Teenager follows in the footsteps of Kidnapped hero

There are more than 250 years between them, but the fictional adventures of the young hero in Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Kidnapped have forged a bond between a teenage immigrant and his new home in Scotland.

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Nikolas gets a taste of the famous tale
Nikolas gets a taste of the famous tale

When his family moved from a Greek island in the Aegean Sea to the dreich surroundings of Paisley last year, 16-year-old Nikolas Koufogiannis immersed himself in the book in his English class.

To get a better understanding of the thrills and spills experienced by young David Balfour, Nikolas decided to visit the locations around Scotland where the book is set, from the Borders and Cramond, Edinburgh, to Queensferry, the islands of Earraid and Mull, Morvern, Appin, Glencoe, Balquhidder and Stirling.

On the way he fell in love with the landscape of his new homeland and probably learned more about Scottish history than many of his classmates at Paisley Grammar.

"I wanted to get more of a feel for the atmosphere by going to the places," he says. "For example, at Cramond, where David's uncle Ebenezer Balfour lived, if you just read the book you don't understand it so well. If you go to these places you get so much more out of it."

On day trips and weekends away, David travelled around Scotland with his parents and sister Anna, who is studying photography. The swirling mists in the Borders, where their journey around Scotland started, was exactly as the area was described in the opening chapter of the book, says Nikolas.

He said he could imagine just how inhospitable the Hebridean island of Mull was when David's ship arrived.

"I had the same feelings as David in the book," he says. "David felt alone, scared and cold. I understood that, even with the modern technology and comfortable buildings we have now.

"The geography, landscape and features of the countryside were the highlights of the trip for me. I saw Rannoch Moor and huge mountains. I think I am like David and this has been a journey for me too."

Language difficulties were as much a problem for the fictional David as they were for Nikolas in the 21st century. Borders-born David could not understand Gaelic speakers and it reminded Nikolas of his early days in Scotland when he was still learning English.

"I learned so much in such a short time about the history of Scotland, the traditions and the culture. I feel very proud," he says.

His favourite part of the novel was the Appin Murder - which really happened near Ballachulish in 1752 in the aftermath of the Jacobite Rising - and he says he loved the fact that many characters, including Alan Breck Stewart, were real people.

Inverclyde Radio followed Nikolas's journey and he made short reports from each location which aired every Wednesday afternoon, including some of the real-life literary characters he met along the way.

On Robert Louis Stevenson Day, which is held every November 13, the author's birthday, the schoolboy interviewed crime author Ian Rankin in Edinburgh for a radio feature, as well as poet and novelist Matthew Fitt and writer Ian Nimmo.

says Nikolas: "Ian Nimmo wrote a book about the journey of David Balfour all the way around Scotland so he was particularly interesting to speak to. I learned a lot from him about the life of Robert Louis Stevenson."

He adds: "My teachers were really surprised when they found out I was doing this and was on the radio. They couldn't believe it."

Nikolas has also been finding out what goes on behind the scenes of a production of Kidnapped by Sell-a-Door Theatre Company before it appears on stage at the Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock, on January 16.

He helped paint scenery and backdrops and, as a new-found expert on all thing Kidnapped, will write a piece for the theatre programme on the production.

When asked what he likes about living in Scotland he shakes his head: "Not the weather. But I like the people, they are very friendly."

Nikolas then pulls out a map of Scotland and points to places he would like to explore in 2014: Aberdeen, Dundee and Thurso. All he needs to do now is find the right novels.

l With thanks to The Tall Ship at Riverside. See the website: www.thetallship.com

angela.mcmanus@ eveningtimes.co.uk

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