Duncan Harley – An Interview

Local history writer with two best-selling books under his belt, author Duncan Harley reveals all.

Q: What inspired you to write about the history of north-east Scotland?
A: A chance encounter with an employee of a publishing firm led to book one. As in so many things in life, it’s the little things that matter. I had been asked to review a couple of books for a glossy magazine and as a follow-on, sent some recent articles to test the waters. The articles ended up on an editor’s desk and two books were subsequently commissioned.

Q: What inspired you to write your most recent book?
A: The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire had a somewhat random structure and I felt that for book two, a historical timeline was really needed. Hence – The Little History of Aberdeenshire. I had attended a conference organised by Aberdeen Library Service in 2017 at which a local archaeologist had delivered a lecture about the Roman occupation of the north east and felt that Picts and Romans would be a good starting point for a new book about Aberdeenshire. The timeline ended at Piper Alpha with historic events such as the typhoid Scandal, the Battle of Harlaw and Mons Graupius sandwiched in between.

Q: What is your writing process?
A: It’s a bit messy to be honest. I well recall researching author Peter Anson’s life for an article in the now defunct Leopard Magazine. The local history department at Meldrum Library received a request for ‘all you have on Anson’. The resulting 42 research books took a bit of sorting out. I might have been better asking for his books about the north east – there are just six.

Q:  What are your favourite books?
A: Hard to say to be honest. As a child, I was addicted to Just William and Jeeves. Now that I am much older, I tend to favour Bukowski and Runyon’s ‘From First to Last’. Mind you, last time I was in hospital I packed a dog-eared copy of Hunter Thompson’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ in amongst the toothpaste and hospital pyjamas. I think the anaesthetist was quite impressed.

Q: Which books are currently on your reading list?
A: I have a pile of books awaiting review, some of which may never make it to the top of the list. A friend who works in a charity shop recently lent me several out of print books about the Moray Coast. It’s an area I explored during my time writing for Leopard Magazine and I am tempted to pen a history of the area. So, the likes of Anderson’s ‘North Sea Pioneers’ and James Miller’s ‘Gathering Stream’ currently head the list alongside classics such as Catch 22, Pirsig’s ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ and of course Blair’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’.
I did try reading ‘Ulysses’ but abandoned the attempt after chapter two. I may try again soon.

Q: Do you have another book in preparation?
A: Well three in fact. One more about the north east. Tales mainly plus some folklore. The Flying Farmer, An Astute Muggie from Dufftown and something about whisky trillionaire William Grant may feature.
Plus of course, a re-publication of my Leopard ‘Our Town’ articles from the glory days. And perhaps a re-print of my now out of print glossy: ‘Through the Lense’.

Q: When will the new books be released?
A: How long is a piece of string? I am currently seeking a new publisher and am hopeful that a deal can be reached soonish.

Duncan Harley is author of two books about Aberdeenshire. Both titles, The Little History of Aberdeenshire and The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire, are available from Amazon.


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