Ayrshire’s history man

David Milloy

It’s often said that most people ‘have a book in them’ but Ayrshire author Dane Love has done rather better than that – to date, he’s had 39 books published.

Born in Irvine and raised in Cumnock, Dane wrote his first book while still at Cumnock Academy. The book, The Mountains of Great Britain, the first to list every mountain in the UK standing more than 2000 feet above sea level, was accepted by a publisher but didn’t make it into print. Years later, Dane submitted it to another publisher, Lochar Publishing of Moffat. Again, it was accepted for publication but the publisher’s subsequent insolvency meant that once more it failed to make it onto bookshelves. Dane eventually published it in 2022 through his own publishing company, Carn Publishing.

In the intervening years, Dane’s second book, Scottish Kirkyards, was published by Robert Hale in 1989, setting in motion a veritable avalanche of books by Dane about both local and Scottish history. But although Dane is a secondary school teacher, he teaches technical education rather than history. Indeed, he didn’t even study history at school, as he explains: “I’ve always been interested in Scottish history but that wasn’t taught at the school I went to. So I decided not to take history as an elective subject after second year. It didn’t form part of my studies at Jordanhill College either.”

Dane’s second book to be published was a history of Auchinleck, which paved the way for a series of other books by him about towns and villages in Ayrshire including, in 2016, Ayrshire’s Lost Villages, which tells the stories of 50 former communities now mostly reduced to little more than faded memories and sepia-toned photographs.

One of Dane’s other books, The Man Who Sold Nelson’s Column and Other Scottish Frauds and Hoaxes, managed to achieve the rare feat of catching out Stephen Fry, as Dane explains: “I came across a story about a man from Glasgow, Arthur Furguson, who had allegedly ‘sold’ Nelson’s Column to Americans in the 1920s. This led me to write a book about Scottish frauds and hoaxes. Try as I might, though, I was unable to find any evidence to establish that Arthur Furguson had ever existed let alone managed to con someone into paying £6000 (in 1920’s money) for Nelson’s Column. I still included the story in the book but added a rider to the effect that there was no evidence to prove that it was anything more than an urban myth. Sometime later, the story about Arthur Furguson selling Nelson’s Column was presented by Stephen Fry on the TV programme QI as being a matter of fact. Someone who had read my book challenged this, and the story ended up being printed in the Sunday Mail! To this day, no-one to my knowledge has ever been able to establish that Arthur Furguson was anything more than a figment of someone’s imagination.”

Everybody loves a good ghost story, and Dane has delved in to the world of bogles, witches and warlocks in his books Scottish Ghosts and Scottish Spectres. There’s no sensationalism in Dane’s tales of the uncanny; as he puts it, “The people I spoke to when compiling stories for my books about ghosts and spectres were grounded people who told their stories in a very matter-of-fact way. They simply told me what they saw or experienced and were unable to explain.”

Amongst his other works, Dane has written books about the Covenanters (he’s the Secretary of the Scottish Covenanters Memorial Association), Scottish castles, clan chiefs, the Jacobites, the Galloway highlands, lost Scottish villages, and auld inns of Scotland.

Dane’s readership isn’t limited to Scotland or even the UK. “The American market for books about Scottish history is quite strong, particularly about topics such as the Covenanters,” he explains. “Several of my books have been published in the USA and have sold pretty well.” That being so, and with the likes of the Outlander TV series being popular in the USA, we asked Dane if he might be tempted to a write a novel that brings Scottish history to 21st century readers. His reply? Well, let’s just say that the jury’s still out on that one.

As for the process of writing books, Dane says that he loves researching subjects he’s planning to write about. He particularly enjoys visiting locations, and he takes delight at delving into the details and sharing his findings with readers.

Carefully researched content is a vital ingredient in Dane’s books, but what other advice does he have for would-be writers? “The most important piece of advice I can give is to write about something you like. Your liking and enthusiasm for the subject will come through in your writing and the result will be a better book. I’d also strongly recommend that you find your own style of writing. Once you find a style that you like then stick with it. Remember: your writing style is your voice. I once tried to change my writing style when working on a book and got told off for it from my wife. She was right. I ended up re-writing the book in my usual style, and I have to say that it was much better for it. One final tip: reading someone else’s work is the best way to learn, so read a lot.”

That leaves but one unanswered question on our lips: what’s Dane’s next book going to be about? “I’ve not yet decided,” says the man himself, “but I’ve got a few ideas. I’ll see where the research leads me and take it from there…”