Female Author Nan Shepherd Features on New RBS £5 Note

Cairngorm Mountains
Reindeer herder Anna Jemmett at the Glenmore Reindeer Centre in the Cairngorm Mountains near Aviemore, Scotland on December 28, 2012. Author Nan Shepherd, who died in 1981, wrote with admiration about the Scottish landscape, particularly the Cairngorm Mountains. David Moir/Reuters

Author Nan Shepherd was chosen by the Royal Bank of Scotland board to feature on the new Scottish £5 note. Her writing focuses on the beauty of the Scottish landscape; the hills, the rocks, the plants, the quarries and the weather.

Born in the village of Cults on the outskirts of Aberdeen, Shepherd spent her entire life in rural Scotland. Daughter of an engineer, she grew up in a middle class household and never married.

One of the first women to graduate from Aberdeen University in 1915, she went on to become a trainer of teachers at the Aberdeen College of Education, sharing her love for the outdoors with her students. She took them on regular walking trips to the Cairngorms hills.

Shepherd published three novels and a collection of poems, as well as a non-fiction book on hillwalking in the Cairngorms, The Living Mountain. All her works shed light on the female experience in early 20th-century Scotland.

In 1928, she published her first novel The Quarry Wood, about a woman who leaves a farming community in Scotland to study at Aberdeen University. The book exposes the tension which exists between rural and city life.

"You may come from a very small, rural village but you can still have a very broad and enlightened outlook," Ali Lumsden, Chair in English at the University of Aberdeen tells Newsweek.

Lumsden believes that Shepherd's work sheds light, not only on the female experience within education but also on modern day concerns about the environment:"I am delighted Shepherd is on the bank note. Shepherd is not just an author from the past. She is an important writer and one who has been largely overlooked, but one who is still very relevant."

The Living Mountains is Shepherd's most well-known book; an 80-page meditation on the Cairngorm mountains, written towards the end Second World War.

"It is a strikingly powerful analysis of landscape, place and human meaning—what it is to be alive. There is an existential seriousness in her work. It is not the usual outdoors, hiking book. It is profoundly philosophical," Rory Watson, Editor of the Canongate Classics and Emeritus Professor of English Studies at Sterling University tells Newsweek.

The book was only published in 1977, four years before Shepherd's death and was relatively unknown by the beginning of the 21st century. However, her writing has enjoyed a resurgence of interest since 1987, when Canongate re-published Shepherd's first novel The Quarry Wood.

The £5 note features a quote from The Quarry Wood—"It's a grand thing to get leave to live" —and one from The Living Mountain: "But the struggle between frost and the force in running water is not quickly over. The battle fluctuates, and at the point of fluctuation between the motion in water and the immobility of frost, strange and beautiful forms are evolved."

"Shepherd was a very typical north-east character: strong-minded, highly intellectual but quiet, modest and stern. I'm so thrilled that it was Canongate who originally republished the works of such a very fine woman writer who had in a sense been forgotten. She deserves to be on the Scottish bank note," adds Watson.

The new £5 note will enter circulation later this year.