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He made us proud

December 5, 2015


I’ll keep this short, because, allied to his marvellous use of language, Willie McIlvanney, who has died today, was a master of the terse phrase and the economic description. He portrayed Scots in a certain time and place as nobody else could, and he did it with grand style, literary zest, and in a manner that never patronised. If the words of Irvine Welsh produce snapshots of Scottish working class life, Willie’s prose gave us craftily and carefully painted pictures.

He portrayed a kind of Scotland which is sometimes romanticised, occasionally glorified, and often mistranslated, but, when Willie wrote, he got it right. I used to think he owed his accuracy to a determination to pay tribute to his patents and all they represented – a kind of life which is gone, based on values which are still needed.

Reading McIlvanney – be it fiction, crime, or short stories – was like getting off a train somewhere in west Central Scotland and being taken on a tour of the town during which all the characters were brought to life with sharp observation and kindly understanding. You felt safe in the writer’s company even though the view he gave you was far from sanitised.

There won’t be another Willie McIlvanney – though many whom he inspired will write great literature about our country and the human condition, and the politics which links the two

He will rightly receive great praise from those far more qualified than I to give it

From me, it’s gratitude for all his inspiration in his words, his knowledge, his understanding, his humour, and his compassion for neighbours and country.

I think he might feel the greatest tribute would be to declare: his country, like his parents, loved him, and was proud of him

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