a country church service; from the nostalgic memories of an ageing Scottish Nationalist to social-class farce and mayhem on a luxury-cruise liner.
But all this diversity is held together by the author's highly individual style and by his underlying thematic preoccupation with perennial questions of truth and delusion. Thus, the stories presented in this volume continue the dark exploration of ambiguous worlds familiar to readers of Imelda, Ghostwriting, and The Sinister Cabaret.



"He has a lively imagination, sometimes fantastic, sometimes dark ... The combination of fancy and reason which characterises his stories is very agreeable."
"...witty, original, clever and humane."
Allan Massie, The Scotsman.

"exquisite tension, tales that are often disturbing, even when they are grimly humorous... Herdman's prose pursues the complex and the elusive... he exposes the void at the heart of selfhood, and lets us see just how rich and complex that void is."
John Burnside, Scotland on Sunday.

"Herdman is an experienced author of novels and short stories and has a distinctive voice. His narratives have a clarity of a kind that presents limitless uncertainties... This author should be better known."
Nicholas Clee, The Guardian.

"Staying power does not come by accident, and all the hallmarks of Herdman's experience are on display here - his ability to evoke laughter from serious subjects, to display erudition without alienating his readers and to deal at once passionately and delicately with powerful material, lending an overriding sense of craftsmanship to his work ... Herdman traverses an impressive stylistic, linguistic and emotional range ... Where John Herdman is concerned, normal service is a high standard indeed."
Andy Gloege, Edinburgh Review.



The Sinister Cabaret

When Douglas Humbie, an Edinburgh advocate in the throes of mid-life crisis, sets off for a short break in the West Highlands, he seems only to be adding to his troubles. He soon finds himself in a hostile and threatening environment, in which inexplicable and disturbing events occur, and, worst of all, he is haunted by a malevolent troupe of strolling players led by the chameleon-like Mr Motion.

Fearing that his enemies have made off with his wife, Donald takes to the hills in search of the private detective he believes can help him solve his problems. After further bewildering adventures on the journey, at Ben Despair Lodge and the strange village of Cul an Duirn, he finally makes contact with the detective, MacNucator, who leads him on a new inner journey into his past, in search of the clues which he hopes will break the grip of his tormentors. But Donald is not out of the woods yet .....

In the Sinister Cabaret John Herdman continues the exploration of extreme states of mind and ambiguous interior worlds with the Gothic imagination which has led critics to compare him with James Hogg and R L Stevenson.

Read sample chapters on the Black Ace Books site


"He continues a tradition of Scottish surrealism which has been around since Hogg and Galt."
The Herald

"Herdman's writing is a feat of great wit and invention."
Scotland on Sunday

".... skillfully treads a vertiginous edge between satiric comedy and high seriousness."

"The key to understanding Herdman's work is to recognize the colossal and ubiquitous presence of Dostoyevsky. This makes Herdman that rare creature - one whose writing of Scotland and the Scottish is refracted through the lens of the European tradition."
Macdonald Daly

"a fiction writer of skill and ingenuity whose constant shifts and turns perplex and beguile his readers as he weaves prose narratives of surreal power and sharp satirical bite.... The Sinister Cabaret is an intelligent, disturbing, quietly compelling novel: if you have yet to discover Herdman's work, pick up a copy, and treat yourself to something a little different on a cold winter's night."
John Burnside, The Scotsman

"The narrative combines a series of journeys and encounters, an atmosphere compounded of nightmare, comedy and erudition, which is uniquely Herdman... There is a quality of surreal experience, comic nastiness, metaphysical horror ... the always gripping narrative becomes intense and moving."
Isobel Murray, The Herald & Scottish Studies Review

"It is a tribute to Herdman's writing that he evokes so many writers without ever seeming to imitate them .. the quality of Herdman's fantastic imaginings commands respect."
Christopher Whyte, Scotland on Sunday

"This is a rich, complex and deeply rewarding book ... It is arguably the author's finest work of fiction .. The book builds to a tremendous climax and has a startling surprise at the end. This book is a major contribution to modern Scottish fiction and confirms Herdman's importance as an outstanding and singular novelist of the absurd."
Ronald Binns, Amazon review


Order Ghostwriting


When Leonard Balmain is asked to 'ghost' the autobiography of the mysterious Torquil Tod, he finds himself drawn into an unwanted complicity with the dark revelations unfolding within the story.

