Book review – Aye Someane Deid, Aye Someane Boarn: Fiction and reminiscences in the Shetland dialect
Ah, what a read, what a joy – Aye Someane Deid, Aye Someane Boarn – is the literary equivalent of a big bosie [hug] with an old and trusted friend. After the rush of Christmas, I read this book in the long month of January and what a tonic Barbara’s words were. She left me laughing, smiling, and longing for more.
There are many fantastic books published in Shetland and, with Scotland's Year of Stories kicking off, I thought it was a good opportunity to review Barbara Fraser's new book Aye Someane Deid, Aye Someane Boarn.
This book, released by the Shetland Times in 2021, is a true masterpiece in storytelling and one that I’m sure will go down in history as one of the best pieces of work in the dialect of our generation.
The book is a collection of fictional tales and reminiscences Barbara has shared about her time growing up in the beautiful Culswick Valley and her later adult life working her croft in Gulberwick.
Aye Someane Deid, Aye Someane Boarn: Fiction and reminiscences in the Shetland dialect
The Shetland Times (2021)
Buy it here
Barbara’s book left me thinking a lot about storytelling – and storytellers – in general, especially as this year is the Year of Stories in Scotland. And it occurred to me that Barbara is perhaps Shetland’s only female storyteller. Her observations on human relationships, our connections to each other, and the natural world are astute and often cut very close to the bone in a hilarious manner.
Like any good storyteller, she can pack so much feeling, emotion, drama, and sentiment into a short narrative without losing the reader’s attention, even for the briefest of moments. There was no point in reading the book that I felt my mind wander to the still loaded washing machine or thoughts of what we were having for dinner. The Box demonstrated her storytelling capabilities perfectly – in just a few short pages, she was able to relate the tale of a long-standing family rift brought to a close after 23 years of unhappiness and unspoken words when the threat of death knocked at the door. In this chapter, Barbara conveyed so much human emotion and feeling in a seemingly effortless narrative.
Another example of this skill at both storytelling and the art of short stories comes in Da Full Riggit Ship. In less than 300 words, Barbara conveys a lifetime of regret through an inanimate object in a museum display. (And yes, I did count the words!)
Barbara can capture the full gambit of human emotion perfectly. I read The Photograph with both a tear in my eye and a smile on my face – a tale about a boy, turned man, who discovers his late granny concealed his mothers love letters, changing the course of their history forever.
Barbara’s words are easy, and her style is relaxed and conversational. For anyone who knows the author, you can hear her friendly voice and picture her smiling eyes through the pages as you read. There is no pretence in her words. Every sentence is written as she would speak. It’s engaging, open and humorous – with her hilarious observations on people’s customs and peculiarities providing a witty narrative throughout, tying each tale together seamlessly.
One of her greatest strengths is undeniably her use of the Shetland dialect. I think the whole book – bar, one short chapter, is written in dialect. It’s never easy to write in the dialect whilst keeping your audience engaged and understanding without losing the thread of the story. Even as a proud dialect speaker myself, I find myself tripping over words as I read in dialect, and I certainly have to allow more time and concentration for the words as I read. This was not the case with Barbara’s. Her words read easily and smoothly, without the jarring interruptions to the narrative that I often encounter with other dialect writers. It is a true testament to her writing style that I can say that I read this as easily as I would any English text.
This is a fantastic book to tackle for anyone who wants a taste of the dialect – not least because the language is so accessible with a helpful glossary of words at the back – but because the book is laid out as a series of short, anecdotal stories that can stand alone, or as part of the wider book. Meaning that, for non-dialect readers, it’s easier to understand the gist of the story as they are short and punchy.
Common threads run throughout this book, making it feel like one story rather than simply a collection of assorted stories – tying it all together perfectly. Many of the common themes are the same ones that inform gossip in small communities – children born out of wedlock, unrequited love, adultery, heartache, emigration, ‘keeping up appearances’ and, unsurprisingly, death. This dissection of human behaviour is one of the reasons the book is so hilariously funny; because we can all relate to the stories in one way or another.
Yet, it’s not just people that Barbara is in tune with. Decades of living and working the land have given her a keen understanding of, and connection with, the natural world and the seasons that govern life in a rural island community. We hear about the crofting calendar, of sowing neeps, planting out, of flaying the bank, and casting the peats in spring. It’s inspiring, thought-provoking and a beautiful portrayal of a way of life that we are losing at a greater speed today than at any other point in our islands history.
I was never going to give Barbara’s book a bad review. I have so much respect for her as both a writer and a woman, but this book surpassed every expectation that I could have ever imagined, and I am happy that I read it. I know this is a book I’ll thumb through for quotes, anecdotes and, perhaps, a recipe for a sweed heid (although that’s less likely!) for many years to come.
And, for anyone who believes that they’re having a bad day, read Da Far End a da Garage for a bit of perspective and a good belly laugh!
Finally, for anyone who has read it and didn’t Google “pure bred light Sussex cock”, – you should probably stick to the non-fiction aisle in the library, as you’ve clearly had a sense of humour bypass!
Barbara, what can I say? Thank you so much for bringing such literary light into my heart in the darkest month of winter. I’ll be approaching voar with a spring in my step now, and I would urge everyone to read this book – it truly is a tonic for the soul.
Well done, Babsie, for adding a powerful female voice to the fantastic roll call of storytellers in Shetland.
I hope everyone picks up a copy of this book to learn more about the dialect, and enjoy a peek into the life of one of Shetland's best-loved local writers.
See you next time ...
Hello from Laurie
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