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…
I have never read any Scottish literature and my only experience of Scotland is Inverness and the Isle of Skye in the 1970s, and the Edinburgh Festival in 2006. So when I read the opening chapter I just gawped. How in the world was I going to translate any of it? I was so relieved when we got to Kate’s point of view and I could finally understand what was going on. But hang on – it gets better – and better still.
Granny Jean is married to Donald, who earns good money, but they are always broke because he drinks like a fish. Jean has spent her life looking after her ‘weans’ (kids) and she is still resentful that her best friend Lizzie went to Hollywood instead of her.
Youngest daughter Stella-Marie who was born on the ferry and should have been a boy, has a stoma and also a lung disease. Jean treats her like a scivvy and her sisters think she is lazy because she doesn’t work. The sisters Cathy and Sandra treat her like dirt, while Cathy’s daughter Leanne is even worse. I felt so sorry for Stella-Marie – the way the others regard her is so awful – especially her mum, but she is a good Catholic and she and Jean believe you must be guid tae yer mammy to win your place in heaven.
Stella-Marie’s two daughters are Kate, who wants to be a script-writer, but is crippled by her anxiety and OCD, while Isla dreams of being a nurse.
As a second generation Jewish/Catholic Eastern European immigrant living in the Cotswolds, I cannot pretend that I can identify with any of the characters. It’s a bit like some years ago when discussing The Royle Family with a workmate and he said to me, ‘so-and-so is just like my gran and so-and-so is like my cousin….’ I just nodded and pretended I understood, but I didn’t.
But the more I read Be Guid Tae Yer Mammy, the more I got to grips with the language until it became second nature (well almost). The book is full of family feuds, arguments, pathos and love, but it is also very funny – I laughed out loud many times. Some of the descriptions of Stella-Marie’s childhood are heart-breaking – the story of one birthday for instance – and I have to admit I read the ending with tears rolling down my face.
This is an amazing book, especially as it is a debut and I hope we hear more from this new author.
Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours.
About the Author
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 bylines in a number of publications including Cosmopolitan, the Huffington Post and the Metro. Be Guid tae yer Mammy is her first novel.