All posts by thomasjclark

Neither Useful Nor Ornamental: Why Scots Matters

Some fowk think that there’s nae sic thing as writin in Scots. That there’s nae richt spellins, or grammar, or tenses. That the notion o a Scots dictionary is a joke MacGuffin wi the laugh built in, like a left-haundit screwdriver or a tin o tartan paint. That writin in Scots jist means makkin it up as ye gang alang.

Man, man. If they anely kent the hauf o it.

See, writin o ony kind is an experiment; or it should be. If ye ken awready whit ye want tae say, an hou ye want tae say it, chances are ye neednae fash yersel wi writin it aw doon. There’s a wheen o empty seats on the Crindledyke bus, an plenty o lugs that arenae stapped up wi Spotify. Get yersel a day ticket an gaun bananas.

But if ye dinnae ken yet whit ye’re ettlin tae say, if yer thochts are still in beta, no fit for public release, writin is an experiment; an tae scrieve in Scots is simply tae be honest aboot the nature o yon experiment. It’s tae break the problem o communication back doon tae its maist vital pairts, tae free the needle o oor mind fae its accustomed tracks. When we scrieve in Scots, we sweir aff the hokery-pokery o English, its glib end-runs, its static wee set-pieces, an we enlist insteid in the staunin airmy in the fecht anent cliché.

Cause the braw thing aboot English is that there’s aye an easy wey o sayin sowt. It’s a language baith uisefu an ornamental, stowed oot wi the literary equivalents o Snapchat filters, canny wee jouks an dodges for makkin whit ye said soond awfy impressive even if it wisnae. Props tae keep a stodgy sentence fae foonderin unner its ain wecht. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. The fact of the matter is. Now let me be clear. It’s aw guid stuff. An wance ye ken the music o it, English is an gey easy sang tae mime alang tae.

But mebbes ye’ve somethin mair in mind for yersel as a writer than life as a copy shop, a cut-price Ouija board for the deid notions o the deid mony. Mebbe it’s jist a bit o space ye’re efter, freedom fae the static in yer heid, the soondbites an the Pavlov’s jingles, the entire thochts that auto-complete. Wan. Wird. Efter. The. Ither. If yon’s the wey o it, we’ve somethin in the back that ah think ye’re gonnae like.

Noo, ah’m no gonnae lie – it’s a fixer-upper, an auld bothy in the middle o naewhaur. Wan careful owner? No in aboot three hunner years. There’s nae internet access, nae mod cons – onythin that’s needin pit in, ye’ll hiv tae dae it yersel – an the stour aff the buiks alane’d choke ye. But, man, o man – thae views!

There’s yer English, yon wet, cauld, stramped-throu snaw-bree that sooks up intae awthin that it’s touched; an there’s yer Scots, thon skyrie gairden, winter-white an waitin, pure as the yowdendrift that blawed it.

On ye gang, noo. Dive in.

Scots Bairn’s Book o the Year!

Weel, we aw ken bi noo that the voters sometimes get it wrang… But eneuch time has passed for me finally tae feel like this is wan result that isnae aboot tae get owerturned.



By ‘we’, o coorse, ah mean me, Jeff Kinney, Itchy Coo an Black an White Publishing – oor book ‘Diary o a Wimpy Wean’ won Scots Bairns’ Book o the Year at the first-ever Scots Language Awards in Glesga last month!

There wis loads o ither weel-deservin winners on the nicht, includin the likes o Billy Kay, Morna Young, Gary Robertson an Iona Fyfe. But the real winners wir the Scots language community as a hale. We’ve been waitin sae lang for a flag tae sail thegither unner, an thanks tae Hands Up For Trad, we’ve finally got wan.

The awards brang thegither hunners o fowk wha, in the normal rin o things, are toilin awa doon their ain lanely mines, faur fae the warld an each ither. Fowk like Billy Kay an Matthew Fitt that hae been daein their darg for decades, wi naethin tae spik o in terms o support or recognition. We’ve a list as lang as oor airms o the things we need tae get Scots back tae the tap table whaur it belangs. Government siller, media coverage, education. But maist o aw, we need each ither. Thon wis the real award we won in Glesga.

We’re at the stairt o sowt muckle here, loons. Lat’s no tak it for grantit.

