Edinburgh

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… recent developments in Edinburgh connect to stuff that happens in that book.

Someone who gets quite a bit of mention in The Edinburgh Dead – even though he’s long dead at the time of the story – is Major Weir, Edinburgh’s most infamous, notorious warlock. The book’s hero, Adam Quire, even ventures into Weir’s derelict, haunted former residence. I had to improvise a bit for that scene, since Weir’s actual house isn’t there any more. People who tried to stay there after his execution reported all manner of distressing manifestations and supernatural goings-on, and it was eventually demolished.

Or was it? Someone thinks it survived, and they reckon they’ve identified it. So perhaps Edinburgh’s most famously haunted and creepily-historied building is, in fact, still here. Amongst us. Watching us. It was apparently absorbed into the building pictured on the right.

I’m instinctively a bit sceptical, to be honest, but who knows? Anyway, if true, it amuses me that Weir’s house was apparently incorporated into a chapel building, which is now the Quaker Meeting House. I confess, that building’s not quite where I chose to put Weir’s house for The Edinburgh Dead, but I was only off by about fifty yards, which isn’t too bad I reckon.

The tale of Major Thomas Weir is, by the way, crazy and creepy – worth a read if you’ve not heard of him – and also perhaps kind of sad, since it seems more than a little likely he was, like many people in the past, unpleasantly executed basically for being mad.

Slightly more tenuously connected to The Edinburgh Dead, but included here because it’s pretty: there’s been an exhibition of Chinese lanterns in the University’s Old College this week.

The Edinburgh Dead‘s based on the true history of grave-robbing and the illicit trade in corpses for medical dissection, and quite a few of those corpses ended up in Old College. Indeed, in one of fate’s most wry and satisfying twists, William Burke – who was one half of the Burke & Hare duo who murdered to meet the demand for corpses, and who appears in The Edinburgh Dead – ended up on a dissection slab in Old College. After he was hung, his corpse was publicly dissected there. There was such demand to witness the butchering of his body that there was a near-riot when audience space proved inadequate.

Anyway, nice lanterns don’t you think? Based on the famous terracotta army, of course.

Check out the Edinburgh Dead photo-trailer for lots more visuals and history that connect to the book.

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I’m a curmudgeon, so the profusion of Christmassy stuff that starts to pop up everywhere around the end of October/start of November turns me into a grumpy old man. But now it’s December, so as far as I’m concerned we’re all allowed to start getting Christmassy. Every year, around now, a market and funfair-type stuff pops up in the middle of Edinburgh, around the base of the Scott Monument. A visit is the official start of my personal ‘gearing-up-for-Xmas’ process.

Eat roasted chestnuts (nice but, of course, horribly overpriced).

Admire the Monument.  Is it the most gothically substantial monument to a writer ever erected?  Pleases me to live in a city that – not now, but once open a time – thought a writer could be worthy of such gargantuan commemoration.  (Though it’s true that the importance of Sir Walter Scott to Edinburgh’s and Scotland’s history goes rather beyond his literary contributions).

Note, in passing, that the Monument does not appear in The Edinburgh Dead because it wasn’t built until the 1840s, more than a decade after the year that novel’s set.  But Princes Street, beside which it stands, does, and the man himself makes a fleeting appearance.  In fact, I found a place for him in the book through one of the funnest little facts I uncovered in the course of research: turns out, he was a supportive patron of the legendary American bird artist John James Audubon, who – I never knew this before research – was in Scotland around the time of The Edinburgh Dead.  There was an exhibition of Audubon’s painting at a big gallery just a stone’s throw from where the Scott Monument now stands; in the novel, all the city’s great and good are at that exhibition, including the august Sir Walter Scott.

Gaze up at the wheel, and ponder a ride.

Jump on wheel, rotate up, and get a view of the city that’s usually not there for the getting: across the lofty shoulders of the Scott Monument, looking down and to the East.

That gandiose slab of stone pretending to be a building in the middle distance is the Balmoral Hotel, by the way.  Traditionally – I guess it might still be true, though I don’t know – the big clock you can just about make out up on its tower was deliberately set just a little bit fast, so that Edinburgh’s industrious folk would not be late for their appointments.

And, in departing, suitably freshened by the chill air, reflect on one final thought: Edinburgh + a cold clear winter’s day = some of the finest light to be had anywhere in the world.

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