Elphinstone, Margaret 1948–

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Elphinstone, Margaret 1948–


Born 1948, in Kent, England. Education: Attended Queen's College, London, and the University of Durham.


Office— Department of English Studies, University of Strathclyde, 26 Richmond St., Glasgow G1 1HX, Scotland.


Author and poet. University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, professor; Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, visiting professor, 1997.




Scottish Arts Council Writer's Bursary, 1990, and Scottish Arts Council Travel Award, 1991, both for Islanders; Scottish Arts Council Writer's Bursary, 1993, Scottish Arts Council Travel Award, 1994, and Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award, 2001, all for The Sea Road; Scottish Arts Council Writer's Bursary, 1997, for Hy Brasil.



The Incomer, Women's Press (London, England), 1987.

A Sparrow's Flight, Polygon (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1989.

Islanders, Polygon (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1994.

The Sea Road, Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2000.

Hy Brasil, Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2002.

Voyageurs, Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2003.

Gato, Sandstone Press (Dingwall, Scotland), 2006.

Light, Canongate (New York, NY), 2006.


(With Julia Langley)The Holistic Gardener, Thorsons (Wellingborough, England), 1987, revised edition, with Julia Langley and John Button, published as The Green Gardener's Handbook: Everything You Need to Know for Successful Organic Gardening,1990, reprinted as The Organic Gardener's Handbook: Everything You Need to Know for Successful Gardening,1995.

Organic Gardening: Everything the Beginner Needs to Know, Green Print (London, England), 1990.

Outside Eden(poems), Sundial Press (Stroud, England), 1990.

A Treasury of Garden Verse(poems), Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1990.

An Apple from a Tree(stories), Women's Press (London, England), 1991.

Contributor of chapters to books, including Scottish Women's Fiction, 1920s to 1960s: Journeys into Being, edited by Carol Anderson and Aileen Christianson, Tuckwell, 1999;The History of Scottish Women Writers, Volume 2, edited by Douglas Gifford and Dorothy Macmillan, Edinburgh University Press, 1997; and Gendering the Nation: Studies in Modern Scottish Literature, edited by Christopher White, Edinburgh University Press, 1994. Contributor to periodicals, including Chapman.


Margaret Elphinstone is a Scottish author and professor of English. She has written books for organic gardeners, collections of poetry, and several novels in the science fiction genre as well as historical fiction. John Clute wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that Elphinstone's science fiction is written "in the language of fantasy, a genre much in love with region (and with Scotland)."

The protagonist of The Incomer is Naomi, a nomadic traveler. The book was followed by a sequel,A Sparrow's Flight. The setting is a postapocalyptic, posttechnology Scotland. Lucie Armitt, in an essay in Image and Power: Women in Fiction in the Twentieth Century, noted that "time travel and futurist projection are undoubtedly two of the most significant literary devices that science fiction has contributed to the conventions of the novel."

Armitt wrote that although Clachanpluck, "the ecofeminist community that Naomi enters, appears to bask in Mother Earth's approval, what gives this book its creative edge is the latent but perceptible presence of an imprecise uncanny threat that … erupts and disrupts but is never clearly articulated. In this respect it mirrors the host/visitor dynamic which fosters the interesting generic mix of this text. For although it is at the ‘soft’ end of the science fiction spectrum the parasitic (if symbiotic) undercurrent of the gothic lurks here, destabilising and unnerving the reader's generic expectations, and providing us with a restless narrative that confronts its own strangeness."

The Sea Road, published in 2000, is a novel with a more historical bent. The main character, Gudrid, is a young woman who married into the Viking family credited with mapping the route to "Vinland," or North America. Though told from the point of view of Gudrid, the novel is written through the voice of an Icelandic monk on an assignment from Rome to transcribe the woman's story. A reviewer for Geographical wrote that "Elphinstone's evocative writing captures … the tale of one woman in a male-dominated world of Viking explorers."

