Eric Linklater, poet, historical writer, versatile novelist, biographer and playwright, died on the 7th of November, 1974.
Erik Linklater wasn't born in Scotland, but the question of his 'scottishness' has long since been resolved. In football or rugby terms, he was very well qualified, needing only his father's Scottish credentials, a first generation link, to satisfy that criteria. As far as Linklater himself was concerned, he was an Orcadian and, therefore, Scottish and he always considered his spiritual home to have been the Orkney Isles, from where his father was. In fact, the ten years old Linklater seems to have been obsessed enough about his roots to have calculated beyond doubt that he had been conceived in Orkney. That's got to be good enough by anyone's yardstick. However, just to cement the thing, his mother, “a woman of fierce and determined character” who was half Swedish and half English, had, according to her son, “arbitrarily decided that she was Scotch.” Aye, that'll dae! Linklater never claimed to have been born in Orkney, but he was happy with everyone's assumption until he confirmed his Welsh birthplace in the third volume of his autobiography, published in 1970.
Whilst Linklater was a prolific writer of novels, popular histories and children's stories, he had also been, at one time or another, a journalist in India, commander of a wartime fortress in the Orkney Islands, a wannabe politician, and rector of Aberdeen University. Eric Linklater was also a war hero. When the First World War interrupted his life, he joined the Army, in which he served on the Somme as a Private in the Black Watch. As a budding poet, he perhaps shared more with Rupert Brooke than Wilfred Owen, however, Linklater 'wasn't fit to tie the shoelaces' of those other guys. As a soldier, Linklater became a sniper, oddly, just for a few weeks; maybe that was more than enough. Interestingly, however, he once said of that period in his life that it had provided an intensity that he never once experienced again. Private Linklater was seriously wounded in the head, near the ruined village of Voormezeele, and spent several month is a field hospital.
Eric Linklater's time in the Second World War was less concerning. As a Major in the Royal Engineers, he commanded the Orkney garrison, being responsible for strengthening the defences at Scapa Flow. After the Germans stopped their bombing raids against Orkney and Shetland, Linklater launched 'The Orkney Blast' newspaper; to relieve the boredom. Later on, Linklater worked at the public relations section of the British War Office and went to Italy, where he helped to rediscover art treasures 'lost' in Florence during the war.
In between the two World Wars, in 1933, Linklater stood as a parliamentary candidate for the National Party of Scotland in the East Fife by-election. He was unsuccessful, but perhaps we should be thankful for that as it was upon his experiences in that campaign – thinly disguised – that he drew for the political satire, 'Magnus Merriman'. Of interest is the roll call of Linklater's contemporaries who were members of the National Party for Scotland, including Hugh MacDiarmid and Neil Gunn. Indeed, 'Magnus Merriman' is notable for its ridiculing of the 'literary renaissance' in Scotland, one of the main protagonists in which was the unfortunate MacDiarmid (real name: Christopher Murray Grieve) . Linklater was disappointed, if not disillusioned, in the Nationalist Party, largely because, as he saw things, its sole policy was fairly predictable – separation from England. However, he was in favour of Scottish autonomy as is evident from one of his non-fiction works, 'The Lion and the Unicorn', which is about Scotland's [poor] relations with England.
Eric Robert Russell Linklater was born in Penarth, in the Vale of Glamorgan, on the 8th of March, 1899. Wee Ek went to the Cardiff Intermediate School for Boys for a while, before his family moved back to Orkney and Eric attended Aberdeen Grammar School. In 1916, Eric entered Aberdeen University to read medicine, but his studies were interrupted by World War I. After the war, in 1919, Linklater returned to 'civvy street' ostensibly to resume his medical studies at Aberdeen. However, he soon realized that he had chosen the wrong profession and switched to reading English literature at King's College, from where he graduated M.A. In 1925. Linklater then embarked on a career in journalism, becoming Assistant Editor of 'The Times of India' in Bombay; a post he held until 1927, before returning to work at the University in Aberdeen, in 1928.
His journey 'home' could've been an adventure in itself as he travelled through Persia and across the Caspian Sea to the Caucasus. In fact, many of Linklater's books drew on his experiences travelling in various parts of the world, including the time he spent in the Far East in the 1950s. During his time in India, Linklater had become determined to write something more than mere newspaper articles. As a consequence, during the next two years, which he spent at Cornell University in Berkley, California and in China on a Commonwealth Fellowship, he spent most of his time working on his third novel. That satirical novel, which was about Prohibition and called 'Juan in America' was published in 1931.
With its tale of gangsters, molls, and speakeasy's, 'Juan' was chosen by the Book Society as Book of the Month, but it annoyed the hell out of the Commonwealth Foundation. Linklater was accused of showing insufficient respect for the institutions of the mighty United States, but the book established his reputation as a serious [sic] humorist. The first two of Linklater's twenty-three novels were 'White-man's Saga' (1929), set in 'Inverdoon' and the satirical 'Poet's Pub' (1930). His output of books also included 'Private Angelo', which is a gently comic story about an Italian peasant who finds redemption; filmed in 1949, starring Peter Ustinov. His three volumes of autobiography are entitled 'The Man on my back', 'A Year of Space' and 'Fanfare for a tin hat'.
Eric Robert Russell Linklaterdied in Aberdeen on the 7th of November, 1974. He was buried in in Harray Kirkyard, in Orkney.