Book Week Scotland begins tomorrow. To celebrate, our Writer-At-Large Neil Mackay, who’s also a novelist, has compiled a list of the 50 Scottish books you’ve got to read. This week, we give you the rundown from 50 to 26

50 Outlander – Diana Gabaldon

Okay, just hang on a moment. I know Outlander is neither Scottish, nor a great work of literature – and I promise there will be plenty of great Scottish books on this list to come. But Outlander is also a novel which presents Scotland to the rest of the world, in a way few other contemporary books have managed. We may not like the way Outlander presents us, but when 25 million readers around the world think of Scotland, this is the book which probably pops into their head. So we need to recognise the power of this series of novels, and its TV spin-off.

It’s the brainchild of Arizona writer Diana Gabaldon. It tells the frankly bonkers story of a 1940s nurse who time travels back to the Jacobite era and falls in love with a dashing Highlander. The TV series became a global phenomenon thanks to lashings of sex and violence, and spawned a cottage industry of Outlander tours in Scotland parting rich Americans from their cash.

Intellectually, though, one thing makes Outlander interesting – upending gender stereotypes. Jamie, the male hero, is sexually assaulted, and the subject of an almost leering female gaze. Claire, the heroine, is the source of wisdom, intelligence and independence.

49 The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – Alexander McCall Smith

Scotland has long had a thriving cadre of crime writers – but mostly the stories are focused on reflecting contemporary life here at home. It can often become a little grey and miserable. McCall Smith’s series of books, however, took Scotland out of the equation, and played with the notion of the modern detective.

The stories are set in Botswana and feature Mma Precious Ramotswe, a complex Miss Marple, who solves cases which speak about the trials of ordinary life: love, loss, domestic violence, children, betrayal, jealousy, revenge.

48 His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet

Scotland is pretty good at blind-siding the publishing industry. London, where everyone thinks the action is at, often forgets we exist – and then out of nowhere a novel like this comes along and shakes everything up.

This ingenious literary thriller, which tells the story of a grisly triple murder in a remote crofting community – using diaries, court records, medial reports, police statements and newspaper articles – was picked up by the small Scottish publishing firm Contraband in 2015. A year later it was on the Booker Prize shortlist. Its sales left the other nominees standing.

47 The Long Drop – Denise Mina

Mina is best known for her tartan noir Garnethill trilogy, which paints a dystopian picture of Glasgow through a woman’s eyes.

However, it’s Mina’s recent novel The Long Drop which is her most interesting work. It fictionalises the real-life meeting between the notorious Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel and a man called William Watt, who believed Manuel murdered his family. The pair spend a night together drinking in Glasgow pubs.

Scotland has a preponderance of terribly written true crime books telling the stories of petty gangsters. This is the antidote.

46 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

If this wasn’t part of your childhood then you must have had pretty awful parents. At times it’s as slow-moving and gentle as the Thames, on which much of the action takes place, but then it can shift into something almost too strange for children, like the chapter when Mole and Rat meet the god Pan.

The author Kenneth Grahame was born in Edinburgh, and also wrote The Reluctant Dragon, which became a Disney movie. Grahame and his novel seem to be fading a little today. He deserves his place in the pantheon of great children’s writers alongside the likes of A A Milne and JM Barrie.

45 Knots & Crosses – Ian Rankin

Rankin’s name is synonymous with Scottish crime writing, and Knots & Crosses was the first book to introduce his best known character, John Rebus.

The books are great police procedurals – which give them huge international appeal – but back here at home one of the joys of the novels is the depiction of Scottish life, politics and culture.

There’s sectarianism, immigration, poverty, corruption, organised crime. We go from housing schemes to well-known pubs via dying post-industrial towns. Devolution, the Scottish Parliament and the independence referendum are used as backdrops. Rebus is now on his 23rd outing.

46 Doherty – William McIlvanney

McIlvanney is known best as the father of Tartan Noir thanks to his Laidlaw detective novels. But his entire body of work stands as testament to a man of enormous talent and great soul. One of his early novels, Docherty, is a book of grand ambitions, telling the story of life in working-class Scotland during the early decades of the 20th century.

It’s witheringly honest about working-class life – nothing is romanticised. McIlvanney never hid his socialism as a writer. Some have dubbed him "Scotland’s Albert Camus".

43 The Mermaids Singing – Val McDermid

Another of our towering crime writing talents. Her most famous creation is the criminal psychologist Dr Tony Hill – and this novel marks his first appearance. McDermid is never scared to take the reader into a world of sex and violence. The Mermaids Singing tells the story of a series of torture-murders of men. Written in 1995, its use of a transgender character may well raise some eyebrows today.

The TV series Wire in the Blood dramatised the Tony Hill books, running for six years until 2008.

42 Young Adam – Alexander Trocchi

Scotland’s answer to both William Burroughs and the French existentialists, Trocchi created this curdled examination of human sexuality, amid his life of exile, drug abuse and squalor – his wife prostituted herself on the streets of New York.

