Academic journal article Scottish Cultural Review of Language and Literature

Pittin the Word(s) Oot: The Itchy COO Experience of Publishing in Scots in the Twenty-First Century

Academic journal article Scottish Cultural Review of Language and Literature

Pittin the Word(s) Oot: The Itchy COO Experience of Publishing in Scots in the Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt

This paper describes the practical, educational, editorial and creative challenges of starting up and developing a new publishing imprint specialising in books written in Scots for young readers. It outlines the rationale behind the project, the motivations of those involved, the difficulties encountered, the outcomes achieved and lessons for the future.

Keywords: Scots language, education, teacher support, marketing, translation.

The creation of a new imprint with a specific remit to publish books in Scots for young readers is not something that happens every day. Over the last 250 years, publications mainly or entirely in Scots have characteristically been occasional and isolated events - which is not to say that they have been without effect. Robert Burns's Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (1786), Charles Murray's Hamewith (1900), Hugh MacDiarmid's A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926), W.L. Lorimer's New Testament in Scots (1983) and Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting (1993) are all examples of books which have been great achievements in either commercial or literary terms, or both. There have also, of course, been many books successfully published, both for adults and children, with less but nevertheless substantial Scots content. But while there have been imprints in the past which have concentrated largely or exclusively on work in Scots, the establishment of Itchy Coo in 2002 was different from previous experiences for a number of reasons. This paper summarises the story of Itchy Coo from 2002 to 2011, describes some of the issues that confronted those involved, and discusses the possible future for publishing in Scots in the wake of Itchy Coo's first nine years of existence.

The rationale for developing the Scots-language project which eventually became Itchy Coo originated in a series of conversations, initially between James Robertson and Matthew Fitt, and subsequently involving Susan Rennie. Robertson and Fitt were, respectively, the first (1993-95) and second (1995-97) holders of the Brownsbank Writing Fellowship, based at Brownsbank Cottage, former home of Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978). While in residence at Brownsbank, James Robertson compiled and edited A Tongue in Yer Heid (B&W Publishing, 1994), a collection of short stories in Scots featuring work by twenty-eight living writers. One of the stories was by Matthew Fitt and this was the initial point of contact for the two writers. The very first discussion between them about a possible Scots language educational and publishing project took place at Brownsbank in 1996, during Fitt's tenure there. The guiding principle of this discussion was articulated in a letter written by William Soutar (1898-1943) to MacDiarmid in 1931, in which he stressed the importance of writing in Scots for children: "If the Doric is to come back alive, it will come on a cock-horse." The Itchy Coo project was thus inspired by the examples of those two great poets.

Further discussions, which included the input of Susan Rennie, helped to shape and define the future project's aims, objectives and ethos. Each of the three individuals involved brought particular skills and knowledge to the table: Robertson as an editor and writer of fiction and poetry, and as a former bookseller who also had publishing experience; Fitt as a writer of poetry and fiction (his futuristic novel But n Ben A-Go-Go, which appeared in 2000, is yet another of those significant but sporadic Scots publications mentioned above), and as a qualified teacher with considerable experience of delivering in-service training on Scots; and Rennie as a lexicographer specialising in Scots dictionaries, with experience of developing print, CD and web-based materials in Scots. All three had considerable knowledge of Scots language and literature.

It was their shared belief that the provision of Scots language materials in Scottish schools at this period (the late 1990s) was not only very limited in terms of quantity and quality but was also completely haphazard. …

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