Manuscript transcription: volunteer helpers
Neil Macara Brown
A ‘forty-niner’, that’s me in a Bruntsfield primary photo ten years later – around the time my not so Gradgrind teacher father ‘tipped’ me the Mervyn Peake illustrated Treasure Island, and I was never so innocent again. An early memory is of a visit with him to the house where RLS was born at Howard Place, when still a museum.
A good wind took me to Heriot’s School in Edinburgh, reeking of history and classical architecture, both of which remain passions. After embarking on a B. Ed. course in geography and history at Edinburgh in 1969, I changed tack midway, graduated as a youth and community worker from Moray House College of Education in 1974, and worked in centres in east Edinburgh for Lothian Regional Council from 1975.
In 1981-2 I did a post-graduate in Outdoor Education at Moray House, and then conducted environmental projects in Edinburgh, notably on the Water of Leith, organising the city’s Beautiful Britain project in 1983 and establishing the river’s Heritage Centre in 1988. I returned to community education work during 1990, but left the following year for child-care reasons. While a freelance writer I was asked contribute the Edinburgh section and other entries, some literary, to the Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland first publication in 1994 and its revised edition in 2000.
My first serious attempts at writing on RLS began in the centenary year 1994, when items of his, which I inherited, were displayed at the ‘Treasure Islands’ exhibition in the Royal Scottish Museum; a chance meeting at Tollcross with the editor of Scottish Book Collector resulted a series of articles detailing RLS’s library – the start of a trail which many years later eventually led to an invitation from Richard Dury through Glenda Norquay to help compile the RLS Library database for assisting the Edition.
Several transcriptions, including ‘Colinton Manse’ and ‘The Water of Leith’, have come my way, but the most recent, ‘Winter’s Walk’ with its unpublished passages – very much a group effort along with Mafalda, Robert and Richard – has been the most enjoyable. There is something very satisfying about cracking the complicated code, which RLS, with all his knowledge and intelligence, hurriedly scribbled down in his notebook long ago and faraway; reading his vivid descriptions, his touching record of voices unheard for 150 years.