Les Wilson
Les Wilson

The Good Books, Les Wilson: ‘I grew up reading Winnie-the-Pooh, I do a good Eeyore voice’

The former political journalist on being inspired by historian Jan Morris and shrinking time on CalMac ferries to Islay by reading.


The first book I remember reading:

The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne.  My mother read it to me (using all sorts of wonderful character voices) and I watched her finger move across the page as she read.  I learned to read Pooh by myself that way before I started school. I think I do a pretty good Eeyore voice – but perhaps too good, because Pooh never became a favourite of my two daughters.  Too English?  Too middle-class?  Or perhaps my gloomy Eeyore voice put them off?  Despite Pooh-shaped holes in their lives, they are both keen readers.   

A book I recommend to everyone:

The Siege of Krishnapur, by J.G. Farrel is a fabulous novel by a great writer set during the Indian Mutiny (India is an obsession of mine). And Goodbye To All That, by Robert Graves. It’s the poet’s account of his life in the trenches of WW1. I loved it in my teens, and then read it again a couple of years ago. It didn’t disappoint. 

The best three books I have read in the last year:

In Memoriam, by Alice Winn; Julia, by Sandra Newman, and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I’ve written books about WW1 and George Orwell, so In Memoriam (love in the trenches) and Julia (1984 as told by Winston Smith’s lover) were really pandering to my own interests. With The Grapes of Wrath I was catching up on a classic I shamefully hadn’t read before. It’s wonderful.   

A book I didn’t finish:

Life is too short for me to finish reading Ancient Evenings, by Norman Mailer. Mailer is a great writer, but his tale of ancient Egypt is American literature’s equivalent to watching coastal erosion.

An author who has inspired me:

I love Jan Morris’s writing. Her Pax Britanica trilogy is a very, very rose-tinted survey of the British Empire, but her interweaving of history and travelogue beguiled me decades ago. I’ve interwoven some of my own travel tales into my own history writing. Jan Morris is to blame for that – but I hope in a good way.

My favourite place to read:

I live on Islay, so I read on CalMac ferries a lot. Books shrink travel time! I can read almost anywhere, but my wife gave me an Orkney chair for a significant birthday, and that’s become my favourite place  to read. It also happens to be the seat closest to the fire.  

Les Wilson, Orwell’s Island (Saraband), can be bought here. A former political journalist, Les Wilson lives on Islay and is Creative Director of Caledonia TV.

Read more of our Book news here.

Subscribe to read the latest issue of Scottish Field.