Great Scottish Writers: Janice Galloway.

Great Scottish Writers: Janice Galloway.

Janice Galloway’s autobiographies This is Not About Me and All Made Up begin in the same way: ‘This is my family’.

Stylistically, she doesn’t use quotation marks. There’s no standard way of writing in the Scottish language and dialect. I was checking her work out to find some kind of consistency in my writing. Reaching for the musicality of speech mixed with social realism. She’s light-touch and mostly Standard English. Not into writing as we speak. No, Ah, for I or even A, for the subjective pronoun. Think James Kelman, How Late it Was, How Late. A style mimicked by Graham Armstrong in his autobiographical novel, The Young Team.

 In the short story ‘Still an Animal’ from Galloway’s collection Jellyfish, for example, the narrator and her wee boy, Calum have finished playing Crazy Golf:

‘They took the balls and putter back but the attendant was no longer there, just a man holding a child by the hand.

Stop fucking whining he said. You’ve had plenty, you greedy wee cunt.’ [quotation marks my own]

This is speak so we can see territory. Looking at that, or listening, we know exactly what kind of man, what kind of person is talking. We can work out what kind of relationship he has with his son. Work out what he’s wearing and where he lives. And how his son is going to be a chip off the old block or dying to prove he’s not.  I’m quite a connoisseur of fucking. Well, in the written sense. Carl MacDougall, for example, tends to use ‘fucken,’ and, if I remember correctly, Bernard MacLaverty ‘fuckin’. I’ve used the latter in my writing, but sometimes with the apologetic apostrophe for non-Scottish readers, fuckin’, or reekin’ or boggin’. There’s no wrong or right orthography, but apologising for how we think or write seems stupid.

Galloway’s great strength isn’t in the use or non-use of a fucking apostrophe it’s with telling us the things we already know. Her characters are people that speak, like us, dress like us, but are a major disappointment to themselves. We can stand outside our reading of the text and think I’d never do that, when, in fact, Galloway’s only holding up a mirror. There’s such a great descriptive phrase in her first autobiographical book she uses it again in her second. The character that gets to speak it is Janice’s Granny McBride, and she’s lived in Saltcoats so long Saltcoats lives in her.

My Granny McBride, near blind and unable to swim, had been pool attendant for three summers by the time I was two…It was only for one fortnight or summer, after all, the fortnight of Glasgow Fair.

‘They’re on holiday, she’d explain. Anything might happen.

More often than not, the Glasgow visitors sat on the sand in the thick of genuine Saltcoats drizzle, crazed with freedom, eating dry bread straight from the packet…The mistook rafts of bladderwrack for sharks or submarines, and harmless jellyfish were pounded to pieces with rocks, sticks and penknives…’ [quotation marks, my own].

In ‘It’s Still an Animal,’ Jellyfish, much the same thing happens. The reader (me) can make tenuous connections to her autobiographies. In a similar vein suggest that ‘and drugs and rock and roll’, from the same collection has similarities to her breakout novel, The Trick is To Keep Breathing shows—without telling—the hierarchical relationships in Glasgow’s psychiatric wards between nurses and patients and patients without patience, and some that are simply mental, and can’t help themselves, poor dears. Similarly, ‘that was then, this is now (1)’ isn’t about love but sex, adolescent sex and finding out what your body is for.  The nascent pubescent sexuality expressed so well in her autobiography. I could even stretch it a bit and draw a relationship between George Orwell (Eric Blair) in ‘almost 1948’ and a young Galloway, who also crashes her moped, but is largely unharmed. Her boyfriend had taught her the basics, but they still had sex when they split up, because she thought it was a fair exchange.

Her sister Cora, of course, was a different kettle of fish. A Cruella de Ville type that would happily skin Dalmatian pups for a nice jacket, or hand them to her mum, their mum, to do the job for her. She’s eighteen years older than Cora and has abandoned her kid and husband (we find out later it should be kids, plural). She breaks Janice’s nose, routinely beats her up, and also smacks their mother around. Waited on hand and foot. If she was a man, we’d find it perfectly normal, if not perfect. But as a character she gives leaven to Galloway’s stories. Without a Cora-type character, they’re pretty much of a muchness. Cora is gold, deeply engrained and deeply mined.

We know Cora. In Cora we trust. And because we can trust her, in Galloway we can trust, singular and plural.     

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