I am delighted to welcome the very lovely Susi Briggs to today’s Bookworm Blethers. Thank you so much for joining us, Susi!
- Tell us a little bit about yourself and your Nip Nebs books!
Aside from being a children’s author in Scots language I am also a singer in a blues band. I founded Music Matters and lead interactive and inclusive music sessions in care homes. Often these are inter-generational sessions where I bring wee tots and older folk together for fun. During the pandemic these sessions had to stop and it has been really difficult to lose that. I look forward to the day when we can all gather again for music and fun.
I am a storyteller and often appear as Susi Sweet Pea the Fairy. I have a great love for playfulness and imagination.
Nip Nebs was first written in 2011 after being told my stories had too much of a Scottish flavour. A publisher told me that after they rejected an English story with the word “Wee” in it. They said they would publish my story if I would omit the “Scottish flavour. “
The main character was called The Wee Sleepy Sheepy. In sheer defiance I decided to add more “flavour” to my writing for children and from that process Nip Nebs was born.
Nip Nebs was inspired by frosty childhood memories in our council house in the days before double glazing. The magical way the frost and ice made my surroundings look like a fairy tale. My friend and wonderful artist Ruthie Redden was inspired to paint and illustrate Nip Nebs. It took another 6 years to complete and be discovered by the publisher Curly Tale Books.
- Why do you think it is so important to have original books for children that are written in Scots?
It seems rather illogical that for a nation to NOT have original books written in it’s native language. Aside from Itchy Coo books there were no other publishers of Scots language books for weans at the time Nip Nebs was created. Itchy Coo were supportive of my work but not in the position to publish anything new. They were busy with their amazing translations of classic stories by Roald Dahl at the time. The visibility and existence of Itchy Coo validated my desires to become a Scots language author for weans.
Many Scots speakers are not able to read and write in their own language which is scandalous. We are a clever people. Many of us are bilingual at least and yet some would not never have even considered that. Generations are only taught to read and write in English and so it is weird at first to see our words written down. Generations were insidiously told to “Speak proper” which disconnected us from our words and in effect our cultural identity. That is disempowering and damaging. It created the “Scottish Cringe” and the sooner we get rid of that feeling the better for us.
I write in Scots because it is a beautiful melodic language to write in. The more visibility Scots has the more validity we gain culturally.
- You do so much to share and promote Scots, including the brilliant “Oor Wee Podcast” with Alan McClure. Would you like to tell us a wee bit about that and how that came about?
Alan and I have different main reasons for creating Oor Wee Podcast but the most common reason is to have fun!
Alan was inspired by Storyteller cassettes he listened to as a child. I was inspired by family members telling me stories as a child. In this digital age we wondered if there was a lack of storytellers in young peoples lives. So, we thought we would come to them through a digital format and tell stories this way.
We have created it using Scots and English and the aim is to include guest contributions from folk who bide in Scotland, with various dialects or no dialect at all. We want to represent the voices that exist here as there is little representation of this in mainstream children’s content.
Alan and I used to tell stories together back in the day as The Wee Folk Storytellers before he went off to become an amazing primary school teacher. We both went on to be published authors but never let go of the thought that we would regroup again somehow. It feels right that we are creating content this way.
Alan has a keen interest in sound and audio production. I have a keen interest in marketing and making that side o things happen. It is a positive collaboration which has personally brought us light in a very dark time. The first set of episodes were created in lockdown and so we have had to make it by sending each other files over email and chatting over the phone to organise it. Our first meeting about it was in his garden and sitting metres away from each other! Hopefully soon we can set up a proper studio and work on it live.
- The Nip Nebs books are beautifully illustrated by Ruthie Redden. How did that collaboration come about?
I think the story goes that Ruthie was intrigued by an event I had organised in 2011 and we arranged to have a coffee and a chat. The event was the Magikal Woodland Walk where I was creating a three-dimensional interactive storytelling experience. Ruthie loves folklore and was intrigued by my shenanigans as Susi Sweet Pea the Fairy. Her art is enchanting, and we became friends instantly. Shortly after that I had written Nip Nebs and I showed it to her in a café in my town. She loved it and wanted to paint and illustrate the story. Six years later we were in the same café meeting the publishers to discuss terms of getting the book ready.
