Eileen / Adobe Stock
Eileen / Adobe Stock

Scottish muse: We speak to 13 authors about their favourite writing spots


Scotland has never been short of literary gems, whether authors were born, raised or immigrated here, this land has inspired and emboldened many to create. From past literary heroes like Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robbie Burns and Muriel Spark to prolific modern legends like Jackie Kay, Ian Rankin, Sir Alexander McCall Smith and Val McDermid, the myths, legends, culture and geography of Scotland has made its mark on them all.

We asked 13 writers, across multiple genres, with links to Scotland to share their favourite spots to write and where they would hold their dream Scottish retreat. 


“So I have gathered unto myself
All the loose ends of Scotland,
And by naming them and accepting them,
Loving them and identifying myself with them,
Attempt to express the whole.” – Hugh MacDiarmid



Ali Millar

Born in Scotland and now living in London, Ali Millar is an author and journalist. Her debut memoir, The Last Days, was released by Penguin Random House to widespread critical acclaim in 2022. Ava Anna Ada is her debut novel.

Favourite Scottish Writing Spot: Soderberg in Edinburgh.

‘I’d sit working at one of their large windows with a cardamom bun, pretending to work but in reality distracted by everyone, after, I’d walk across the meadows to The Edinburgh Bookshop in Bruntsfield. Or Mainstreet Trading in the Scottish Borders, where I wrote some of my first book.’

Dream retreat: Colonsay.

‘My grandfather was the school master there. I’m now writing a manuscript set on an island; I’d go back to immerse myself.’

Ava Anna Ada is described by the Guardian as a bleeding, sweating novel; when Anna encounters Ava for the first time faces fray and secrets splinter, the past casting the present anew, forcing Anna and Ada to reckon with who they truly are. 


C.E. McGill

C. E. McGill is a writer of historical, queer, and speculative fiction (ideally, all three at once). Born in Edinburgh and raised in North Carolina, they recently moved back to Scotland, where they’ve been re-acquainting themself with the local hills and collecting far too much gin.

Favourite Scottish writing spot: Burntisland.

‘Sitting by the sea wall, overlooking the waves and the hills in the distance. Depending on the weather, it can be either beautifully tranquil or fantastically bleak and dramatic — wonderful for plotting out climactic scenes.’

Dream retreat: Dunrobin Castle.

‘Preferably with writing snacks delivered by falcon.’

McGill’s debut novel Our Hideous Progeny is a reworking of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in which Victor Frankenstein’s great-niece, a paleontologist in Victorian London, follows in his footsteps.


Douglas S Murray

From Ness, Isle of Lewis, Donald S Murray was a teacher throughout most of his adult life. A Gaelic speaker, he writes largely in English, his work including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, short stories, novels, and occasionally drama. He has won a number of national awards, including the Paul Torday Prize and the Callum Macdonald award.

Favourite Scottish writing spot: Comunn Eachdraidh Nis

‘I was first inspired to write by the late Tearlach Louis or Charles Macdonald, my former headteacher at Cross Primary School. Nowadays this building has become the centre of Comunn Eachdraidh Nis or Ness Historical Society. Again and again, this award-winning group has provided an example of how to show the history of a community in an imaginative and informative way. Given its resources, it is one of the most inspirational of its kind in Scotland.’

Dream Scottish Retreat: Isle Ornsay lighthouse

‘Every time I travel to Skye I always look with longing on the wonderful Isle Ornsay lighthouse. It helped to inspire Gavin Maxwell among other writers. As someone with a love of lighthouses from an early age, I have no doubt that if I ever stepped there, it would have the same effect on me.’

The Salt and the Flame is about Hebridean emigration to the States in 1923. This theme has also inspired both song-lyrics and poetry. In the case of the former, these became part of the musical tour ‘In the Wake of Metagama’ which featured in this year’s Celtic Connections. More is coming in the near future!


Douglas Skelton

Douglas Skelton was born in Glasgow. He has been a bank clerk, tax officer, taxi driver (for two days), wine waiter (for two hours), journalist and investigator. He has written several true crime and Scottish criminal history books but now concentrates on fiction.

Favourite Scottish writing spot? At Home

‘I’m sorry to say that it’s at home, at my own desk, with my music playing. I’ve tried elsewhere but for some reason I can’t. I even find it difficult to write on trains because there is too much to see both outside the carriage and inside. People are fascinating!’

