RLS Day 2020 logo

WELCOME to the website for Robert Louis Stevenson Day 2020. Normally the November 13 birthday of the great Scottish author is celebrated each year with events staged by Stevenson lovers in his home city of Edinburgh and further afield, but this year is a little different because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of staging physical events, RLS Day 2020 is going online with a collection of items celebrating one of the most charismatic characters in world literature. Recognisable instantly by his initials, RLS was the most versatile of writers – poet, essayist, travel writer, children’s author, historical novelist and humourist who also found time to pen some of the finest letters in the English language. His life story, from Edinburgh to the South Seas, was every bit as exciting as his novels – and he crammed it all into a life of 44 years. To enjoy some of the ways in which Stevenson lovers are now celebrating his 170th birthday, please visit this page regularly in the weeks leading up to November 13 and click on the growing list of links that will appear here. And if you have any RLS-related material you have posted online, please email robertlouisstevenson@blueyonder.co.uk giving details including a link so we can add it to the collection. Happy RLS Day!

RLS Around the World in Under One Hour

clockFROM Robert Louis Stevenson’s childhood in Edinburgh to his last days in Samoa, our 19 readers in 15 locations spread over nine countries relive his life journey as he criss-crossed the globe. The readings in this 170th birthday tribute all connect to special places in the author’s life, sharing some of the fine words they inspired. To experience his life’s journey in under one hour, made possible through the technology that helps make a pandemic slightly more bearable, just click on the clock. We are
very grateful for all the contributions made by RLS fans and friends.

I Travel Not To Go Anywhere, But To Go…

bed2ROBERT Louis Stevenson’s travels worldwide were all the more remarkable because of his determination not to let ill-health prevent them. Jon Cossar draws from his background as Foundation Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Travel Medicine at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (2006-2008) to give a highly pictorial presentation exploring the fascinating relationships between aspects of Stevenson’s remarkable writings, travels and health problems. Dr Cossar looks at Stevenson’s pre-existing health, the various risks to it and hazards he faced compared to the modern traveller, and speculates on why he travelled and how he wrote of it. See the presentation here.

RLS Day At The Museum

ROBERT Louis Stevenson Day will be celebrated all day at the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh with a programme of digital events, from a musical interpretation of the Vailima Prayers at 11am and favourite RLS Readings  from Edinburgh Living History at 1pm to a Storytelling session from outside the Writers’ Museum at 2pm and Personal Highlights chosen from the exhibits by museum staff at 5pm. For further details, follow the links above.  No need to book in advance, simply tune in to the City Art Centre Facebook page at the appropriate time.

The Journey That Never Was

Letterstart1NOT all of Stevenson’s travels were a success. A walking tour down the valley of the River Stour had to be abandoned due to an injured heel, but a footnote survives in a hitherto unpublished letter from Louis, shared for the first time by biographer Jeremy Hodges on RLS Day. For an examination of this short but cryptic letter to WE Henley and what the Belleezers it was all about, not to mention the fate of Louis’s hiking socks, click here

Spirit of Stevenson In 170th Anniversary Violin

PageTODAY you can both see and hear the Robert Louis Stevenson 170th Anniversary violin, made and played by Edinburgh violin maker Steve Burnett and unveiled by him on RLS Day. This unique instrument is made from wood collected over many years from many places in and around Edinburgh which the author would have known well. A piece of knotted weather-worn, time-worn antique pine from the front-door frame of a ruined cottage in the Pentlands became the violin’s front, and sycamore from along the Water of Leith became the back, sides, neck and scroll, while the internal wooden parts are of willow from the Union Canal and driftwood from the Firth of Forth. The fingerboard, pegs, tailpiece and end-pin fittings came from a pruned branch of a tree that still grows in the garden of Stevenson’s birthplace at 8 Howard Place. The violin was heavily inspired by RLS’s poem Whither Must l Wander, which is transcribed within the violin, and reflects the sentiment of the instrument! To hear Steve talk about and play the instrument, click on the picture by Samuel Burnett of the violin at the RLS statue in Colinton.

