Edinburgh has a rich history of literature dating back centuries. And in 2004 it became Unesco’s first City of Literature – the start of a network which now includes 42 cities spanning 28 countries and six continents.
From Enlightenment figures like David Hume and the 19th century’s Robert Louis Stevenson to modern authors like Ian Rankin, Irvine Welsh and Alexander McCall Smith, the Capital has been home to a wide variety of brilliant, creative minds and the inspiration for their work. Some of the most respected and influential writers lived here, walking the city’s streets and going about their daily business.
Here are nine famous authors from Edinburgh and where they lived in the city.
1. Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) was born at 8 Howard Place on Inverleith Row but the family moved soon afterwards to 1 Inverleith Terrace and then to 17 Heriot Row (pictured) in the New Town. He was often ill as a child and it is said that looking out from the house into Queen Street Gardens, just across the road, he saw a small pond with a little island in the middle, which inspired him to write Treasure Island. He studied at Edinburgh University and qualified as an advocate but never practised law. He spent a lot of time abroad, often for his health, and finally settled in Samoa, where he died. Photo: Ian Swanson
Muriel Spark (1918-2006), best known as author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, tells us in the opening to her autobiography 'Curriculum Vitae’: "I was born in Edinburgh, at 160 Bruntsfield Place, the Morningside district, in 1918." Muriel Camberg, as she then was, went to James Gillespie’s High School for Girls, which inspired the Marcia Blaine School of her most famous novel, and where a teacher Christina Kay became the model for Miss Brodie. After school, she took a precis writing course at Heriot-Watt, taught English briefly and worked as a personal secretary. In 1937, she met and married Sidney Oswald Spark after following him out to Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and they had a son. But she left Sidney three years later, returned to Britain in 1944 and worked in intelligence for the rest of the war. She began writing seriously after the war and was a poet and literary critic before becoming a novelist. After living iin London, she went on to base herself in New York and then Rome for a time, and from the 1970s until her death lived in Tuscany. in the opening to her autobiography 'Curriculum Vitae’
"I was born in Edinburgh, at 160 Bruntsfield Place, the orningside district, in 1918 Photo: Rhoda Morrison
Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) was born at 11 Picardy Place, a tenement which was demolished in 1969 as part of the redevelopment of the area. He was sent away to school, but returned to Edinburgh to study medicine from 1876 to 1881. He also studied botany at the Royal Botanic Garden. The 1881 census shows him living with his mother and siblings at 15 Lonsdale Terrace. And it was as a student he began writing stories. One of his professors, Dr Joseph Bell, is said to have bee the model for Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle worked as a ship's doctor and then as a GP in England but later gave up medicine to concentrate on his writing. Although his birthplace is no longer there, a statue of Conan Doyle's most famous character recently returned to a new position in Picardy Place after being removed in 2018 while the tram extension was built. Photo: Lisa Ferguson
Badger & Co, the cocktail bar in Edinburgh's Castle Street, is named in honour of author Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932) who wrote The Wind in the Willows with its characters Mr Toad, Badger, Mole and Ratty, and was born in the building. But Grahame only lived there for a year before the family moved to Loch Fyne. His mother died when he was just five and Kenneth and his three siblings then went to live with their grandmother in Berkshire. And it was his surroundings there that inspired his writing. Both The Wind in the Willows and another of his books, The Reluctant Dragon, have been turned into Disney films. Photo: Phil Wilkinson