Where would you host your dream writing retreat? Kinloch Rannoch

‘Despite the above, I would host it somewhere near Kinloch Rannoch, preferably in sight of Schiehallion. I love it there.’

The Hollow Mountain is the sixth Rebecca Connolly book, and it centres on the tunnel tigers who created the hydroelectric network. Get ready 


Elle Machray

Elle Machray grew up in Birmingham to Welsh–Caribbean and Scottish parents, and is now based in Edinburgh. After graduating from the HarperCollins Author Academy in spring 2021, their debut novel Remember, Remember was longlisted for the Mslexia Novel Prize, judged by Hilary Mantel and chosen as a Best Debut Novel for 2024 by The Observer.

Favourite Scottish writing spot: Edinburgh Central Library

‘For research and planning, under the golden dome of the Reference Room at Edinburgh Central Library. When I’m writing I love the peace and focus that comes with drafting at the National Library of Scotland.’

Dream Scottish retreat: Tucked between munros

‘A cosy cabin tucked between munros, a winding path down to an expansive shore, wild horses, log fires and caramel-noted whisky.’

Remember, Remember is an 18th century reimagining of the gunpowder plot where a woman attempts to overthrow the British Empire.


Elle McNicoll

Elle McNicoll is an award-winning Scottish children’s author. Her debut novel, A Kind of Spark, won the Blue Peter Book Award and Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. It has been named one of BBC Culture’s 100 Greatest Children’s Books of All Time and adapted into a critically acclaimed live-action CBBC series.

Favourite Scottish writing spot: Bruar, Loch Ness and more.

‘The best place to write in Scotland is to walk, without pen and paper, in nature. The water of Leith, Dean Village, Loch Ness, Bruar, Glasgow’s streets when it rains will provide all of the character and prose I need. I’ll keep it locked in my head until I get to a computer.’

Dream retreat: Aviemore

‘My dream retreat would be in Aviemore. Where I spent childhood summers and learned to write.’

Keedie, a prequel to A Kind of Spark, will be published by Knights Of on 4th April 2024.


Gareth Brown

Gareth Brown is the author of the instant Sunday Times bestseller, The Book of Doors. Gareth has been writing since he was a teenager, but The Book of Doors is his first published novel. When not writing, Gareth works full time as a Director within Scotland’s National Health Service.

Favourite Scottish writing spot: Isle of Skye

‘I love to sit by a window with a sea view. One of my best experiences was when we rented a cottage on Skye with a view of Raasay and the Inner Sound. I would write while intermittently watching the mountains and the Raasay ferry going back and forth.’

Dream retreat: Scottish Highlands

‘Anywhere in the Scottish Highlands. Maybe a comfortable library in a luxury, remote hunting lodge or castle!’

The Book of Doors was published in the UK by Bantam Books on 15 February 2024.


Lesley McDowell

Lesley McDowell is a writer of historical fiction that specialises in the lives of real women. She’s especially keen on Gothic-related women like Mary Shelley, and prefers dark stories full of secrets and betrayal. She has also written non-fiction about the relationships of 20th century women writers.

Favourite Scottish writing spot: Caffe Nero, Glasgow

‘I actually wrote Clairmont in a busy, glass-fronted, spacious Glasgow city-centre Caffe Nero, and my favourite “desk” is a table in the corner beside the fridge – not the most romantic location! It’s also close to places in my next book, though, and, for me, it’s perfect.’

Dream retreat: Lennox Castle

‘If I had millions, I’d restore Lennox Castle, perfect for Gothic writers! It probably has ghosts, too.’

Clairmont, published by Wildfire in 2024, is about Claire Clairmont, the stepsister of Mary Shelley and lover of Byron, and mother of his child, Allegra. 


Maisie Chan

Maisie Chan is an award-winning British Chinese children’s author who lives in Glasgow. She is the author of the Tiger Warrior series, as well as various middle-grade novels including Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths (Bonnier), for which she won the 2022 Jhalak Prize and the 2022 Branford Boase Award.

