Novels written in Scots: ten to add to your TBR

There’s been a resurgence of books written in Scots in the past few years or so. We’ve already featured recent reads like The Young Team and Duck Feet a fair bit on our blog and socials in the past few months but if you’re desperate for some more then here’s a longer list of novels to add to your TBRs.

The Young Team by Graeme Armstrong

Based on Graeme’s own experiences growing up as part of the gang culture in Airdrie you can’t have missed The Young Team because it’s been absolutely everywhere since it was published last year. This is gritty, real, hard-hitting and can’t be missed.

Duck Feet by Ely Percy

Duck Feet is the ultimate nostalgia read for anyone who grew up in Scotland in the late 1990s/early 2000s. This is the kind of book that’ll have you laughing one minute and greetin’ the next. It doesn’t hold back and gives the kind of realistic warts-and-all depiction of growing up Scottish that most people will appreciate.

A Working Class State of Mind by Colin Burnett

Colin Burnett’s debut, A Working Class State of Mind, is a linked short story collection written in east coast dialect. It’s a bold book with memorable characters and doesn’t hold back on criticisms of the UK government and how society looks down on the working class.

Before Now: memoir of a toerag by Moira McPartlin

Before Now is another novel that would appeal to anyone that loved the nostalgia aspect of Duck Feet. Written in Fife dialect it’s the story of one working class lad figuring out his life and making some realisations about his family and community along the way.

Buddha Da by Anne Donovan

I’ve not actually read this yet but in his review oor Aiden said, “Buddha Da embraces you from the first sentence, told through three distinct narratives… We navigate through some heavy topics which are told with poignancy but uplifted with quirky dialogue. The characters are so endearing which engrosses the reader in their story, I felt like I was part of their family.”

The Tartan Special One by Barry Phillips

The Tartan Special One is a surreal book written in Dundonian dialect. It’s absolutely hilarious and would appeal to anyone who loves the batshit aspect of Scottish football. I don’t think it’s in print anymore but copies are relatively easy to get hold of.

Be Guid Tae Yer Mammy by Emma Grae

Emma Grae has written such an incredible multi-generational story about working class Scottish women. Be Guid tae yer Mammy is a book to give up a whole day for and just settle in to enjoy the drama, funny stuff and touching moments in this very Scottish story.

How Late it was, How Late by James Kelman

A Booker prize winner written in Scots? How Late it Was, How Late isn’t the easiest of reads for multiple reasons but this story of quite possibly the worst hangover in existence is well worth the effort.

But n Ben A-Go-Go by Matthew Fitt

Dystopian fiction but write it in Lallans. Matthew Fitt is a bit of a Scots language publishing hero so But n Ben A-Go-Go is not to be missed…except I have missed it (oops) but it’s on my TBR and I’ll be getting to it asap.

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

I mean…obviously. I wasn’t even going to include it in the list because at this point who hasn’t heard of Trainspotting. But leaving it out would be amiss so here it is. A classic, an unmistakable voice and a book that feels just as relevant today as it did in the 90s.

There are also a decent amount of books originally published in English that have been translated into Scots. I think it’s especially brilliant to find children’s books that have been published in Scots including a few of Roald Dahl’s (Chairlie and the Chocolate Works or The Guid Freendly Giant, anyone?) or Alice’s Adventirs in Wunnerlaun. Look out for a whole other post about Scottish children’s books coming very soon.

What is your favourite book in Scots? Are there any we don’t have on the list but that should definitely be there?

INTERVIEW: Ely Percy on finding voices, the Scots resurgence and the Scottish school experience (Part Two)

Look up Duck Feet and you’ll see how beloved this novel already is on Scottish Bookstagram. Written entirely in Scots, the book was published by the brilliant Monstrous Regiment earlier this year. For many, me included, this was the book that hooked them onto Ely’s writing, so I had to find out more about the story behind the story. 

