Friday, 12 December 2008

How to be a Scottish Heretic


In 1998, I was a senior editor at HarperCollins Publishers in Glasgow, a very senior editor indeed, as I was about 120 years old that year, according to a story in the Scotsman.

Like many Partick Thistle fans, I was busy at the time with the 'Save the Jags' campaign, which was organized by the club’s fans to save the club after a financial crisis. I knew several writers and artists, many of whom donated signed books to the cause, including George MacDonald Fraser (himself a Jags fan), Bill Tidy, Reginald Hill and Merlin Holland. Merlin is Oscar Wilde's only grandson, and I liaised with him for over 12 years – he would pass me corrections and amendments for the regularly reprinted Collins Complete Works of Oscar Wilde.
One morning I received a phone call from Merlin who told me to get that morning’s Scotsman. Merlin had given an interview to the Scotsman during which he mentioned his involvement in Save the Jags and - among other things - mentioned me as having asked him for a signed book, and also mentioned Oscar's generosity in giving his coat to a man who was shivering in the street.
In the Scotsman the next day, this section inexplicably came out as a description of Oscar as so generous 'he gave Edwin Moore his coat because the man was cold'.

I wrote a letter to the Scotsman (which they printed, with a nice pic of Oscar in a comfy coat) pointing out that this made me well over a century old and that if I found the coat I would auction it along with our (genuine) signed Pele strip for Save the Jags. I never did find out how I became a 19th-century tramp; this sort of thing happens in newspapers and indeed books.

Two years later, in 2000, HarperCollins issued an excellent wee reference book replete with facts about Scotland. After the book was distributed into bookshops it was found that Bannockburn was missing from a list of Scottish battles. It had been present in the list, of course, but had dropped off in the paging process. Oh dear; again, such things happen.

A news agency got wind of this and phoned the company asking if it was true that we had just published a book which had omitted Bannockburn from a list of Scottish battles. The reporter was told yes and we were dealing with it. Then the story exploded into the Scottish media and the phone began ringing. Being the only senior editor about that afternoon, the calls came to luckless me. I gave straight answers to a lot of sly questions, fielded some weird calls from a few outraged loonies, and was interviewed on BBC Radio Scotland (of which more later).

The most disturbing feature of the Scottish media’s reaction to the news was that it must all somehow be the fault of the English. On 3 June 2000, the Scotsman had the following headline on its front page –

English lose Battle of Bannockburn - again

In vain, I and a colleague protested that everyone who worked on the book was Scottish, and that the book was in fact written, edited and produced in Glasgow by Scots. English villainy was the story here, for while taking a smack at Rupert Murdoch’s media empire may have accounted for part of the heat among some papers, the Scottish Sun – eager to demonstrate its Scottish patriotism – joined in with BBC Scotland and the rest.

What did seem odd to me was that no one in the media seemed to find the whole affair even moderately amusing, or even willing to take us at our word that the omission of Bannockburn from one list was a simple technical blunder during the pre-press handling of the pages.

Not funny at all: Scotland had been insulted, and the infidels must be exposed and punished! It was all over in a few days of course – we recalled the book (I have one of the few surviving copies) and the bulk of the Scottish media resumed its normal business of disseminating gossip about footballers and ignoring municipal and political corruption.

And so to October 2008 and my own book on Scotland, Scotland: 1000 Things You Need to Know. The book is a celebration of Scotland, and at the core of the book is the flowering of the Scottish Enlightenment, creating the nation of which Voltaire said in 1762: ‘We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation’, and ‘it is from Scotland that we get rules of taste in all the arts, from epic poetry to gardening’.

The book has received excellent reviews (see the neighbouring post) – The Big Issue ran a long feature and had a splendid (it's  won a design award) front cover depicting Barack Obama in a tartan Jimmy wig (like everyone else in America, Obama is descended from Scottish royalty).

And then I gave an agency interview, which resulted in a reprise of the Bannockburn firestorm, only this time it was a Wallace firestorm.

It did occur to me that some of the things in the book may cause outrage: the linkage between Burns and the huge Scottish involvement in slavery (there is still no indication from the Scottish government as to whether there will be an apology for slavery at next year’s ‘Homecoming’ celebrations); or the fact that there is not the slightest evidence for the Declaration of Arbroath having any influence on the American Declaration of Independence (despite both the US Senate and Congress having said it had that influence – American politicians just say these sort of things to keep ethnic groups happy); or, indeed, my suggestion in the interview that Scotland needed statues of Sheena Easton, Midge Ure and Duncan Bannatyne rather than statues of William Wallace.

In the interview I babbled on about one of my pet notions, that the Wallace Monument should become a Museum of Human Rights and Genocide, a centre to explain what really happened when the long peace between England and Scotland was broken by Edward I in 1296. (I had covered some of this ground in an interview with that fine journalist Robert Wight in the Sunday Post, but expanded on my views during the agency interview.)

Carl McDougall, in his excellent Painting the Forth Bridge: a Search for Scottish Identity (2001) pointed out that the symbolism of the Wallace Monument has changed over the years. When it was built, it was for many a symbol of unionism, a celebration of Scotland as an equal partner in the United Kingdom, but has now become a symbol of nationalist aspiration. Its meaning is fluid. Why not impose a new meaning on the Wallace Monument - one more fitting for a world filled with death cults and racism than Mel Gibson’s quasi-fascist wet dream, Braveheart?