At Home With RLS In Bournemouth

RLS SkerryILL-HEALTH meant RLS often had to be shielded from infection – and never more so than at Skerryvore, his seaside home in Bournemouth where he lived ‘like a weevil in a biscuit’. Any flare-up in his chronic lung disease could prove fatal, and his wife Fanny would screen visitors, insisting on seeing a clean handkerchief and refusing admittance if they showed any sign of suffering from a cold. But what was it like inside Skerryvore, which no longer exists thanks to a wartime bomb? New research by Professor Richard Dury pulls together original architectural drawings and eye-witness accounts to recreate the house where Kidnapped and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde were written. Read his findings here

Robert Louis Stevenson Day Hydeathon

Hydeathon PotionEDINBURGH-based Typewronger Books is celebrating RLS Day with an online video reading of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, as volunteers post videos of themselves reading a chapter of the Stevenson novella, with or without a glass of wine or whatever strange potion they may prefer. Stay up late for the story from 8pm, Friday November 13 – just click on Mr Hyde’s picture, if you dare…

Grow A Garden Of Verses

RLS ColourWHICH of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems is your favourite? Why not record it and share it with others by adding it to our online Garden of Verses? Don’t be confined to verses for children – pick any RLS poem up to 5 minutes long and record it as an mp3 file (sound only please), then email it to robertlouisstevenson@blueyonder.co.uk. Poems are now being posted here.

In Stevenson’s Footsteps

OVER the years many have enjoyed performances by actor and Robert Louis Stevenson Club member John Shedden, who now has a new role as narrator of two RLS audio tours of Edinburgh, aided by another ‘voice of Stevenson’, Vincent Guy. The tours were devised by RLS Club member Martin White, who has overcome many obstacles to get things ready by RLS Day 2020, including rushing into Edinburgh to do critical testing just before each of the city’s Covid lockdowns. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Edinburgh Trail has now been released in Stevenson Week by VoiceMap – follow the links to preview The Childhood Years and The University Years of RLS.

Dramatic Memories Of The Young RLS

PomanderrrA CENTURY ago this year, the Robert Louis Stevenson Club was founded in Edinburgh to promote interest in the life and works of one of the world’s great authors. One of its first tasks was to gather living memories of RLS from various people who had known him. The result was a book called I Can Remember Robert Louis Stevenson, collected and edited by author Rosaline Masson, one of the Club’s founding members. This year, to mark its Centenary, the Club has pulled together a collection of contributions from authors and Stevenson scholars, celebrities and others from all walks of life whose lives have been touched by the spirit RLS, explaining what he means to them.  Sadly the pandemic has sabotaged plans to publish the new book on RLS Day 2020 but it’s merely a pleasure deferred until next year. Meanwhile, you can listen to a highlight from Rosaline Masson’s original book, in which her sister Flora remembers the RLS she knew in his twenties, taking part in amateur dramatics, above. To hear it, click on her picture…Flora Masson

Barrie’s Lost Letters to Louis

BarrieSTEVENSON and JM Barrie never met, but the creators of Treasure Island and Peter Pan did correspond – yet for years Barrie’s replies to Louis were presumed lost, until discovered by Dr Michael Shaw of Stirling University in a dusty archive at Yale. On RLS Day they are published for the first time, with an online book launch by Sandstone Press at 7pm tonight. To register for this free event click here. A Friendship In Letters also includes Barrie’s fanciful imagined meeting with RLS, which he sent to Rosalind Masson for the second edition of I Can Remember Robert Louis Stevenson, see previous item. For the first edition he had simply sent her An Echo, expressing his regret and sense of loss at never meeting his fellow Scot. 

Unpacking The Fables

STEVENSON’S Fables are miniature masterpieces, some of them apparently slight and inconsequential but all full of meaning. In a series of Evening Under Lamplight podcasts, Stevenson scholar Robert-Louis Abrahamson examines each one and enhances our understanding of these lesser-known works by a multi-talented genius. Dip into the podcasts here Fables Index.

