Review published on February 21, 2018.
Born in 1893 in Peterculter just outside Aberdeen to John and Jane Shepherd, Nan Shepherd moved when she was tiny to a home in Cults where she had a happy upbringing and was to remain almost all her life. She was educated at Aberdeen High School and went to Aberdeen University where she graduated in 1915. A job teaching English at Aberdeen College of Education followed and she was there until retiring in 1956.
She had begun writing poems whilst at university and this love of language was complemented by her love for of landscape and mountains of the Cairngorms in particular. By the 1930s Nan Shepherd had written three novels, The Quarry Wood, The Weatherhouse and A Pass in the Grampians as well as a small volume of poetry called In the Cairngorms; these had modest literary success and critical acclaim and was she considered to be one of Scotland’s literati. Politically savvy too, Shepard was heavily involved in the Scottish modernist movement.
The book that was to be acknowledged her masterpiece though almost never happened. The passion and love of the mountains that she had, became the manuscript of The Living Mountain. It was first written in the 1940s and sent to various publishers, all of whom declined it. Not totally sure what to do with it, she placed it in a drawer in a unit in her hall. It was to remain there for over 30 years. Then in 1977, she fished it out of the drawer after someone expressed an interest in it. The first print run was only 300 copies, but interest grew in the book and in time it was recognised as a classic piece of landscape writing.
Nan Shepherd was a very private lady, and I think Peacock has done a reasonable job here of teasing out the stories of this reticent and stoic individual. She had access to the archives of Shepherd and spent time talking to the few friends that are left.
It was interesting finding out about an author who has made such an impact with a slender book that almost nearly wasn’t. Not too bad overall and if you have a fascination with what made Shepherd who she was then I would recommend it, but it did read a little like an academic paper at times.
Paul Cheney 3/3
Into the Mountain: A Life of Nan Shepherd by Charlotte Peacock
Galileo Publishers 9781903385562 hbk Oct 2017
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