Please note: This is a book review for the book Scottish by Inclination and NOT a political essay or comments on Brexit or the EU. Any comments regarding politics or focusing primarily on Brexit will be deleted.
Time for a very different book review here at Just Geeking By, however, one that is extremely important to me. If you’ve read my little introduction in the sidebar to the right you’ll notice that it says “Londoner by birth, Glasgow Resident”. I’ll be honest; “Glasgow Resident” sounds a tad more formal than I like and I think after having read this book I’ll be changing it to “Scottish by Inclination”. I’ve always felt awkward, having being born in England, referring to myself as Scottish or Glaswegian in any form (even “adopted”) despite Scotland being my home for 11 years and having a strong connection to the country before I was even born (I’ll get to that in a bit).
As soon as I saw Barabara reach out to people who might be interested in helping promote Scottish by Inclination I knew I had to reach this book. Not only does Scotland mean a lot to me personally, as it has welcomed me with open arms, but I have many friends from the EU who have been
This book was provided for free in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Barbara Henderson and Lauren Grieve at Luath Press Ltd for the opportunity to review Scottish for Inclination!
This review is dedicated to all my friends from the EU, especially those living in Scotland. Every single one of you has made my world a little bigger, and it’s much more beautiful with you in it <3
I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Scottish by Inclination!
Please take a moment to check out the other blogs taking part:
- Shelf Life
- Sarah Broadley
- Portobello Book Blog – 10 Things about Barbara Henderson!
- Me! You’re here 🙂
- The Book Witch
- Unicorns and Kelpies
- Highland Book Fairy
There is a deep-seated resentment of England in Scotland and after living here for over a decade I understand why. I first understood it when I watched my first Commonwealth Games in Scotland and was shocked at how bad the coverage of Scotland’s team was compared to England’s. The BBC always gave England the top slots on the main channel while Scotland was pushed off onto BBC 2 at odd times. Then there were the commentaries; biased was an understatement. Until, of course, Scotland began to do well and then suddenly they were in the spotlight and being supported. With clarity, I began to understand how Scotland felt about England and I couldn’t blame them.
Despite the Scots feelings toward England, I have felt very at home here in Scotland right from the start and other than a handful of small-minded people in a small village, Scots have never made me feel unwelcome. At first, the transition from London to Glasgow was a huge culture shock; in London people don’t talk to each other. They stand stoically at bus stops or train stations waiting for public transport to turn up. They sigh and glare when it’s late, they don’t think to ask anyone “has anyone see the number X bus?” in case it came early and they missed it. In Scotland, you have the best conversations at bus stops! I think maybe once or twice I was asked about my accent but it was more out of curiosity than a sense of malice. People want to learn about you, and in turn, they share about themselves.
A year became a few years, and then I realised with a shock when asked “how long have you been with us, Heather?” that Scotland has been my home for over a decade now. Over the years I’ve become deeply passionate about my new home country so when the 2016 EU referendum took place and Scotland very clearly voted one way, as did Wales and Northern Ireland, but England’s votes counted more than ours did 1 I felt it as strongly as anyone born in Scotland. By this point, I had studied at two universities in Scotland (Glasgow and Strathclyde) which have thriving International student populations and had many friends who were from EU countries. I witnessed first-hand as my friends, hard-working students, faced the racist hatred of the Brexit campaign and then the uncertainty of what Brexit would mean for their future. When I worked at The University of Glasgow as a member of their Registration & Enrolment Team part of my job meant helping many International students with their registration. What did all this mean for them?
It was the final straw for many people living in Scotland; our votes didn’t count, we didn’t matter. It is a very scary feeling living in a first world country and realising you don’t actually have any power over the decisions being made. In 2016 I was struggling with an unknown disease ravaging my body (later to be diagnosed as ME/CFS) and had been unable to vote. But in 2019 I prepared and planned my journey to my local library to vote in the UK General Election; Scotland made their voice heard and voted the Tories out 2.