Lying Low In Saranac

WHEN Stevenson and his family took themselves off to Saranac Lake in upper New York State it gave him peace and quiet, far away from the crowds his celebrity status had attracted in New York. The Stevensons took up residence in a wooden cottage known as Baker’s where, swathed in a buffalo skin coat in temperatures way below zero, Stevenson was able to write classics such as The Master of Ballantrae. Today Mike Delahant is the custodian of Baker’s, where in non-Covid times he welcomes visitors. He also contributes a series of articles on Stevenson in Saranac to the local Adirondack Daily Enterprise, and to celebrate RLS Day he shares two of them here – The Dinner Party and  Robert Louis Stevenson On His Career

The Stevenson Sessions

SessionsWITH the death of John Sessions, Robert Louis Stevenson lost a good friend. Nobody who attended his readings from Treasure Island at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery on RLS Day 2012 can forget the gifted Scottish comedian and actor’s portrayal of the pirates, complete with Scottish accents! Later he and actor Nigel Planer gave the keynote RLS Day address  hosted by Edinburgh Napier University. View it on video here.

Vailima Prayers go musical in time for RLS Day!

NeilandJudySCOTS AUSTRALIAN songwriter Neil Adam has been ‘collaborating’ with RLS for over a decade. In 2019 his show about the life of RLS – Sing Me A Song – was a sell-out at the Edinburgh Fringe. Prevented by Covid from a planned return to the Scottish Storytelling Centre in 2020, Neil has completed a new Stevenson project. The Windmill Needs the Wind is a musical reimagining of 12 of Stevenson’s Vailima Prayers, bringing hope and wisdom to this confusing time. The project is brought to life by Neil and his partner Judy Turner, with a group of fine musicians from around Australia, all recording during lockdown, in their own homes. The CD and songbook are on sale now, with a special offer for lovers of RLS. To see videos of three of the new prayer/songs and read the prayers that inspired them, click here And to purchase CDs and songbooks, using the code NOVEMBER13 at the checkout for a special price for RLS fans until Dec 4, click here.

Stevenson On The Streets

IT is well over a century and a half since Robert Louis Stevenson roamed the streets of Edinburgh, yet the city is still haunted by his presence. In Lady Stair’s Close, home of the Writers’ Museum where Stevenson’s memory is honoured, actors John Shedden and Peter Berry perform a none-too-serious piece of street theatre inspired by Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde. View it here.

Stranger On A Train

WHAT was Robert Louis Stevenson really like? Like many people with the gift of charm he won the hearts of many, but did any of them really know the private Stevenson when alone with his own thoughts? A revealing picture was painted by the Scottish author William Sharp who saw him alighting from the Bournemouth train to London, on one of Stevenson’s rare escapes from Skerryvore. At the time Sharp did not know the curious figure he was observing closely, which makes this unique pen portrait all the more telling. Download a copy here  Stranger On A Train

Poetry In Locomotion

A YEAR ago, RLS Day saw several hundred schoolchildren reciting the Stevenson poem From A Railway Carriage in a disused railway tunnel at Colinton on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The tunnel has been transformed with murals illustrating the poem, created by the children in collaboration with artist Chris Rutterford. Work has continued throughout the coronavirus pandemic and now the project is complete. Scotland Today was there to view the finished product, click here. To read the poem yourself, click From A Railway Carriage. And for a more detailed look, click here.


A Platform For Photography

TO celebrate Robert Louis Stevenson Day and the completion of the Colinton Tunnel Mural, the charity behind its creation is launching a photographic competition. The mural is full of amazing scenes and characters, so wrap up warm and take your phone or camera to the tunnel – along the Water of Leith Walkway from Spylaw Park – to take a socially distanced photograph of your favourite section. Then email your picture to community@colintontunnel.org.uk no later than December 31 for a chance to win a £50 voucher for Dantes Restaurant in Colinton. The winner and four runners-up will also see their images reproduced on Colinton Tunnel merchandise, with the proceeds supporting maintenance of the mural and community engagement activities.

Listen To The Voice of Stevenson’s Pen

Belle-LouisWE have no recording of Robert Louis Stevenson’s voice, but we can hear the voice of the woman who listened intently and took down his every word as he dictated his last great works to her, including his unfinished masterpiece Weir Of Hermiston. Stevenson’s step-daughter Belle worked closely with him until the day he died, which she would recall in an interview recorded in 1949 when she was 91. To listen to it and read a transcript, click here.