Favourite Scottish writing spot: Moniack Mhor

‘My favourite place to write in Scotland is Moniack Mhor, the writers retreat centre near Inverness. I try to go once a year if I can. The views are amazing, and the food is wholesome! I also go to my local bookshop café to work. I can see people walking past and enjoy the inspiration of books surrounding me.’

Dream writing retreat: loch side with a full fridge

‘I would love to be in a cabin loch side with a comfy bed and a fridge full of food! I love looking at water, whether that is a loch or an ocean.’

Tiger Warrior: Clash of the Dragon Masters comes out in June and Jack faces his biggest challenges yet! This is the last in the series and they’re going out with a bang! 


Rosie Steer


Rosie embraced slow-living and found solace in the nature-centric traditions of the Celtic Wheel of the Year after suffering with her mental health. She set up her Instagram and Substack to track small moments of joy through the seasons and fostered a loyal following. She lives and works in Edinburgh.

Favourite Scottish writing spot: Guardswell Farm overlooking the Carse of Gowrie

‘Ideally, I’d be writing in my favourite cabin at Guardswell Farm overlooking the Carse of Gowrie! In reality, my writing celebrates everyday moments of magic wherever you are, and my process echoes this too: I usually write at my tenement kitchen table looking out over the treetops and chimney pots.’

Dream retreat: Lundies House

‘I’d love to host a retreat at Lundies House in Tongue, Sutherland, influenced by the surrounding landscape and nature-inspired interiors.’

Slow Seasons is filled with seasonal crafts, recipes, nature notes and celebrations inspired by the solstices, equinoxes and their mid-points.


Sir Alexander McCall Smith

Sir Alexander McCall Smith’s various series of books have been translated into over 46 languages and have sold more than 30 million copies across the world. They include The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, set in Botswana, and the 44 Scotland Street and Isabel Dalhousie series, both set in Edinburgh.

Favourite Scottish writing spot: In his book-filled study

‘I have a study full of books in my house in Edinburgh. It is a light room with a high ceiling. I find it hard to write under a low ceiling for some reason. It is full of objects that means something to me.’

Dream Scottish retreat: Argyll

‘Somewhere in Argyll, with a view perhaps of an island. And outside the window, a stretch of machair down to a light green sea.’

The Perfect Passion Company by Alexander McCall Smith, published by Polygon, is the first in a new Edinburgh-set series and is available now.


T.L. Huchu

T.L. Huchu is the winner of a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award (2023), Alex Award (2022), the Children’s Africana Book Award (2021), a Nommo Award for African SFF (2022, 2017), and has been shortlisted for  the Grand prix de l’Imaginaire (2019). His Edinburgh Nights urban fantasy series is now on its third instalment.

Favourite Scottish writing spot: Wester Hailes

‘I write from the living room of my flat in Wester Hailes. I love the voices coming from the square below, and when I peek out I spot my neighbours on the estate, colourful folks who are the heroes in their own stories. Writers’ block is impossible on this estate of a thousand tall tales.’

Dream retreat: Isle of Skye

‘Somewhere on the Isle of Skye – there’s something ancient and other worldly about that landscape.’

The Mystery at Dunvegan Castle was published in autumn 2023. The forth instalment of his Edinburgh Nights series, The Legacy of Arniston House will be published by Tor Books on Nov 7, 2024.


Val McDermid 

One of the UK’s most accomplished and respected novelists, Val McDermid has sold over 19 million books to date across the globe and is translated into more than 40 languages. Her multi-award winning series and standalone novels have been adapted for TV and radio, most notably the Wire in the Blood series featuring clinical psychologist Dr Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan. The first series of the ITV adaptation of the Karen Pirie series, featuring a Scottish cold case detective, aired in 2022.

Favourite Scottish writing spot: East Neuk of Fife

‘I have a cottage in the East Neuk of Fife where my writing room looks out across the Firth of Forth to Berwick Law. It’s a constantly shifting panorama of sea and sky, seabirds and the occasional pod of dolphins. There’s something about the movement of water that helps me think.’

Dream Scottish retreat: Moniack Mhor

‘I’m always inspired at the Scottish Writing Centre at Moniack Mhor in the mountains above Loch Ness especially in summer when it never becomes properly dark.’

2024 sees the publication of Queen Macbeth, her reimagining of the story of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, in May and then a brand new Karen Pirie novel in October.

Read more of our Book news here.

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