All of this is why I didn’t just want to read Scottish by Inclination but needed to. I feel only a small measure of understanding of what it’s like to be welcomed by the Scottish people because after all, I was born in the UK. I don’t need to worry about someone turning to me and telling me I don’t belong, that my skin is the wrong colour or my accent isn’t right. I “belong”. But that’s the thing I love about Scotland; the only thing you have to do to prove you belong is to not be a complete prat. To be nice to people. To help an old lady across the street or chat with her at the bus stop. Be warm and friendly; you don’t have to be an extrovert, you can be an introvert – just be nice! Scotland welcomes everyone who doesn’t have hate in their hearts.
That is the reason why I grabbed hold of this book; I love the idea of fighting the hate with something positive, through the medium of stories and sharing cultures. I have never considered myself just English, I was raised knowing that I come from a family with a vibrant heritage of English, Irish, Scottish, Cornish and even a tiny bit of Spanish! My dad chose the name Heather because it was Scottish (and he liked the sound of it) although he likes to joke that I was named after Heather Locklear 😛 So to me, the idea of English Patronism that rose up with Brexit is odd, to say the least. Especially when Britain is an Island that was conquered so many times we don’t really have pure heritage anymore – even our language borrows from several others!
As I said I have ancestral ties to Scotland; my great-grandmother was Scottish. Scottish by Inclination is a book about stories of Scotland, and if that spirit I wanted to share one of my own quickly with you that has been passed onto me by my dad about my great-grandmother. It’s almost a bit like a legend. The story goes that she fell in love with an English man, and was exiled from her family because she eloped to England. According to the story, the family she eloped from was the Stuart of Bute, as in THE Clan Stuart of Bute. My grandad went to Bute and traced our family tree, bringing back our Clan Tartan and Clan Crest. Unfortunately, he passed away when I was four and the knowledge went with him. I am still trying to find the link between my great-grandmother and the Clan, and this is where it gets interesting… I can’t find any actual record of an “Eleanor May Stewart” being born IN Scotland around the time she should have been born (I don’t have an exact birthdate for her). The only detail I have is her father’s name was Charles, which is like a needle in a haystack!
So, did she change her name? Is there a conspiracy? I don’t know, but I am determined to find out! 😉
Now let’s get to the review!
Scottish by Inclination is a heart-warming, hilarious and so very Scottish account of what it is like to be an immigrant living in Scotland. The book is Barbara Henderson’s biographical account of her time in Scotland, starting with her first deciding to study at a UK university instead of one in her home country, Germany and ending with her applying for British citizenship in the aftermath of Brexit. She takes us through the whole process of applying to an institution in another country, and I’m sure the whole experience will be of interest to international students thinking about studying abroad because Barbara is so genuine in how she writes. I was immediately taken back to filling out my very first UCAS form, an experience that was so complex and alien to us 17/18-year-olds that my sixth form college had actual classes for it. It was terrifying for us and we were British!
From filling out her application to a hilarious arrival at Edinburgh Airport, she recalls every step of her journey as a student studying English Language and Scottish Literature. Despite there being twenty years between our journies I found myself laughing and nodding my head with a knowing smile as Barbara talked about encountering the Glaswegian dialect for the first time and beginning to study Scottish Literature. When I started my English Literature degree at Glasgow University I too had wanted to learn more about my new home; twenty years prior Barbara had done the same!
“On a whim I had decided to choose it over the mainstream English Literature. If I was going to be a part of this country, even if only for four years, I felt I should take the opportunity to immerse myself in it’s back catalogue a little. How hard could it be?”
Scottish for Inclination, p. 43.
I may have facepalmed at that point, I most definitely chuckled knowing what came next!
It is this wonderfully authentic conversational tone that continues throughout the book, whisking you away through time to follow Barbara along her journey. You don’t feel as though you’re reading a biography, you feel as though you were there with her. A little friendly reader sprite perched on her shoulder. You saw the good, the bad and the ugly which is told in a manner that I can only describe as Scottish; it’s over now so I’m going to laugh about it. And laugh you will because while Scottish by Inclination will tug at your heartstrings it will make you laugh so much more.
