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Writing in Scots with Tracy Harvey – 5th April 2023

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Whit a richt guid nicht we had wi oor braw member Tracy Harvey blethering tae us aboot scrievin in Scots.

Tracy, a talented poet, with poems published in Lallans magazine, her own book The Missus (a poem about Mrs Burns – Jean Armour) and having also served as the Makar for Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, is well placed to advise us on writing in her mither tongue.

Writing poetry in Scots is Tracy’s passion as we learned from her poem Ma Language.

Our evening was filled with Tracy’s poetry, helpful advice, a wheen’ o Scots words and lots of laughter.

Tracy recommended, if you want to write in Scots, you should listen to the language being spoken around you. Write down any Scots words or phrases you hear.  Read books written in Scots. Tracy suggests The Man’s the Gowd for A’ That by Dr James Begg ; an excellent book written in the pure form of Lowlands Scots, although she admitted it was a bit of a dour read (nae laughs). Anne Donovan’s books ( I, personally, can recommend Buddha Da) and Emma Grae’s Be Guid Tae Yer Mammy are lighter, humorous books written in a more modern Glaswegian/ West of Scotland tongue. Get a good Scots dictionary, but don’t go too heavy and overload with words you wouldn’t naturally use. Be careful not to parody or stereotype; for example, nae Och aye the noo or it’s a braw bricht moonlicht nicht. Spelling can be problematic; there might be different spellings for the same word and you end up with a glakit/glaikit/glaiket look on yer fizzog while you try to work out which one to use. Tracy advised to keep language and spelling consistent – but be aware, there will always be a Scot who loves to tell you, you’ve used the wrong word or spelling. And then there is boarder lowpin (or should that be loupin?). Tracy has been accused of boarder lowpin, or border jumping when she rhymed a Scots word with an English word instead of the Scots version (which wouldn’t have rhymed).

The Scots language leans well to rhythm, repetition and alliteration – and Tracy proved this with her performance, with enthusiastic audience participation, of It’s No Potato, It’s Tattie.  It also can create poignant laments like Burns ‘O Wert Thou in the Cauld Blast.

Tracy set us an exercise to scrieve a poem or a short piece of prose in Scots (easy-peasy perhaps for the native Scots among us, but a more onerous task for our members fae south of the border) and gave us a list of some of her favourite words to inspire or to include.

Clamjamfry – jumble (this was a new word to me)

Toatie – tiny

Wean – child

Scutched – beaten

Smeddum – courage

Wee – small

Pawkies – mittens

Crabbit – annoyed

We scribbled away until tea break. After a refreshing cuppa and shortbread (very appropriate for the evening) we regrouped to feedback. Four of us, Nigel, Carrie, Carolyn and I, gamely shared our work. We had wee weemin walkin dugs, a man hauding his piece, a sair finger, a bidey-in, a big sumph , a grosset and scunnert wee bauchle.

Tracy’s final advice to anyone writing in Scots was to get your work published. She suggested submitting to magazines – Lallans, Dreich and Gutter.

Our meeting closed with Tracy’s performance, by popular demand, of her fabulous and, for me, brocht up in a wee council flat, very relatable poem set in Kilmarnock – Betty and Leanne Thru the Wa.  Fantastic stuff!

Thank you, Tracy, for an interesting and fun evening. Lang may yer pen scrieve.

Linda Brown

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