Author Val McDermid at the Muriel Sparks exhibition, at the National Library in, Edinburgh
Author Val McDermid at the Muriel Sparks exhibition, at the National Library in, Edinburgh

Forgotten Scots author is resurrected to celebrate literary heritage

A celebration of female writers is being marked in the skies of Edinburgh.

Message from the Skies, co-commissioned between Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and the Edinburgh International Book Festival, will continue to animate Edinburgh’s dark nights through to Burns Night on 25 January.

Val McDermid has written a short story, New Year’s Resurrection, the first in a new celebration of Edinburgh’s and Scotland’s rich literary heritage for Message from the Skies.

Val had already revealed that in New Year’s Resurrection she will resurrect Susan Ferrier, an Edinburgh born and bred novelist in the nineteenth century. Now it is revealed that she will also resurrect Muriel Spark, helping to kick off her centenary celebrations in 2018.

Author Val McDermid at the Muriel Sparks exhibition, at the National Library in, Edinburgh

Val said: ‘The most remarkable thing about the 19th century Scottish novelist Susan Edmonstone Ferrier is that she has all but disappeared from our consciousness. In her lifetime, her novels were wildly popular, earning her significantly more substantial publisher’s advances than Jane Austen. And yet now almost nobody knows her name. Susan Ferrier deserves better than this.’Susan Ferrier seeks to recruit Muriel Spark to help confound the critics who have ignored women writers, but the outcome is not what she expects.’

She added: ‘Muriel Spark is a writer who’s not so much under-appreciated as under-read. Readers who discover her are captivated by her unique style and the way she constantly wrong-foots us. Her distinctive take on the art of fiction has influenced writers as diverse as Ali Smith and Ian Rankin. I hope the celebrations of her centenary bring her thousands of new fans.’

Val collaborates with director and dramaturg Philip Howard of emergent theatre company Pearlfisher, Edinburgh-based architectural projection mapping specialists Double Take Projections, and three of Scotland’s finest composers and sound designers; Michael John McCarthy, Pippa Murphy and RJ McConnell, graffiti artist Elph and actors Sandy McDade (playing Susan Ferrier) and Phyllis Logan (playing Muriel Spark) to bring the story to life.

Visitors are being encouraged to celebrate Scottish literature in the night skies in Edinburgh this month

Message from the Skies encourages residents and visitors to explore Edinburgh’s iconic locations in a new light: streets and buildings which have inspired some of the world’s finest authors over the centuries – from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson to J K Rowling and Muriel Spark, and the streets and buildings which McDermid and her other collaborators have been inspired by and to which all the artists respond in this unique piece of work, made especially for Edinburgh.

The project is inspired by the 19th century tradition of publishing novels chapter by chapter: readers must go from location to location to read the whole story, simultaneously exploring both this piece of new work and the city.

Val McDermid has written a new short story as part of the Message from the Skies project

The starting point and the site of the first chapter is Parliament Square, off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s Old Town. From there, readers can navigate by using the app or following the signage leading to the next instalment.

The app is filled with additional content about the story and locations, and will translate Val’s story into seven languages – French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Polish and Spanish, making the project equally accessible to visitors to Edinburgh. The app will also read the text in English to visually impaired audiences.

Message from the Skies is commissioned and presented by Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and the Edinburgh International Book Festival, produced by Underbelly and Pearlfisher, in partnership with Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust and is developed with support from Creative Scotland through the Scottish Government’s Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund.