Scottish writer Allan Massie has been recognised as one of Britain’s finest men of letters, by being made a CBE for services to literature.
The Selkirk-based journalist, columnist, sports writer and novelist joins the ranks of Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell, who were all given similar honours.
Massie, the master of many literary disciplines, has written nearly 30 books from his Philiphaugh home, including historical novels set in ancient Rome and Dark-Ages Europe, a biography of the Royal Stuarts, histories of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and a celebration of Scottish rugby.
His 1989 novel, A Question of Loyalties, about wartime Vichy France won the Saltire Society’s award for best Scottish Book of the Year, and his post-war sequel, The Sins of the Father (1991), caused Nicholas Mosley to resign as a Booker Prize judge when the book failed to be shortlisted.
The Commander of the British Empire is already a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and a Chevalier de l‘Ordre des Arts et des Lettres – an honour from the French republic he found “irresistable”, because, he wrote:“‘Chevalier’ sounds like something out of Dumas – not that I had the slightest idea what I had done to deserve it.”
Massie, born in Singapore in 1938 and raised in Aberdeenshire, worked as a political columnist for The Scotsman, The Sunday Times, The Scottish Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, and pens a literary column for The Spectator, where he once asked if writers should accept honours from the state.
In January last year he wroted: “In principle I think Kipling was right, and rather approve of writers who have turned down honours. This is easy to say because I haven’t been put to the test. It’s unlikely that I shall be.”
Last month when he opened a letter from Her Majesty’s Government, he was proved wrong. He told TheSouthern:“I was surprised. I’m very pleased. In the past I’ve wondered if writers should be honoured, but, when you’re asked, it would be churlish to refuse. It’s a nice thing to get. But it’s not something that’s going to change one’s life.”
However, he did admit to being quietly pleased at beating his brother Neil, an Aberdeenshire farmer, who has an OBE for services to cattle breeding.
British writers, like the crime novelist Ian Rankin, already admire Massie as one of “our finest men of letters”, and argue his gong was long overdue. “I’m not sure it’s due at all,” replied Massie modestly. “Another way to put that is to say I’m an all-purpose hack.”
He is currently writing the final book in his crime fiction trilogy, following Death in Bordeaux (2010) and Dark Summer in Bordeaux (2012).