The God of all Small Boys is an astounding debut from author Joe Lamb that had me laughing and crying in equal measure throughout. The beautiful front cover perfectly captures the carefree and sometimes reckless spirit of being a child, a theme which is at the heart of this book.
Set during WW1 in Dundee, it is the story of 11 year old James whose father is sent away to fight. James’s desperate plea of ‘Don’t go, Daddy’ right at the start sets us up for an emotional rollercoaster. With his father gone, James is sent away to stay with his mill-town relatives in the Lochee area of Dundee. Initially at odds with his cousin, Billy, James eventually forms a close bond with a group of boys and we follow them as their sense of adventure prevails, sometimes with tragic consequences.
The God of all Small Boys is essentially a story of exploration, childhood, friendship and growing up. It is a story that transcends time and place, making it incredibly relevant to today’s children. As a teacher, I could not help but think of how brilliant this novel would be to use in a classroom setting, especially when studying WW1 and the impact in had on ordinary children like James and his friends.
The God of all Small Boys is a magnificent debut from Joe Lamb, whose meticulous attention to historical and local detail make it a totally authentic and believable story. On one hand it is gritty, moving and emotional. On the other it is full of fun and humour making it a totally enthralling read. The characters really got into my head creating a novel that left an indelible mark on me long after I’d finished reading it.
Make sure you put this on your must read list. You will not be disappointed by this powerful and haunting debut.
One of the things I loved was Joe’s inclusion of Scots and Dundonian words and phrases which add to the authenticity of the book. Here, he talks about the use of Scots in his novel.
Although The God of All Small Boys is set entirely in Dundee, I thought it best to limit the amount of ‘scots’ that is used in the book. There are a few places where I allow the characters to lapse into the Dundonian dialect, which has quite a few words and phrases which would mean little to anyone not from the city—even if they were from Scotland!
In fact only a few characters are written solely in a light Dundonian dialect (Mrs Harkins being one, and Teeny being another). In the first few drafts of the book, I had a full glossary of terms and words used in the story—but unfortunately it had to be removed purely down to space— one of the harsh realities of publishing!
This, of course, leads to the question… ‘Why use it at all?’ Well, the simplest answer is realism. People do speak that way, and indeed a great deal thicker a dialect, than I use in the book. But there is also a reason why I chose to limit it.
If this were a book for adult, then the language used would be quite different. And, although I am a very proud Scotsman, and have lived in Dundee all my life—I also used to be a professional actor. As I learned that you could write wonderful tales, and weave amazing stories… but unless a broader public can understand them, the tales will struggle to succeed. Even Robert Burns, the best known writer of Scots language, turned to solid and unclipped ‘English’ more often than you might imagine!
The main concern with Dundonian, is use of the single syllable word… “Eh”.
This is NOT pronounced as “Ayy”, but rather as throaty ‘E’ as in ‘mEg’.
This single word has three seperate meanings in Dundonian… “I” (as in ‘me’), “Eye”, and (oddly) “Yes”.
This means that it is possible to write a full sentence in Dundonian which contains only vowel sounds… For example: “Eh, Eh e’ i’ a! ” (where e’ and i’ are glottal stopped words for et (ate) and it.. and where a’ mean All – Thus “Yes, I ate it all!”
Here’s the clever part though…
In ‘I’ – the Eh stands for the ‘I’ sound. In ‘Eye’ , again, it stands for the same ‘Eye’ sound… But why is it used as Yes…?
Well… What is Scot’s for Yes?
There were some words in Dundonian that I initially wrote into the book, but then decided that they might be too obscure for the non-Dundonian reader. Feechs being one of them. Something I didn’t include in TGoASB, with a little regret, is the word “Peh”… If you are not Dundonian… look it up! 🙂