John Herdman

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John Herdman
John Herdman.jpg
John Herdman pictured at The Grassmarket Project, October 2014.
Born Template:Birth date and age
Edinburgh, Scotland
Occupation Writer
Nationality British
Genre Scottish literature
Notable awards Template:Awd Template:Awd

John Macmillan Herdman (born July 20, 1941) is a Scottish novelist, short story writer and literary critic.

He is the author of seventeen books including five novels and various works of shorter fiction, a play, two critical studies and a memoir, and he has contributed to twenty other books. His work has been translated, broadcast and anthologized, and taught at universities in France, Australia and Russia.

Life and Career

John Herdman was educated at Merchiston Castle School, and then at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a double first in English in 1963 and afterwards did research in Scottish literature. At a later date he returned to Cambridge to study church history for a Diploma in Theology, and in 1988 was awarded his Cambridge Ph.D for his published critical work. In the late 1960s and 1970s he was much involved in Scottish nationalism, both political and literary, a period recalled in his memoirs Poets, Pubs, Polls and Pillar Boxes (Akros, 1999) and Another Country (Thirsty Books, 2013). He has held a Creative Writing Fellowship at Edinburgh University (1977-79), Hawthornden Writer’s Fellowships (1989 and 1995), and the William Soutar Fellowship in Perth (1990-91), and has been Writer in Residence at Champlain College, Trent University, Canada (1998). He has received two Scottish Arts Council Book Awards and four bursaries. He is married and lives in Edinburgh.

John Herdman has voiced his support for Scottish Independence.


As a fiction writer, Herdman’s main publications have been Descent (1968), A Truth Lover (1973), Memoirs of my Aunt Minnie / Clapperton (1974), Pagan’s Pilgrimage (1978), Stories Short and Tall (1979), Imelda and Other Stories (1993), Ghostwriting (1995), Four Tales (2000), The Sinister Cabaret (2001), and My Wife’s Lovers (2007). A French edition of Imelda appeared in 2006. These works have been seen as continuing the tradition of James Hogg and R.L. Stevenson in Scottish fiction, but Herdman’s main affinities are perhaps with European writers of the nineteenth century and with Irish and European modernism. His fictions have a metaphysical flavour and a preoccupation with psychological duality, as well as strong elements of the surreal, the satirical and the grotesque. The books were widely commented upon in Scotland on publication, and studies of interest include Macdonald Daly’s introduction to Four Tales (Zoilus Press, 2000), Jean Berton’s articles on Ghostwriting in Études Écossaises nos. 8 and 9 (Université de Stendhal-Grenoble 3, 2002 and 2003-4), and Maïca Sanconie’s Postface to the French edition of Imelda (Quidam Editeur, 2006). Herdman has been interviewed by Macdonald Daly in Southfields six point one (1999), and by Isobel Murray and Bob Tait in Scottish Writers Talking 3 (John Donald, 2006). His plays Clapperton’s Day and Cruising were successfully produced on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1985 and 1997 respectively, the latter being published in 1997.

As critic, Herdman has published Voice Without Restraint: Bob Dylan’s Lyrics and their Background (London and New York, 1982; Japanese translation, Tokyo, 1983), and The Double in Nineteenth Century Fiction (London, 1990, and New York, 1991), and contributed to various critical volumes on Scottish literary subjects. He has written very widely on modern and contemporary Scottish writers, including Hugh MacDiarmid, Sorley MacLean, David Lindsay, William Soutar, Fionn MacColla, Norman MacCaig, Tom Scott, Duncan Glen and D.M. Black. He edited two volumes of The Third Statistical Account of Scotland: Vol. 22 (The County of Berwick) (1992), and Vol. 28 (The County of Roxburgh) (1992). He is a past editor of Catalyst for the Scottish Viewpoint, and between 2004 and 2012 was co-editor (with Walter Perrie) of Fras and Fras Publications.