Duck Feet is the story of Kirsty Campbell, told through her viewpoint and observations about the world around her: her mates, her school, her family, the community, the world in general, as she moves through High School in the early 2000s. It’s a wry, funny and occasionally emotional read that most Scots (and everyone generally) will be able to relate to.

‘People have asked me if Kirsty is me….absolutely not!’

Like Vicky Romeo before it, Duck Feet started life as a short story. ‘Mslexia had a call out for short stories on the theme of shoes,’ Ely says, ‘And I was sat thinking about all these different shoes, brogues…high heels…trainers. But to stand out, I knew it needed to be something unusual. Then my dad comes into the room with a basin of water for his bad feet and the first story [about Kirsty] just came out. I wrote it then and there and typed it up the next day. It was months before it got published but I thought it was fun, that I’d enjoyed writing about this school setting, and started thinking about where to take it next, which was the French class.

‘It was about ten stories later when I thought, this is the same wee lassie all the time. I was finding her voice really easy to write. I realised I could just keep talking about her and thought then that this was maybe something bigger than short stories.’

Ely was on a mission after that and started tracking down people they went to school with, folk their sister went to school with and folk that went to schools in other parts of Scotland. ‘I spoke to the 13-year-old daughter of one of my college tutors and when she realised she could say anything and talk about folk she really warmed up to it!

‘I was just asking people lots of different questions and finding that people were telling me the same stories. It was like it didn’t matter where you went or when you were at school, it was the same stories coming up. I left school in 1997, my sister was there until 2001, there were people that had been in high school before me, people that had been in high school after me, and they were all saying the same things.

‘There was the person you liked, your best pal, your worst enemy, teacher you liked, teacher that hated you for whatever reason, the wee person that everyone said smelled, the class clown, the person that was always pure trying to fight everyone, the lassie that got pregnant by 15, the person that everyone thought was a total fuckin’ waste of space that would amount to nothing but then surprised everyone by doing better than everyone else…I just saw these same characters coming up over and over.’

‘This just won the Booker prize and I’m being told not to talk like that?’

There were two things Ely wanted to keep out of the novel, things that are probably all too familiar with a lot of those who also grew up in Scotland: Kirsty wouldn’t be bullied and school kids wouldn’t be told to suppress their language.

Ely, who was bullied at school, says, ‘I decided that I didn’t want Kirsty to get bullied. [Because of being bullied at school] I used to think that I hated Renfrew and I wanted to leave there. Writing Duck Feet was actually cathartic to me, because I realised that through choosing to tell the story through the eyes of someone that didn’t get bullied, and was just reporting on what she saw, that it wasn’t Renfrew that I hated. It was just that particular time in my schooling: when I went there and people weren’t very nice because I was a bit different. Kirsty didn’t experience that but she certainly saw other people being bullied for being different or for having problems. I think it was a good choice to do that.’

Ely continues, ‘When I went to school, teachers were always like: speak properly, don’t say aye, don’t say naw. [If you did speak like that] teachers would say to you that you’d be lucky if you ever found work. So, in the book I decided that the teachers wouldn’t pull pupils up for the way they spoke. The kids in the book just talk the way they talked. It took me until I was like 19 to read How Late it Was, How Late and think, wait a minute, this just won the Booker Prize and I’m getting told, “don’t speak like that.”

‘I understand that they were just trying to do what was right. They were telling us to talk properly because otherwise no-one would ever take you seriously, or you’d never get a job. That was the message that was being sent. I just thought that I didn’t want that for my novel.’

‘It’s like a chorus, I can hear different notes in different voices’

Duck Feet has a huge cast of characters but each has such a distinctive voice. This is something that came easily to Ely, and reflects the huge variations in Scottish accents and regional dialects within the country, sometimes even in the same town or area. 

‘I find it easy writing in accents that are round about me,’ Ely says. ‘My sister did say that Kirsty doesn’t really sound like us, but my voice has really changed over the years since I last lived in Renfrew. There are many different people that are living in Renfrew who speak a wee bit different from each other, it’s like a medley of voices, and I needed to pick one voice – Kirsty’s voice – and it just came to me [when I started writing]. 