Diary o a Wimpy Wean

DiaryWimpyWeanSae, ah forgot tae mention, BUT! Diary o a Wimpy Wean, ma Scots owersettin o Diary of a Wimpy Kid, is oot noo! The Wimpy Kid novels amang the brawest, funniest buiks for bairns that are kickin aboot the noo, an ah’m gey chuffed tae awbody – no least o aw Jeff Kinney, the scriever o the originals – that’s let me hae a crack at pittin wan o thaim ower intae oor ain leid. An thanks tae the guid fowk at Itchy Coo (Matthew Fitt an James Robertson) an awbody at B&W Publishing, ye can noo snap up a copy at maist buikshops, online or aff. Yer best bet, tho, wad be tae gang straicht tae the publishers theirsels: check thaim oot here!

Frae Invisible Cities, bi Italo Calvino

InvisibleCitiesHIDDEN CITIES 2

Life is no happy in Raissa. Fowk wring their hauns as they trail aroond the streets, wish wae upon the greetin bairns, hing ower the river’s ravels wi their brous upon their nieves. In the wee oors ye wauk fae yin ill dwaum an anither begins. At benches whaur, ilka meenit, ye’re sneeshin yer fingirs wi a haimer or jaggin yersel wi a needle, or ower columns o figurs that rin agley doon the beuks o merchands an bankers, or ahint the tuim glesses on the zinc coonter o the howff, ye thank heiven for the boued heids that hide fae ye their dour coupons. Inby the hooses it is waur, an ye dinnae hiv tae gang in tae ken it: in the simmer windaes dingle wi the bickers an brueken dishes.

Aye an on, ilka meenit in Raissa there is a bairn that lauchs fae a windae at a dug that’s lowped ontae a shed tae hanch a daud o polenta drapped bi a mason wha’s yollert fae the tap o the scaffoldin, “Hen, gie’s a wee douk!” tae a maiden that heezes up a ragout dish aneath the pergola, happy tae bring it tae the umberellae-salesman wha celebrates a cantie wee deal, a white lace parasol bocht bi a great lady tae shaw at the races whaur she is in luve wi an officer wha smiled at her in jumpin the last hedge, happy he but happier still his horse, fleein ower obstacles, seein a francolin flichterin in the sky, happy bird freed fae the cage bi the penter happy tae hae pented it feather for feather reid an yellae in the illustration on that page o the beuk whaur the philosopher says: “Forby in Raissa, yon dulesome city, rins an invisible thread linkin yin livin bein tae anither for a maument afore it unraivels an is streetched again, shiftin atween muivin pynts in its breelin new paiterns, sae that at every seicont the unhappy city conteens a happy city that kensna its ain existence.”

Your Pal Andy

EbookcoverI’m very excited to announce that my first novel, “Your Pal Andy”, is coming out this month. Written during the second year of my writing residency at Selkirk FC, it follows the misadventures of former Selkirk player Andy Fairbairn on his tortuous road from Yarrow Park to the big time.  I have always wanted to write a football novel with no obvious market or commercial appeal, so huge thanks to Selkirk FC for making my dreams become reality. Sneak preview below!


March 18th

Well Joe old Donaldson named the squad for this Satterdays game and I am in it. I guess that is a little bit of vindicashun for all my hard work sints I got back and it just goes to show Joe that you shoud never give up on your dreams altho of coarse Joe it is not true for everybody and for some people it woud probily be best to reign in your expectations a bit and not hope for too much and that way you wont be so dissappointed.

The game is away to Ross Country and is a twelve noon kick off so we will be travelling up on Friday night and sleeping in a hotel. The other lads dont like staying away from home and they were all mumping and moneing on acct that they will miss there familys etc but we are not away for long and at lease when they are home they have got their wifes to look after them but I do not Joe and hotels are the only chance I got to have someone else take care of me for a change.

So I am looking forward to it Joe even if they are not and the only down side is that the club are too mean to spring for a room each so we are haveing to share and my roommate is a lad the club just signed from France and his name is Vidian. Apparently he plays for Guadeloupe Joe which goes to show you what the standard of football is over their as he does not know what direction we are shooting ½ the time altho that is maybe on acct he does not speak any English. But it takes all sorts as they say Joe and he has not done me no harm and in fact he never says anything to anybody so I will probily be able to get threw the whole weekend without even noticing he is their and I guess he will be glad to have me as a roommate too instead of 1 of these other loud mouths that has always got so much to say for themselfs.

