Scottish Successes: Emma Blair & Jessica Stirling

At the recent launch of Andrew Nicoll's debut novel The Good Mayor, much was made of the book's sensitive love story and believable female characters. Culture minister Linda Fabiani joked that perhaps Nicoll – a journalist with The Sun – should have written the novel using a woman's name.

In Scotland, we have two very successful men writing as women. Iain Blair has written 29 novels under the name Emma Blair. Hugh C. Rae's story is slightly more complicated, but his most successful novels are those of his female alter-ego, Jessica Stirling.

Both men have become Scottish Success Stories by writing commercial historical fiction, romantic novels often set in Scotland. Historically, many women wrote under a man's name in order to be taken more seriously – writers such as George Eliot and the Brontë sisters, for instance. And some authors have tried to hide their identity behind neutral initials, such as our own J.K. Rowling and A.L. Kennedy. 150 years ago the Paisley poet William Sharp adopted the name Fiona MacLeod for some of his work; a pretence he found increasingly difficult to sustain.

Interestingly, both Blair and Stirling are quite upfront about their gender on their web pages, although Iain Blair hid his true name for eleven years. Is this all really necessary? Do authors need to hide behind pseudonyms? If we're not going to judge a book by its cover, is it acceptable to judge by the sex of the author?

Or should we just sit back, enjoy the story, and not worry about the gender of the writer?

Emma Blair

Iain Blair

Iain Blair was raised in Glasgow but emigrated to America, aged 11, after his mother's death. Since then he as lived in Milwaukee, Glasgow and Sydney, and now lives in Devon. He has had careers as an insurance clerk, a journalist, a beach lifeguard and an actor.

Cover of Where No Man Cries

During his twenty-year acting career he wrote a series of plays for theatre and television. When his publishers took on Where No Man Cries they insisted that it would sell better written as a woman, so Iain was changed to Emma.

Iain Blair died aged 69 in July 2011.

Jessica Stirling

Hugh C Rae

Jessica Stirling's story is rather different. Hugh C. Rae had been writing pulp crime novels for a number of years. His publisher was looking for a new writer for a list of women's historical fiction and approached Rae. He agreed, but felt he needed a writing partner and found long time friend Peggie Coghlan. Together they forged a writing partnership and created Jessica Stirling, with Coghlan providing many of the stories and the historical research, and Rae bringing his writing and editing skills.

Cover of The Spoiled Earth

After Peggie Coghlan fell ill and moved away from Glasgow, Rae took over writing "for" Jessica Stirling full time.

The Books

Blair's novels are set in Scotland, England, Australia and South Africa, often against the backdrop of conflicts such as WWII or the Spanish Civil War, and especially during the inter-war period. Most of Stirling's works are set in Glasgow and central Scotland, in both the 19th and 20th centuries.