There’s a story about meeting one of the most famous Scottish poets of our generation, many stories about being a teacher and one about an interview where Barbara gets the wool pulled over eyes which is by far one of the funniest stories I have ever heard. I retold it to my fiance and before I could even finish it he knew what had happened which just reaffirmed to me that only the Scots can have a sense of humour like that.
Dispersed between Barbara’s own journey are profiles with a wide variety of Europeans who have moved to Scotland and are now “Scottish by Inclination”. These profiles contain details about how they first came to Scotland and extracts from Barbara’s interviews with them. Some of them are educators, others are artists, entrepreneurs, athletes and there’s even a book blogger (The Book Witch who is also taking part in the blog tour and she’s next on the list tomorrow!) which I thought was lovely. I hadn’t realised that the president of my alma mater, The University of Glasgow, is European; his name is Sir Anton Muscatelli. Another person Barbara interviewed, Daniela Sime, is a professor at my other alma mater, the University of Strathclyde, and having been to both these institutions it was great to see both of them represented in the pages of Scottish by Inclination. As I mentioned before both have thriving International Student communities and it feels important that share their stories, as individuals not as academics, to help the next generation find their way. I also appreciated that photographs were included, giving each voice a face rather than them being just faceless words on a page.
These profiles were written with the same laidback spirit that Barbara wrote her own story, interlacing facts with humour and she lets the individual voices of each person shine through in the interview extracts she has included. The stories they share about Scotland are so vibrant and so real, and I really loved the closing question she poses to them; what would you say to Scotland? Their answers are all so different and unique, and it was in those quotes that I saw the exquisite beauty in cultures coming together to make something bigger and better.
Barbara’s story is one of determination and courage, and Scottish by Inclination will grab you by the heartstrings, make you laugh, cry and then make you laugh some more. It is a book of stories, and the great thing about these stories is that every single one of them is real. From Martin Cingel, a Slovakian ice hockey player who now coaches the UK under 18s team and won gold with them in their World Championship division in 2018, to Tania Czajka a French Early Years specialist and puppeteer who is currently studying for her Master’s degree in education so that she can become a fully-fledged Teaching-Artist. And of course, Barbara herself who went on to become an English teacher, a puppeteer and is now an award-winning children’s author.
Every single one of them is an inspiration, and they are all EU Nationals who have made Scotland their home. We are lucky to have them, and I think Barbara sums it up best at the end of the book:
“The immigrant voice matters. It is my lived experience, and the many interviews with EU nationals included in these pages only attest to the fact that there are many stories, like mine and unlike mine, which have become part of the warp and weft of Scottish society. Like threads, some shine brightly. Others are almost invisible but lend the tapestry its stability.”
Scottish by Inclination, p. 197.
The image of a society woven together with threads really sticks with me. There are so many different coloured threads in modern society, not just nationalities but race, sexualities, religions and disabilities. We are all important and integral to the stability of society. Some of us may not be so bright, we may not seek to shine so brightly on purpose for whatever reason, but we’re still important, we’re still needed. And if you think of a tapestry made of just one coloured thread it has no pattern, it’s dull and lifeless.
This is a book of the threads of life. I cannot recommend it enough especially if you want an outsiders perspective of this beautiful country I have come to know as home or to learn more about what it is like to be an immigrant – or both!
Books by Barbara Henderson
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Over to you
I hope you’ll forgive me for my personal ramblings in this review and recognise my passion for the subject! I think I’ve talked enough for one review so I’m going to keep this short and sweet 😛
If I still haven’t convinced you to check out Scottish by Inclination then pop over to Luath Press Ltd. and read their sampler of Scottish by Inclination for yourself!
What do you think of the idea of being “[insert nationality here]” by inclination? Have you moved to another country? What nationality do you identify as?
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