It would not be just be good for Scotland, but good for the world. At a time when so many people, from South Ossetia to North Italy, look to the Braveheart myth for inspiration, this could be the new Scotland’s message to the world – not Mel Gibson’s ‘Freedom!’ but Auden’s ‘We must love one another or die’.

One of the worst lies of Braveheart is Mel Gibson’s speech telling the English troops to go back to England ‘stopping at every home you pass by to beg forgiveness for a hundred years of theft, rape and murder’. In fact, up until Edward I’s invasion of 1296, England and Scotland had been at peace for nearly 80 years, with people crossing and settling either side of the Border in harmony. Edward took fire and sword into Scotland, killing innocent people, and Wallace later took fire and sword back when he laid waste to the English Border country As Wallace's great biographer Andrew Fisher says (in his Dictionary of National Biography entry on the man):

'The barbarous acts committed by the Scots under Wallace, like those ordered by Edward I at Berwick, had the purpose of breaking resistance, and were of a kind often repeated by both sides.'

The interface between Wallace scholarship and the Braveheart myth is a strange one. The 2002 paperback version of Fisher's Wallace biography carries a ringing endorsement by Mel Gibson on the cover: ‘. . . the smartest, most savvy account of Wallace’. Yet it is surely unlikely that Gibson has actually read what Fisher has to say about Braveheart in the book:

‘The success of Braveheart, with its bedaubed hooligans and a simple, one-dimensional Wallace, tells us more about its audience than of the nature of the patriot and his role. For the director and scriptwriter of the film, the concern was not liberty but the taking of liberties’.

For myself, the people I identify with are not simply 'Scots' or 'English' but the helpless villagers and farmers butchered by both sides – on both sides of the border. When it comes to marauding armies attacking civilians. I’m on the side of the civilians. Freedom? Not in my name!

The equivalence between the violent action on the part of both the English and the Scottish barons is clear: the violence was led and fostered by brutal warlords eager to bury a peaceful past, stake out their new lands, and wipe out their enemies. Wallace died for the Balliol line of succession to the Scottish throne, a line Robert the Bruce took care to crush. Braveheart shows us Bruce shuddering in the crowd as Wallace is executed. The historical Bruce wasn’t there of course, but had nothing against that method of execution, as he subsequently dealt with Balliol supporters by imprisoning them, sending them into exile, and submitting those he could safely slaughter to the same hanging, drawing and quartering meted out to Wallace. The perverted bloodfest of the execution in Braveheart is an authentic depiction not only of the end of Wallace, but of the end of the most legitimate claim to the Scottish throne.

The horrors of the Scottish Wars of Independence, and their aftermath, have of course been replicated throughout human history: transforming the Wallace Monument into a new museum of genocide, ethnic cleansing and human rights is therefore an unexceptionable suggestion I thought, but I reckoned without some elements of the Scottish media, which took the agency material and decided to stick me in the pillory (the Wallace Monument suggestion is not in the book, which is mostly quite safe for Wallace lovers to read).

Being attacked by the media for desecrating a national myth is to enter the realm of 1984’s Hate Week (‘Thoughtcrime is death’) and the Scottish media, with decades of expertise in sly sectarian jibes, are truly awful.

Fear Google: and fear above all the witless journalist with a brief to make you look a clown. The Scottish Daily Mail printed a slovenly googled biography of ‘me’; it took, for example, an article I had recently written for the Scotsman about my mother entitled ’What I Know About Women', a series run by the Scotsman (which, bless it, stayed out of this particular bonkers spree), which I concluded by saying if I was to be a woman, I would like to be Jane Asher, as she kept her dignity (never a word about Paul McCartney), worked her socks off and looked great. The Mail turned this into a ‘bizarre’ desire to be Jane Asher. Not only am I a traitor, I am a transsexual as well. (In real life, the wonderful Jane did a drawing of a cat for my youngest daughter while I was editing The Times Book of Brief Letters, for which book I selected one of her letters.)

In the agency interview I had pointed out that Wallace’s campaign in England was hardly a glorious one, consisting as it did of wiping out defenceless villages. This became ‘Wallace was a coward’ in the tabloids – the Sun had a picture of me in my pink t-shirt smiling benignly beneath a headline, which said ‘DUMB-HEART’. Somehow my nuances got lost. As it happens, the book praises the Sun sub who come up with the great SUPER CALLY GO BALLISTIC, CELTIC ARE ATROCIOUS headline - such is life.

Following in the wake of the tabloids, BBC Scotland asked my publicity genius, Alice at Atlantic, for an interview, but at the same time I had been invited onto STV’s highly popular Five-Thirty Show (which was a fab experience) so magisterially declined the invitation to go to BBC Scotland’s HQ – I did not have the time. Undeterred, they asked if I would do the interview if they sent a sound van to the house, so I said fine, if they wanted me that badly they could have me indeed.

And have me they did. Sitting in the car outside the house with headphones on (a passer-by took a photograph of me and ran away – what was that about?) I found myself being interviewed yet again by the same interviewer as back in June 2000. It was clear from the opening question that the interviewer regarded what had been appearing in the tabloids as all true. Alarm bells were going off in my head by now. If you start saying ‘I was misquoted and the tabloids are lying bastards’ you can only sound like the coward you are supposedly accusing Wallace of being. I did my best to make clear what I had actually said,  and also what was actually in the book - I said at one point that I wasn’t that interested in the Scottish Wars of Independence, which drew a squeak of outrage - but when the interviewer asked me if there was ‘anything else’ that bothered me, I realised I was on a hiding to nothing – you can’t win against this sort of approach.

