Janet Paisley: Scottish Author, Poet and Playwright
Janet Paisley, R.I.P. 1948 – 9 November, 2018
Janet Paisley was a Scottish writer, poet, playwright, performer, publisher, editor, lecturer and teacher. Writing in Scots and English, for children and adults, her work has been translated into more than a dozen languages. She has written for radio, television and cinema. First published in 1979, she has since gained numerous awards, held fellowships and contributed to working groups, including groups dedicated to the Scots language.
Her achievements were immense and it would be impossible to list them all. However, they were recently collated by Janet’s close friend, Linda Jackson, and are presented over four pages in the book ‘Growing and Dying’, a tribute to Janet. (enquires re: Growing and Dying please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A flavour of her many accolades can be gleaned from Janet’s website
“Awards include BAFTA and RTS nominations for Long Haul, a 2000 Creative Scotland Award to write Not for Glory; 1999 Canongate Prize; 1996 Peggy Ramsay Memorial award for Refuge; National, Scottish National, Swanage Arts and MacDiarmid Trophy poetry prizes; Sutton, Scotwrite and BBC prose prizes. In 1996 Alien Crop was shortlisted as Scottish Book of the Year and Sooans Nicht was Critics Play of the Year. In 2003 Not for Glory was in the World Book Day Top Ten Scottish Books and featured on the nation’s favourite books of all time list of 2005.” Her historical novels, White Rose Rebel and Warrior Daughter, both Penguin paperbacks, have been critically acclaimed. (https://www.janetpaisley.com/)
(New editions of Not for Glory and Wildfire will be available in 2019.)
I can’t claim to be a close friend of Janet’s. But after enjoying many exchanges on social media over a long period I was delighted to meet her and see her perform at a literary event in Finn’s place in May, 2016. She was the guest writer at this event, which showcased the work of new writers and poets. No-one could have provided them with greater inspiration than Janet. She had the audience in raptures as she must have done hundreds of times before. Her talent, charisma and humour are immense and it was an absolute treat to see her perform and to chat with Janet afterwards.
I’m very glad I had the opportunity to meet Janet and grateful to Linda Jackson for asking me to play a part in one of the events she organised in tribute to her friend.
‘Growing and Dying’
On hearing the very sad news that Janet has a terminal illness, Linda Jackson produced the book ‘Growing and Dying’ and arranged a series of events in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Janet’s home town, Falkirk, paying tribute to Janet and her amazing legacy.
It was an honour to take part in the Glasgow event – a fantastic night and apart from the prestigious writers involved, (Anne Donovan, Janice Galloway, Tom Leonard and Alan Riach), particularly memorable was the contribution of Matthew, the youngest of Janet’s six sons, who spoke so sincerely and beautifully about his mother.
Many of Scotland’s foremost writers and poets responded without hesitation to Linda’s request, when asked to contribute to the book and to the events honouring this wonderful woman and her work.
Alan Bissett, Anne Donovan, James Robertson, Tom Leonard, Janice Galloway, Gerda Stevenson, Linda Jackson, Chris Dolan, Mary McCabe, Alan Riach, Liz Niven, Moira Scott and many more.
‘Janet Paisley is a remarkable, thoroughgoing and singular creative. ‘ Her novels, poetry and plays are ‘reflections of the passion, tenacity and breadth of vision that are an essential part of the woman herself.’ (Janice Galloway)
‘Janet Paisley is a poet, dramatist and prose writer, equally at home in Scots and English, whose courage, compassion and humour shine through her work.’ (Anne Donovan)
The breadth of Janet’s work is astonishing, her imagination immense and her grasp of the Scots’ language and community second to none. This was the wee and very funny poem I chose to read at the Glasgow ‘Growing and Dying’ event:
Graffiti by Janet Paisley (extract)
Johnny Scramble, nae preamble,
draws oan waws whin naebody’s lookin,
YAISES AEROSOL CANS,
RINS AWA FAE POLIS VANS….
This is what James Robertson says of her writing:
‘Janet Paisley has never been feart in her writing, but it has taken courage to depict her people with such precision and honesty.’ He highlights her remarkable observation in addressing social issues and revealing ‘bitter innuendo, suspicion and envy.’
Neighbour Hoodwatch (extract)
Thing is, if she’s no in she’s oot.
Ay gaddin aboot. Dolled up tae the nines.
Thing is, ye’ve goattae wonder
hoo she keeps aw they weans.
Hur wi nae man…
Janet Paisley (2000)
Robertson adds that: ‘Janet is also adept at recording the small mercies and kindnesses of neighbour to neighbour, stranger to stranger, even though they may be delivered grudgingly.’ He stresses the fact that whether the women she writes of speak in Scots or English: ‘Janet Paisley’s women are strong and utterly convincing.’ He emphasises the huge impact of her writing – ‘She has done our literature a great service by writing so much and so well in Scots.’ He identifies the main factors in her writing: ‘Class, gender and community.’ To that he adds ‘national identity’ and a commitment to Scottish Independence, depicted so finely in her poem ‘Homeland’, written for the former MSP, Denis Canavan.
fur Dennis Canavan MSP wha defendit
the inalienable richt o Scottish folk
tae mak free progess ower the land
She birls tae her ain sang
ay haudit shair by birthin staur star
whit bairned the burnin hert o her…
The poem finishes:
Like fitprint merk in saun or snaw
when oor short stook is cut,
we are taen back intae the dirt,
oor hauf-meenut done. Think oan
doon burn, strath, brae an sea
as watter tummles tae braid firth,
we are aw ettled tae stravaig
birlin tae oor ain bit sang
while land itsell maks birth, braith,
bluid, bane, daith, an ay bides oan.
Janet Paisley (2005)
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