Robin was born in London on the 5th October 1934, and spent six years of his early childhood in pre-independence India as a ‘child of the British Raj’, whilst his father served as an Indian Army officer. In 1946 Robin returned to the UK and completed his education at Blundell’s School, Tiverton, Devon and Cambridge University, where he obtained a MA degree in Social Anthropology.
Robin moved to Scotland in the early 1960s and took a diploma in Education at Jordanhill College. He became a teacher of social subjects (History, Geography and Modern Studies), and for several years, he tutored Creative Writing classes at Glasgow University.
Robin moved to Helensburgh in 1965 where he taught at Hermitage Academy from 1966-1970. Following his four year spell at Hermitage, Robin was appointed Director of Dunbartonshire’s Curriculum Development Centre. The Centre, the first of its kind in Scotland, was designed to develop courses for the many young pupils who, in 1972, were faced with the prospect of staying on in full time education for a further year, due to the raising of the official school leaving age from 15 to 16.
Heeding his own advice that ‘that it is easy to start a novel, but you need to make sure you complete it’, Robin published his first novel ‘Lord of the Dance’ – a story of two Englishmen travelling the dusty roads of 16th century India, one to find a cure for his wife’s leprosy, the other to convert ‘the heathen’ to Christianity – in 1982. The novel was critically acclaimed, winning Robin both the BBC Bookshelf Award for First Novel and a submission for the Booker (now Man Booker) Prize. ‘Amazing imaginative brilliance,’ was how The Times described this novel.
As an author, Robin’s body of published works includes fiction (both teenage and adult), short stories, radio drama (Robin’s ‘Ice in Wonderland’ won the Radio Times Best Drama Award 1992) and non-fiction. His novels lean towards the historical genre rather than the contemporary, and feature three recurring themes: the wisdom of having doubts and of not being certain you are right; the relationship between illusion and reality and trickster figures.
His non-fiction writings focus on both the environment and the wilderness, reflecting his love of the mountains, wildlife and sea. Robin is both an accomplished mountaineer and a qualified sea-kayaking instructor. His article ‘Ben Ime by Moonlight’ was included in the anthology of mountain writing ‘The Mountain Trail’ and his ‘Argonauts of the Western Isles’ is considered a classic and definitive kayaking book. More recently, ‘The Sunlit Summit’, a biography of the Scottish mountaineer, writer and conservationist, W.H. Murray, won the Saltire Society’s Research Book of the Year Award 2013 and was described as ‘a masterclass in the biographer’s art.’
Robin has had the distinction of having two of his novels considered for the Booker prize and his children’s book – ‘Where the Forest and the Garden Meet’ – was shortlisted for the Children’s Librarians’ Award UK, and his teenage novel – ‘Red Fox Running’ – was listed for the Manchester Children’s Book Award. In addition to receiving awards, Robin as a former president of the Scottish Association of Writers, 1981 – 1986, has himself adjudicated many short story and novel competitions.
In addition to his successful teaching and writing career, Robin has passionately championed the rights of others to be able to express themselves, as freely as he has, in the face of persecution. He has served as President of the Scottish Centre of International PEN , the worldwide organisation that promotes literature whilst defending freedom of expression. The Scottish Centre was created in 1927 by Hugh MacDiarmid and supported by many of the leading writers of the time. Thanks to Robin’s influence and commitment the Scottish Centre is leading the world in bringing freedom of expression issues to the young, delivering the first fully developed programme designed to stimulate discussion, encourage involvement and initiate creative projects on the subject of free speech. He also the creator of the board game ‘Zoravia’, and project led its development, which is now successfully used in secondary schools by English and Modern Studies departments, citizenship courses and creative writing groups. In the game the oppressive state of ‘Zoravia’ attempts to silence its writers and journalists and the latter try to exercise their right to freedom of expression, stay out of prison and survive. Based on real cases in the files of International PEN, this game is aimed at 16-25 age range to create awareness of the importance of freedom of expression to a just, equal and democratic society.
In addition to his years as President, Robin also chaired the Scottish Centre’s Writers in Prison Committee for 17 years finally retiring in 2009.
Robin still lives in Helensburgh with his wife and their cats. He continues to write and is readily available for workshops and lectures. When Robin is not writing or teaching he continues to pursue his beloved outdoor activities.