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TLS Review, 19th November 2004

John McNeillie My Childhood pp148. Thame: Clutag. £20. 0954727509 John McNeillie is better known as Ian Niall, under which pen name he became a major figure in British nature writing of the twentieth century. A Scotsman who ended up living in North Wales, McNeillie wrote more than forty books, mostly on rural themes. He was, notes his son (the poet Andrew McNeillie) in the introduction to My Childhood, “a kind of lyric poet in prose, and an elegist who had known Eden”. That Eden was North Clutag Farm, a remote steading in Wigtownshire in the Scottish borders, where McNeillie grew up under the care of his grandparents in the late 1910s and 20s. It is these years that are the…

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My Childhood Book Launch

My Childhood, John McNeillie’s previously unpublished account of his childhood and youth-time at North Clutag farm, will be launched at the Wigtown Booktown Sixth Annual Literary Festival on Saturday 25th September 2004. Andrew McNeillie will be talking about the book and selling copies at the Festival. [wpsc_products product_id=’546′]

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John McNeillie 1916-2002

The Scottish writer John McNeillie, who died on 24 June 2002, aged 85, left a legacy of over forty books, among them a number of minor classics, and several decades of weekly nature journalism in the pages of the dentists’ favourite sedative, Country Life for which he wrote under the pen name Ian Niall. Not only did McNeillie possess the eye and ear of a poet, he could also tell a spell-binding story. If the natural history essay was his true métier, as found in such volumes as The Poacher’s Handbook (1950), Trout from the Hills (1961), and his memoir A Galloway Childhood (1967), as well as several other collections, dramatic realist fictions also featured in his output and were…

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A Note on John McNeillie’s First Publisher

Putnam & Co John McNeillie’s first publisher was PUTNAM & CO of London and New York. The man who discovered Wigtown Ploughman: Part of his Life and its young author was Boston-born and Harvard-educated, Constant Huntington (1876-1962). Huntington had joined Putnam (New York) in 1902 and three years later was despatched to run their London office. As his obituarist put it in The Times in 1962, he was ‘a soldierly-looking, strikingly handsome man, patrician in taste, radical in outlook’. He was one of the very last individualist publishers and under his control Putnam almost certainly never published a book he hadn’t read and with which he didn’t personally deal in every detail. It’s not exactly clear when John McNeillie’s book…

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A Note On Previous Dust-Jackets And Illustrators

The dust-jacket illustrations for John McNeillie’sfirst three books: Wigtown Ploughman: Part of his Life (Putnam, 1939), Glasgow Keelie (Putnam, 1940) and Morryharn Farm (Putnam, 1941) were all painted by Robert Vere ‘Robin’ Darwin (1910-1974), a landscape and portrait painter who became principal of the Royal College of Art in 1948. He was a great-grandson of Charles Darwin.                 The woodcuts that illustrate A Poacher’s Handbook (Heinemann, 1950), Fresh Woods (Heinemann, 1951) and Pastures New (Heinemann, 1952) and provide the dust-jacket illustrations for those books, were by Barbara Greg (1900-1983) who studied wood-engraving under W. T. Smith at the Slade School c.1919-1920. She subsequently married fellow-student Norman Janes (1892-1980), himself a gifted book illustrator.…

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Some Comments On And Concerning John McNeillie’s Work

‘The Poacher’s Handbook is a classic essay in one of the major sub-genres in English Literature, the naturalist’s diary or handbook. Since Walton’s The Compleat Angler, it has been a form that breaks down solemn distinctions between serious and entertaining writing… As for writerly skills they are present in every paragraph: the line of every sentence is let out to the right length and tension. These are the skills, maybe, more associated with the good poet than the prose narrator… No writing, whatever its subject and however unportentous its air, can be excellent without an ethical sense. Here this is lightly carried but Ian Niall is a writer you trust from the first. This is part of the reason why…

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