FROM LETTERS IN THE HUGH MACDIARMID (C. M. GRIEVE) COLLECTIONS HERE AT EDINBURGH
During this 80th anniversary of his early death, a new film adaptation of Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon is to be released on 4 December 2015. Lewis Grassic Gibbon was the pseudonym of James Leslie Mitchell who was born in Auchterless in February 1901.
Mitchell was raised in Arbuthnott, Kincardineshire, and in his teens he started work as a journalist with the Aberdeen Journal (which would later become the Press and Journal) and also for the Scottish Farmer. In 1919 he joined the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) and then in 1920 he joined the Royal Air Force (RAF). In 1925 he married and settled in Welwyn Garden City. He wrote a number of works under both his real name and his pseudonym before dying in his 30s of peritonitis brought on by a perforated ulcer – in February 1935.
His earliest writing is described in a letter from Christopher M. Grieve (Hugh MacDiarmid) to Charles Stanley Nott (1887-1978) author, publisher and translator, in what reads almost like a letter of introduction. The letter is dated 19 October 1933, and was written from Whalsay, Shetland.
Grieve writes to ‘My dear Stanley’:
I’ve suggested to a friend of mine that he should call in and make your acquaintance. He is a young Scottish Writer, J. Leslie Mitchell, who has published histories of Mexican antiquities etc but also novels and imaginative romances over his own name, the latest being an historical novel…
When referring to ‘histories of Mexican antiquities’, Grieve may have been pointing towards The Conquest of the Maya (1934). The historical novel mentioned was Spartacus which had been ‘well reviewed’ in the Times Literary Supplement, and which had been written under his own name, J. Leslie Mitchell.
Grieve goes on:
…over the name Lewis Grassic Gibbon he has lately scored a great success with ‘Sunset Song’ and ‘Cloud Howe’, the first two volumes of a trilogy of novels…
At the time of this correspondence to Nott – October 1933 – Grieve tells us that Mitchell’s publishers ‘are Jarrold’s, and Faber and Faber for a biography of the explorer, Mungo Park’, and that Mitchell and he ‘are collaborating in a miscellany on Scotland’. The Mungo Park work in question was Niger: The Life of Mungo Park (1934), and the collaborative work by Grieve and Mitchell was Scottish scene (also 1934).
During these Whalsay years – island life in east Shetland – Grieve then writes:
Excuse haste. This is just being dashed off in time to catch the mail-boat […] Yours C.M.G.
Dr. Graeme D. Eddie, Assistant Librarian Archives and Manuscripts, Centre for Research Collections (Special Collections)