Misadventures at Christmas

AS the coronavirus pandemic threatens our Christmas, spare a thought for the anti-hero of The Misadventures of John Nicholson, experiencing the Christmas from Hell in Edinburgh. This hilarious tale by RLS name-checks numerous locations in the city during the festive season. As a special RLS Day offer, Typewronger Books in Edinburgh’s Haddington Place is offering a 25% discount on its own special edition of the tale to anyone who can remember the lengthy password ‘Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!’, either when calling at the shop or ordering online by emailing info@typewronger.com 

new chrisartCHRISTMAS in adversity does not come much worse than finding yourself aboard a sailing ship being driven inexorably towards death by shipwreck on a rocky lee shore, unbeknown to your loved ones at home as they spend the festive season by the fireside. To hear Stevenson’s great ballad of redemption, sung to a new setting based on the tune of O Little Town Of Bethlehem, click on the picture.

Strange Case Of An RLS Double

WHAT if Stevenson had followed his father’s wishes, abandoned his ambition to write, and become a lighthouse engineer – who then married a prostitute? In a fanciful short story, author Kevin MacNeil takes RLS the engineer to Samoa, where he is confronted by… RLS the best-selling author. To find out what happens, hear him read the story posted by Birlinn Books here.

Scholars’ Views of Stevenson

IN addition to writing several literary classics, Stevenson spent a lot of time and energy on collaborations with other people. With his wife Fanny he wrote a collection of short stories called The Dynamiter, while his friend WE Henley drew him into co-writing less than successful plays such as Deacon Brodie. Then when his step-son Lloyd Osbourne showed an interest in writing, Louis patiently rewrote The Wrong Box and collaborated with Lloyd on The Wrecker and The Ebb Tide. Yet in being so generous with his talent, was Stevenson dissipating it – or exploring new avenues of creativity? The question is addressed in Robert Louis Stevenson and the Art of Collaboration by Associate Professor of English Audrey Murfin at Sam Houston State University in Texas. She talks about her book here.

THE people involved with Stevenson and the way they dealt with his writing are examined by Professor Glenda Norquay of Liverpool John Moores University  in her new book Robert Louis Stevenson, Literary Networks and Transatlantic Publishing in the 1890s. It focusses on characters such as Lemuel Bangs, London representative of Scribner’s, which published much of Stevenson’s later work;  Charles Baxter, Louis’s friend and lawyer who drove a hard bargain in selling his books to the highest bidder;  Sidney Colvin, Louis’s literary agent who felt entitled to edit or even bowdlerise his work, and Stevenson’s own family – Fanny, Lloyd and Belle – who all had their own opinions about what he should be writing. Prof Norquay talks about her book here.

Fellowship Of Writers

EACH year the Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship awards enable four professional writers to spend time at the Hotel Chevillon in Grez-sur-Loing where RLS spent many happy months with his artist friends. Sadly the pandemic has forced cancellation of this year’s fellowships, but last year’s fellows can look back on an idyllic stay in the company of RLS, whose spirit lives on by the river there. Here author and dramatist Linda Cracknell shares an account of camping on the islet of Earraid in David Balfour’s footsteps to prepare her for Grez, and some sketches she made while staying there.

In The Teeth Of Adversity

IN 1880 Stevenson returned to Scotland with a new wife, a step-son… and a new set of teeth.  During a harrowing time in California while waiting for Fanny Osbourne’s divorce, he had to contend not only with the onset of chronic lung disease but also severe tooth decay and toothache, until remedied with a set of dentures. Meticulous research by dentist Robert B Stevenson, of Columbus, Ohio, has revealed the identity of Stevenson’s dentist and the work he did to make the author’s life more bearable. A presentation of his findings, including a pictorial journey through Stevenson’s life before dental treatment, can be viewed here.

Louis At The Library

FOR a brief guide to the life and work of Robert Louis Stevenson, why not visit the National Library of Scotland’s RLS Pages here. For a more detailed perspective, visit the RLS Website run by Edinburgh Napier University here. There’s even a free, full-length RLS biography called Lamplit, Vicious Fairy Land – to download it, click hereSkull.