‘I can remember quite clearly now a recuperating soldier singing me Gaelic songs but I can also remember small, insignificant things – the sound of a porridge pot bubbling; talk on a wet Sunday when the hills were veiled in mist; the clatter and laughter of dancers on the tiled floor of the kitchen when the vigour of their gyrations set up a draught that made the oil-lamp smoke.’
So John McNeillie concludes the Preface to this the original and until recently mislaid and forgotten version of his account of his childhood and youth-time at North Clutag farm. One of the finest pieces of writing he produced in a lifetime’s output of some forty books, it is now published for the first time.
Accompanying it are four hitherto unpublished tales, written around 1939 and 1940, shortly after their author, at the tender age of twenty-two, caused a sensation with Wigtown Ploughman: Part of his life (1939). ‘Boy in the Beanfield’, ‘Tales of the Smith’, ‘The Cancer Doctor’, and ‘Did you ever hear the like?’ shed fascinating light on elements in the memoir and reveal as nothing else John McNeillie wrote the story-telling culture in which his gift was forged.
Click here to read Robert Macfarlane’s review of My Childhood in the TLS, from 19th November 2004.
(Clutag Press, 2004)