I have been intending writing about James Shaw Grant (JSG) and what he means to me for a considerable period of time. Unfortunately, every time I start putting fingers to keyboard I turn to a page of his writing seeking clarification and become immersed in re-reading his wonderful prose and hence distracted from my task.
I first came across JSG as a result of his book ‘Discovering Lewis and Harris’ being one of the very few titles that appeared when I was looking for books on the ‘Hebrides’ to loan from my local library.
I was totally absorbed by the book. He wrote in a style both erudite and entertaining, combining his insider’s experience with the ability to place the islands within a larger landscape of both time and place. That is a very, very rare skill.
Today (and I do mean today), I happened upon a lodging house in Keith Street, Stornoway.
In truth, it was the family home of the Crichton family but in 1901 within its walls were also a couple of twenty-something male lodgers.
One of these was a gentleman called William Grant, a native of Inverness who was working as a ‘ Newspaper Reporter Teacher Of G Hand & Typewriting’. He was the son of a baker, James Grant and his wife Isabella Shaw and a decade earlier had been an apprentice Printer’s Compositor in Inverness giving him a grounding quite literally as a ‘hands-on’ journalist.
This William Grant was JSG’s father and the man who co-founded the Stornoway Gazette in 1917. JSG became it’s editor in 1932, following-on from his father. The story is told in article from that same publication that can be found here: Stornoway Gazette
‘Discovering Lewis and Harris’ has coloured all my thoughts and words on the islands ever since I first read it. I may look at the isles with my own eyes but it is always with the filter of JSG held firmly before them.
I am sure that William, as an ‘incomer’ to Lewis, was instrumental in helping his son hone his very particular approach to the islands and their place in Scotland, Britain and the World, as well as through their past, present and future.
There is an optimism in JSG that is typical of left-leaning writers of his generation. When he drifts towards sentimentality it is not syrupy but strong. When the going gets tough he discourages gloom with a witty and pithy observation. It is humane writing at its very best.
Philanthropists and politicians may come and go but the spirit of JSG, a true distillation of that rich, peaty, rocky, windswept, heady Hebridean brew, will outlast them all…
Highland Villages, 1977, Hale, ISBN 0709158866
The Gaelic Vikings, 1984, James Thin, ISBN 0950837121
Discovering Lewis & Harris, 1987, John Donald, ISBN 0859761851
The Enchanted Island, 1989, J. S. Grant, ISBN 0950837148
A Shilling for Your Scowl: The History of a Scottish Legal Mafia, 1991, Acair, ISBN 0861528980
Morrison of the Bounty: A Scotsman – Famous But Unknown, 1997, Acair, ISBN 0861521978