After the interview was over, the interviewer cackled to herself for about 20 seconds (which is actually quite a long time to be cackling to oneself without actually dribbling from the mouth), then sniggered and said ‘Braveheart was a great film wasn’t it?’ ‘No, it was rubbish’ I said,  and the line went dead. As Fisher says, Braveheart tells you about its audience.

Luckily, I had a copy of the 2000 interview on tape. So I dug it out and sure enough the aggression was identical, an aggression remarkable even for an interviewer so clearly desperate to be ‘incisive’.  On both occasions, 2000 and 2008,  I was an Enemy of the People. The mad Wallace fury was happening at about the same time as the Shettleston by-election, during which period BBC Scotland seemed to take little notice of what the very dogs in the street were saying about such matters as the Labour Party selection process. It’s much more fun to harass some harmless loon who is slandering William Wallace. They were clearly desperate to get me on to be slated, but there is no such detectable urgency emanating from BBC Scotland when it comes to the shadowlands of Scottish politics.

In one of the Patrick O’Brian novels, Stephen Maturin comments that it is ‘illiberal’ to speak in general terms about groups of people, nationalities, etc. Undoubtedly true, but there remain cultural differences between ‘peoples’. The Bannockburn and Wallace firestorms could not have happened in England. Imagine an English BBC interviewer getting so irrational about criticism of Shakespeare, Churchill or Agincourt, even the Blitz – it doesn’t happen.

In Scotland, criticisms of icons are attacks on the core myths of the nation. I got off lightly, I suppose. When Catherine Carswell dared to suggest in the 1920s that Burns was not quite the towering figure of morality that many Scots held him to be, she got a bullet through the post.

I only got accused of treason by a media that is regarded with contempt by many Scots. For the roots of fair reporting and fair comment, indeed fair employment, are in fact quite shallow in Scotland, especially the west of Scotland, where BBC Scotland is based. Even thirty years ago, not many Catholics bothered applying for jobs at BBC Scotland (from where, a few years ago, like other NUJ members involved in Health and Safety issues, I heard shocking stories of bullying, with senior management too cowardly to intervene on behalf of junior staff).

Sectarianism thrived in Scottish media institutions until recently. Arnold Kemp, that great Glasgow Herald editor, recorded how he was asked at his interview in 1981 if he was a Roman Catholic, and it was initimated to him that he wouldn’t get the job of editor if he were.
When prominent Scots such as the writer Jim Kelman or the composer James MacMillan say that sectarianism is still a problem in Scotland they get shouted down, but the truth is that Scotland remains a society with deep rifts and prejudices, a land of secrets and lies, and the maintenance of an unreal consensus.

is the title of a book published in 2002 which features 100 Scots nattering about Scottish identity. Professor Sheila McLean speaks for most of the whites in the book when she says that anyone living in Scotland is 'accepted as Scottish irrespective of his or her original roots'. As Carol Craig points out in her fine book The Scot's Crisis of Confidence, this view is contradicted by the testimony of several non-whites in the book: Mukami McCrum describes the contrast between the idealistic view of Scotland taught to her in Kenya, with the reality of violence and discrimination she has encountered here, while the lawyer Robina Qureshi talks about the 'loathing' she has encountered as an Asian and the 'veneer' of egalitarianism in Scotland. And yet Professor McLean's view remains unquestionably the establishment consensus in Scotland, a self-deluding consensus that is illustrated perfectly in the sharp turn around in the media portrayal of Donald Dewar.

When Donald Dewar died in 2000, the Scottish media declared that a wave of grief was sweeping through Scotland. Dewar was not just Scotland's first 'First Minister' in the new parliament; he was 'Father of the Nation'. The morning after his death, a former moderator of the Church of the Scotland declared on BBC Scotland: 'We were blessed that he walked among us' (Dewar was a devout atheist). Public figures lined up to praise Dewar; a frequent comment was that he had the 'common touch'.

I admired Donald Dewar, yet the guff and the gush were such that I wrote a letter to the Herald in protest at the absurdities being said about the man, and called for restraint (fat chance). The ex-Mod was the worst offender, but many were the anecdotes illustrating Dewar's supposed love of the 'common people' and their homely culture. George Galloway's rational (and touchingly kind) voice was a rare exception. Galloway remembered, with much affection, a Daily Record reporter asking Dewar if he could call him 'Donnie' - 'Certainly Not!' was the outraged response.

Dewar had, however, now entered the realm of Scottish legend, where he joined the mythical figure of Wallace. Just as Wallace could not simply be a fine independence fighter (the man who wore part of the skin of a dead enemy had to be reinvented as a modern social democrat in embryo), so Dewar became a towering public figure of probity.

And then Dewar's will was released and it was revealed that he owned three houses, was a millionaire, and had a share portfolio. Suddenly the whole process went into reverse: Dewar was a contemptible hypocrite, oh aye - we really knew it all along. He deceived us all, he let us down. The very people who united to build him up now united to cast him down, and a new consensus emerged: Donald was Not One of Us. His establishment 'testificate' - the sinister old Church of Scotland certificate of good behaviour you needed to settle in a new parish - has been cancelled by the good and the godly. We are no longer blessed that he walked among us.

