Document 525

Craiters: 01 - Introduction

Author(s): Alexander Fenton

Copyright holder(s): Alexander Fenton


These writings began in 1987, when I offered ‘Kipper't’ to ‘New Writing Scotland’, as an exercise in the use of my own dialect, which is that of Auchterless in Aberdeenshire. The aim was to tell a 'horror' story - which had no basis in reality - as a vehicle for an accurate reflection of the ways of speech with which I had been brought up, in their setting of time and place, and I suspect that I also did it as a challenge to myself to see if it would be accepted. It was. It was followed up by a second in NWS in 1989, and by three more in the Aberdeen University Review. Its Editor, Ian Olson, has been persistent in encouraging me to go further, to produce a 'slim volume', and this is the outcome. His punishment is that he has been asked to provide a Foreword.

The pieces have been written at odd moments over a number of years. The NWS contributions were Christmas break exercises. ‘E Widdie’ was put together one free evening in Altona at the mouth of the River Elbe, when I happened to have a blank notebook in my bag. Eight of them were written at Krieglach in Austria in 1995, in the evenings or by day in the shadow of the pine forests that gave protection from the heat of a fierce sun, in the region of Steiermark that the prolific nineteenth to early twentieth century writer Peter Rosegger has made famous. Rosegger, the son of a woodland farmer, portrayed the everyday life of his 'Waldheimat' in a long series of graphic volumes, and it is easy to feel how the area favours writing. One or two of my pieces were actually written at Annenruhe, one of Rosegger's favourite vantage points overlooking the town of Krieglach, and the place where he got the inspiration for one of his books. The peace of the place undoubtedly allowed full scope to recollection in tranquillity.

I have written in the language of Auchterless as I know it because I find it comfortable to use for the subject matter. It is the language I was brought up to speak, and I make no apology for it. If something is worth writing, it is worth writing in any language. I have, however, developed a form of spelling that reflects as faithfully as possible – without setting up obtrusive mechanisms - the sounds and cadences of the dialect. Some of my previously published pieces were littered with unnecessary apostrophes and have been rewritten so that this whole collection has a consistent form of presentation which may, if anyone wants it, serve as a pattern for future writing in the Northeast dialects.

It is much more easy to read than it looks. It is a matter of reading it, as it were, aloud, and it will come quickly. Because good dictionaries are available, it has not been thought necessary to provide a glossary. Keith Williamson's Note on Language, Spelling and Pronunciation should, however, be read first by those not familiar with the dialect, in order to get a grasp of the conventions used to express its characteristics.

I am writing too in the firm belief that Scotland’s dialects, in spite of the levelling influences that are everywhere, remain extremely rich and are well capable of serving as vehicles of literary expression. The Northeast and the Northern Isles of Scotland have an active and fruitful tradition of using their forms of speech purposefully and creatively, but other areas are not necessarily far behind. I am thinking, for example, of the excellent literary quality of the Lanarkshire dialect material in Robert McLellan's ‘Linmill Stories’. Writing by native dialect speakers with a real insight into the history and environment and place in the world of their own dialect areas is greatly to be encouraged.

A good dialect is something to be proud of. As the 'standard' language becomes ever more stereotyped, through its use in performing media functions of a generalising nature, its creative powers run the risk of being reduced at the same time. Dialectal speech and literature may yet turn out to be a powerful resource from which the standard language can continually refresh itself, rather than being something that the standard language is constantly levelling out and eroding. 'English' is in reality a massive amalgam of innumerable forms of speech, and it should, therefore, have a built-in capacity for self-recreation, though it may be that reminders have to be given from time to time.

I have another reason for writing in the way I do. This is quite simply that I was becoming tired of what may be described as the Lewis Grassic Gibbon tradition. He came from the parish of Auchterless, too. ‘A Scots Quair’ is a masterly composition in terms of language, for though it can be read more or less easily by the English-speaking world in general, nevertheless for those who come from his area, it can be read almost as if it were written in the pure dialect, with all the correct rhythms and cadences. The problem lies not with him, however, but with a number of followers, who have adopted several characteristics of his style and outlook, and have been doing them to death. They are apt, then, to become the canon. So I have wanted to get back to natural, unforced forms of speech, perhaps more like the way William Alexander wrote for his period. I have found them perfectly capable of expressing anything I wanted. They also represent the language as it is a century later than ‘Johnny Gibb of Gushetneuk’, changed certainly but not so much changed, though change is undoubtedly speeding up now.

Some of the pieces go into a good deal of technical detail about passing skills and passing ways of life. When these are gone, the vocabularies that go with them will soon vanish also, though they remain in the pages of the Scottish National Dictionary and its offspring, The Concise Scots Dictionary, The Pocket Scots Dictionary, and The Scots Thesaurus, as well as in other dictionaries of Scots. I have sought, however, not only to use the terminology that goes with, for example, fencing, stack-building and the like, but to recreate the atmosphere that went with such activities, and to think of the skills necessary to pursue them. This may be where the ethnologist in me takes over, but for that also I make no apology.

All twenty items are concerned with living creatures, animals, birds or others, in particular contexts, whether in the Northeast, in the capital city or elsewhere. Implicit throughout, however, is the hand of humanity, and the attitudes of fowk to craiters. The two cannot be separated, and in at least one of the pieces, on a Slovakian village, it is human craiters that play the leading role.

For encouragement in this enterprise, I am greatly indebted to Ian Olson, and to others. Grateful thanks also to Keith Williamson, for taking such a direct and practical degree of interest.

The following items have been published before, though some changes in spelling and content have sometimes been made here:

‘Kippert’. New Writing Scotland (Association for Scottish Literary Studies), Aberdeen 1987, 78-88.

‘Glory Hole’. New Writing Scotland (Association for Scottish Literary Studies), Aberdeen 1989, 44-49; also in James Robertson, ed., ‘A Tongue in Yer Heid’, Edinburgh 1994, 39-46.

‘Stirries’. Aberdeen University Review, No 180 (1988), 314-316; also in ‘Lallans’, 32 (1989), 16-18.

‘E Cheer’. Aberdeen University Review, No 189 (1993) 66-67.

‘E Black Things’. Aberdeen University Review, No 191 (1994), 285-286.

This work is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

The SCOTS Project and the University of Glasgow do not necessarily endorse, support or recommend the views expressed in this document.


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Information about Document 525

Craiters: 01 - Introduction


Text audience

Adults (18+)
General public
Informed lay people
Audience size 1000+

Text details

Method of composition Wordprocessed
Year of composition 1994
Word count 1278
General description Introduction to collection of short stories

Text medium


Text publication details

Publisher Tuckwell Press
Publication year 1995
Place of publication East Linton
ISBN/ISSN 1898410739
Edition First
Part of larger text
Contained in Craiters. Or Twenty Buchan Tales

Text setting

Other Putting the dialect on record, Aberdeenshire

Text type

Prose: nonfiction


Author details

Author id 27
Forenames Alexander
Surname Fenton
Gender Male
Decade of birth 1920
Educational attainment University
Age left school 17
Upbringing/religious beliefs Protestantism
Occupation Academic/Writer/Editor
Place of birth Shotts
Region of birth Lanark
Birthplace CSD dialect area Lnk
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Edinburgh
Region of residence Edinburgh
Residence CSD dialect area Edb
Father's occupation Shoemaker
Father's place of birth Aberdeen
Father's region of birth Aberdeen
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area Abd
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's occupation Housewife\Crofter
Mother's place of birth Keith
Mother's region of birth Banff
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area Bnf
Mother's country of birth Scotland


Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes At work
Scots Yes Yes Yes Yes At home and wherever possible