The Mither Tongue

Grad

Ethyl and I graduating with our MLitt in Creative Writing from Stirling University.

Last week I met up with ma good pal and former MLitt classmate, Ethyl Smith tae talk books and writing. We spent 5+ hours blethering without drawing breath and one of the many topics we covered was writing in  Scots.

downloadRecently, the bestselling children’s book, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson was translated into Scots by James Robertson and this has been followed by The Gruffalo’s Wean, a Scots version of The Gruffalo’s Child.  I think this is a brilliant move tae make sure Scottish children are aware of their mither tongue.

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This blog is not about politics but it’s impossible tae ignore the fact that in less than a year, I will be voting in the Independence Referendum. And how will I vote? I’ll vote with ma heart, not ma heid. I don’t know a lot about the economic arguments for and against independence but I do know that I’ve always considered myself as Scottish, not British.

I think this strong sense of Scottish identity and pride in ma heritage might explain ma fascination with the language of ma birth. I love Scots words like glaikit, dreich and scunner.

This wee clip of Nicola Swankie’s 50 Favourite Weird Scottish Words made me smile. How many do you use or recognise?

But although when I’m writing I like tae include Scots words in dialogue, tae write the entire text in Scots requires expertise and skill. Ethyl has written many pieces in old Scots and I’ve asked her tae share her experience.

Can you tell us why you enjoy writing in your mither tongue?

It seems more natural way to express my thoughts. I spent most of my childhood with my grandparents who spoke broad Scots… so it’s like being grounded I guess.

Do you find it harder tae write in Scots?

Naw. Weel if ah’m strecht wi ye it’s the spellin. Scots is mair in the lug if ye git ma drift. Ay is ‘yes’. Aye with the extra e maks ‘always.’ You need to listen to hear the difference.images (2)

What advice would you give writers who’d like tae try writing in Scots?

First listen. The rhythm and cadence is different, even the word order. Also get yourself a good dictionary Scots-English & vice versa.

Whose writing would you recommend as a good example of writing in Scots?

John Galt … old fashioned but great writing. Alan Bissett for emphasis on modern slang. James Robertson is very respectful of its useage.

Here’s a sample of Ethyl’s writing and you can see why I’ve got so much respect for her talent as a writer.

Nae Way Back

Whit fur did ah dae this? Whit makt me think it wud be aw richt? Aifter aw ah’m nae glaikit. Weel nae fur ordnar. Wan thing fur shair it’s the straicht an narra frae noo on. An nae argiein.

Tae tell the truth ah did think ah wis raither smairt. Aifter aw ah din it aw masel. Me an ma big ego. Naw. Mair lik me an ma big heid.

If the Yoge maister hudna sayed ah wis his best pupil, mibbe ah wudna hae mindit doddlin alang lik the rest o the cless. Ye see, maist o thaim canna levitate at aw. But therr ah wis, clear o the flair, an floatin lik a dream; an ah kent they wur jeelous whan they saw me dain it week aifter week, wi nae wauchle.

Mind ye the Yoge did say it wis jist fur cless. Whaur he cud kep an eye lik.

Ah shuda taen tent, an no allooed masel tae git cairrit awa wi ma ain consait. Bit naw. Ah jist hud tae gang that bit faurer, an try a fu, oot o boddy expairience, on ma ain.

An it wisna sair. An extra hauf hoor’s meditation, twa extra mantras, an ah wis awa as nice as ye like, an heidin up here tae the ceilin.

Problem is ah’m here yit. An aw the time ah’m seein masel. At least ah can see ma boddy, doon therr streetched oot on the bed, as if ah’m sleepin. Bit ah’m nae. Ah’m up here, fashin aboot gittin doon agane, fur ah forgot tae luk thon bit up in ma manual, an it’s ower late noo. Talk aboot bein wice aifter the event. An talk aboot bein feart. Ay … ah shud … ah shud nivver hae sterted this. 

Thanks Ethyl, that was a braw wee tale.

Have you tried writing in Scots or any other native language? Do you enjoy reading work in Scots? Is there a favourite writer you admire who writes in Scots?

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Creative Writing is my Guilty Pleasure


This weekend, I was asked (again!) what kind of job will I be able to get once I’d finished the Mlitt course? Deep breath and a silent scream later I replied that I had no idea. I’ve only just finished the first semester and already I’m being forced to look to the future. Is it so wrong to live in the moment?

When wind and rain battered my bedroom window this week, I got up and looked out at the bleak weather. Then I slipped on my cheetah print fleecy dressing gown and snuggled back down to read a brilliant book (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz- if you must know) as part of my day’s “work”.

This time last year, I would have been driving to work in the dark and coming home in the dark with frizzy hair, fed up and frustrated. 

So if I’m 10 times happier, why am I suffering from a weird side effect called guilt?

 I often feel guilty for doing something I really enjoy. I’m convinced that this Calvinist attitude is an unfortunate default setting for Scottish folk. If you don’t believe me, read Scot’s Crisis of Confidence by Carol Craig where she examines Scots’ attitudes and tendency for negativity. She explores how the self-deprecating joke of “getting above ourselves” is a destructive national trait and how Scotland’s Calvinist heritage includes a highly developed work ethic with a deep sense of duty and social responsibility.

So how does this relate to me?

My friends are busy doing REAL jobs- like social worker and teacher whilst I’m faffing about at uni sweating about whether the latest chapter of my novel works. I applaud their career choice and admire the fact that they’re doing a job that’s important. Good on them! But can I please have one year out of my whole life to indulge my need to have a serious attempt at being a writer without feeling guilty?

I’m not out there battling the elements or saving lives.  I’m staying cosy in my jammies and making up wee stories in my head. But I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I’m determined to shake off John Knox’s legacy (aka Knoxplex) and any hint of guilt to enjoy every minute of the course while it lasts.

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, 
concentrate the mind on the present moment”
Buddha