The reality is that Dewar was a principled man, a 'bonnie fechter' who fought hard battles against Tories, against the Scottish Militant faction within Labour, and against the SNP. He was an intelligent and cultured man, whose tastes were not those of his constituents. Typical of the man was his response to visiting a prettifed house belonging to one of the lower orders: 'very Hansel and Gretel' (Dewar had the 'common touch' of a Medici prince). I encountered him just once, and he glared at me. I have been glared at by many people, but Dewar was a champion glarer, and for me he was champion in most other respects as well.

Craig Ferguson has described Scotland as a place where ‘mediocrity is excellence and excellence is treason’, a belief often expressed by expatriate Scots (Ferguson is now of course an American). Many Scots often recite Burns’ words ‘O, wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us / To see oursels as others see us’, but with the mental note that of course it doesn’t apply to us. Seamus Heaney’s caustic words regarding our Ulster cousins apply to Scotland also: ‘Smoke-signals are loud-mouthed compared with us’. It's a good deal safer to refrain from asking questions, to avoid thumbing our noses at our betters: the exalted Holy Willies, Scotland's custodians of consensus.

Scotland needs a new consensus, a consensus that there can be no consensus, that we are all free to pick our own heroes (or indeed choose to have none). Unhappy is the land that has a need for heroes, says a Brecht character, and surely even more unhappy is the land that needs myth-encrusted warlords for heroes.

My heroes are rather Patrick Ferguson, that gallant product of the Scottish Enlightenment who invented the breechloading rifle and spared George Washington’s life; the so-called ‘disreputable female tramp’ Jean Glover, from whom Burns took songs; Colin Mackenzie, who rediscovered India’s Buddhist heritage; the slave Joseph Knight whose appeal for freedom was heard in Edinburgh in 1777 and rang round the world, as did Lord Auchinleck’s judgement that Knight was ‘our brother’; James Clerk-Maxwell, probably the greatest scientist between Newton and Einstein; and not forgetting Stanley Baxter, Ivor Cutler, Billy Connolly, Chic Murray and all the others who have shown that Scots can laugh at themselves.

To put these names forward as Scots to be admired rather than Wallace and Bruce is a heresy in the eyes of much of the Scottish media, but one person’s heresy is another person’s truth, and there are actually quite a few of us who regard Larkin’s 1961 question -

O when will England grow up?

as a question that can – and should - also be asked of Scotland today.

In Memoriam talk 107

Since early October 2008, I had a regular wee 5-minute slot on talk 107 on Wednesday mornings on the Scott and Liz show, round about 9.15 am. I nattered briefly about any aspect of Scotland that may be in the news, or plucked from the book, or just something new and odd. Gabs included Scottish Dinosaurs; Guy Fawkes's desire to blow the Scots back to Scotland; the bloody Fife invasion of Lewis in 1599; Fiona Macleod and Scottish cross-dressing; Harry Lauder and his Irish act; Barack Obama & fables of Scottish descent; Somali and Scottish pirates compared; St Andrew; Jesus's adoration of the Scots as manifested in the Declaration of Arbroath; the gallant Patrick Ferguson (who invented the breechloading rifle and spared George Washington's life); and another gallant soldier, Colin Mackenzie (who discovered India's Buddhist heritage).

talk 107 went off the air on 23 December, 2008. Good luck guys, especially of course Scott, Liz and Paul - it was an honour and a pleasure to be a regular guest.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Scotland:1000 Things You Need to Know

This blog is about my book Scotland: 1000 Things You Need to Know, published by Atlantic in October 2008. Here is the fine Amazon summary by my publisher.

Book Summary
A cornucopia of facts about all things Scottish: from haggis and football, to malt whisky and witchcraft trials, this beautifully presented book is the ideal gift for Scots of all ages.From tartans to Trainspotting, from bagpipes to Billy Connolly, from "The Book of Kells" to the Krankies, "Scotland: 1000 Things You Need To Know" is the essential handbook to all things Scottish. Delving deep into Scotland's rich history and culture, past and present, Edwin Moore has gathered together over a thousand facts about its monarchs, heroes and rogues; battles, scandals and great trials; food and (of course) drink; legends, folklore, and sports - for starters - and presents them here in easily digestible, scone-sized portions. Scotland: 1,000 Things You Need To Know is the perfect present for all lovers of things Scottish.

And here are some equally fine reviews of the book.



