Seminal Scots work given audiobook treatment

Over many years, people have asked writer Billy Kay why he had not recorded an audio version of his classic book Scots: The Mither Tongue.

Knowing what a huge undertaking it would be, he always cited time and other commitments as the main reasons.

The Covid lockdown changed everything, so he finally decided to commit himself to making the historic recording. Historic? Yes, because it will be the first time that iconic passages from the great Scots literary tradition have been recorded and made available in the one place.

In 1999, Scots: The Mither Tongue was chosen by Alan Taylor of Scotland on Sunday, as one of ‘the best 100 Scottish books books ever written….if I had my way there would be copies of these books in every home in the land.’

Scots: The Mither Tongue is a passionately written history of how the Scots come to speak the way they do, and it acted as a catalyst for radical changes in attitude towards the language. Since it was first published it has sold over 25,000 copies.

In this revised edition, Billy Kay vigorously renews the social, cultural and political debate on Scotland’s linguistic future, and argues convincingly for the necessity to retain and extend Scots if we are to hold on to the values which have made us what we are as a people.

As ever, he places Scots in an international context, comparing and contrasting it with other European lesser used languages, while at home questioning the authorites’ desire to pay anything more than lips service to this crucial part of our national identity.

For language is central to people’s existence and this vivid account celebrates the survival of Scots in its various dialects, its literature and song – a national treasure that thrives in many parts of the country and underpins the speech of everyone that calls themselves a Scot.

For most people it will be the first time they have heard the work of writers from Barbour’s Brus to RL Stevenson’s Thrawn Janet read out loud by someone steeped in that tradition, who has a deep knowledge of Scots as both a living and a literary language.

The combination is powerful with memorable moments from e.g. MacDiarmid and the Border Ballads, from Burns only letter in Scots and from rich examples of every Scots dialect from Shetland to Ulster via the Doric heartlands of the North East.

Scots and Scottish literature enjoy a global following, but outwith Scotland few people know how the language sounds, so this will fill a big gap in those people’s knowledge and appreciation of a great tradition.

As a presenter of countless series of award winning documentaries on radio and television over the years, Billy has built up a substantial following for his work and recognition for his distinctive take on Scottish history and culture.

Rachel McCormack’s amusing description of Billy’s voice from her book Chasing the Dram: ‘It’s a deep, low, warm, authoritative voice, like an old sherried single cask malt. It’s a voice that when broadcast over the airwaves on Radio Scotland, the fish in the deepest waters near Ullapool recognise as Billy Kay. If God ever chose to reveal himself to mortals at the top of a Scottish mountain his best chance of convincing atheists of his existence would be to use Billy Kay’s….the voice of Scottish God – let me assure you, he really would sound like this – regaled me with lots of other things that day. But I was so engrossed that, while he was talking to me, I didn’t take down any notes…’

The audio book is now available on Audible.