Hy Brasil, from 2002, posits an imaginary island to which an English travel writer goes to write a book. Elphinstone followed this up with the 2003 novel,Voyageurs, "an ambitious, monumental work," according to Amanda Thursfield, writing on the Contemporary Writers Web site. A work of historical fiction,Voyageurs deals with the voyaging and searches of a nineteenth-century English Quaker, Mark Greenhow, who is looking for his missing missionary sister. His searches take him to Canada and the United States in a novel that, as Booklist contributor Michele Leber noted, "celebrates persistence, integrity, and bonds between cultures." Mark's younger sister, Rachel, was abandoned by her coreligionists after conceiving a child out of wedlock, and has now disappeared. Mark's investigation leads him to the island where she was last seen; the time is the very cusp of the War of 1812, when his pacifistic beliefs are badly needed. Leber praised Elphinstone's novel, noting that in spite of a somewhat confusing beginning, "this adventure becomes more involving, avoiding predictability to reach a satisfying conclusion." For a Publishers Weekly reviewer "the novel's interest lies in Mark's struggle to reconcile his faith with the verities and practicalities of the ‘real world’ and in Elphinstone's mastery of early 19th-century argot." Higher praise came from a Kirkus Reviews critic, who termed Voyageur "a stunning work of historical fiction."

Elphinstone's 2006 novel,Light, is another work of historical fiction. The book is set in 1831 on a dot of an island near the Isle of Man. The lighthouse keeper on this barren bit of rock is an independent-minded woman, Lucy, whose brother was the keeper until his death. Lucy has a child born out of wedlock, and her brother's Indian-born widow and her two children also inhabit the island. Lucy attempts to keep her family tradition alive, but when two men arrive from the mainland to survey a location for a new lighthouse, her carefully kept world is turned upside down. "Elphinstone renders the solitude of the two women amid the salt air and crashing waves," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who went on, however, to note that the author was "aiming for stark, [but] the results are static." Library Journal reviewer Christine DeZelar-Tiedman had a more positive assessment of Light, commenting that "all the characters, including the children, are fully realized, with deep flaws and hidden strengths," and that the ending is "satisfying if somewhat ambiguous." Higher praise still came from a Kirkus Reviews critic who noted, "The conventional theme of an unspoiled paradise threatened by progress is treated with keen intelligence in the Scottish author's ninth novel." The same reviewer further found this "another bold step forward" for Elphinstone. And Joanne Wilkinson, writing in Booklist, termed Light a "moving depiction of a close-knit family learning to navigate overwhelming change."



Sceats, Sarah, and Gail Cunningham, editors,Image and Power: Women in Fiction in the Twentieth Century, Longman (London, England), 1996.


Booklist, August, 2004, Michele Leber, review of Voyageurs, p. 1897; December 15, 2006, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Light, p. 21.

Books in Canada, January 1, 2004, Anne Cimon, "Brief Reviews: Fiction," p. 9.

Geographical, October, 2000, review of The Sea Road, p. 95.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2004, review of Voyageurs, p. 508; November 15, 2006, review of Light, p. 1144.

Library Journal, August 2004, Cynthia Johnson, review of Voyageurs, p. 66; December 1, 2006, Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, review of Light, p. 108.

Publishers Weekly, August 16, 2004, review of Voyageurs, p. 45; December 11, 2006, review of Light, p. 47.

Times Higher Education Supplement, August 1, 2003, Olga Wojtas, "Maps, Manuscripts, Canoes and Chipmunks Breathe Life into Epic," p. 22.

Times Literary Supplement, February 23, 1990, John Clute, "Forward and Backward," p. 202.


Contemporary Writers,http://www.contemporarywriters.com/ (November 6, 2007), Amanda Thursfield, "Margaret Elphinstone."

LauraHird.com,http://www.laurahird.com/ (November 6, 2007), Marc Goldin, review of Voyageurs.

Skinny,http://www.skinnymag.co.uk/ (October 27, 2007), C.C. Mapletoft, review of Light.