Burdon has got a room to himself of coarse and Brady says it is because no one else will room with him but to me Joe it is just pure favritism and it is old Donaldsons way of letting me know that I am still person non grata round this club and that he is only keeping me in the squad on acct that the owners woud scream blue murder if he left me out.

I do not know if I coud ever get a job as a scout Joe on acct that I do not have a face like a burst melodian but if I did I woud be prity good at it on acct I can look at any player in the world and tell you why they are no good. Now that I am back training with the 1st team I have been able to have a good look at this Burdon guy and for all the talk of him being a wonder kid and a golden boy etc Joe I can read him like a book and the only reason he is able to get by in this league is because people buy in to the hype and they have not got the sents to see threw it all like I have eg whenever he is on the right hand side he goes to cross with his right foot then faints and cuts inside. Well Joe our players is so dumb that he coud have a thought bubble comeing out of his head with a picture of him cutting inside in it and they still woud be none the wiser but once he comes up against 1 of these big guys at the proper teams they will go right threw him the 1st time he tries it and they might not even wait until then if they happen to here him speaking first as he is a proper no user Joe and you can take that from me.

For example Joe at training this am I had a chance to put 1 in to the near post and so I took it and as usual no one was on the same page and it went strait in to the keeper and Burdon threw his hands up in the air and said I am right here why dident you cut it back and I told him I dident see him and he said you woud have seen me if I had been between 2 slices of bread and then he says I know you are desprit for money but we dont get goal bonuses for training and I told him it was a pass not a shot and he said I coudent tell the diffrents which I guess goes to show you how much he knows abt football Joe.

Well I have got a prity good read on old Donaldson by now Joe and I already know that I wont be starting the game agenst Ross Country but he will put me on with 15 minutes to go just so he can say afterwards well I gave you a chance in the 1st team and you dident take it. Well Joe whenever you see 1 of these supersubs or impact players or whatever they are called all it reely means is they have got no football brane at all and it doesent matter to them what point of the game it is as they are just going to do the exact same thing irregardless. But a player like me that actually thinks abt the game needs time to feel things out and probe at the other teams weakness etc and it is no good throwing us in with 15 minutes to go and if you were fighting against an alien invasion Joe and you had Steven Hawkings in your team it is obvious you woud have him involved from the start makeing plans and working things out etc and you woud not just wait until the aliens had almost landed and then shove a rifle in his hands and push him out the door.

Well Joe I will try and let you know how we get on but by all accts Ross Country is a prity small place and you can only get on the Internet their when your phone is plugged in to the wall so you might not here from me until Sunday but the game is on tv Joe so I am sure you will be tuneing in anyway to see your old pal Andy back in action and make sure the Selkirk chareman puts the game on in the clubroom Joe as if it was up to him their woud be nothing on any tv channel in the world exept horse racing and Diagnosis Murder.

Your pal,


Till Houletgless an the Messenger o God


Mony’s the holy man wha wad be gled tae absent hissel fae this marounjous warld an aw its coorse realities, but it coud niver be said that the Bishop o Dunkeld wis yin o them. Yon messenger o God wis a man o action; an whenever there wis tithes tae be collectit, or dens o ill-daein tae be leukit ower, the bishop wis shuir tae be richt in there wi baith his sleeves rolled up. He especially liked distreebutin the alms, if that’s whit ye wantit tae caw it, and that wis jist whit he wis daein in front o the kirk yon sunny Monday morn.

“Here!” he shoutit at some aumous auld wumman, “Ah’m jist efter giein a penny tae yer man – is this you cadgin yin as weel? Whit, dae ye think ah’m made o money?”

The bishop had lang syne makkit alms-giein intae a kind o game wi hissel, wrastlin tae see hou mony gaberlunzies he coud turn awa empty-haundit, an hou mony o his pennies he coud manage tae hing ontae. But he’d had a sair couple o weeks o it in the kirk, whit wi wan thing or anither, an this Monday he wis airtin tae beat even his ain record.

“Aye, weel, tell yer faither ah dinnae care hou seek he is, he comes alang himsel or he gits naething. Ah’m no giein ony pennies tae ony bairns.”

“Awa wi ye! Ah’d be as weel giein yer penny straucht tae Tam the tavern-keeper an cuttin oot the middle man!”

