Scottish author John Buchan (1875-1940) wrote one of the most famous and influential adventure stories of the 20th century. He was a prolific author throughout his career, writing histories and biographies as well as thrillers and historical novels.
The First World War
During the First World War, Buchan filled key roles at the War and Foreign Offices, and was appointed Director of Information. He made a major contribution with the innovative use of propaganda. As a journalist he also contributed to publications such as 'The Times' and 'The Spectator'.
Starting in 1914, Buchan also wrote the extensive Nelson's 'History of the war', producing initially 50,000 words for magazine instalments every two weeks.
Writing the novel
In 1914, Buchan began writing about Richard Hannay and 'The thirty-nine steps'. The story was then serialised in the summer of 1915. He wrote some of the book from his bed, while recovering from an illness.
Although he wrote many more novels and non-fiction, Richard Hannay's first thrilling adventure remained Buchan's most popular piece of writing. This gripping story of spies and intrigue inspired many authors, including Graham Greene and James Bond's creator Ian Fleming, as well as the film director Alfred Hitchcock.
In 1916 and 1919, Buchan published the sequels 'Greenmantle' and 'Mr Standfast', also featuring the main character Richard Hannay. Alongside his novels, Buchan continued to write historical works, as well as becoming a trustee of the National Library of Scotland.
He went on to become Lord Tweedsmuir and took office as the Governor General of Canada from 1935 until his death in 1940.
More from the Library's collections
The Library's Manuscripts collections contain large selections of John Buchan's papers:
- Material relating to John Buchan, first Lord Tweedsmuir (PDF) (112.9 KB; 4 pages)
- Buchan papers (PDF) (95.75 KB; 10 pages)
- John Buchan's letters (PDF) (35KB; 3 pages).
This cigarette card was among items featured in our display, 'The thirty-nine steps', at the Library from 10 September to 22 November 2015.