Books by Emma Blair

  • Cover scan of Finding Happiness
    Finding Happiness - Emma Blair - Paperback
    Sandy McLean is training to be a doctor to follow in his father's footsteps - indeed, to surpass his father who is just a general practitioner: Sandy is to become a top surgeon. Or so his father insists. But Sandy really wants to be an artist.
  • Cover scan of Maggie Jordan
    Maggie Jordan - Emma Blair - Paperback
    When most of Maggie Jordan's family are killed in a freak flood, she is forced to find work in a Glasgow carpet mill. She becomes engaged to Nevil Sanderson, who then suddenly decides to go and fight with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War.
  • Cover scan of Moonlit Eyes
    Moonlit Eyes - Emma Blair - Paperback
    When Pee Wee Poston and his wife Beulah are offered the chance to swap New York for London, they jump at the chance. But life for a black family in interwar London isn't easy. When the Nazi bombs arrive, life gets tougher still.
  • Cover scan of A Most Determined Woman
    A Most Determined Woman - Emma Blair - Paperback
    For Sarah Hawke, daughter of an impoverished miner, life offered little beyond the grime of 1890s Glasgow and the eternal drudgery of back-breaking work. But then a mysterious stranger arrives, catapulting Sarah into a world of luxury and wealth.
  • Cover scan of The Princess Of Poor Street
    Princess Of Poor Street - Emma Blair - Paperback
    'The Princess of Poor Street' is set in Glasgow during the depression. Vicky Devine is determined to pull through and make something of her life. With love fueling her strength and courage, her spirit and determination will never be broken.
  • Cover scan of Street Song
    Street Song - Emma Blair - Paperback
    Susan's parents had wanted a son - and they did little to hide their disappointment. If only they could have known! In the tradition-bound Scotland of the 1940s, there was no place for a woman like Susan. But she was determined to find one.
  • Cover scan of Sweethearts
    Sweethearts - Emma Blair - Paperback
    'Sweethearts' follows Lexa and Cordelia Stewart as they strive to find happiness in the tough Glasgow of the 1930s. The death of their father forces them to make changes - but how will they find their way in what is very much a man's world? It is precisely because of a man that both sisters are thrown into a turmoil.
  • Cover scan of Three Bites Of The Cherry
    Three Bites Of The Cherry - Emma Blair - Paperback
    Georgie Mair's first husband dies tragically from leukaemia. Three years later love comes once more into her life in the form of Charlie Gunn, who saves her life after an explosion at her work. But as their relationship blossoms into marriage, Georgie gets the feeling that her second chance at true love is too good to be true.
  • Cover scan of Twilight Time
    Twilight Time - Emma Blair - Paperback
    Set in Devon during both the 1920s and 1960s, 'Twilight Time' follows the lives and loves of sisters Crista and Maggs. In later life, Maggs is running a village pub with her husband, while Crista is a widow with three adult children. Then Crista meets Max. Can love win through in those greying years?
  • Cover scan of Where No Man Cries
    Where No Man Cries - Emma Blair - Paperback
    Glasgow between the wars is a town divided, taut with violence and steeped in hardship, a town with no time for dreams. Angus McBain knows that better than most: being poor has killed his father and aged his mother before her time. But he is determined to be his own man, to make his own place, and share it with the woman he loves.
  • Cover scan of Wild Strawberries
    Wild Strawberries - Emma Blair - Paperback
    Maizie is struggling to keep the Paris Hotel open whilst her husband is in the army during World War 2. A French soldier stays at the hotel after Dunkirk and she becomes pregnant. After he leaves for France she realises she can't follow him.

Books by Jessica Stirling

  • Cover scan of The Asking Price
    The Asking Price - Jessica Stirling - Paperback
    Imprisoned in a bad marriage, Kirsty maintains the situation for the sake of her son Bobby. Her husband Craig is now a policeman and seeks solace in the arms of a Glaswegian prostitute from the city's dark slums.
  • Cover scan of Blessings In Disguise
    Blessings In Disguise - Jessica Stirling - Paperback
    Mid-Victorian Glasgow comes to vibrant life in Jessica Stirling's latest story of greed, ambition and true love triumphing against all odds.
  • Cover scan of The Captive Heart
    The Captive Heart - Jessica Stirling - Paperback
    World War I ended well for the Franklins, prosperous Clydeside shipbuilders. But trouble is brewing behind their respectable façade. As the slump of the 1920s begins to bite in Glasgow, troubles both financial and personal invade all their lives.
  • Cover scan of The Dark Pasture
    The Dark Pasture - Jessica Stirling - Paperback
    17 years have passed and the village of Blacklaw is facing poverty again. Mirrin is now happily married with children and enjoying her life on the Hazelrig Farm. But things soon go wrong and Mirrin must draw on all her courage to survive.
  • Cover scan of The Gates Of Midnight
    The Gates Of Midnight - Jessica Stirling - Paperback
    War has come to London once more and Holly Beckman, now a widow, is forced to find new depths of courage in the face of adversity. This is the final book in the Beckman trilogy, following The Deep Well at Noon and The Blue Evening Gone.
  • Cover scan of Prized Possessions
    Prized Possessions - Jessica Stirling - Paperback
    Set in Glasgow in the years of the great Depression, this is a story of an indomitable family of women. Jessica Stirling's previous novels include The Wind from the Hills, The Island Wife, The Workhouse Girl, The Penny Wedding and Hearts of Gold.
  • Cover scan of Shamrock Green
    Shamrock Green - Jessica Stirling - Paperback
    The marriage of Sylvie and Gowry McCulloch was not made in heaven and has gone through difficult times. Settled now in Dublin, they have a daughter, Maeve, whom they both love dearly. Then Francis Hagarty explodes into their lives.