‘I've heard nothing but good about your event’ – Adrian Turpin, Festival Programme Director


'I love it - I'm giving this copy to a friend and buying another for myself' - Darren Adam, Presenter, Radio Forth, 17 November 2008

‘It’s a great wee book’ – Stephen Jardine, introducing Edwin Moore on Scottish Television’s Five-Thirty Show

'A fantastic book' - Scott Wilson , talk 107 Breakfast Show host (see In Memoriam talk 107)

'A great read' - Dougie Jackson, Drivetime host, Smooth Radio 105.2


'Despite its apparently humorous format, this is a serious and extensive dictionary on all things Scottish; from Jean Redpath to Lorne sausage, from Flodden to the Corries. Is particularly good on history and minutiae. There's a useful chapter on famous Scottish legal cases and another on literature. Excellent' - Royal Scottish Legion, Feb 2009

'This is the ultimate Scottish reference book' - Waterstones Christmas catalogue, 2008

'This is a fascinating look at the history of Scotland: its languages, politics and great achievements, from its origins in the ancient landmass of Laurentia 400 million years ago, to devolution and Billy Connolly. Edwin Moore has collected a thousand important facts about this beautiful country, covering Scottish history and culture, correcting misconceptions, and examining the mysteries of haggis and bagpipes with insight, warmth and impressive attention to detail' - The Good Book Guide, November 2008

'This is a recipe for revealing how horribly ill informed you are about your country. Although, if you are skillful, you can nod sagely as you read some new fact and mutter 'Ah, yes!' as if recalling the information from your excellent schooling. Where else will you find a real recipe for making haggis from scratch side by side with a potted biography of David Hume; a section of the Declaration of Arbroath and the curiously touching fact that Lulu was only 15 when she had a hit with 'Shout'? The whole thing is of course, silly - but oh so addictive.' - Matthew Perren, i-on Glasgow, December 2008

'. . . well crafted and witty' - Bill Howatson, Aberdeen Press and Journal, 18 October 2008

‘While most of Edwin’s entries are entertaining and scholarly – he writes like a Scottish Bill Bryson – it is when he takes an interest in the backwaters of history, the details lost down the back of the sofa, that he is at his best’ – Jack McKeown, The Courier, 27 October 2008

'History, it is said, is written by the victors. Trivia, meanwhile, is written by the guys with the smeared spectacles and the breathable rainwear. The first discipline is linear and causal; to quote from Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys, history is “just one f****** thing after another”. Things look different, though, when viewed through the prism of trivia. The past is reduced to one big coleslaw of fascinating facts that in their randomness tell a more mixed-up tale entirely.
The first approach leads to big, frowning books by the likes of Tom Devine and Michael Fry. The latter results in small, cheerful books such as Scotland: 1,000 Things You Need to Know, Edwin Moore’s valiant attempt to navigate the more trivial contours of enlightenment and clearances, crown and parliament, dirt and deity.
Moore proceeds from a sincere and controversial first principle: Scotland is really a rather pleasant and interesting place. . .As a work of popular scholarship, though, it’s in a different league to the Scottish novelty titles that get stocked next to the bookstore tills as potential impulse purchases, those little handbooks of parliamo Caledonia and regional braggadocio, such as Weegies vs Edinbuggers.' - Allan Brown The Sunday Times, 21 September 2008

'In his book, Scotland: 1000 Things You Need to Know, Edwin celebrates all that sets us Scots as a race apart - our language, law, flora, food, and of course, our people. From our poets, architects and inventors, to our artists, entertainers and fighters. But he doesn't shy away from the more unpleasant aspects of our history. . .' - Robert Wight, Sunday Post, 14 September 2008

‘We think we know all about William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and the Union of the Crowms. However, according to Edwin Moore, author of , Scotland: 1000 Things You Need to Know, we’re still in the dark about many aspects of our history and culture. . . The Big Issue looks at 20 of the most astonishing examples of secret Scotland.’ – The Big Issue, 18-24 September 2008

'What's the connection between Homer Simpson and Larbert, and why are generations of lawyers grateful to a Paisley snail? Need to know more? Author Edwin Moore has gathered 1000 facts like these about Scotland in a quirky new book. Brian Swanson selects a few favourites. . .' - Scottish Daily Express, 13 September 2008

'The palm for Christmas-stocking books seems to have passed recently to popular science, with best selling titles every year such as Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze? This year there has been a gallant attempt at a historical fight back. Scotland: 1,000 Things You Need to Know (Atlantic Books, £12.99) asks (and answers) such post-turkey questions as ‘How many kings of Scotland died in their beds?’, ‘Who on earth decided that the Declaration of Arbroath was the cornerstone of modern democracy?’ or ‘Why is iron brew spelled Irn-Bru?’ Mark Mazower, History Today; The Best of History in 2008, December 2008

'A real treat for the serendipitous Scotophile' - Reginald Hill

And here are some reviews of my previous two books.

Brief Encounters (published by Chambers, 2008)

Edwin Moore's quirky collection of a hundred encounters between (mostly) important historical figures is a gem of a book. Where else could you get concise enlightening accounts of Henry VIII wrestling with Francis I, Geronimo surrendering to General Miles, Ernest Hemingway presenting Fidle Castro with a fishing trophy or (as seen on the books cover) a baby faced Bill Clinton shaking hands with John F Kennedy. A marvelous 'little window on human history. ' - Dominic Kennerk, Waterstone's Product Planning and Promotions Co-ordinator (From the Waterstone's 'We Recommend' list for 2008)

