Here are the books by Nan Shepherd currently in print.
Famous as a novelist and poet in the 1930s and 40s, by the 1960s her novels and poetry were out of print and Shepherd appeared to have vanished from the literary landscape. Until, 1977, when she published The Living Mountain, the work for which she’s best known.
But there’s more to Nan Shepherd than her ‘hill book’. And thanks to Galileo Publishers and Canongate, her fiction, poetry and other writings are once again available.
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Shepherd’s first novel, published in 1928, The Quarry Wood is the story of Martha Ironside’s pursuit of knowledge.
Fighting her way from her working-class background to university and a teaching career, Martha discovers along the way that ‘man does not learn from books alone’, but from living.
Shepherd’s most ambitious and complex novel, The Weatherhouse was first published in 1930.
Set in the North-East of Scotland, its backdrop is ‘Fetter-Rothnie’, a land denuded of its men during the first world war. Returning, shell-shocked, from the trenches, Garry Forbes is drawn into the intricate web of women at The Weatherhouse and their tragedies, yearnings and delusions.
A portrait of a small, rural community coming to terms with the enormity of war, The Weatherhouse provides a kaleidoscopic lens on human nature and the complex relationship of ‘truth’ to fiction.
Shepherd’s third novel, A Pass in the Grampians, appeared first in 1933. Currently unavailable as a single volume, it’s contained in Canongate’s anthology of her fiction and non-fiction books, The Grampian Quartet.
The most modernist of Shepherd’s fiction, A Pass in the Grampians is the story of the Kilgours, a Kincardineshire family. Like The Weatherhouse, no single character is given prominence, but they are just as memorable. It’s the unapologetically vulgar Bella Cassie who is the harbinger of change in a novel about transformation.
But the story is also about young Jenny Kilgour’s journey to womanhood. What will she keep when she crosses that metaphorical and physical pass? And what will she leave behind?
Now the work for which Shepherd is best known, The Living Mountain first came out in 1977. It was written during those troubled and uncertain years of the Second World War when the Cairngorms were Shepherd’s escape.
A meditative prose-poem on her beloved hills, when the book was politely rejected in the 1940s, Shepherd shoved the manuscript into a drawer where it lay for the next thirty-odd years.
It was as an ‘old woman’ she says in her 1977 foreword to the book, that reading it again, she realised that her tale of her traffic with a mountain was as valid today as it was when she wrote it. And still is.
It is now considered a masterpiece of mountain literature by Robert Macfarlane, who provided the introduction to the 2011 Canongate edition.
Poetry didn’t come easily to Nan Shepherd. Although she began writing verse as a teenager, most of the poems contained in In the Cairngorms were written in a state she likened to ‘possession’ between 1930 and 1934.
First printed in 1934, copies were rarer than hen’s teeth until recently. In 2014 Galileo Publishers republished the anthology with a foreword by Robert Macfarlane.
There’s now an audible version, too, read by Gerda Stephenson.
From the ‘burnie with the glass-white shiver’ to the ‘deepmaist pit’ of Loch Avon, to the series of oblique sonnets, all the verse was either written in, or inspired by Shepherds hills. In the Cairngorms, is filled with light. Sunlight, ice-light, ‘skies green as ice’. And water, singing over stone.
Lyrics that linger, long, in the ear.
Much of Shepherd’s other work – a short story, essays, reviews and assorted prose pieces, was never published outside local magazines and journals and is reprinted here in book form, for the first time.
For critical essays on Nan Shepherd’s work and a list of Shepherd’s published writings, see Into the Mountain: A Life of Nan Shepherd.
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