Publication Date 19 08 21
Kate and her Granny Jean have nothing in common. Jean’s great claim to fame is raising her weans without two pennies to rub together, and Kate’s an aspiring scriptwriter whose anxiety has her stuck in bad thought after bad thought.
But what Jean’s Glaswegian family don’t know is that she dreamed of being a film star and came a hairsbreadth away from making it a reality.
Now in her nineties, Jean is a force to be reckoned with. But when the family starts to fall apart Jean must face her failings as a mammy head-on – and Kate too must fight her demons. Either that or let go of her dream of the silver screen forever...
Funny, poignant and full of nostalgia Be guid tae yer mammy is a beautiful book that succinctly portrays a working class family and the struggles they face. Narrated in Scots, the characters and settings feel authentic and the tale is crafted with real detail and care. I was therefore delighted to be able to interview the author and discuss not only her book but her thoughts on writing.
Emma Grae is a Scottish author and journalist from Glasgow. She has been writing in Scots since she was a student at the University of Strathclyde, tipsily co-authoring poems with fellow writer Lorna Wallace before moving on to write fiction in the language.
She has published fiction and poetry in the UK and Ireland since 2014 in journals including The Honest Ulsterman, From Glasgow to Saturn and The Open Mouse. As a journalist, she writes under her birth surname, Guinness, and has by-lines in a number of publications including Cosmopolitan, the Huffington Post and the Metro.
Be guid tae yer mammy is her first novel.
What inspired you to write Be guid tae yer mammy?
I was inspired to write the book after working in a care home as a teenager. I was a waitress in a Glasgow home for two years, and I was surrounded by so many wonderful Scots voices and stories that I knew I'd had to put pen to paper. Weirdly, I told one of the nurses who worked there that I wanted to write a book at the time, and she said, "Well, this is where you'll get your story!" She was right.
Why did you choose to write in Scots and did it make it more difficult?
I chose to write in Scots as it was the most authentic way, at first, of representing Jean's character. Then after getting more feedback from other people, I decided to write each character in a voice that I felt best suited their age and social class. Admittedly, this was not an easy thing to do, especially in a first novel. But I think it's important for literature to reflect how language evolves over time, and this is hopefully achieved in some way in the novel.
What is the most difficult part about writing a novel to you?
Honestly, editing it! The first draft is the easy bit, but as someone with OCD, I nearly drove myself crackers trying to get this book perfect. I think, in the end, I've had to accept that no book is completely flawless, and that's why second editions exist! Even copyeditors don't catch everything, but little errors show that the book was written by a real person, and my book is nothing if not true to how people live their lives.
Can you talk us through how your book was accepted for publication? And why you went the route you choose? Did you try the traditional route with agents?
I was very lucky to have Unbound on my radar way back in 2011 when I joined a writing website called Jottify, which sadly no longer exists. They had only just been created as a publisher and chose Edward Higgins' Conversations with Spirits to publish from the work on the site. I saw how he crowdfunded the book, and later, saw Paul Holbrook go through the process.
So I definitely knew that it wasn't the easiest route to publication (you have to raise thousands in pre-sales), but I also realised based on the content of Higgins and Holbrook's stories (horror and history) that Unbound was willing to take a chance on books that don't fit the mold.
A book voiced by four women in a minority language certainly fits that bill!
I actually only submitted to Unbound and haven't tried to get an agent for my fiction writing yet, but I will in the future. However, through this process, I've made great contacts with indie publishers that don't require crowdfunding like Unbound does, and I'm hoping to go with one of them for my next book!
What advice would you give writers hoping to become published?
Don't give up. Even if someone says your story is too ambitious. Just go for it. And don't try and write books that you think will be popular. I had no idea that Scots would appeal to anyone when I first started writing Mammy. It was just good fortune that it ended up happening!
What do you hope readers take away from the book?
I hope that it teaches them that invisible illnesses do exist, and you shouldn't assume that a person is healthy, mentally or physically, just because they look okay on the outside. We're all fighting battles that no one can see - some more so than others.
Where do you find your ideas?
I'm definitely inspired by reality, and then I put my own twist on what surrounds me. History is also a huge source of inspiration, which I hope comes across in be guid tae yer mammy. I had so much fun researching the old Glasgow and Clydebank and using it as inspiration for the novel!
Are you working on a new book and if so can you tell us about it?
I am currently working on a second Scots novel called 'Cathy, get yer dancin shoes oan'. It's a coming-of-age story about a socially awkward student-teacher and deals with themes like toxic friendships and class issues.
I've also got a novella, 'The Tongue She Speaks', which has been my little passion project this year, and I believe I'll have it finished first! An extract of it is being published by the Scots Language Centre imminently, as they were amazing enough to commission the story to encourage literacy in Scots - which gives you a good idea of what it's about!
What is your favourite place in Scotland?
That's actually quite a hard question. Honestly, anywhere in the countryside, but I do love central Glasgow and Edinburgh's Old Town. There's a place where you can step into the old city, Mary King's Close, and I've actually gone on the tour three times now! If you want to see what Scotland was like in the 17th century, it's a must-see.
Finally, will we see more of Kate?
You will! I've actually had an idea for a sequel of sorts to be guid tae yer mammy for a few years now, but I'm going to finish my second novel before putting pen to paper. Sometimes, the best writing is done by thinking. I get ideas all the time in the bath or when I'm just walking around. I live in London, and I'm always going to the Tower as I love being steeped in history.
Thank you Emma and I can't wait to read more! You can follow Emma on Twitter here and buy her book below.