Trocchi was all but forgotten until the brilliantly upstart Scottish publishing house Rebel Inc brought him back into the public imagination in the 1990s, as Irvine Welsh rose to fame.

The book, which is dominated by the examination of a young man’s sexual life as he travels on a river barge between Glasgow and Edinburgh, is about alienation – which makes sense for a writer who fled Scotland as soon as he could for the literary demi-monde of Europe and America, and exiled himself from the world through his heroin addiction. Young Adam was turned into a film starring Ewan McGregor and Tilda Swinton.

41 After You’d Gone – Maggie O’Farrell

O’Farrell was born in Northern Ireland, but brought up in Scotland, and Edinburgh is now her home. After You’d Gone tells the story of three generations of women from North Berwick. It’s an astutely observed and painful family saga. The novel’s main character is Alice, who attempted suicide and is now in a coma. We follow the lives of her sisters, mother and grandmother. It was adored on release, and secured O’Farrell’s reputation as one of the leading writers of her generation.

40 Morvern Callar – Alan Warner

One of the books which defined the Scottish literary renaissance of the mid-1990s – but radically different from most of its rivals. While it shares the bleak hedonism of books like Trainspotting, this novel exists fully in rural not urban Scotland. It’s lyrical rather than psychedelic. It’s both comic and sad, but what makes it so memorable is its narrator Morvern, her hypnotic tone of voice, and the evocation of life in the Highlands.

Don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s some gentle read. It begins with Morvern lighting up a cigarette as she finds her boyfriend dead in the kitchen, his throat cut.

39 The Panopticon – Jenni Fagan

This is a bleak story about a bleak subject – the life of children in care – but remarkably it’s told with real vim and humour. The 15-year-old narrator Anais is one of the most powerful creations in Scottish literature in recent years.

Fagan herself grew up in the Scottish care system. By 30, though, she had a first-class degree, and within a few years was listed by Granta as one of the Best Young British Novelists. Fagan is a writer who you will hear much more of as the years progress.

38 Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

A marvellously dark, funny, sad and subversive book. Eleanor is a broken woman who’s put herself back together again. Socially, she’s among the most awkward people who ever lived – at times she’s thoroughly unlikeable and even a little disgusting. However, the sheer human pathos of her life, and her courage, can also push you to tears.

Eleanor is the ultimate unreliable narrator, doling out snippets of her mysterious life until the puzzle finally falls into place in the last few heartbreaking pages.

Honeyman’s debut novel, set in Glasgow, was the breakout hit of 2017. It’s now been optioned by Reese Witherspoon.

37 Day – AL Kennedy

Day tells the story of Alfred Day, a tail-gunner in a Lancaster bomber during the Second World War. It’s very much a story about men, and what the world and war does to men. This is not a war story, though, it’s the story of a man’s inner life – his childhood, his friendships, his loves, his confrontations with violence and death, his attempts to lead a life with some meaning.

It’s power is in the prose. Kennedy is one of the most talented, versatile, and industrious writers, working today.

36 Any Human Heart – William Boyd

Boyd quotes Henry James at the start of his epic novel about one man’s life: "Never say you know the last word about any human heart."

The book tells the story of the 20th century through the life of Logan Mountstuart. It moves from interwar Britain to the Spanish Civil War, and from the Second World War to the grey squalor of the 1950s, then on to the glamour of the sixties and the radical chic of the 1970s.

Mountstuart is a Zelig-like character who finds himself in the midst of history’s great events, often encountering real historical figures like Jackson Pollock, the Baader-Meinhof Gang, Ian Fleming (who recruits him as a spy) and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

It’s charming, it’s sad. It’s a rollicking read – and it’s also an attempt to understand the ambiguities which lie within every human being.

35 Buddha Da – Anne Donovan

What happens when a Glaswegian painter and decorator decides to become a Buddhist. Donovan’s first novel tells the story of Jimmy as he seeks enlightenment – much to the bewilderment of his family. A tale about an average Glasgow Joe grappling with nirvana is not going to be short on humour, so it thankfully lacks the miserablism of so much Scottish writing – but the book is also full of empathy, and never treats its characters as a joke. It’s told in the language of Glasgow, and the novel brings a poetry and a lyricism to the voice of the city.

34 The Crimson Petal and the White – Michel Faber

Wow. You think you’re going to get some clever post-modernist take on the great Victorian novel – instead what you get is a demented tale of every sexual perversion you can think of, and then some. It’s told by Sugar, a Victorian prostitute with a mind sharper than an Oxford don. She loathes men, but she’s in thrall to the power of men in a male-dominated society.

The book is visceral – you can smell the streets and brothels of London reeking off the pages. It’s been said of the book that if Dickens had written what he’d really seen then this is the novel he would have produced. It’s a smutty, ingenious, lascivious and lurid tour de force.

