Books that Changed Me: Neil Grant
Neil Grant is the author of four earlier books for young adults. His latest, The Honeyman and the Hunter, is published by Allen & Unwin. Originally from Glasgow, he lives in Victoria and NSW.
THE DIARY OF JONG AH SIUG
Jong Ah Siug
In 2012, I fell in love with a dead Chinese gold miner. Initially imprisoned in 1867 after a knife fight, he was subsequently committed to asylums. Such was his outrage that he taught himself to write English, invented his own syntax and punctuation, and composed a plea of innocence. How could any writer not be beguiled by someone who believed so strongly in the power of the written word. Jong Ah Siug died in Sunbury Asylum of tapeworm infestation in 1900.
THE HEAT AND DUST PROJECT
Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha
I recently participated in the Brahmaputra Literary Festival in Assam and was on a panel with Bengali writer Devapriya Roy. Her book is insightful, smart and nuanced and provided broad historical brushstrokes along with a decent serving of travel grit. It taught me much about a country, and a people, I thought I knew, tumbling from the familiar and romanticised ‘‘heat and dust’’ path.
THE HIGHLAND CLEARANCES
My grandad gave me this after a visit to Badbea on the Caithness coast in 1985. My ancestors had been forced there to make way for profitable black-faced sheep. A note is still stapled inside the book: ‘‘When you read the story, Neil, you will learn of the origin of the statue on Ben Bhraggie of the so-called Duke of Sutherland and I feel that you will not rest until you and your old grandad blow the thing up and remove it from the Highland setting in which it is such an affront to all.’’
I was still in high school in 1984. We were assigned this for English and the bleakness of the world George Orwell created scoured me. It introduced the possibility that a government may not always have my best interests at heart. Only recently I discovered that Orwell wrote the book at a remote cottage, Barnhill, on Jura – whose Paps I could see across Loch Sween when I was a child.