Born into a mining family in Kirkcaldy, Val McDermid went to Oxford at the age of 16, and was the first student from a Scottish state school to enter St Hilda’s College. A former journalist, McDermid is now one of the biggest names in crime writing, selling more than 16m books in 40 languages and making the successful transition to TV. Exploring the complex social, psychological and economic factors that impact upon her characters, McDermid’s humanity and empathy always shine through.


Fellow best-selling crimewriter Rankin also grew up in a Fife mining community, Cardenden, spending much of his childhood in the local library. He was the first in his family to go to university and wrote his first novels while studying for a Phd at Edinburgh University. Best known as the creator of taciturn cop John Rebus (who is also from Cardenden), Rankin’s books explore Edinburgh’s Jekyll and Hyde underbelly and reflect Scotland’s wider social and political changes over the last 30 years.


One of Scotland’s most eloquent and incisive commentators, rapper and writer McGarvey grew up in poverty in Pollok, Glasgow. His mother, Sandra, was an alcoholic and drug addict who died at the age of 36 when McGarvey was just 17. Poverty Safari, the Orwell Prize-winning book he wrote in 2017, provides a searing and unflinching examination of our deprived communities, and argues that the current political system not only sorely misunderstands people in poverty, but is ill-equipped to provide answers.


Born and brought up in Glasgow’s East End, McQueer gave up his job in a sports shop to become a full-time writer and has been described as “Charlie Brooker on Buckfast” due to the darkly humorous nature of his work.

A regular on the spoken word circuit and social media, his award-winning debut short story collection Hings was adapted for television earlier this year. McQueer’s second collection, HWFG, was also a critical success and he is currently working on his first novel.


The Makar was born to a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father, and was adopted as a child and grew up to be a poet who writes working-class lives into literature. Her poetry majors in dignity, respect and, most of all, humanity. Her prose isn’t bad either.


Novelist and poet Ali Smith (“Scotland’s Nobel laureate in waiting,” according to Irish novelist Sebastian Barry) grew up on a council estate in Inverness. She is three-quarters of the way through her seasonal quartet, books which aim to take the temperature of Brexit Britain. The last volume, Summer, will be published next year.


Having made his name working for Marvel and DC, Coatbridge-born Mark Millar then created his own universe, Millarworld, home to comics such as Kingsman and Kick-Ass, which in turn became Hollywood franchises. He has also signed a major deal with Netflix. The most heroic thing about him, though, is his willingness to use his good fortune to revamp the Townhead estate in Coatbridge where he grew up.


Arguably Scotland’s greatest living writer, Kelman’s novels and plays – including the Booker-winning How Late It Was, How Late – puts the experience and language of working-class people centre stage, his meticulous and pioneering attention to form affording their protagonists the sort of voice, inner life and dignity so often denied in literature.

As uncompromising as he is influential, Kelman, who grew up in Govan and Drumchapel, remains a thorn in the side of a literary establishment that hasn’t always appreciated his work.


Poet and novelist Jenni Fagan grew up in care. Her first novel, The Panopticon, soon to be put on stage by National Theatre of Scotland, drew on that experience, but Fagan is more interested in who she is (and who she can be) than who she once was. She has no truck with our desire to label people. “If there’s an easy identifier they’ll say: ‘This is our lesbian writer; this is our black writer; this is our girl from care,’” she once told the Sunday Herald. “I think it’s a way of underselling how many fascinating people we’ve got in this country. We should focus on that rather than trying to fit them into a social box.”


Brought up in Muirhouse, Welsh worked as an apprentice TV repairman, was a punk guitarist, a drug addict, and a council worker in the housing department in Edinburgh before his debut novel Trainspotting changed his life and Scotland’s literary culture. Welsh’s mad, sweary, surreal, blokey novels (12 of them in all) provoke extreme reactions, but offer an often X-rated insight into the psyche of the Scottish male.