Born in 1875, John Buchan was the eldest son of a Scots clergyman. His childhood was formed by the Border country landscape, wide reading, and religion; these influences also shaped his later life. He won a scholarship to Glasgow University, where he was soon recognized as a leader and a fine writer. Continuing his studies at Oxford University, he supported himself with journalism. With writing as his vocation, Buchan devised an exhaustive plan that included writing fiction, journalism, and histories in addition to pursuing his Oxford degree.
After completing his studies, Buchan accepted a government position in South Africa, an opportunity that allowed him to fulfill his desire for exotic travel. Though he did not lack the prejudices of his era, Africa became a beloved place to Buchan and was the setting of several of his fictions, including Prester John (1910). On returning to England, Buchan continued a double career as a barrister and as an editor for The Spectator, a leading periodical. His marriage in 1907 caused him to work even harder to ensure adequate finances for his wife and for his mother, sisters, and brothers.
Buchan served as a staff officer during World War I, as high commissioner of the Scottish Presbyterian Church, and as a member of Parliament. He completed his career of public service as governor general of Canada. By this time, he had received a peerage: He was now Lord Tweedsmuir. His varied responsibilities allowed him to travel extensively, and he was fascinated by the more distant explorations of others. As he grew older, though, his Scottish and Canadian homes and his family claimed a larger share of his attention.
The record of Buchan’s public achievement shows a full life in itself, but throughout his public life he was always writing. His work includes histories, biographies, travel books, and especially fiction. A number of hours each day were set aside for writing. Buchan depended on the extra income from his popular novels, and he disciplined himself to write steadily, regardless of distractions. He continued to write and work even when his health declined. When he died suddenly of a stroke in 1940, he left behind nearly seventy published books.