They elaborated further on this to say, ‘Sometimes I hear somebody talking, it could just be one sentence, and I can just hear the whole conversation coming. When that happens I know that’s a character for my book. Hopefully, in Duck Feet, you can see a couple of different things to show the differences in the characters voices, like Charlene will say “hingmy” and “hing” and Chris Rice and Kelly Marie will both say “were” and “per” while Kirsty doesn’t. I just wanted to change it up a bit and show slightly different accents. 

‘It’s like a chorus, I can hear different notes in people’s voices and if strangers are passing me in the street and [their voice] chimes with me, I could just keep writing it. At least for a short piece anyway.’

Books written in Scots are firmly back in the public consciousness, resonating with people in a way that had maybe been a bit lost for awhile. Ely says, ‘I hadn’t seen anything for about 20 years, maybe more than 20 years. There were these working class Scottish books, written in Scots, then it just…there wasn’t really anything for a long time, I wasn’t really seeing it. But this new wave is great though, it’s great to see it back.’

Follow Ely on Twitter and Instagram and visit their own website. If you missed it, follow the link to Part One.

Aiden’s review of Duck Feet can be found here, on our Instagram. Sarah’s will be up when she pulls a finger oot. 

Growing up Scottish: nine reads to add to your TBR

Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain is a gorgeously written yet brutal and emotive story of one boy growing up in Glasgow as the son of an alcoholic mother. But it’s just one of the many different experiences of growing up Scottish that have been depicted in our homegrown literature. So if Shuggie Bain whetted your appetite for a good ol’ bildungsroman (not a word you can shoehorn into most conversations so yay for an excuse) here’s a list of nine more to add to your TBR.

Boyracers by Alan Bissett

Boyracers is the story of 16 year old Falkirk lad Alvin and his three older mates. Their days involve racing around town in a car called Belinda and debating film and music. Alvin has to overcome all the usual teenage problems – romantic entanglements and deciding what the hell to do with his life. Published in the early 2000s it’s just as relevant today and a well-deserved cult classic.

Good to know: If you loved the book you can find out what happened to Alvin and his pals next in Pack Men.


Duck Feet by Ely Percy

Duck Feet is a coming-of-age novel, set in the mid-noughties in Renfrew and Paisley, Scotland. It follows the lives of 12-year-old Kirsty Campbell and her friends as they navigate life from first to sixth year at Renfrew Grammar school. This book is a celebration of youth in an ever-changing world. It uses humour to tackle hard-hitting subjects such as drugs, bullying, sexuality, and teenage pregnancy. But moreover, it is a relatable and accessible portrait of figuring out who you are, plunging into the currents of life, and most of all, finding hope.

Read Aiden’s review of Duck Feet here


The Young Team by Graeme Armstrong

2005. Glasgow is named Europe’s Murder Capital, driven by a violent territorial gang and knife culture. In the housing schemes of adjacent Lanarkshire, Scotland’s former industrial heartland, wee boys become postcode warriors.

2004. Azzy Williams joins the Young Team [YTP]. A brutal gang conflict with their deadly rivals, the Young Toi [YTB] begins.

2012. Azzy dreams of another life. He faces his toughest fight of all – the fight for a different future.

Expect Buckfast. Expect bravado. Expect street philosophy. Expect rave culture. Expect anxiety. Expect addiction. Expect a serious facial injury every six hours. Expect murder.

Hope for a way out.

Read our The Young Team reviews here and here.


The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

Fifteen-year old Anais Hendricks is smart, funny and fierce, but she is also a child who has been let down, or worse, by just about every adult she has ever met. Sitting in the back of a police car, she finds herself headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders where the social workers are as suspicious as its residents. But Anais can’t remember the events that have led her there, or why she has blood on her school uniform…

We featured Jenni Fagan’s second novel The Sunlight Pilgrims in our featured Dystopian Reads.


