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Gaelic in modern Scotland
Gaelic in modern Scotland

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6.4.2 Drama and Fiction

The short story, novel and play first appeared in Gaelic in the early 20th century but it was only in the 1960s and 1970s that these genres achieved the same standing as poetry in Gaelic. Indeed, many would argue that the short story is now the quintessential Gaelic literary form.

The two most successful and prolific Gaelic short story writers of this period have been Iain Crichton Smith and John Murray. Smith’s stories cover a wide range of themes and settings and are characterised by intellectual rigour, poetic imagery and precision in their use of language.

Murray is a short story writer of a more conventional stamp, creating an array of interesting story lines and characters and deploying a wide variety of styles with consummate ease. The skillful use of language and humour are key features of Murray’s style

The main writers of Gaelic plays include the innovative Finlay MacLeod and the more traditional Paul MacInnes. MacLeod is best known for impressionistic pieces such as Ceann Cropic (the first Gaelic play on television in 1976), although the children’s radio adventure series Na Balaich air Rònaidh (1968) employs a more conventional narrative approach.

Despite these two success stories, however, Gaelic playwrights have been hamstrung by a lack of opportunities to show their work, on stage or through the media, and, similarly, short story writing has been affected by the closure of the literary magazine, Gairm, in 2002.

It is only in the past two decades that the Gaelic novel has reached maturity, due largely to Ùr-sgeul (‘New story’), a promotional scheme run by the Gaelic Books Council.

Angus Peter Campbell’s An Oidhche mus do Sheòl is one of the novels fostered by Ùr-sgeul. A family chronicle, it follows an array of interesting characters through various social and historical situations, in the Islands, Glasgow and Civil War-era Spain. This novel contains some strong writing, interesting insights and accurate descriptions of historical settings: in scope it is reminiscent of the ‘Great American Novel’, and has both the strengths and weaknesses of that genre.

Catriona Lexy Campbell is a younger writer, with a lighter touch, but she also shows great skill in creating characters and plots and is an undoubted future talent. Other novelists published in the Ùr-sgeul series include Martin Macintyre, Norman Campbell and Norman MacLean.