Witty, light and packed with information -- The Sunday Herald

In 1936, in the wake of winning a clutch of gold medals at the Berlin Olympics, the great athlete Jesse Owens was snubbed by an imperious leader, on racial grounds. Popular belief would have it that the leader was Hitler, who is said to have stormed off, furious to see a black man beating European athletes. In fact the man in question was President Roosevelt, who worried that paying attention to Owens' triumphs might be a vote loser. Although Owens and the German Chancellor never talked, Owens claimed that Hitler greeted him with an enthusiastic wave. Such near-misses, shakings of hands and ships-in-the-night meetings are the subject of Brief Encounters – Meetings between mostly remarkable people, a likeable new book by Edwin Moore (Chambers £7.99). Flicking through the index, you will find some expected encounters (Dante stares at Beatrice, Corday stabs Marat, The Beatles strum along to a Charlie Rich record round at Elvis's house), and the book's intriguing and memorable cover shows a baby-faced Bill Clinton manfully gripping the hand of JFK. But Moore has navigated past some of the more obvious collisions, collusions and confrontations of history (there is no Dr Livingstone, I presume) and much of the book's pleasure derives from lesser known incidents.
Inevitably, some of the accounts of earlier meetings are somewhat sketchy but Moore offers some piquant speculation, laced with humour (the book is tagged Reference / Humour, rather than History and this feels right, but the book, though wry and opinionated, never stoops to wackiness). I was intrigued to discover that, though Attila the Hun did die on his wedding night, it was not in drunken and lecherous debauchery, as his enemies maintained, but supposedly because he was generally a simple and clean-living man who had a few too many which brought on a particularly bad nosebleed.
Moore's book is full of such tales – it would be wrong of me to steal the tastiest morsels of his research and pepper this article with them, but look out for a subsidiary reason for the Gunpowder Plot (too many dour and powerful Scots in Parliament); a great meeting of great beards, as Castro wins the Hemingway prize for sea-fishing; Dali bringing a skeptical Freud round to the art of the surrealists; Buffalo Bill's wife claiming an aged Queen Victoria had propositioned him; Oscar Wilde getting a kiss from Walt Whitman, while Walter Scott was more taken with Burns's charismatic eyes. This is an enjoyable and vigorous rattle through some fascinating and believable yarns. My only quibble is that it's a little on the short side – let's have Volume 2 please Chambers! - Roddy Lumsden, www.Books from

Lemmings Don't Leap (published by Chambers, 2007)

Edwin Moore does know how to write an entertaining book' - Roddy Lumsden,

I also wrote (and took the photographs for) the 2007 (updated 2008) Everyman Guide to Edinburgh

See also my other blog

Who I am

I was born in Glasgow, and live in Glasgow. I am the author of several books and I have created this blog to promote my book Scotland: 1000 Things You Need to Know.

Here are some highly selective details on my publishing and writing career.


I joined William Collins in 1985 as an Assistant Editor, was promoted to Commissioning Editor in 1992, and was made redundant in October 2004. Over the course of my career I have been responsible for a wide variety of books, including the prestigious subject dictionary list, with titles such as the Collins Dictionary of Medicine, Collins Dictionary of Mathematics, Collins Dictionary of Economics and Collins Dictionary of Sociology becoming standard reference works in their fields.

Other books I organised or commissioned include the Collins Good Writing Guide, books for The Times such as the Brief Letters books, Questions Answered, The Times Style Guide, The Times Book of Quotations and The Times Book of English Verse, Collins Dictionary of Quotations and Nigel Rees's A Word in Your Shell-Like.

I was also responsible for the highly prestigious Alexander text of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (published from Glasgow since the early 1950s, with a full revision overseen by me published in 1994), and the Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (in print since 1948 and also then published from Glasgow), which I managed in conjunction with Oscar Wilde's grandson, Merlin Holland. In the mid-90s I also produced a series of collected works based on the old Collins Gift Classics series, with new introductions from authors such as Patrick O'Brian and Owen Dudley Edwards.

(Digression: I had the whole Shakespeare proofread in 93/94, which threw up some intriguing misprints native to the Alexander text, including a reference by the Doctor in Macbeth to 'Duninsane' rather than 'Dunsinane'. No one seems to have noticed for forty years.)

I have also produced many less glamorous but equally profitable books such as the Collins Quiz Books.

I was made redundant in October 2004. My redundancy received publicity in both the Sunday Herald business section and The Bookseller.

I have a sheaf of testimonials (a ‘blush sheet’; see below) from several of my authors which puts the case for me being a paragon of British and particularly Scottish publishing.

I was a fire officer at HarperCollins for seven years and was also the site health and safety representative for the National Union of Journalists.

I am also an occasional film and TV extra (or ‘supporting artiste’). Roles include

- a man in a hat being spat at by Jamie Bell in Hallam Foe

- a street drinker in Irvine Welsh’s Wedding Belles

- a drunk in Taggart; an awed audience  member at a seance in Taggart; a gallus stroller past the Citizens Theatre in Taggart; a nonchalant drinker at the Citz bar in Taggart

- a mad scientist in the Stagecoach ‘Bus of Britain’ advert (the one with the clipboard)

- the French personification of a Doritos Blue Cheese flavour crisp in a Doritos Collisions ad filmed in Arrochar (the one holding the big cheese)

In the late 1990s I was joint winner (hi Caroline) of a national anti-Turner Prize  self-portrait competition organised by The Bookseller . There were two entrants to the competition.


DR JOHN CAIRNEY, Actor and Author of The Man Who Played Robert Burns

I am by far the least successful author Edwin Moore has ever
dealt with in his near twenty years as an editor, yet he
dealt with me as if I were a best-seller and gave me the same
attention, courtesy and deference that so many better authors
deserve. Mine was a collection of Burns Poems and Songs,
which was to be edited and given an Introduction. There have
been hundreds of Burns editions but he made me feel that mine
for HarperCollins was not only the first, but the best, and
he worked on it with me as if it were. That is the mark of a
true professional. He loves words, good books and Scotland's
publishing pedigree. He deserves to be considered as an asset
to any company, which aims to provide quality with integrity.

