ROBERT Burns had a mystery sidekick who edited his early work and aided his meteoric rise to fame, a literature expert has claimed.

Scotland's national bard worked with the ghostly "figure in the margins" to help him choose his best work for print, according to Glasgow University regius professor Nigel Leask, who is a specialist in Burns's work.

Mr Leask has just finished a major study of all Burns' early prose. He discovered notes in the bard's first commonplace book from 1873 signed with the initials WR.

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Mr Leask said: "We don't know who WR was - probably a man but it could have been a woman."

He will discuss his ­findings at the inaugural World Congress of Scottish Literatures, which launched at Glasgow University yesterday.