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Scottish Culture/Seeking a feel and taste of St. Andrews


Dear Ms. McAlpine,

I'm an unpublished writer in New York City. I'm writing a fiction about a major character, whose aunt and uncle come to visit him in America, after never hearing from him. At this point, I've decided to make their place of residence St. Andrews (65-75 minutes away from Edinburgh#.

I'd like to write them with some flavor and dimension, and not as thin stereotypical characters.

> Can you summarize for me what St. Andrews is like?

> I had an idea to make his uncle in the ship-building business #a man of mid-60's maybe#, but I read that this is primarily a Glasgow industry. Is ship-building still a significant industry in general? What employment do men in St. Andrews commonly take?

> Is there a strong Christian #Protestant# community in St. Andrews?

> How about turn of phrase? Dialect? What should I look for to immerse myself a bit in the speaking voice?

> What type of music is in St. Andrews? What instruments are common?

> I chose the name McDubin #There was a reason). Is there a list of more common names in St. Andrews?

I appreciate your patience and help during your busy schedule. I look forward to your reply. Thank you.



Dear David

You missed out a very important piece of information regarding your  work - the era.

However, here are a few pointers.

St Andrews is one of Scotland's older towns.
Currently, it is one of the more prosperous towns in Scotland.
It is the 'home of golf' - with the golf course being one of the most prestigious.
It is the home of one of the most prestigious universities in Scotland - and one of the oldest ones.
Its cathedral was once the finest in Scotland, and  perhaps in Europe
Its castle was the scene of a notable siege - with both sides tunnelling under the castle!
One of the Protestant martyrs - George Wishart was burned to death there in the 16th century. It has seen its archbishop murdered in the 17th century - hacked to death by Covenanters.

The name does not sound in any way genuine, unfortunately. St Andrews is in Fife, and there would never have been a strong Highland presence - in the 19th century, much of the Highland diaspora went to Glasgow. As you suspect, there is no heavy industry presence - Fife is marked by agriculture and fishing.

There is no music specific to St Andrews - and any that you might refer to is defined by the class of your characters.

I hate to sound like I'm putting you off, but to set anything in a culture and country that you are not familiar with is gong to take some serious research (I usually bring this upon myself by basing  stories in the past).

This is where the internet comes in. Get on to Google maps - 'go' to St Andrews and have a 'wander' around the streets.
Check out: (golf-centred, but there is a 'relax' page which tells you about - info on the castle

That's a starter

In terms of language - you can only try to find native speakers - maybe try:

This is a sound archive from the School of Scottish Studies - just make sure the person is originally from the place you are interested in(!)

I'd think more about the name. Why not either have a mooch around some history books, or try and get you hands on the BT Phone Book for Fife and / or St Andrews (maybe online?) that way, you'll get a much better idea of local names - or look up directories of St Andrew's businesses - that way you might get a sense of what names are more usual.

That's some for starters - and please don't think this is in any way an attempt to put you off: I take a creative writing group myself and it's just a case of  doing the shovel work - thin about when you're writing and take it from there.

Best of luck - and keep on writing!


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Kaye McAlpine


Lifecycle (birth, marriage, death) customs in Scotland, Early Modern Scottish social customs, modern Scottish social customs, Border March laws and procedures, criminal processes and judicial execution practices, social history in Early Modern Scotland, ephemera printing in Scotland. While I have some knowledge of the clan system and function of the clan society (Highland and Lowland), I am not a an expert in clan genealogy. Having traced back my own family over a couple of centuries, and traced others due to academic research, I do know how the system works, however. This doesn't mean that I'm a genealogist. Please note that I do not speak Gaelic.


Research Fellow (University of Edinburgh). Contributer to various books and journals on ballads, including Scottish Life and Society: A Compendium of Scottish Ethnology, The Ballad and History and The Harris Repertoire. Freelance tutor in outreach courses from Edinburgh University on Scottish Culture and Tradition, including lifecycle customs, broadsheet ballads in Scotland, the traditional ballad and history. Freelance writer, guest presenter on Ch4 History Hunters programme, contributor to BBC Radio Scotland's 'Songlines' series on 'The Dowie Dens of Yarrow'. Currently co-director of a media production company

Books: Forthcoming: The Gallows and The Stake Published: Compendium of Scottish Ethnology, vol. 10, chapter on The Traditional and the Border Ballad; The Harris Repertoire (2000, Scottish Text Society, co-editor), The Ballad in History (chapter on Border ballads). Journals include Folklore, The Review of Scottish Culture,Sottish Studies, and The Scottish Literary Journal

Ph D, M. Phil, BA (hons)

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