Festival Books - Rosemary Goring

This article is from 2008

Rosemary Goring

The history woman

Rosemary Goring tells Doug Johnstone about finding the voices or ordinary people

There’s been a resurgence of interest in Scottish history among ordinary punters, a trend Scotland: The Autobiography taps into brilliantly. Edited by Rosemary Goring, a sometime contributor to The List, now literary editor on The Herald, this extraordinary collection consists of pieces of first-hand experience spanning 2000 years from the people who were actually there, detailing both the monumental events of Scottish history and the stuff of normal life.

‘People are getting more interested in history in a much less academic way,’ says Goring. ‘They want to know the story of it. I think it’s all part of self-determination, the move towards devolution and possibly independence; people want to know more about our past. We’re allowed to feel better about our history now; it’s as important as anybody else’s.’

The breadth and depth of Scotland: The Autobiography are remarkable, contributions ranging from Roman historian Tacitus to Mary Queen of Scots and Billy Connolly. With so much material to choose from, how on earth did Goring decide what went in? ‘The first thing I did was work out a skeleton of Scotland’s history by trawling history books,’ she says. ‘Then I had to winnow those events down, because there were far too many. Then I filled it in with other, everyday stuff – an artist’s story or a writer’s or something from sport. It was really important for me to portray the social experience throughout those years as well as the big events.’

The book is incredibly readable, Goring using her day-job experience as a journalist to spot the more attention-grabbing accounts of our history. ‘The single criteria for inclusion was that something was readable,’ she says. ‘This book is for ordinary people, not historians or academics. Without wishing to sound crass, it’s like a tabloid newspaper version of history, it’s meant to be immediate and headline-grabbing.’

Rosemary Goring and Stephen McGinty, 25 Aug, 5pm, £9 (£7).