Short stories



  • Descent (Fiery Star Press, Edinburgh, 1968) - available from Zoilus Press
  • A Truth Lover (Akros Publications, Preston, 1973)
  • Memoirs of my Aunt Minnie/Clapperton (Rainbow Books, Aberdeen, 1974)
  • Pagan's Pilgrimage (Akros Publications, Preston, 1978)
  • Stories Short & Tall (Caithness Books, Thurso, 1979) - available direct from John Herdman
  • Voice Without Restraint: Bob Dylan's Lyrics & their Background (Paul Harris Publishing, Edinburgh, 1982; Delilah Books, New York, 1982; (Japanese translation) CBS/Sony Publishing, Tokyo, 1983) - available on CD from Zoilus Press
  • Three Novellas (Polygon Books, Edinburgh, 1987) - OOP
  • The Double in Nineteenth Century Fiction (The Macmillan Press, London, 1990; St Martin's Press, New York, 1991) - available from James Thin and from Macmillan Press on order.
  • Imelda & Other Stories (Polygon, Edinburgh, 1993)
  • Ghostwriting (Polygon, Edinburgh, 1996) (OOP)
  • Cruising: A Play in Two Acts (diehard publishers, Edinburgh, 1997)
  • Poets, Pubs, Polls & Pillar Boxes (Akros Publications, Kirkcaldy, 1999) - OOP
  • Four Tales, with an introduction by MacDonald Daly (Zoilus Press, London, 2000)
  • The Sinister Cabaret (Black Ace Books, Forfar, 2001)
  • Triptych: Three Tales (fras Publications, Blair Atholl, 2004)
  • Imelda, trans. with a post-face by Maïca Sanconie (Quidam Editeur, Paris, 2006) (OOP)
  • My Wife's Lovers: Ten Tales (Black Ace Books, Perth, 2007)
  • Another Country (Thirsty Books/ Argyll Publishing, Edinburgh, 2013)


Contributor to:

  • Whither Scotland?, ed. Duncan Glen (Victor Gollancz, London, 1971)
  • Essays on Fionn MacColla, ed. David Morrison (Caithness Books, Thurso, 1973) - available from James Thin
  • Jock Tamson's Bairns, ed. Trevor Royle (Hamish Hamilton, London, 1977)
  • Twentieth Century Literature of Criticism, Vol. 15 (Gale Research Co., Detroit, 1985)
  • Essays on Sorley MacLean, ed. Joy Hendry & Raymond J. Ross (Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh, 1986)
  • The Devil & the Giro: Two Twentieth Centuries of Scottish Stories, ed. Carl MacDougall (Canongate, Edinburgh, 1989)
  • The Day I Met the Queen Mother (New Writing Scotland 8) (ASLS, Aberdeen, 1990)
  • The Devil & Dr Tuberose (Scottish Short Stories 1991) (Harper Collins, London, 1991)
  • Nineteenth Century Literature Criticism, Vol. 40 (Gale Research Co., Detroit, 1993)
  • The Picador Book of Contemporary Scottish Fiction, ed. Peter Kravitz (Picador, London, 1997)
  • Marilynre várva: Mai skót novellák (Pannónia Könyvek, Hungary, 1998)
  • The Keekin-Gless: An Anthology from Perth & Kinross, ed. R.A. Jamieson & Carl MacDougall (Perth & Kinross Libraries, Perth, 1999)
  • Figures of Speech: An Anthology of Magdalene Writers, ed. M.E.J. Hughes, John Mole, Nick Seddon (Magdalene College, Cambridge, 2000)
  • The Lie of the Land: Poems and Stories from Perth & Kinross, ed. Brian McCabe et al. (Perth and Kinross Libraries, Perth, 2004)
  • The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. Colin Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004)
  • Bringing Back Some Brightness: 20 Years of New Writing Scotland (NWS 22), ed. Valerie Thornton and Hamish Whyte (ASLS, Glasgow, 2004)
  • Short Story Criticism, Vol. 44 (Thomson Gale, Michigan, 2005-6)
  • Nineteenth Century Literature Criticism, Vol. 192 (Gale, Cengage Learning, 2008)
  • The Mammoth Book of Bob Dylan, ed. Sean Egan (Robinson, London, 2011)


  • Third Statistical Account of Scotland:
   * Vol. XXIII, The County of Berwick (Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh, 1992)
   * Vol. XXVIII, The County of Roxburgh (Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh, 1992)


Other links?