- Where do you get your inspiration from?
Nature and landscape are my biggest inspirations. Children inspire me too. I dip into my own childhood memories for inspiration too. Phrases pop up and inspire stories as well.
Nip Nebs was inspired by things my parents told me about Jack Frost painting the windaes and nipping my taes. Nip Nebs and The Last Berry was inspired by hearing birds “fighting” inside a berry laden bush and I thought – I bet they all want the same berry! The last lines of that story are what my mother used to tell us children if we did not share nicely.
My other stories such as Igor and Aggie Bash are childhood memories. My father refers to the big scary looking house spiders as Igor and he would pretend they were talking to me so I would not be so scared of them. Aggie Bash is a pet name my mother and Papa used to call me. I thought it would be a fun name for a witch character. Huffy the Heron is inspired by the phrase “Whit’s fer ye will no gaun by ye” which is a phrase I find great comfort in.
- What is the best part about being a writer? What are the challenges?
I love seeing the reactions from folk when I share something new with them. I love to hear how it makes them feel or think. I am always intrigued by that. Writing for weans is brilliant because you get real honesty from them and that is something you should never take for granted.
The challenges of writing in Scots is that there are people who still look down their noses at it and sometimes you get abuse online for using it. My Scots audio story for BBC Scotland’s website had a couple of politically motivated trolls being nasty about it on Twitter because I was using Scots language to tell the story. I have had to kick trolls like that out of online Zoom Author events as well because they kept interrupting and asking ignorant questions and mocking my Scots voice.
Also, not all publishers are open to taking submissions in Scots especially for weans. I have worked very hard in not just creating new content but trying to push down barriers along with other Scots language advocates to be able to create in our own language.
I feel very blessed to be in the position I am in now and I refuse to give up. My love for writing in Scots is deeply embedded and it will not go away just because of a few trolls!
- What books or authors did you love as a child?
I love Roald Dahl books and occasionally return to them for my own pleasure as a grown up. I enjoyed reading a lot as a child. I may have read The Twits more than 50 times since I was 8 years old.
- What current children’s books/authors would you recommend?
I know I may be bias because he is a good dear friend but honestly, I would recommend Alan McClure – his first book Callum and The Mountain is in my top ten books to recommend.
If we are talking about Scots language books for weans – The Eejits Matthew Fitt (Translation of The Twits Roald Dahl). The Tale o the Wee Mowdie translation by Matthew McKie is hilarious. I also love King o the Midden and Blethertoun Braes edited by James Roberston and Matthew Fitt. I remember reading those last two books around the time I decided I would write in Scots for children.
- Did you always love to write? What was your favourite subject at school?
I am a notebook fiend! Always have been. When I didn’t have a notebook to write in I would make them with string and scraps of paper in the house. I was always getting told off for leaving paper lying around. I have always loved writing though I did not really consider it as that until I got to High School. My English teacher Mr Glanton was an amazing teacher who really nurtured that in me. It was a joy to meet up with him a few years ago and give him my book for his grandchild.
- How important do you think it is for children to develop a love of reading for pleasure?
I think it is extremely important as reading can help you access worlds and experiences that can bring great healing and wisdom for you to develop.
Roald Dahl’s words in The Twits always stayed with me – about having beautiful thoughts and they will shine out of your face and you will always be beautiful. I am paraphrasing (perhaps badly) but it is a well-known excerpt of the book where he is describing Mrs Twit and how ugly she is. I do my best to think beautiful thoughts as I do not want to end up like Mrs Twit!
I read Maya Angelou’s books in my teens. Her story and experience gave me a deep sense of peace and wisdom that I dip into in times of crisis and sorrow. I read her books again during the pandemic and it helped me to foster courage and hope.
It is important to develop a love for reading early on. Stories can heal and that is important to have access to that all through your life if you can.
We want the children to access stories to learn stuff. If a child is not keen on reading – for whatever reason – encourage them to tap into stories in some other way. Stories exist in many different formats such audio visual (film, tv) and audio (someone else tells the story, recorded cassettes, podcasts).
You can find out more about Nip Nebs and Oor Wee Podcast here:
Follow Susi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SusiBriggs1