JULIA CRESSWELL, Author of Collins Dictionary of First Names
and The Guinness Book of British Place Names

I have worked as an author with Edwin Moore and the Glasgow
reference department over 16 years and five books, and have
always found them the most approachable and easiest
department to get along with of all the publishers I have
worked for. At a meeting of the Society of Authors for
HarperCollins writers each author had their say of their
experiences working for the company. Each in turn complained
of never being able to get hold of people, not having their
letters and calls responded to, and of the high turnover of
staff which meant that you never knew who you were dealing
with, and no one knew you. Until, that is, it was my turn.
Everyone gaped as I said that I never had any trouble getting
hold of people, my calls were always returned and I got all
the help and support I needed; that even though I had never
met them, I had come to regard the editors as friends. The
difference, I explained, was that they were all dealing with
London, while I was dealing with Glasgow.

CHARLES DOYLE, Author of Collins Dictionary of Marketing and
Global Director of Marketing for Accenture

Edwin Moore identified and persuaded me to compile the Collins Dictionary
of Marketing, having been insightful enough to have spotted a
gap in the market (and indeed in the Collins reference book
range) for this increasingly important subject. I was
initially reluctant to do it, but Eddie persuaded me of its
value. I could not have compiled the Dictionary without
Eddie's help, support, expertise and suggestions. He has a
great gift of being demanding and helpful at the same time,
as my initial efforts were short of the target number of
pages, and I was in danger of overruning my deadlines. Eddie
got me to completion at the right length and depth by making
some innovative recommendations along the way. Eddie is not
only highly professional, deeply knowledgeable and rigorous,
he is also good fun to work with. He does a great job in
presenting the public and human face of HarperCollins to
people like me. I look forward to working with him again on
future editions, and other projects that I have in mind.

OWEN DUDLEY EDWARDS, Historian and Biographer

My deepest thanks are due to Edwin Moore, my commissioning
editor at HarperCollins, who has been a joy to work with from
start to finish: had he been on the Strand magazine Sherlock
Holmes would have been out of the Reichenbach five years
earlier than he was, so irresistible is his good nature.
(From the Acknowledgments to the Collins Complete Sherlock Holmes)

GEORGE MACDONALD FRASER, Novelist and Historian

I was shocked to hear that Edwin is going. Speaking as a contributor and
grateful reader and user of his reference books, I can say
that he's done a brilliant job over the years; the product
has been first class, and how the firm thinks they can do
without Edwin is beyond me.

BILL HALE, author of the Collins Dictionary of Biology

During the course of my career I have written many hundreds
of references, ranging from the very bad to those which have
been excellent. There is no adjective to improve upon this
latter description; the Oxford Dictionary defines it as
'pre-eminent' - and this is what Edwin is in his field.
Throughout the sixteen years of the existence of Collins
Dictionary of Biology, and prior to this during the course of
its having been written, Edwin has provided the support which
any author would pray for. I have written many articles for
magazines, innumerable papers for many different scientific
journals, seven books and contributed to many other books.
Never have I had an editor (and I have probably crossed
swords with a hundred or more) with Edwin's ability in all
aspects of the job. From calming my irritation (usually at
some ridiculous management decision - and here we have one of
the most ridiculous I have encountered with the implication
that Edwin is dispensable!) to correcting my errors with such
tact as to make me feel that he was really responsible for
them. Edwin is not dispensable! It is said frequently that
no-one is indispensable. Edwin is the exception which proves
the rule! I do not write open testimonials. Every reference I
have ever written has been confidential. I make the exception
here because Edwin is exceptional. Collins could find no
better editor or promoter of Collins as an organisation. I
cannot write too highly of him and I know that many others of
his authors feel similarly. Like any valuable institution
Edwin should be preserved!

I would like to record that in all my dealings with Ed Moore I
have found him unexceptionably helpful, knowledgeable,
enthusiastic and approachable. He seems to me to have every
quality, professional and personal, desirable in a top-class
editor in his field, and far from letting him go, any
sensible employer should be slapping a preservation order on him.

MERLIN HOLLAND, biographer and grandson of Oscar Wilde

Of all publishers' editors I have ever dealt with, I can think of none who came closer to every author's ideal: you inspired, you nursemaided, (you also played the governess when necessary), you listened, you reasoned, you had no preconceptions (other than an unshakable belief in high standards) and all this built on the foundation of a great breadth of knowledge and that intangible but indispensable quality in a publisher, a 'gut-feeling' for an idea, which in your case was almost always right. You also became a friend, which gave me the added incentive to deliver the very best of which I was capable, and an extra dimension of pleasure to seeing our projects successfully put into print.

Unfortunately these days you seldom hear authors saying that they are proud of the way their books have been produced. I can, however, say that the Collins Complete Works of Oscar Wilde was a book with which I was proud to be associated, not only editorially, but also as a physical object. Wilde scholars and students the world over continue to tell me what joy it is to use -- a clearly printed, properly stitched reference book which doesn't fall apart, which can be kept and enjoyed, as books once were. It was a decision which probably flew in the face of cost-cutting accountants at the time, but which has contributed to the book's enormous success, many reprints and present status as the definitive edition of Wilde's works. Just one small example of gut-feeling and attention to detail which paid handsomely in the long term and assured you of my loyalty and continued interest in updating the edition when you were at HC.

