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"...stories birling through my mind..."
Dusty Bluebells comprises an allusion to child abuse, a hint of rape, a tale of adultery and a tragic story of incest, yet it reads like a Cinderella story when compared with Wigtown Ploughman by John McNeillie, my latest literary discovery, as recommended by Scottish poet Stuart Paterson.
So satiated was I at the three-quarters point that I could have easily put down Wigtown Ploughman and walked away happy in the knowledge that I’d read another great, but I stayed the course and finished it, following the protagonist through every bare knuckle battering, brutal rape and plundering of opportunity to reform.
And I was enthralled from the beginning to the bitter and inconclusive end.
By comparing my own work to Wigtown Ploughman, I lay no claim to any notion that Dusty Bluebells is as worthy, but there are parallels and I’d like to explore three in this blog: Place, Language and People.
Wigtown Ploughman and Dusty Bluebells are both studies of place; Dusty Bluebells tightly hugs the shore of County Antrim and Wigtown Ploughman cuts deep into the Galloway countryside.
The action of Wigtown Ploughman takes place in The Machars, near Kirkcowan and Wigtown, one bay east of Stranraer, the ferry destination with which most Ulster people are familiar. The area is known as “Little Ireland” and it is no surprise given the time immemorial migrations back and forth across the twenty-mile water.
Dusty Bluebells is set primarily in the community surrounding the Brown’s Irish Linen Factory in Larne, an area settled in the late 1800s by workers from the countryside around Ballymena and Ballymoney — hence its old moniker, “Little Ballymena.” The Scots dialect found there is as broad as any in Scotland.
“Little Ireland” and “Little Scotland” might be appropriate monikers for the regions of the respective novels.
Both novels play with realism, and whilst Dusty Bluebells holds a mirror up to Larne and allows the reader to walk the streets and consume the character of the people, Wigtown Ploughman takes the reader to the land and has him eat and drink and sweat in it. McNeillie’s technique is powerful and I immediately experienced that sinking feeling of falling short as I reached the second page.
Like McNeillie, I wrote my novel in Standard English with Scots dialect.
The Scots of Wigtown Ploughman is similar to that of Dusty Bluebells, which is remarkable given the fact that both novels are set in the twentieth century, two to three hundred years after the largest Scots migrations to Ireland occurred, so a milder form of Scots in Ulster might be expected given the passage of time. This isn’t the case. In fact, the Scots in the Larne area only began to ebb in the 1980s and I was both implicated in and witness to its decline; once tertiary education and international travel opportunities became wide open to the working class, Ulster Scots began to fall away.
Many of the phrases in Dusty Bluebells reflect Ireland’s obsession with religion, and it is here that the threshold between Ulster and Scots can perhaps be heard.
Scene from Snugville Street
The Wedding Wisp
82 Waterloo Road
The Teacher Voice
The Last Day of Summer Scheme
Uniquely Girls' Brigade
The Children of Latharna
The Band Stick
The Bully up the Brae
God Created Butlins
History & folklore
Language Blog I
Language Blog II
Language Blog III
Language Blog IV
Fiddles and Melodeons
Martha Taylor's diary
Jean McCullagh at 104
Ballymena & the McConnells
Arms in Irish Dancing
Catholics & Protestants in Irish dancing
Irish Dancing: The Festival Story
The Protestant in Irish Fiction.
The Protestant in Irish fiction II
Ulster-Scots in Irish Fiction
An author in Wonderland
Dancing in Victorian Ulster
Learning the Irish Language.
John Hewitt Summer School
Thirteen Reasons for Peace
So Young then (Andrea Corr & me)
Lesley Allen & Helen Nicholl