The Scottish World with Billy Kay

Billy Kay at a Book Reading

“For we hae faith in Scotland’s pouers, the present’s theirs but aw the past an future’s oors.”

Newport-on-Tay based writer, broadcaster and passionate guardian of the Scots tongue Billy Kay entices you with the above Hugh McDiarmid quote, to journey through the magical world of Scottish Literature over the Last 700 years- ‘A History of Scottish Literature’ a major series of 8 weekly programmes on BBC Radio Scotland.

The 1.30 pm programmes started on Thursday October 2 and finish on Thursday 20th November, with repeats on Friday morning just after 5 am and Sunday morning just after 6 am. Catch up on all of the programmes via the BBC iPlayer/radioscotland.

“Scottish literature has been at the core of our national identity for over 700 years, and this ground breaking series will show why it has been crucial to our sense of who we are as a people. Growing up in the Burns tradition in Ayrshire and being given Sunset Song as a school prize when he was 15 gave Billy Kay a passion for the subject which he continued in his studies in Scottish Literature at Edinburgh University. Now, in the company of distinguished academics and writers such as Alasdair Gray, Liz Lochhead, James Robertson, Kathleen Jamie, William McIlvanney, Janice Galloway, Alexander McCall Smith, and Val McDermid, Billy will trace the story of a Scottish art form with a global reputation – from its origins in Welsh epics, Norse sagas and the Celtic myths of the Gaelic West to the gritty urban environment of Alan Bissett’s Boy Racers, Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and Louise Welsh’s The Cutting Room.”

The Scottish World by Billy Kay“This though is the opposite of a dry academic history, with moments of joy, sadness, humour and emotion “to tell to your heart”, and vivid detail to fascinate, stimulate and astonish! Which Scottish author was read by Goebbels and Hitler in the Berlin bunker days before the downfall? What was the “auld Scots sonnet” sung by Tam o’Shanter on his drunken ride to Alloway? Why was Richard Burton so haunted by a line from the Makar Dunbar that he made a stunning recording of a 16th century lament for Scottish writers? Which bloodthirsty Scots ballad was popularised by Pushkin in Russia and inspired a memorable character in a play by Liz Lochhead? Why were characters as diverse as Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson and Goethe in thrall to fragments of our ancient poetry? Whose writing drew a pioneer called Thomas Cook north with a group to view inspirational settings and start the tourist industry?”

“Why did Janice Galloway’s mother burn her daughter’s first childhood attempt to write a novel? Does crime writer Val McDermid have an evil twin who takes her to dark “places of execution”? What was Kailyard literature and why was it popular around the world when one critic described it as “the triumph of sugar over diabetes!” Which of our renaissance poets translated and created a version of Virgil’s Aeneid which was so brilliant that Ezra Pound swore it was better than the original? Was a remarkably bawdy Gaelic poem by the aristocratic Isabella, Countess of Argyll from the 16th century shocking at the time, or simply an expression of the earthy sensuality and soaring spirituality which existed one with the other in a golden age of Scottish creativity? Was Frankenstein born in Dundee, and did Edgar Allan Poe get his taste for the Gothic during a childhood sojourn in Irvine at the height of the body snatching epidemic of the 19th century? Will the present golden age of Scottish literature continue and thrive after the Referendum vote on September 18? The answers to all of these questions and more will be revealed in A History of Scottish Literature beginning on October 2.”

City Life Dundee readers can look forward to our next festive issue when we get the chance to interview Billy. ‘Life’ with Billy Kay will try and find out some secrets of Billy’s success and find out a wee bit more behind what makes him so passionate about all things Scots.

For more information on Billy Kay, visit