Meet the man who brought Bruce to life

Rob Low author and viking reenactor
Rob Low author and viking reenactor

Rob Low is probably best known for his rollercoastering series of blood and thunder – but erudite – novels about the Scottish Wars of Independence.

And the latest in the series, Lion Rampant, is being avidly read by his many fans at the most appropriate time.

After all, it’s the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn – often, although perhaps erroneously, seen as the single most important event in Scottish history.

But, commenting just before the referendum, he put that distant medieval conflict into some perspective: “The winners will be exultant, of course, the losers despondent and looking for someone or group to blame – and the matter, like the aftermath of Bannockburn, will have settled nothing permanently.

“One side or the other will be looking for a rematch.”

Rob will be giving a talk on his work at Kilsyth Library on October 20, at 7pm, as part of this year’s Encounters festival programme.

He doesn’t particularly like the term “historical novelist”, as it simply means he is writing about past events – a speciality, in his case, but no obstacle to writing in some other genre.

Meanwhile he points out how difficult it is to get an accurate idea of what the people who forged the destiny of nations were really like.

“Bruce, Wallace and the Edwards, father and son are the main protagonists of the Scottish Wars of Independence, but we know little of who they were.

“What they did, sometimes what they allegedly said, but little of what they really thought - and most of that is now crusted with legend.

“Their real voices have been smothered by time and legend and, if that can happen to the main players, then the voices of the people sucked into their wake are a mystery.

“My books - and my talk in Kilsyth - are all about bringing those voices back to a semblance of life.”

One of his characters, “the auld Templar” is actually a hypothetical construct which amounts to a plausible attempt to get at the truth of what, if anything, the survivors of the Order were doing in 1314.

Rob admires great novelists who have written on Scottish history such as Dorothy Dunnett, but also rates Bernard Cornwell, whose work typically centres on English paladins such as Richard Sharpe of the 95th Rifles.

He adds: “Bernard’s take on his writing was always that you could do anything to the English as long as you let them win. I apply the same to the Scots.”

Is the new focus on Scottish identity likely to fuel renewed interest in historical fiction about Scots?

“In past decades Scottish historical fiction was fading as Scottish crime noir took off,” he says, “which is possibly why we have more Rankin, Banks and Welsh than Tranters these days.”

But Low’s gripping tales – where no holds are barred, and where (reflecting murky motives and shifting allegiances) little is ever simply black or white – could be helping to stir new interest in our complex but thoroughly riproaring past.