"...stories birling through my mind..."
A literary journey
Irish culture & folklore
"...stories birling through my mind..."
“This House condemns the Kailyard School of Novelists.”
John Buchan, Oxford University, 1897
The PhD Writer in Residence chapter has begun and I have been reminded of a question posed to me recently: Is Dusty Bluebells a Kailyard? I settled for “sort of” by way of response. In truth, I was convinced that I had not written a Kailyard. That was before I read a study of the Kailyard by Andrew Nash
You may be wondering, what on earth is a Kailyard?
A Kailyard is a nostalgic novel written in Scots and English, and the word was first applied to Scottish literature in 1895 by J.H. Millar. The Scots-English language technique — achievable because Scots and English are mutually intelligible — goes back further in time; Ulster’s own ‘Orange Lily’ by May Crommelin is often referred to as a Kailyard even though it was written almost twenty years before the term was coined.
Kailyard, meaning cabbage patch, became synonymous with three popular Scottish authors of the late 1800s: J.M. Barrie (of Peter Pan fame), S.R. Crockett and Ian MacLaren, who were all busy garnering much critical and commercial success, whilst simultaneously committing crimes against the tastes of John Buchan of Oxford University Union — a novelist and future Governor-General of Canada.
Kailyard novels were popular on a scale that is hard to imagine today and novelists were paid eye-watering sums of money for their endeavours. Crockett’s The Firebrand earned him £1,000 in 1902 (approximately £125,000 today), whilst The Lilac Sunbonnet by S.R. Crockett sold 10,000 copies on the day of its publication. The Kailyard industry also had global reach.
Sifting through Nash’s research, I came up with the following list of criteria that I could use to assess whether Dusty Bluebells is indeed a Kailyard.
Sentimental & Nostalgic
Absolutely! I have taken the street rhymes, songs, conversations and ways of my old aunts, happed them up in Brown’s Irish linen and stored them in a museum of words.
Evasion of social or industrial issues
Maybe! Such issues are not salient themes in Dusty Bluebells. I was more concerned with family history, genealogy, parenthood and the idea that we can see our own infancy if we’re long enough alone.
Concerned to demonstrate history
A wee tiny bit! But sure the same could be said for Snugville Street and A Belfast Tale and they were written in Standard English. (Perhaps all my novels are Kailyards in disguise!)
Romance over realism
Maisie’s story — unrealised ambitions, an errant husband and motherhood — might be classed as realism. Sally’s story, however, drifts into a dreamscape, her purpose being to carry the plot and indulge the whim of the writer rather than to reflect any reality. As such, I may need to sit on the cabbage patch fence on this matter.
A provincial outlook
Och aye! Although, the story could be re-written for any small coastal town in the British isles by inventing new place names.
Reawakening of roots following adventure to urban environment
Sort of, but not really. While Maisie stays grounded in one place, Sally, who has been propelled into higher social circles, lives in a folly on the other side of the wall and pines for the warm grates of the kitchen houses she grew up in.
Nearly! Larne in the 1940s was half farmland but the seaside is more prominent in Dusty Bluebells. Expect much bathing in cowl water!
Main characters are ministers or schoolmasters
No! Although, you could give me a couple of Kailyard points for a flashback to a cruel schoolmistress and a walk-on-walk-off part for a minister named Skinny Malink Melodeon Legs.
Exploitation of dialect for novelty
No way! That was my first thought.
Then I asked myself, would Dusty Bluebells stand up without the Ulster Scots dialogue? I admit (reluctantly) that it would lose a great deal if it were written entirely in Standard English.
Reliance on facts over imagination
Well...There was the small matter of the diary I found during the research phase and the odd twist that was inspired by real life, but before you commit me to the literary gallows, I should say that the plot and all the characters are primarily fictional.
No. And no judgement from me on that score either.
No. Specific dates in Dusty Bluebells were necessary in order to facilitate the family history story. Seasoned fans of ‘Who do you think you are?’ will relish such precise details. Others might find them distracting.
Make the Scots unintelligible to show off
Not-at-all! To write in such a heeligoleery, hickertie-pickertie, hirdie-girdie way would not help me sell any books, which, when you think about it, should lose me a few literary points for placing commercial considerations above artistry.
Make the reader cry:
Och och anee! There have been reports of tears, but mostly on account of women from Larne remembering their grannies and feeling a little heart-sad and heart-glad with emotion.
Promotes one Scottish religious community:
Unintentional tick! Dusty Bluebells does focus on an Irish Protestant community, but it reflects several denominations of faith.
Swift financial gain
Ha! Not on your nelly! Not in this country! Not in 2020!
Kailyard authors have a tendency to self-promote
My book is available to purchase here. And please, if you will, leave a review!
Poor artistic quality
I'll leave that to the experts. Mary McCarthy at Books Ireland said the following:
“The dialect infuses her work with an easy-to-digest, melodious pitch.”
Check out the rest of the interview here.
This house is grateful to the Kailyard School of Novelists, who provided the building blocks to a form of expression that evolved and progressed throughout the twentieth century. Dusty Bluebells, a spiritual and musical family mystery set in an Irish seaside town, is, I believe, a Kailyard — with a modern twist.
Angeline King is the author of Snugville Street and A Belfast Tale. Start reading Dusty Bluebells here.
Scene from Snugville Street
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82 Waterloo Road
The Teacher Voice
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The linguist behind Ulster Scots.
Kailyard & Dusty Bluebells
Jean Park of Ballygally
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
Lesley Allen & Helen Nicholl