When Tod's tale turns into murder and sexual betrayal, Leonard realises he knows too much and is in danger of ending up on the very pages of Tod's turbulent history.

A subtle and controlled tale of doubles and confused identities, this latest offering confirms Herdman's reputation as a worthy successor to James Hogg and R L Stevenson.


"It is a dark, cautionary tale, utterly compelling and charged with Herdman's unwavering sense of irony and his sharp satirical bite..... a writer very clearly on top of his craft, with wit, subtlety and great panache."
Brian McCabe, The Scotsman

"It is a story of deception and betrayal, of obsession and confused identities, but more importantly it is Herdman's best novel."
Carl MacDougall, The Herald

" his powerful evocation of the uncanny psychological bonding between ghost biographer Leonard Balmain and his elusive and sinister subject, Torquil Tod..... Herdman captures very clearly the tone of the dramatic monologues of Hogg and Stevenson, while managing to maintain a contemporary resonance."
Douglas Gifford, Books in Scotland

"Hogg's and Stevenson's manic private memorists meet the postmodernist theories they anticipated.... Cleverly, Ghostwriting investigate[s] the paradoxes of narrative itself ... The novel wears its intellectual sophistication lightly."
Gavin Wallace, Chapman


Douglas Gifford, Books in Scotland No. 59, Autumn 1996, pp 3-4
Gavin Wallace, Chapman No. 87, Autumn 1997, pp 95-97


Order Imelda

Imelda and other stories

What is the secret surrounding the birth of Imelda's child? John Herdman's dark tale presents us with two contradictory accounts of events which lead to madness and death for the scions of a genteel Border family. The reader is invited to decide which testimony, if either, is to be relied upon.

The short stories show superbly the familiar Herdman preoccupations: reckless and unreliable narrators, states of mind bordering on the insane, and partially submerged complexes which erupt into the normal circumstances of life with surreal and unforgettable results.


"Imelda reads like a substantial work of fiction .... a disturbing, grotesquely comic and compelling tale ... irresistible in its intensity ... Imelda is an engaging and arresting psychological study, and it shows Herdman at his very best."
Brian McCabe, The Scotsman

"Imelda establishes itself from the start as a gripping, substantial tale."
Tom Adair, Scotland on Sunday

"..... master of a unique, dry, grotesquely humorous voice .... Imelda is the centrepiece .... a masterly mingling of the petty and the paranoid, the pathetic and the boastful, the credible and the incredible .... Herdman deserves to be much more widely known; this subtle, assured little masterpiece should go a long way to establishing him among our foremost novelists."
Douglas Gifford, Books in Scotland

".... this dark, tragic story .... Imelda is nightmarish in both its subject and means of narration - and yet is completely and utterly compelling."
Angela Finlayson, Chapman

"Herdman continues a tradition of Scottish surrealism which has been around since Hogg and Galt ... "The Devil and Dr Tuberose" ... has the focus and assurance of a small classic."
Carl MacDougall, The Glasgow Herald

"A sharp satire on the academic life, ["The Devil and Dr Tuberose"] makes Bradbury and Sharpe seem flabby by comparison .... the infectious waltz of Herdman's narrative .... Herdman's writing is a feat of great wit and invention."
Julie Morrice, Scotland on Sunday


Douglas Gifford, Books in Scotland No. 47, Autumn 1993, pp 1-2
Angela Finlayson, Chapman No. 81, 1995, pp 91-92


