It can be argued, and I would, that William McIlvanney was one of the most influential Scottish writers of recent times. This is partly down to his being ordained as the “Godfather of Tartan Noir” in recent years, (a title he didn’t particularly care for), but is mainly due to his tough, lean prose which gave a literary voice and identity to Glasgow and the West of Scotland at a time when it had next to none.
It was an identity strong enough for people to come to believe that Glasgow was full of men who had the patter of his detective Laidlaw, and who could fight like Dan Scoular (The Big Man), not least Glaswegians themselves. But there were other aspects to that identity which came straight from McIlvanney himself. Strong, sure, fair and fiercely intelligent. Like his fellow Ayrshire writer, Robert Burns, he was charming, passionate and believed in the power of discourse to change the world.
Back in 2012, in an Indelible Ink column looking at McIlvanney’s 2007 novel Weekend, I wrote:
“With the recent success at home and abroad of Scottish writers such as Irvine Welsh, Iain Banks, Ali Smith, Ian Rankin, A.L Kennedy etc, it’s perhaps odd to think of a time when having Scottish novels post R.L. Stevenson in a Scottish house was the exception rather than the norm, at least with most of the people I knew growing up. In the ’70s and ’80s, if a family had only one Scottish writer on their shelves there was a good chance it would be William McIlvanney, and I’ll give you good odds it would be one of Laidlaw, The Big Man or Docherty.