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If the Corncrake Calls

When the Scottish writer John McNeillie died on the 24th June 2002 aged 85, he left behind a legacy of over 40 books, several of them minor classics, and several decades of weekly journalism in the dentist's favourite sedative, Country Life. Almost all were written under his pen name, Ian Niall. He made his debut at the age of 22 when Putnams published his novel Wigtown Ploughman: A Part of His Life in 1939, a Scottish classic that caused a national controversy and provoked improvements in social conditions. In later life John McNeillie did not like to be reminded of his 'ferocious account of peasant life in Galloway', as one fan described it! He saw himself differently, an essayist and a recorder of landscape and natural life. It is certainly here that McNeillie's output is best represented and where his well crafted prose reveals the eye and the ear of a poet, a gift for telling a good story and just something of the realism that haunted his first book. The natural history essay was his true metier as found in such volumes as The Poachers's Handbook (1950), Trout from the Hills (1961) and his memoir A Galloway Childhood (1967).Drawing on these and others of his non-fiction books, and including the chapter of his first novel, his daughter, Sheila Pehrson, has put together an anthology that both showcases his talent and reveals the world that shaped the writer he became. John Kincaid McNeillie was the eldest son of Robert McNeillie and Jean McDougall. It was during an epidemic of meningitis, in which his younger sister died, that the infant John McNeillie was despatched from the family home near Dalmuir to be in the care of his paternal grandparents. North Clutag was the farm tenanted by his Grandfather in Wigtownshire and it was here in a horse-drawn time-warp, a world closer to the 19th century and the world of Robbie Burns than to the twentieth-century, that he was to spend the formative years of his life. Although this was a childhood marked out by separation, dislocation and loss it was also a childhood that tied him into the natural world, seasonal change, and the rhythm of farming life. It was a time he would always describe as idyllic and which he celebrated in his writing, just as Richard Jefferies and others had done before him.John McNeillie was made a Doctor of Letters by Glasgow University, for his contribution to Scottish literature, in 1998.
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Table of Contents

Foreword by Douglas Dunn Introduction 1 The World of the Rabbit, the Stoat, the Pheasant ... and the Ways of Fish and Fishermen Here are descriptions of natural life: in woodlands and fields, and in the landscapes of mountains and water. From the hare in its form to the pigeons 'carried across the undulating country by the buffeting wind' and the trout rising in the black water of a mountain lake, Ian Niall is never more in his element. 2 Characters: fact and fiction Some of these men were his childhood heroes, some were kindred spirits and all we can recognise. We may have seen them loitering, just as Snib or Black Bill did, with an eye to the almost invisible main chance. On the edge of society, they are, in their way, universal characters to be found in any country village or along a road in any remote rural backwater. They are celebrated here with a knowing understanding and a gentle humour. 3 Tall Trees and Bright Mornings These memoir pieces describe the writer's growth from child to adult. They show us a solitary child, his growing attachment to the natural world, and the seasonal routine and daily rituals of a farming life more in keeping with the nineteenth century than the twentieth. 4 From the Far Moss, the Fiels and Migneint Whether it is observation of the rising hay 'dotted with yellow-flowered weeds and seeding thistles', the 'contour of the ground with its ridges of a past season's ploughing', the 'loose stones about your heels' or a description of the awe inspiring emptiness of a remote landscape, the importance of place in Ian Niall's writing cannot be ignored. 5 First Words: Chapter One from Wigtown Ploughman: Part of his Life Here is the first chapter of Ian Niall's first novel. It was published under his own name, John McNeillie, when he was 22 years old. Amongst other things it shows us how he drew upon his time at North Clutag to tell his story. Bibliography & Acknowledgements

About the Author

Ian Niall is the pen name of Ian McNeillie who wrote over 40 published works and many articles, mostly dealing with nature and the outdoors.

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