“You! Ye’ve a cheek! Gin ye can affuird that egg ah saw ye ramshin Seturday past, ye needna ony catter aff o me!”

An sae it went, until the hale sorry munge o them had been sent awa yin bi yin, an the bishop wi eneuch siller still in his pootch tae mak a cantie jingle. But as he turnt back taewart the kirk, the bishop’s hert sank tae see yin mair body waitin there, leanin wi his rig anenst the doorframe o the kirk. The man’s airms wir foldit thwart his chist, his richt cuit crossed ower his left.

“Faither,” the chiel said, noddin.

Tho the man had cam tae toun anely a fortnicht afore, the bishop awready kent Till Houletgless for a smatchet an a God-left wratch. It wis weel-kent that he’d nae suiner lowpt doun aff his mare than he’d been oot cuitlin the laubourers no tae pey their tithes tae the kirk, as weel as a hantle o ither ongauns for which there wis nae proof but plenty o suspeecion. The bishop ee’d Till waurily as he climt the staps.

Yer Grace tae you,” the bishop said, “An ah’d hae thocht a chiel that knaws the Guid Beuk as weel as you mak oot tae wad ken eneuch tae ken that.”

Till smirlt an noddit his heid in greement.

“Aye, ah must hae misst that bit,” he said, “Mynd, it wis awfy haird tae concentrate on ma readins the morn wi the laundlaird pappin aw ma stuff oot the windae.”

“Aw aye?” the bishop said wioot meetin Till’s gaze. Till unfoldit his airms an crosst them again.

“Ah dinnae faut the loun, ken. Telt us the guid fowk o the toun had been pushin doon on him. Noo ah’m no shuir wha the guid fowk o the toun are, but ah’d howp tae ken them when ah saw them.”

The bishop said naething, but glenced nervously at the sliver o space atween Till an the doorwey.

“Sae onywey, faither,” Till went on, “That’s me rooked. Ah’d gied the fella the next week in advance, an shuir ah’m no gittin that back again. Ah’d ride on if ah coud, but ma wee dun mare’s needin shoddit, an ah hinnae a penny tae ma name. Sae when ah heard fae a carlie ye were dolin oot siller the day, ah thocht ah’d come doon an see for masel.”

The bishop, suddently sensin a shift in the balance o pouer, strauchtened hissel up.

“Ask an it shall be gien ye,” he said importantly.

Till thrust oot his haun an leukt at him.

“Weel, here’s me askin,” he said.

At the sicht o Till’s empty palm in front o him, the bishop’s ain fist clencht ticht aroond his hantle o pennies. They crinched aroond in his pootch like a haunfu o gravel.

“Ah didnae mean ask me,” he snashed, “Ah’m jist the messenger. Ah meant ask the Laird. Aw things are in his boonty. He giveth…”

“An he taketh awa,” Till said, staunin up. “Aye, it’s got the lot, that beuk. Weel, ye’ve gied me plenty tae think aboot, faither. Ah’ll see ye later.”

An Till Houletgless dicht his hauns aff an walked across the square.


When the letter fund its wey intae the messenger’s hauns the next morn, he didnae ken whit tae mak o it. There wis some unco airticles cam his wey, makkit oot tae the maist unlikely addresses – but he’d niver yet tae deleever a message backit oot tae ‘God’, an he wisnae shuir at aw whit tae dae wi it. Wi nae sma embarrassment he scleusht alang tae the kirk an haundit the letter tae the bishop.

“Ah ken it’s no for yersel, yer Grace,” he yammert, “But ah couldnae think wha else tae…”

The bishop wheesht him wi a wave. The letter wis unsealt, an its attercap haundwritin furlt oot alang a pagefu o inkblots an stourie fingerprints.

Dear God,

Ah howp this message finds ye weel. Ah’ll no fash ye wi aw the uisual havers, as ye’re nae dout a busy man these days, an ah ken ye ken wha ah’m ur.

Listen, ah’ll tell ye whit it is – ah’m needin a wee tap o a penny tae git ma mare reshod, an when ah asked yer freend the bishop for it, he said ah shoud apply in writin directly tae yersel. He micht no hae said writin, tae be fair, but ah tried shoutin an that didnae seem tae wirk. Onywey, ye ken yersel, when ye ettle at tellin a thing in person, it ayeweys comes oot wrang.

