Quick & Quirky Questions with Vivien Martin

Vivien Martin grew up in Glasgow, then studied German and History at Edinburgh University. Speaking German led to working as an interpreter in East Germany. This was a huge turning point in Vivien’s life.  Her experiences behind the Iron Curtain gave her insights into the reality of life under a totalitarian regime, which she wrote about in Border Crossings.

Vivien has worked in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, in college libraries, then in public libraries specialising in archives and local studies. Helping others with family history research led to writing about her own remarkable grandmother, Eveline Kellas, who spent thirty years of her life in India.

For many years Vivien was a regular contributor to Scottish Islands Explorer and now writes monthly features for iScot Magazine. In these she looks at Scotland’s landscape, history, and literature, and how politics past and present, affect these. She is 65.

You can find Vivien online via her website,  on Twitter @VivienMartin4 and on Facebook.


Tell us 4 important facts about yourself:

  1. When I was young, I travelled to Samarkand and then further along the Silk Road to Penjikent, the ancient Sogdian city where Alexander married Roxanne.
  2. I am inordinately proud of my two grown-up children.
  3. Paying many visits behind the Iron Curtain in the 1970s/80s really opened my eyes to the horrors of totalitarianism and a realisation of how fragile our democracy can be.
  4. Although I was a librarian for most of my working life, if I can be outdoors, I will be.

What is your favourite age that you’ve been so far in life, and why?

Hard to choose one age but going off to university at 17 and discovering there was a whole new world out there comes pretty high.

Who is your favourite fictional character or famous person over 60?

  1. Sean Connery as Indiana Jones’ father in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
  2. My great-aunt Tonie Ritchie, whose debut novel was published last year when she was 97. She proved to so many people that it’s never too late!

You are alone in your house (no pets). You have three minutes to get out before the house collapses and burns to the ground. What one possession would you grab and take with you?

My laptop. So many photos, articles and memories are stored in it.

What’s your favourite creative pastime?

Again, it’s hard to narrow this down to only one, but writing articles for iScot Magazine has to be up there. The writing means lots of research, travelling and taking photographs – so it’s really three favourite pastimes rolled into one!

Tell us something about yourself that’s surprising or unexpected.

I could have been a spy! I have vivid memories of my first visit to East Germany in 1978: borders lit with searchlights, corralled by miles of barbed wire and mines, and manned by armed guards with ferocious dogs. I was even contacted by the Stasi afterwards who tried to get incriminating evidence from me about our East German hosts. But what was perhaps strangest of all was that before that initial trip, because I was working in the National Library, I had a visit from a Scottish Office bod who tried to dissuade me from going, but on the other hand wanted me to spy for them. I was even given a contact number in Unter Den Linden. But I think being a librarian was more fun!

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