39 Steps to success

Lady Deborah Buchan Stewartby with award-winning student Andy McCabe

Published on 29 November 2017

A young Sunderland student has written a part for himself in one of the world’s most loved stories of adventure.

Andy McCabe has won the first ever John Buchan Prize, presented by the John Buchan Society and the John Buchan Story Museum for the best dissertation by an MA English student at the University of Sunderland.

John Buchan was a novelist, historian, journalist, politician, soldier and public servant, but is best known for his influential espionage novel, The Thirty Nine Steps, which has never been out of print since it was first published in 1915.

Andy, 29, from Castletown in Sunderland, won for his dissertation, entitled 'The Middle Way: James Hogg, Tayeb Salih and the Two Halves of the Whole.'

He says: “It’s an absolute honour to receive the John Buchan Prize, I can’t express just how delighted I am to be the first recipient of this prestigious award.”

Andy’s dissertation compared James Hogg’s 1824 novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner with Tayeb Salih’s 1966 novel, Seasons of Migration to the North. James Hogg was both a shepherd and a major figure in the Edinburgh literary scene, while Tayeb Salih travelled from rural Sudan to London. Both novels examine the doomed attempt to keep these cultures separate, and call for tolerance and understanding of those different cultures.

“I am certainly aware John Buchan’s literary accomplishments and his close association with the Scottish Borders, an area I’ve come to know and love due to my studies of James Hogg.

“I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the John Buchan Society and the John Buchan Story Museum for their generosity.”

John Buchan’s granddaughter, Lady Deborah Buchan Stewartby presented Andy with his prize, alongside Dr Peter Worthington, Chair of John Buchan Story Museum in Peebles.

Lady Stewartby said: “One of the founding aims of the John Buchan Story museum in Peebles has been to foster a link with an academic institution, and so the recent collaboration between the museum and the University of Sunderland’s School of Culture has occurred at an opportune moment in the museum’s development.

“The first collaborative venture between the two institutions has led to a significant enhancement in the museum’s archives. It is hoped that future involvement with the University will lead to a new exhibition featuring John Buchan as the Director of Intelligence in the Ministry of Information in 1918 and how that position influenced his novel Mr Standfast, which was published in 1919.

“Not long before he died, when making a television programme for Channel 4 called John Buchan: Master of Suspense my father, the late William Tweedsmuir said: ’My father would have been amazed and delighted that, a century after the publication of his most famous novel, his books are still being read and enjoyed.’  

“John Buchan would certainly have been just as amazed and delighted by this cultural link with the University of Sunderland.”

The University of Sunderland’s School of Culture has been working closely with the John Buchan Society and Museum on a number of collaborative projects.  These have included the digitisation of the Society's Journal and the redevelopment of the Museum's website.  For 2018 the Museum, in Peebles, Scotland, is planning a centenary exhibition on John Buchan, as Minister of Information in the final year of World War One.

Steve Watts, Head of the School of Culture, added: “I am delighted with the close collaboration that has been developed with the John Buchan Society and the John Buchan Story Museum.  The University has been working on several projects with the Society and Museum to support them in their aim of making their Journal and artefacts available on-line and accessible to everybody.  

“We would like to join Lady Stewartby in congratulating Andrew McCabe, first winner of the John Buchan Prize.”

John Buchan (1875-1940) was born in Perth, Scotland. As well as popular fiction, Buchan was also an historian, diplomat and politician. He was Minister of Information from 1917, was elected to Parliament in 1927, and was appointed Governor General of Canada in 1935, where he died, before his ashes were returned to the UK.

John Buchan’s most famous work, The Thirty Nine Steps, was first published in 1915, and was an instant success, particularly among soliders in the trenches during World War One. The book has been adapted for film, TV, radio, stage and even as a computer game, and has never been out of print.

In 1935 he was given the honour of the First Baron of Tweedsmuir. Tweedsmuir Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada, was named in his honour.