Order Four Tales

Four Tales

The four tales at long last brought into print again. Here are the most substantial fruit of John Herdman's mature work of the late 1960s and early 1970s. While they represent both the development and variety of his style and themes, they also exhibit constancies of preoccupation. Herdman's concerns for questions of the will and self-assertion, with individuals
acting in defiance of society, for the investigation of personal hubris and the description of identity crisis, are mediated by influences which range
from Kafka to Beckett, Bunyan to Joyce, Nietzsche to Stevenson, Rilke to Hogg. In his critical introduction, specially commissioned for this volume, Macdonald Daly argues that the key to understanding Herdman's work
is to recognise also the colossal and ubiquitous presence of Dostoyevsky.
This makes Herdman that rare creature - one whose writing of Scotland and the Scottish is refracted through the lens of the European tradition.
The collection comprises:

* A Truth Lover
* Memoirs of My Aunt Minnie
* Pagan's Pilgrimage
* Clapperton


"I was struck by Herdman's wry, philosophical bent, his acute sense of place and perception and anguish at the plight of the human condition .... But despite the pitch darkness and seriousness of his themes, Herdman is an appealing writer, with a clipped, laconic and lugubrious wit, capable of swiftly etching a scene .... goodness knows why John Herdman is not much better known than he is."
Alan Taylor, The Sunday Herald


"John Herdman's impressive first novel, A Truth Lover, is written as though it had been very well translated from the nineteenth-century Russian ... Mr Herdman and his book are much too good to be localised."
P.J. Kavanagh, The Guardian

"both brilliant and very moving indeed ... If there is to be any vigorous tradition of novel writing in Scotland then this is the kind of book which will open up that prospect."
Archie Hind, The Glasgow Herald

".... a very fine piece of imaginative writing .... This unusual novel whets one's interest in a new and most promising talent in the Scottish literary scene."
Cuthbert Graham, Press & Journal

"I find A Truth Lover the most impressive debut by a Scottish novelist for years."
Douglas Eadie, Scottish International


"..... both delightful and remarkable .... John Herdman uses language like a virtuoso."
Isobel Murray, Scottish Educational Journal

"Mr Herdman's psychological ingenuity remains extraordinary ... there are moments when, transferred to Scotland they sound something like Dostoevsky's "Notes from Underground"".
The Glasgow Herald

"Comedy brilliantly essayed ... a potent portrayer of the grotesque."
Cuthbert Graham, Press & Journal


"It is a sustained and often brilliant performance ... sheer comic invention and verbal ingenuity ... This is an observant, intelligent and humorous novel of great merit."
Alan Bold, The Scotsman

".... the writing is brilliant .....a kind of exploration of the Scottish soul .... An unforgettable piece of writing."
Cuthbert Graham, Press & Journal

"There is a seriousness at the heart of it, a wide philosophical background, and an acute psychological verity ... all that I have spoken of will delight you."
Catherine Lockerbie, The Student

" ... remarkable in its clarity and disturbing in its implications. The novel is an impressive construct, amusing, climactic, at times dreadful, and locked together in tidily effective prose."
David Campbell, Scottish Educational Journal


Douglas Eadie, review of A Truth Lover, Scottish International, Sept. 1973, pp 38-40
Frederick Lindsay, Both Sides of the Whale (review article on A Truth Lover), Akros, Vol. 8, No. 23, Dec. 1973, pp 38-42
David Campbell, review of Pagan's Pilgrimage, New Edinburgh Review, Nos. 41-42, 1978, pp 66-67
Bob Tait, Round the World in Eighty Ways (review article on Pagan's Pilgrimage), Akros, Vol. 13, No. 39, Dec. 1978, pp 126-31


Order  Cruising



CRUISING is a black social comedy which chronicles the hilarious events which ensue when a supposedly ailing Edinburgh advocate, his flighty wife, their knowledgeable joiner and a pompous minister are thrown together on a Scandinavian cruise.


"John Herdman's Cruising also has an Edwardian feel to it .... Class, morality and manners all make their claim in a resolutely unfashionable, but very funny and entertaining manner."
Books in Scotland


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