It’s been few years since I last saw Jackie Kay so I was delighted to see her on the programme. In that time, Jackie has won a Guardian Prize, had a total of 16 books published and has been awarded an MBE for her services to literature.
Of course, all these accolades are wonderful, but like Lisa Fingleton, who introduced Jackie stated; “the beauty of this writer is that she can make me laugh and cry in the same paragraph”.
Jackie displays a friendliness, warmth and empathy with people and the way that she expresses them to us through the written word is a wonderful gift; as is the bravery with which she addresses personal topics with honesty and comedy.
Jackie began by reading from Red Dust Road (which is nominated for the Scottish Book awards – vote here). The section chosen told of her journey to meet her birth father in 2002. Speaking of how she found her father, she says; “I put my name into Google and up popped pop – he’s a famous tree specialist. I thought it was funny because there I was, chasing my family tree.”
Her first meeting with her birth father took place in a hotel bar in Nigeria – his religious performance, where he welcomed her to Africa with an elaborate dance and song, trying to convert her to Christianity through a 2.5 hour sermon in her hotel room which culminated in her thinking; “Christ almighty, my dad is barking mad.” But despite the humour, there’s a serious undertone as her birth father sees her as the embodiment of his past sin; I suggest you read the book to get the full impact of both the humour and the sadness.
Another section Jackie read addressed her lesbianism; after pushing to find out about her love life and continually pushing the religious element, Jackie says (laughing) “at this point I think what the hell – bring it on!” After explaining her sexual preferences, rather than being shocked and disapproving, her new-found biological father instead pushes for the gritty details. Jackie adds “after having met both my birth parents I feel even more blessed to have been brought up by my parents – the ones that adopted me.”
Other snippets included the realisation (as a seven year old) that her skin colour is different to her mum’s and fond reminiscences of family holidays. “The soundtrack to our holidays was my dad singing and my mum joining in – we sang all over Scotland”. But again, this feeling shifts as Jackie reveals a fear of future time – dreading her parent’s death, trying to live in the moment but fighting against time.
But perhaps this isn’t the end? Jackie says; “Even after the end of that book, lots of things have happened and it’s like extra chapters are writing themselves. You become interested in your late twenties, early thirties, or when you’re about to become a parent. When you’re adopted and you go tracing, you have to go careful; there are so many toes you can tread on.”
Jackie also read several poems from her poetry book, Fiere – The Returning about her son’s epileptic fit at the age of four, Granite which looks at her childhood imaginings about birth parents and the title poem, Fiere, celebrating friendship.
Alive with Scottish countryside, sibling relationships, highland songs, Burn’s references, reversal of behaviours, games, discoveries and journeys, this was a lively, highly hilarious and brutally honest of Jackie’s life, and a colourful display of the very reason why Jackie has gained such accolades.
You can vote for Jackie’s latest book by going to www.scottishbookawards.com/vote