Bill Bryson parody author looking for love on Rankeillor St

THEY say the best things in life are free.

Author Ben Aitken. Picture: contributed
Author Ben Aitken. Picture: contributed

Today, one fledgling author will certainly hope that old adage holds true as he dishes out 100 free copies of his book along Rankeillor Street in 

Ben Aitken was set to stage the bizarre, leap year-inspired stunt this morning to promote the release of Dear Bill Bryson: Footnotes from a Small Island – his parody of Bill Bryson’s travel classic Notes from a Small Island.


In the original work, Bryson journeys up to Edinburgh as part of his tour of Britain, stopping off at the Royal Scottish Academy and even McDonald’s on Princes Street.

For his homage, Ben, from Portsmouth, retraced the famous writer’s steps – even ordering an Egg McMuffin in the same fast-food branch as his hero. But he was unable to stump up enough cash to mirror Bryson’s stay in the posh Caledonian Hotel, instead taking a cheaper room along Dalkeith Road.

It was as he was making his way back into the city centre from here that he stumbled on Rankeillor Street – and realised in a flash that it was the fictional home of one of his other great literary loves, the female lead in the bestselling novel and film One Day.

The 30-year-old said: “I turned on my heels and took the Dalkeith Road north until Rankeillor Street, where Emma Morley lived as a student. I fell in love with Emma after four chapters of David Nicholls’ novel One Day.

“As I passed her make-believe address, feeling stupidly lovelorn, I sang a few bars of that song from My Fair Lady, when Freddy goes to Warwick Avenue or wherever to call on Audrey Hepburn.”

Now, in a tribute to his literary sweetheart, Ben will hand out free copies of his new book door-to-door along Rankeillor Street to locals and hungover students alike.

His “hope against hope”, he said, was that “a non-fictional version of Emma Morley might answer my knock on the door and, upon receipt of such a dashing text, duly propose”.

He added: “It seems to me that by gifting my book to residents of Rankeillor Street, there might be a little bit more of a connection to it. It’s often for silly reasons that you become fond of streets and places.”

The first-time author revealed the unusual marketing drive was just the latest in a string of kind acts he has carried out every leap year on February 29, in the hope of finding romance. In 1996 he baked cup cakes for every girl in his class at school, and in 2008 he gave a rose to each cashier at the Asda supermarket in Perth.

Meanwhile, previous publicity stunts for Dear Bill Bryson have included creating a fake profile for the book on the dating app Tinder – a move that saw sales of the ebook double.

Posing as “Will Reid”, the dating profile explained it felt “rather stuck on the shelf” and “would like nothing more than to be taken to bed and then reviewed in the morning”.

As well as providing a humorous companion to the original text, Dear Bill Bryson looks at the changes in British society over the 20 years since Notes from a Small Island was first published.

Ben will perform a reading of his book at ​Henry’s Cellar Bar, 16A Morrison St, tonight