About: Born in Old Kilpatrick, Dalmuir, on 7 November 1916, John Kincaid McNeillie was the eldest son of Robert McNeillie and of Jean McDougall. As a child he contracted meningitis and was sent to Galloway where his grandparents looked after him. These formative experiences influenced all his later writing. Most of his writing in his life-time was under the pen name Ian Niall so he is much less known than he deserves to be. There was a strongly reclusive and self-effacing element in his character and he made little attempt to promote himself or his work. During the 1950s and 1960s he wrote for Country Life and the Spectator. He also edited fishing magazines- he was a passionate fly fisherman. He lived most of his adult life in Wales, holding down a full-time job at the Ratcliffe Tool Company. He is gaining some reputation post-death with the naming of the John McNeillie Library in the former county buildings at Wigtown, and by the inauguration, as part of the Wigtown Literary Festival, of the Annual John McNeillie Lecture. He left a legacy of over forty books, among them a number of minor classics, and several decades of weekly nature journalism.
Why Read him? Not only did McNeillie possess the eye and ear of a poet, he could also tell a spell-binding story. The natural history essay was his true métier, as found in such volumes as The Poacher’s Handbook (1950), Trout from the Hills (1961), and his memoir A Galloway Childhood (1967), as well as several other collections, dramatic realist fictions also featured in his output and were where he first made his mark. John McNeillie’s first (and most famous) book, Wigtown Ploughman: Part of His Life, was published when the author was twenty-two. Serialised in Glasgow’s Sunday Mail, the book caused a furore with its account of the impoverished lives and of what was seen as the ‘immorality’ of the cotters in the Machars of Wigtownshire. It played a key part in the instigation of housing reforms in the region. Some saw it as ‘equally authentic’ with the work of Lewis Grassic Gibbon, who had died in 1935.
Other works include
No Resting Place (as Ian Niall)
His work is still all in copyright and the best one stop shop for all things John McNeillie is Clutag Press