Why I write in Scots by Nip Nebs author Susi Briggs

I have so many hats and croons it is sometimes tricky to know which ones to wear on any given day!  I am a storyteller, Music Matters leader, poet and singer in a blues band! Today I want to write about being a children’s author who writes in her native Scots language. 

Folk sometimes confuse Scots with corrupted English and think of it as slang. This is a very disempowering way to look at how we express ourselves daily.  Some folk confuse it entirely with it being Gaelic as they do not realise Scots is a language in it’s own right.

If you are in Scotland reading this – open yer lugs (ears) and you will hear around you many people speaking some form of Scots.  Some folk speak it broader than others. Some voices are linked to particular dialects such as Doric (North East) Glaswegian (Glasgow area)  – we have hunners o dialects! You might hear phrases like,

 “Did ye get tae the shoaps fer yer messages?”  

“There’s nae wey I will fit intae them troosers!” 

“Whits fer ye will no gan by ye.”

Most Scots speakers have no idea they are speaking a language. We have been told for generations to speak “properly” which in turn suggests our usual form of communication in Scots is not proper at all. This has been the sad truth for generations.  Believe it or not there are elders in your community who were skelped at school for speaking in their natural tongue of Scots.  Generations of people took elocution lessons to learn how to speak “properly” as there was a very real discrimination. It was believed that you would get nowhere in life talking in Scots.  

Generations were not taught to read or write in their ain language and that is why it appears quite strange tae write or read in books. That is a sad truth.  However – this is changing for the better! 

The Future

Schools now can teach Scots as part of the curriculum and as a nation it is no longer normal to be shamed for talking in Scots. It is also not just a January staple taken out the drawer for school Burns Night recitals and competitions.    

Flavoursome Scots

I have always been a writer. I was only ever taught to read and write in English.  So to read anything or try to write anything in any other language, even one ye speak every day is completely alien. I wrote a lot of my earlier stories in English. One of which was called The Wee Sleepy Sheepy. 

The word “wee” was the only Scots word in it. I sent it out to publishers and received many rejection letters. The final rejection letter stated “…please resubmit your story without the Scottish flavour to be considered again for publishing.”

They were offering me another chance if I was to take out that word “wee”

I was livid! How dare they compare my language tae a pot noodle seasoning! That wee “wee” word meant muckle tae me!

So I rejected them and set about writing in Scots from there on in.  The first thing I did was to translate my existing stories using a very limited Scots language dictionary I found in a charity shop! I translated The Last Berry which lead me to explore the beautiful words for ice and frost.  This lead me to remember Jack Frost from my childhood. The magic of frosty mornings and from there Nip Nebs was written. 

I showed this to my dear friend and artist Ruthie Redden who then created the beautiful illustrations. Publishers Curly Tale Books saw our work in 2017 at an exhibition and offered us a publishing deal.

© Illustration Ruthie Redden © Text Susi Briggs

By 2019 Nip Nebs was shortlisted for Bairns Book o the Year at the very first Scots Language Awards and Nip Nebs and the Last Berry was published using Scottish Government funding from the first ever Scots Publishing Grant.  We got a special mention in Scottish Parliament during the indigenous languages debate.  This year Nip Nebs and The Last Berry was shortlisted for Bairns Book o the Year at the online 2020 Scots Language Awards.  The Bairns Book o the Year Scots Language Award winner was Hans Christian Andersen Stories in Scots by various writers including myself.  Published by Itchy Coo and edited by Matthew Fitt and James Robertson.  True pioneers for writing in Scots for weans.

Also I would like to give a special mention for Mrs Kerr who won Teacher o the Year at the Scots Language Awards 2020 and St Andrew’s Primary School in Dumfries who were shortlisted for Scots School o the Year. I was blessed to have worked with them on a lot of Scots language projects from home during Lockdown.

The Year of the Pandemic

Despite the pandemic I have been working from home on various Scots language commissions from creating short films of original stories for Scots in Schools website and the Nithraid festival.  During Lockdown I set the task for weans tae illustrate some of my stories at home. Some of the illustrations are featured in the videos linked below. Currently I am working with BBC Scotland for Scots Language educational resource content as well as creating engaging work with local primary schools such as St Andrew’s Primary School in Dumfries.   

Wheesht  https://youtu.be/OMLbFsvL-SU

Yum https://youtu.be/QXWdQkgEi7c

During Book Week Scotland I plan to create a week long Nip Nebs Shenaniganza which will include various visits and engagements with local schools and the long awaited launch of the audio books of the Nip Nebs series. 

The Nip Nebs audio books are narrated by Gary Lewis (Outlander, Billy Elliot)  The music and soundscape created and mixed by Alan McClure.

For signed copies of the book please contact Susi directly and if yer lucky you will get a free Nip Nebs Scots Word Pixie too! 

The Nip Nebs series of books can be found in most good bookshops and local outlets. Please see www.curlytalebooks.co.uk for local stockists or to buy online.

Links to all social media pages are found via www.nipnebs.com

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