About William McIlvanney

William McIlvanney is one of the leading contemporary novelists in Scotland. In addition to writing novels he has written poetry and short stories and worked as a journalist and TV presenter.

He was a pupil at Kilmarnock Academy from 1949 until 1955. Born in Kilmarnock of working-class parents, he is representative of many others during this period who found increased opportunities through education. When McIlvanney entered the school the teacher enrolling him noted that his surname was spelt with one ‘n' on his birth certificate. Pedantically, the mistake on the official document was followed, even though below it on the register his brother Hugh 's surname was entered with two ‘n's. William, however, was stuck with only one during the rest of his schooldays.

His school records, still held at Kilmarnock Academy , show him to have been a brilliant pupil, following an academic course with conspicuous success. In S5 he took English, History, Mathematics, Latin, Greek and French. His ability in English was always strong. He was a frequent speaker at the Literary and Debating Society and the Goldberry , the school magazine, contains some of his juvenilia, the first of his work to appear in print. In session 1953-4 he was appointed a prefect, becoming the Deputy Senior Prefect in 1954-5 and the editor of the Goldberry that same session.

He took an MA at the University of Glasgow before teaching English from 1960 until 1975 in Irvine Royal Academy and then Greenwood Academy , Dreghorn, where he was also Assistant Head Teacher. In 1975 he left teaching to devote himself to writing full-time. From his first novel, Remedy is None (1966), his writing has strongly reflected his Kilmarnock roots. Docherty (1975), which won the Whitbread Prize, is set in the early twentieth century in the High Street area of the town (called Graithnock in it), and many locations near to the Academy feature in the novel. His most recent novel, The Kiln (1996) is the story of a boy, grandson of the eponymous hero of Docherty , at secondary school in the post-war period, and it draws upon his own experience while at Kilmarnock Academy . There are portraits in it which are recognisably of the Old Academy and several of its teachers, including the rector and his office.

With Laidlaw (1977) and The Papers of Tony Veitch (1983) detective novels about the policeman Jack Laidlaw, McIlvanney changed the setting to Glasgow , where he now lives. However, with the third novel in the trilogy, Strange Loyalties (1991), McIlvanney returned to Ayrshire In addition he has produced volumes of poetry, short stories, and essays and journalism.McIlvanney has always been concerned to reflect vibrant working-class life in literature. This can be seen, not only in his excellent ear for west of Scotland speech, but also in his use of popular forms such as the detective story. Kilmarnock has provided him with both vital experience and enabling education. His work has established him as one of the major contemporary Scottish writers.

Two significant pieces of literary criticism have been written on McIlvanney by another former pupil of Kilmarnock Academy , Dr Beth Dickson (b.1960). These are: ‘Class and being in the novels of William McIlvanney', in Gavin Wallace and Randall Stevenson (eds), The Scottish Novel Since the Seventies: New Visions, Old Dreams (1993), pp.54-70; and William McIlvanney's Laidlaw (1998).

Dr Neil Dickson (from Kimarnock Academy website)

Writing Awards   

Scottish Newspaper Columnist of the
Saltire Society Scottish Book of the
Year Award, The Kiln
Glasgow Herald People's Prize,
Strange Loyalties
Glasgow Herald People's Prize,
Walking Wounded
BAFTA, Dreaming, best adapted screenplay
Nominee, Best Novel - Edgar Allan Poe Awards, The Papers of Tony Veitch
Crime Writers' Association Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction, The Papers of Tony Veitch
Nominee, Best Novel - Edgar Allan Poe Awards, Laidlaw
Crime Writers' Association Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction, Laidlaw
Whitbread Novel Award, Docherty
Scottish Arts Council Book Award, Docherty
Scottish Arts Council Book Award,
A Gift from Nessus
Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, Remedy is None

            In 1978 William McIlvanney produced a series of articles for The Observer (UK) and the Herald (Scotland) newspapers covering the long journey to see Scotland play at World Cup '78 in Argentina.

            For around two years William McIlvanney wrote weekly reviews as the             TV critic for The Herald (Glasgow).

1998 - 2000
           Feature writer for The Herald (Glasgow)

2000 - 2002

            Feature writer for Scotland on Sunday

Creative Writing Posts
       University of Strathclyde
        University of Aberdeen
       Vancouver - Writer Exchange
        University of Aberdeen
        Strathclyde University

  e-mail: william.mcilvanney@personaldispatches.com