I respect your integrity, I admire your professional ability and I appreciate your sense of humour and your friendship, and I hope that I shall continue to enjoy them all.

PHILIP HOWARD, The Times columnist

I have always enjoyed working with Edwin, the professional. I
look forward to working with him again. He is the least
redundant and most professional editor I know. He is a friend
as well as a colleague. And he makes me laugh.

historian and biographer of WB Yeats

I have known Edwin Moore for over 15 years and have the highest opinion of and regard for him. He is learned, has critical insight and a nice sense
of humour. Additional reasons for my considering him an
outstanding publisher are that he brings to his work,
especially his editing, a balanced judgement and a high
degree of efficiency. Edwin obviously gets the best out of
his colleagues and to be edited by him means that any
suggestions or questions will be given the most careful and
courteous attention and consideration. He is prompt to reply,
very easy to work with, and he has a certain flair, something
hard to define but invaluable in a publisher. I have had the
pleasure of working with Edwin on several projects, such as
the Collins Dictionary of Quotations, the Gem Yeats
Anthology, and The Complete Novels of Charlotte and Emily
Bronte, and I have always found him impeccable, inventive and
with an innate 'feel' for any book with which he is
concerned. I consider Collins extremely fortunate in having
his services. It surprises me that he has not been given the
senior management role for which he is so obviously suited. I
shall be happy to answer any detailed questions about him.

MIKE MUNRO, Author of The Patter

I have been involved in publishing for 25 years and in all
that time I've never come across a better publishing brain
than Edwin Moore's. In the 14 years that I've known him, his
intelligence, thoughtfulness and creativity have constantly
been in evidence. No-one is more adept at keeping several
balls in the air at once and adhering to the most demanding
of deadlines, and he is always in full command of any project
he initiates or runs, no matter how complex or seemingly
intractable. His generosity, kindness and humour make him a
delight both to work with and to claim as a friend.

CHRISTOPHER PASS, Author of Collins Dictionary of
Economics and Collins Dictionary of Business

Edwin has been helping me produce the Dictionary of Economics
and the Dictionary of Business for the past twelve years.
This work has involved annual updates of entries to existing
editions and the more onerous task of bringing out new
editions. A 4th Edition of the Dictionary of Economics is
shortly to appear, while the Dictionary of Business is in its
3rd Edition.

As a result of this work I have been in regular contact with
Edwin. Edwin has been an immense help in offering advice and
in attention to detail regarding publishing matters. It has
been a pleasure in having such an experienced, enthusiastic
and efficient editor on my side. I have had 12 other books
published including titles with Blackwell, Routledge and
Prentice Hall. Their editions have been good, but Edwin has
always put in that little bit extra which makes him stand out.

ROGER PORKESS, Author of the Collins Dictionary of Statistics

Working with Edwin Moore was a privilege and a pleasure. His
experience and savoir faire make him the sort of editor that
authors really hope to find themselves working with.

We communicated frequently while the book was in progress,
both by e-mail and telephone, and he was unfailingly
courteous and appreciative of what I was trying to say.
Whenever a difficulty arose, as happens inevitably during the
production of a book, Edwin was quick to understand the point
at issue, to suggest a way forward, and to make any
appropriate support available.

The publishing industry needs, and should cherish, people like Edwin.

NIGEL REES, Broadcaster and Author

I have known Edwin Moore since 1995 and in that time he has
edited my Dictionary of Slogans and most recently A Word In
Your Shell-Like: 6000 Curious & Everyday Phrases Explained.
Ed captured the latter extremely successful venture for
Collins when it might have been snapped up by two other
prominent publishing houses. My decision to have it published
by Collins owes a great deal to the enormous friendliness and
enthusiasm Ed had shown towards me and my work in the period
between these two books. It is an object lesson in the value
of editor and author keeping in touch over time, chatting,
swapping ideas, even when there is no book in prospect. I am
most grateful to him.

IAN SINCLAIR, author of the Collins Dictionary of Electronics
and Collins Dictionary of Computers and IT
My association with Edwin Moore has been fruitful and friendly, enjoyable
and rewarding. We first worked together in 1987 on my
Dictionary of Computing, now into a fourth edition, and from
the beginning I greatly admired his unflappable approach to
the work as much as his assiduous efforts to ensure

BILL TIDY, Cartoonist and Broadcaster

Edwin carries on the great tradition I read about as a kid.
Everyone wrote about editors who were hard and ruthless yet
in the end they always met someone like Ed who coaxed and
encouraged them and was aware of their problems. Collins
must be mad to claymore him.

ROBERT YOUNGSON, author of Collins Dictionary of Medicine

Edwin Moore has been my editor throughout the preparation of
the second and third editions of the Collins Dictionary of
Medicine. I have nothing but praise for the splendid work he
has done in the design and production of these two books. I
do not think I have ever had a more approachable, agreeable,
cooperative or helpful editor and, having worked with editors
at seventeen other houses, I have grounds for comparison. I
am proud of the books that Edwin has produced for me and will
always look on the Medical Dictionary with greater
satisfaction than I have had from any of my other books. By
December 2003 almost 113,000 copies had been sold.