Weel, ah’m no wantin tae pit ye on the spot, but ah coud dae wi yon penny suin as ye’re able tae spare it. Ah seem tae mynd ye’re no awfy keen on usury – or is that some ither body ah’m thinkin o? – but ye’ll hae yer money back in full bi the end o the month.

Thanks again. Ah’m an awfy big admirer o aw yer wirks, especially the trees an aw that. Brilliant.

Aw the best,


The bishop’s mynd wis racin as he read the letter, yinst an then a second an a third time. On yin haun, he didnae want tae gie a faithless skellum like Till Houletgless onythin mair than a guid lounderin. But then, on the ither haun… Tae send a haithen sic as Till an actual message frae God, an breeshle him oot o toun intae the bargain – yon wad be veectory sae hale-an-hauden as tae mak the bishop’s heid birl jist bi thinkin aboot it. Efter hummin an hawin ower it hauf the mornin, the bishop finally wapped up a haufpenny in an orral o paper an haundit it tae the messenger.

“Tak this tae the scoondrel yon letter was frae,” he said, “An mak shuir he thinks it’s fae God.”

The messenger left, an for the lave o the morn the bishop idly imagined a newlins repentant Till ridin slawly oot o toun on his wee dun mare. Sae vogie a thocht wis it that anely nou an then did he think tae rue the loss o his haufpence.


When Till Houletgless did quit toun, the bishop wisnae there tae see it – it wis a Monday, an he wis still sleepin things aff. But frae the clip-ma-clash he wis shuir it wis a chynged an chastened Till wha had troddelt aff intae the distance that morn, wi hardlins a wird or a backwart glence. The througate Till had set aff upon wad tak him tae St Andrews; a fact which gied the bishop nae end o satisfaction, as the Archbishop there had lang syne owed him some siller fae a caird-game. Tae hae got shot o his ain scourge bi dumpin it ontae his enemy seemed itsel like a blissin direct fae the Awmichtie.

It wis wi a licht hert an a lichter purse that the bishop went oot that efternuin tae dish oot the alms. He wis in the mood for a celebration, an he wis in that much o a hurry tae get back inby for a swallae that he even let gan a couple of bawbees he micht itherwise o hung ontae. In nae time at aw the croud wis skailt awa, an the bishop turnt back tae the kirk anely tae find an unco man leanin anenst the doorframe, waitin.

The bishop speelt the staps huily an fairly, no leukin up. When he raxed the tap, the man finally spoke.

“Ah ken it’s no fir yersel, yer Grace,” he said, “But ah couldnae think wha else…”

The bishop opened the letter. It wis in the same spidery script as afore, wi the same tentless merks aw ower it.

Dear God,

Muckle thanks for yer help wi the siller. It wisnae eneuch tae pey for the shoddin, but the blacksmith widna tak ony catter fir it onywey, so it aw wirked oot in the end. Wad ye credit it? Ah guess that’s whit fowk are gettin at when they say that ye wirk in mysterious weys. An there’s yon blacksmith thinkin he wis jist daein me a guid turn.

Onyroads, here’s yer money back. Aw howp ye wirnae ower pushed wioot it. Let me ken if ye’re ever needin a lend yersel.

Aw the best,


P.S. No wantin tae tell ye hou tae gan aboot yer business, but the next time somebody asks ye for a haun, cut oot the middle-man an gie it them direct. Yer messenger stole the hauf o whit ye sent me.

An doun in the letter’s bottom corner, aneath a muckle reid daud o sealin wax, the Bishop o Dunkeld carefully peeled aff a bricht an shiny penny.


I was hugely proud to have been involved in organising the first ever spoken word at the first ever HawickFest. Seemed to go over pretty well – our poets were very happy, anyway!


My old pal and Scots scriever extraordinaire Rab Wilson wrote a very nice piece about the event over at The National – you can find it here:

Stowed Out up next!



Couple of things I’ve been up to which are surfacing in the next wee while:

The current issue of Gutter includes some Scots translations of mine, this time from Kafka. They are some short-short stories which I translated before starting to work on “Metamorphosis”, as a kind of test run. Plus there’s always plenty of good stuff in Gutter, and this issue is no exception.

That’s out already. Plus, upcoming: next month’s issue of Nutmeg has an article I’ve written about football culture in the heartlands of rugby. Wee sneak preview below: