In the wake of losing a great figure, it is quite common to revisit his or her life. We reopen their upbringing, and wonder what factors led them to greatness. Just as we, as humans, have done with influential authors for centuries, we look at Alastair Borthwick, whose writing was expertly structured despite his individual works vastly differing from one another.
We remember Alastair Borthwick for his greatest successes. His 1939 memoir of venturing the Scottish highlands, Always A Little Further, and his 1946 vivid depiction of World War Two, Sans Peur, had starkly contrasting topics, yet similar writing styles that led them to be widely acclaimed and even reissued decades later.
It’s often unknown what leads one to become a great writer; however, Borthwick had the experiences to benefit him. He was raised in Ayrshire and eventually moved to Glasgow at the age of 11, where he received proper high school education. At only 16, he took a job as a copytaker in the local paper; eventually, graduated to a similar job at the Glasgow Weekly Herald. Beginning work early and for a small staff gave him opportunities to hone his art. The staff at the Herald was so skeletal that Borthwick had quite the array of positions, including front page stories, the crossword, women’s and children’s pages, and film pages. He even answered queries from readers and, if there were none that week, he occasional wrote the questions himself.
His work at the paper led him to discover rock climbing as well, leading his career toward Always A Little Further. His writings on rock climbing and other open-air endeavors were well received. Borthwick’s adventures included several other odd jobs in written and spoken word, leading him to live in multiple locations through his life. That is, until the war’s outbreak, where he went on to serve with the 51st Highland Division in Europe, Sicily, and the Western Desert, eventually ranking as Captain.
His unit of the 51st Highland Division, the 5th Seaforth Highlanders, is known for marching in single file right through the German lines – all 600 men in the battalion, led by Borthwick. The surprised enemy woke to find their enemies behind them, rather than in front. Borthwick was excused attendance from parades in order to write his book, which resulted in Sans Peur. Like Always A Little Further, it is still widely recognized to this day.