33 Peter and Wendy – JM Barrie

Peter Pan began life in 1904 as a hit play and then morphed into this equally successful novel in 1911. Pan has become mythic. It rises above most other children’s fiction – there’s something deep which speaks to adults as well as the young. It’s Freudian, with its fear of the adult world and mourning for lost childhood.

Perhaps the power of Pan, the boy who never grew up, stems from its roots in Barrie’s own life in Kirriemuir as a child. His older brother died aged 13 and Barrie would pretend to be him in the hope of pleasing his grieving mother. Barrie’s mother found solace in the idea that her dead son would remain a child forever.

32 Imagined Corners – Willa Muir

She may now be eclipsed in fame by her poet husband Edwin Muir, but as a writer Willa certainly equalled him.

Muir was a radical feminist who spent her entire life fighting for women’s rights. She was one of the first Scots women to attend university and graduated from St Andrews with a First in 1910. She and her husband translated the works of Franz Kafka in the 1920s – with Willa, the more talented linguist, taking the lead.

She only wrote two novels, and without them Scottish literature would be sorely wanting. Imagined Corners is set in a backward, nasty, provincial, Scottish village, and features two women kicking over the traces in a male-dominated society. It’s as if Muir has put Scotland on the anatomy table and opened it up for ruthless examination.

31 Consider the Lilies – Iain Crichton Smith

Crichton Smith, like his contemporaries Edwin Morgan and Sorley MacLean, dominated Scottish poetry in the 20th century. His Scottishness, his hatred of authority and control, and his distrust of religion all coalesce in this novel.

It tells the story of an elderly woman amid the Highland Clearances as she suffers a crisis of faith. Elderly women feature prominently as a recurring symbol in Crichton Smith’s writing perhaps reflecting the difficult relationship he had with his own mother.

Put simply, Consider the Lilies confounds the notion that poets can’t write novels. Although watch out for the anachronisms.

30 Miss Marjoribanks – Margaret Oliphant

The great Victorian novel which most people have never heard of. It’s a kind of mirror image of William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. Rather than the manipulative social climber Becky Sharp, Oliphant gives us Lucilla Marjoribanks, a modern young woman manoeuvring her way through middle-class small-town society. There’s Jane Austen influences in the book as well with its talk of weddings and social etiquette.

Oliphant, who was born in Wallyford in 1828, published dozens of novels during her life and was acclaimed by contemporaries such as the writer George Gissing.

29 Another Time, Another Place – Jessie Kesson

The story is almost mythic in its simplicity and theme. It’s wartime. Italian prisoners of war are billeted in the Aberdeenshire countryside. A young Scottish farmer’s wife is attracted to one of the PoWs. It’s inevitable what will happen, but Kesson writes with such grace that the work becomes, in the words of another great Scottish writer Candia McWilliam, “a ballad”.

Kesson is also well known for her novel The White Bird Passes which draws on the hard childhood the writer endured. She was born illegitimate in a workhouse in Inverness to a prostitute mother. She became a servant and suffered a breakdown. She married, worked on farms and eventually forged a life as a writer. It’s no surprise that her work is characterised by a sympathy for the "ootlin", or "outsider".

28 The Girl on the Ferryboat – Angus Peter Campbell

The Girl on the Ferryboat is the first book to be published simultaneously in both English and Gaelic. At its heart there’s a simple love story – a man meets a woman on a ferry and falls in love with her, but they will not see each again for another four decades.

Part of the great joy of this novel is its meandering form as it digresses into myths and folklore. It feels quintessentially Scottish and Gaelic – thoroughly of the land and landscape. Campbell is a poet and his language is elegiac, transcendent and lyrical throughout.

27 Whisky Galore – Compton Mackenzie

Forget the idea this is some patronising take on island life – it’s a subversive sneer at the values of modern Britain with its rules, regulations, conformity and lack of imagination. When a cargo ship full of whisky runs aground during the Second World War, the islanders fill their boots and battle against the state to keep the liquor as their own. It was based on a real-life incident which happened in 1941.

Although born in England, Mackenzie strongly identified as Scottish. He was a spy during the First World War before he finally settled on Barra. Politically, he was a Scottish nationalist. His most famous novel was turned into a classic Ealing comedy in 1948.

26 The Testament of Gideon Mack – James Robertson

The book which secured James Robertson his place among the ranks of Scotland’s leading writers. It’s an homage and love letter to one of the nation’s other great novels – The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner written by James Hogg in 1824. Hogg influenced and inspired Robertson.

Gideon Mack is a Church of Scotland minister with little or no faith who disappears one day and returns only to claim to have met the Devil himself. Is he mad? Is he a fantasist? Did he just make it all up?

Robertson’s story satirises the absurdity of Scottish society, and goes straight to the heart of humanity’s most modern concern: how do we live morally in a world in which the idea of God is dead?

Next week: The Scottish books you

have to read from 25 to number one.