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Confessions and Justification

I have a confession to make.


I nearly didn't read this book.


I was eighteen, studying English at university and at the bitter end of my first year, up to my eyes in revision. James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner was the final book on the reading list. By this point I was already drowning in novels and poems and I had more than enough texts to answer the exam questions. Other students almost convinced me the book wasn’t worth my time and I was already struggling with my other two subjects, Accounting & Statistics and Psychology, that were exercising parts of my brain that were not readily up for the challenge. It was only because reading gave me a light reprieve from these other much-detested subjects that I bothered to give Justified Sinner a shot.


This was early May in 2012. In Scotland, May is reliably sunny and warm every year, much to the annual dismay of the country's students, unable to enjoy the weather. To make myself feel better, I chose a window seat in the common room of my Halls every morning of revision week and promised myself I’d read for an hour.


I felt suitably pretentious sitting there, posing as the very model of a University of St Andrews student, coffee in one hand, novel in the other, by the window overlooking a tree-lined courtyard and the ornate facade of the Halls where Prince William and Kate Middleton met. At least it would be a fun image for my memories if the book turned out to be dull.


But after that first morning, it did not matter where I was. I couldn’t care less about the view.


The book had got me.


Perhaps book lovers will agree with me on this – I suspect there is a Cupid equivalent for books. Whoever it is, that scholastic spirit that lurks above your reading spot, they take aim and fire… and lo, as sure and sudden as Troilus was struck by love for Criseyde, your life is changed.


Whenever I had to stop reading for the morning, I wasn’t seeing reality properly. Accounting & Statistics only got a reluctant fraction of my care or attention. All I wanted to do was create images. I wanted to see a movie of the book. I wanted to create a movie of the book – a whole hand-drawn animation of it. Something that would release Justified Sinner from my head and into the world, so others could see it like I did. I had nowhere near the amount of skill or patience required for my daydreaming ambitions.


To my friends who didn't enjoy it, I would rant and rail. To anyone who hadn't read it, I would tell them all that they could stand to hear about it. In fact, I spent the night before the exam walking along the beach with such a friend, recounting the entire story of Justified Sinner and all the scholarship I’d read around it. He wrote on the book in the exam and got a better grade than I did. Years on and he will still tease me for it.


Maybe it was that experience that made me take possession of the story as if it was my own. And with each time I would tell someone about it, the same frustration rose in me: why isn’t this book more popular? Why doesn’t it have several adaptations by now?


It was only after I graduated that the revelation came to me. I’m an artist. I could adapt Justified Sinner into a graphic novel.


In 2016, I got a place on the MLitt Comics and Graphic Novels in the University of Dundee, and with that time and tuition, I was able to explore the idea. A few years later, I have studio space, a bit more time on my hands and determination to do this.


With 250th anniversary of James Hogg’s birth this year, my adaptation is in full swing. I’m determined to create the images I saw, and what I wanted others to see, nearly ten years ago when I first read it.




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