Ely is an author whose work combines working class narratives with queer identity and their most recent novel Duck Feet won Scottish book of the year.
Do you think there's enough literature traversing the intersection of the Scots and LGBTQ+ communities?
Naw. I got asked tae write a list once of Scottish working class LGBTQ+ narratives ages ago and I was stumped. There really wasnae much at all, at that time. The stuff I was coming up wae was written 20 year ago, weirdly enough when it comes to LGBTQ+ books that are written in Scots, there seems to have been more of them a few decades ago. Maybe it's a case of increasing visibility, but I'm just not seeing lots of these kinds of books and that's a problem in and of itself. I find that a lot of LGBTQ+ fiction is Young Adult, which is great, and I love to see it, but I'm also really hoping to see more mature LGBTQ+ narratives. Having said that, I really do enjoy coming of age novels, especially when they're authentic working class LGBTQ+ stories. 20+ years ago there was a real drive for coming out narratives, some more focused on sexuality and gender identity as they relate to trauma. More LGBTQ+ joy and happiness is something we need.
Was there a point where you made an active choice to use your authentic Scots in your work or was it something you couldn't do without?
I didn't know you were allowed to use Scots in literature until I was about 19 and I went along to a creative writing class and was given a book in Scots by the teacher that she thought I'd relate to. I suspect it might have been more to do with language than the content, and the language was certainly relatable. I would hear people getting told "don't talk like that, speak properly. You'll never get a job talking like that, don't say aye, say yes". I didn't know you were allowed to bring Scots into your literature and once I realised you were, I was excited to give it a shot. I tried to write in other people's voices and it didn't sound right, and it took time to develop my voice as a writer.
You so beautifully combine the experiences of being a working class Scots speaker and a member of the Queer community, were these important aspects for you to include in your work?
When I came out as gay, I was trying to find books about young, queer, Scottish folk and couldn't find them. I'd find books that were about LGBTQ+ experiences but they were overwhelmingly set in America or England, more often than not they were middle class narratives and I couldn't relate. It would either be extremely traumatic, or would end in tragedy. I just wanted to see books about Scottish LGBTQ+ people going to the pub, having fun, living life. Finding love, out and about, the kind of stories me and my friends share as queer scottish people. Coming out isn't the only drama in a queer person's life, sometimes we have to see our ex's in the pub and handle awkward small talk. I really wanted to write something about my pals, that I can recognise as authentic and true. So I did, I wrote it. I found the best most supportive agent who was really enthusiastic about the project, then he died.and nobody else was interested in the project for 16 years. Publishers said "this is too niche, this is too queer, nobody wants to read about Scottish working class lesbians, can you make one of them a man?" naw. What part of Butch meets femme coming of age rom com did you not understand? If you made one of them a man where's the story?
Your writing is such a source of hope and positivity, and you clearly put a lot of care into representation and authenticity. What would you say to a Scots speaking LGBTQ+ person reading this?
When I sat down to write duck feet I just set out to write a wee short story. I'm someone who likes to listen to conversations and extrapolate them, keep them going even once the person has left. When I realised I was having so much fun with the character I wrote more stories about the same person and when I had done 10-15 of them I asked people in my life if I was getting it right. One story turned into 70 chapters. The research I did was asking people what their experiences were and turning it into a universal story. I just like to entertain people. To anyone reading who is unsure about how to start: write about what you're interested in, what inspires you. Don't listen to people who tell you what to write, worry about the rest later. It took me 16 years to get that first novel published but I wouldn't have been happy making it about a straight couple, it wouldn’t have been authentic, it wouldn’t have been me. I tried to write stuff that would be more marketable and that publishers wanted, and I didn't finish it, because my heart wasn't in it. I can only write about the stuff and people I care about, and authentic experiences I can relate to. If there's a Scots LGBTQ+ book you want to read, write it. Naebdy else is gonnae dae it. Gie’s mair stuff in Scots gie’s mair LGBTQ+ fiction.