06 September 2014

In this part of the world we’re blessed with most of the attributes that make a memorable holiday. Perhaps we’re too far from the sea for a perfect one but there are plenty of lochs around and, normally, no shortage of wet stuff coming from the clouds.
So it was in June1881 when a famous visitor came to Highland Perthshire. He stayed a week in Fisher’s Hotel in Pitlochry before moving up the road to a cottage in Moulin, even then famous for its red wine: the Moulin Rouge. To be precise he stayed in the pleasant little hamlet of Kinnaird.
alanbrownweb_007Robert Louis Stevenson, newly married to a woman ten years older and with her son and Stevenson’s mother in tow, came for a summer break. Worse was to follow; they were soon to be joined by Stevenson’s father, of whom it was said he could brighten up any room just by leaving it.
They rented a cottage in this idyllic spot but, incredibly to anyone who has ever been to Scotland, it rained every day. Yes, every day. However, Stevenson was blessed with a fine imagination, which comes in very handy for novelists, and at Kinnaird he wrote Thrawn Janet, a ghost story about headless corpses and other subjects to keep the wee ones amused when The Disney Channel is off air.
Stevenson is one of my heroes, but looked down upon in some circles as being merely a “writer of boys’ stories.“  He wrote Kidnapped, Treasure Island, Trainspotting and The Famous 5 Go To Faskally but he is criticised for a supposed inability to portray the character of a woman.  Many critics believe that he was about to break the mould of his writing when he died.  We’ll never know.
In 1986 I wrote a play about Stevenson which was directed by famed Scots playwright and director W Gordon Smith and staged in Edinburgh during the Commonwealth Arts Festival.  After one performance a lady came out of the audience and walked towards the stage. This happens to me a lot, but it wasn’t my Auntie Jessie.
She was a charming lady with long red hair and an Irish brogue, and I remember thinking: I wonder why she’s only wearing one shoe?  Her name was Kathleen, Lady Dunpark and she was the wife of a Scottish Law Lord. 
She invited me and my fellow performer Anna Price round for coffee next morning to her house in very fashionable Heriot Row and my gast was well and truly flabbered when it turned out to be Number 17 - the house in which the young Stevenson had been brought up. As well as coffee, I had claret in a wineglass which Stevenson himself had used, when he was a bit older. Now that’s living history. 
In August 1881 the family forsook soggy Perthshire and went north to Braemar. Stevenson spent part of the time drawing a treasure map of an island to entertain his stepson Lloyd. And that’s where the idea of a pirate story came to him and I don’t think I need to tell you its name. Never rains but it pours, eh?

by Alan Brown


 

 

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