Kieron Smith, Boy by James Kelman

Rejected by his brother and largely ignored by his parents, Kieron Smith finds comfort – and endless stories – in the home of his much-loved grandparents. But when his family move to a new housing scheme on the outskirts of Glasgow, a world away from the close community of the tenements, Kieron struggles to find a way to adapt to his new life.

Kieron Smith, boy is a brilliant evocation of an urban childhood. Capturing the joys, frustrations, injustices, excitements, revels, battles, games, uncertainties, questions, lies, discoveries and sheer of wonder of boyhood, it is a story of one boy and every boy. It is James Kelman at his very best.


Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan

Everyone has a Tully Dawson: the friend who defines your life.

In the summer of 1986, in a small Scottish town, James and Tully ignite a brilliant friendship based on music, films and the rebel spirit. With school over and the locked world of their fathers before them, they rush towards the climax of their youth: a magical weekend in Manchester, the epicentre of everything that inspires them in working-class Britain. There, against the greatest soundtrack ever recorded, a vow is made: to go at life differently. Thirty years on, half a life away, the phone rings. Tully has news.

Mayflies is a memorial to youth’s euphorias and to everyday tragedy. A tender goodbye to an old union, it discovers the joy and the costs of love.

Read Aiden’s review of Mayflies here.


Happiness is wasted on me by Kirkland Ciccone

Cumbernauld was built to be the town of the future…that is, if the future looked like a really rubbish episode of Doctor Who.

It’s also home to Walter Wedgeworth, a child stuck in a uniquely dysfunctional family controlled by the tyrannical Fishtank, whose CB Radio aerial is a metal middle finger to all the neighbours on Craigieburn Road. When 11-year-old Walter discovers the corpse of a baby inside a cardboard box, he resolves to ignore it, pretend it didn’t happen.

He knows the price of being a grass.

But the child’s fate haunts Walter, bringing him into conflict with the world around him. Walter’s journey will lead him from childhood to adulthood; school, college, bereavement, Britpop, his first job, Blackpool, the Spice Girls, feuds with his neighbour, and finally…face-to-face with a child killer.

Taking place in the 90s, Happiness Is Wasted On Me is a genre-blending tale that spans a decade in the life of Walter. It’s a coming of age tale, a family drama, a mystery, and a biting dark comedy. Ultimately, it’s the story of how even the strangest people can find their way in the world.

Read our review of Happiness is Wasted on Me here.


Sonny and Me by Ross Sayers

‘Whoever said yer school days are the best days ae yer life was at the absolute wind up. I hink maist adults dinnae mind whit it was really like. Wait til yeese hear whit Sonny and me got detention for…’

Daughter and Sonny are two best friends just trying to get through fourth year at high school. But when their favourite teacher leaves unexpectedly, and no one will say why, the boys decide to start their own investigation. As they dig deeper into the staff at Battlefield High, they discover a dark secret which one person will kill to protect…Will they uncover the truth without being expelled? Can their friendship survive when personal secrets are revealed? And will they manage to skive off double English?

Divided City by Theresa Breslin

A young man lies bleeding in the street.

It could be any street, in any city. But it’s not. It’s Glasgow. And it’s May – the marching season. The Orange Walks have begun.

Graham doesn’t want to be involved. He just wants to play football with his new mate, Joe. But when he witnesses a shocking moment of violence, suddenly he and Joe are involved. With Catholics, and with Protestants. With a young Muslim asylum-seeker, and his girlfriend. With all the old rivalries – and fears . . .

A gripping tale about two boys who must find their own answers – and their own way forward – in a world divided by differences.


Have you read any of these books? Or have any of them on your TBR? Talk to us in the comments or follow us on Instagram for a blether.

You can find most of these books in our own Bookshop at bookshop.org – if you choose to buy from our shop we will receive a small commission which will be equally split between a donation to the Scottish Book Trust at the end of the year and keeping this blog running.