Posts Tagged ‘Para Handy’

Neil Munro: intro.

April 11, 2008

The front page lead story in the Glasgow News of 23rd December 1930 was on the death of the Scottish novelist Neil Munro. Its triple-decker headline read:

Death of Neil Munro

Passing of a Great Novelist

Genius in Journalism

Politics, crime, the economy were all relegated to second place. Over the next few days the News would publish four separate appreciations of Munro from prominent Scottish writers of the day such as R B Cunninghame Graham and J J Bell.

Although Munro was buried in a simple family ceremony at Inveraray, on the same day civic dignitaries, representatives of Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities, the churches, An Comunn Gaidhealach and the press attended a crowded memorial service in Glasgow Cathedral.

          Munro’s death was treated as a major event and all the Scottish and British newspapers carried appreciations of his work and accounts of his career. All would probably have agreed with the comment of one writer who observed: “Neil Munro is dead, and a light has gone out in Scotland.”          A much-loved author had died and his death seems to have moved the nation in a quite remarkable way.

          There was little in Munro’s background or early life to suggest the high place in Scottish literature, or in the national consciousness, that he came to occupy; indeed his birth and childhood could hardly have been more disadvantaged.

          Born on 3rd June 1863 in the Argyllshire town of Inveraray, to Ann Munro, an unmarried domestic servant, Neil Munro grew up with the problem of illegitimacy and in very modest circumstances. He never knew who his father was, although local rumour has persistently suggested a member of the family of the Dukes of Argyll.  

In the 1871 Census the young Neil was recorded as living with his grandfather, a retired crofter.  Ann Munro married the widowed Malcolm Thomson, the Governor of Inveraray Prison, in 1875, but at the 1881 Census Neil was staying with his great aunt Bell MacArthur, a former agricultural worker. This family background, with its roots in the Argyllshire countryside, meant that Munro was brought up bi-lingually. Gaelic culture and the Gaelic spirit informed much of his writing, although he never published any works in that language.

          After attending school in Inveraray, Munro about the age of 13 entered the local law office of William Douglas as a junior clerk.  This was an odd appointment. Nothing in Munro’s background made a career in the law likely; his fellow clerks were from a more conventional middle-class background – a doctor’s son and a lawyer’s son.  The job was in fact wished on Munro. He later wrote he was:


…insinuated, without any regard for my own desires, into a country lawyer’s office, wherefrom I withdrew myself as soon as I arrived at years of discretion and revolt.


Nor was it just any country lawyer’s office. William Douglas was a central part of the Argyllshire establishment: Clerk to the Commissioners of Supply, Clerk to the Lieutenancy of Argyll, and later, Sheriff Clerk and Justice of the Peace Clerk.  Perhaps the string-pulling that had landed the bright young Munro such a coveted job was connected with the mystery of his father’s identity.



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Para Handy

April 3, 2008
Para Handy Scottish icon!
Yes, Para Handy is surely one of the most remarkably resilient comic characters ever created. He first appeared in the columns of the Glasgow Evening News in 1905 and has never been out of print since.
Created by the Scottish novelist and journalist Neil Munro the Para Handy stories tell of the adventures of Para Handy,  Captain Peter Macfarlane, and the crew of the puffer Vital Spark.
OK – what’s a puffer?
A small steam lighter mainly used to carry general cargoes around the West of Scotland.
Despite the fact that the puffer has disappeared from our waters (apart from a couple of museum ships) and the world that they inhabited has changed almost beyond recognition, the stories have retained their freshness and humour in a quite remarkable way.

A typical puffer.

My co-editor, Ronnie Armstrong, and I were delighted and thrilled to discover 19 original stories, which had previously been unpublished in book form, in the files of the News  and have included these, along with comprehensive notes and introductory material and archive photographs in our Birlinn edition of the Complete Para Handy.

Click on the image below and you will be taken to where you can buy this book.

For more about Neil Munro check out the Neil Munro Society website

Exploring New Roads: Essays on Neil Munro

March 27, 2008
This collection of essays on Neil Munro, which I edited together with Ronald Renton, breaks new ground in bringing scholarly attention to the works of a neglected though significant figure on the Scottish literary scene. Munro (1863-1930) was a major historical novelist, a poet, a journalist, short story writer, critic and the author of humorous short fiction such as Para Handy. All these aspects of his work, together with essays on his life, environment and career, are included in this volume.

Click on the image below to get to the website where this book can be ordered.

For more information on Neil Munro go to the Neil Munro Society website

Jimmy Swan, the Joy Traveller

March 27, 2008

Neil Munro’s Para Handy stories are widely known and loved, his Erchie Mcpherson stories are also remembered but for some reason the third series of humorous sketches that Munro wrote for the Glasgow Evening News in the early 20th Century have been comparatively overlooked, although those who know them are aware of their very special qualities of gentle humour and real charm. Their central character, Jimmy Swan, is a commercial traveller for one of the great Glasgow drapery warehouses, and he travels round Scotland bringing the latest fashions to  small towns. However Jimmy is much more than a travelling salesman, he is a philosopher, friend and universal provider to all with whom he comes in contact.

Click on the image below to go to the where you can purchase this book, which comes complete with notes and introductory material.

For information about Neil Munro check the Neil Munro Society website

That Vital Spark: a Neil Munro Anthology

March 26, 2008


Neil Munro [pictured above] is known to many as the author of the immortal Para Handy stories  – but he was much more than that.  A great historical novelist with works like The New Road to his credit he was also for most of his life a popular columnist on the Glasgow Evening News.  On his death in 1930 he was praised as a Highland historical novelist in the tradition of Scott and Stevenson. The idea of this anthology is to present as wide a selection of Munro’s writings as possible – poetry, criticism, travel writing, short fiction and also the surviving chapters of his unfinished novel The Search.

Click on the image below to link to where this anthology can be ordered at a discounted price.

For more information about Neil Munro check the Neil Munro Society website