Days 73-78 (July 25 to 30)
Words: I don’t remember what triggered the memory but the word ‘scunner’ drifted into mind and took me back many years to my early months and years in Scotland when I battled with accents, different word usage and what seemed like an endless procession of new and often strange sounding words and sayings. It was unexpected, as my father had adapted fully to Australian speech and mannerisms. Probably partly self-preservation as an immigrant and a little to do with his keen musical ear. He could play any tune on request after a few starter notes and was in demand for round-the-piano sing-alongs when friends got together.
Although a Scots word, I didn’t hear scunner used much in Scotland; more so by a Belfast neighbour in Northern Ireland. She would often say that someone or something was a scunner. Her tone of voice left no doubt that she looked on the person or thing with disgust. A vivid word. Scots and Irish history is interwoven with much population movement in both directions.
Two other ‘s’ words felt right as well when I got to know them. An irate father might say, ‘A’ll skelp the sleekit wee bugger’s bum if he tries that again.’ (I’ll smack the sneaky little one’s bottom).
More than half of my first draft novel, Past Imperfect, is set in Scotland. Initially I used a fair bit of dialect, but bowed to the recommendations of Writing Group critiquers and advice in books on writing and cut it back significantly. What follows is a small segment that survived. Opinions welcome.
1941 – Gorbals: Sssh Nancy, the wean’s sleepin’. Puir wee thing, she’s bin coughin’ sore. Her mam’s near roon the bend wi’ worry and she hates to leave her, but she’s nae choice but tae work.’ She laid down her cup with care to avoid it clinking.
‘Aye, there’s a few in the same boat. Lucky she seems strong enough hersel’. Mebbe from all that guid highland air till she came here,’ whispered Isa.
‘The young’un would be the better o’ that for sure. It’s a wonder she doesnae go back to ‘er family now ‘er man’s been kilt.’
‘The gossip says she’d no’ be welcome back. Her old man has her a sinner for leavin’ the brethren and mixing wi’ unbelievers. They’re a rum lot they brethren. Ye’d hardly blink an’ it would be a sin.’
‘She’s aye at the kirk, and sayin’ prayers all the time and she keeps modest an’ looks oot for ithers, so she seems right enough tae me. An’ that young Dougal woulda enticed me awa’ frae hame too if I’da thought he’d have me.’
Isa hesitated. They said gossip was the devil’s work. But it was such a tasty morsel. ‘Ach well, there’s a story aboot that an’ all. Some’d say he was glad tae leave the north tae get awa’ frae her bossiness and wilfulness, and the religion too. She does seem more’n a mite inclined that way. . . . They made a bonnie pair though. ’Tis said he married her to save her face for following him here an’ bein’ ousted frae the family.’ She took another sip of tea and set the cup silently again before going on.
‘Ma cousin Ailsa heard in a roon-aboot way that Dougal was smitten wi’ her looks for a while when he was up there, but no’ for long. The word is, he tellt her there wasnae a future as he reckoned on the war comin’ and he was gaun tae join the military. Seems like she had ither ideas. But fair go, they did seem to be a’right th’gither till he was posted. An’ he was fair besotted wi’ the littl’un; chose her name an’ all. Ah heard tell it was because o’ the light in her eyes and her sonsie complexion he called her Claire. Agnes said it means ‘clear and bright and famous’. ‘Ye could see it might fit the wee thing . . . when she’s well that is.’
Nancy digested this in silence.
Isa continued, ‘Agnes complains aboot this place amang the Catholics and the Jews but she doesnae realise how lucky she is tae hae a place at a’. If Dougal’s Irish cousins hadnae taken her in she’d be in a right mess. It’s lucky the factor let her stay on when they moved to the country when the weans got evacuated for safety. They went after the Clydebank bombing. . . . That was awfy sad.’
On the stair outside, Agnes heard the next part of the conversation.
‘Aye, that’s another thing. She’s aye on aboot Dougal desertin’ her. Joinin’ up when he didnae need tae, him bein’ from the Irish Republic. He allus said he would fight for right though, and she couldnae move him. She thinks that makes her loss more’n others. Doesnae go doon so well aroon here. There’s nae shortage o’ the grievin’. An maist o’ the women are proud o their men for gaun in spite o’ the worry and the losses.’
‘Even she does think that, I wish she wouldnae say it in front o’ the bairn. She’ll hae enough to deal with, without thinkin her Da left her willingly.’
‘Aye, ye’re right enough aboot that, Isa. Agnes’ll no see it that way though, she’s all aboot hersel.’
Quietly Agnes stepped backwards down the stair, hoping no one would see her and call out; then she’d banged her way up noisily as if just arriving. Anger seared through her at the indignity of these women talking about her in that way. She’d get out of this place, and soon.
Editing: Good progress. Stuck for days on one chapter, but moved through two today.
Critiquing: Finished the last two critique chapters yesterday. One was the continuing memoir of a London childhood in the 1940s. The other was the beginning of a new fantasy story – a war between good and evil will develop I suspect.
Reading: I’ve been flitting from book to book, trying to decide whether to persevere with a couple and needing to focus on my African stories. Five books on hold turned up today. Three of them will be useful research resources and were published after my earlier efforts completed.