Preschooler Jessica McLaughlin from Glasgow shot to fame after proud mum Kelly Fullerton shared a video of her reciting The Glasgow Gruffalo.
Now she’s part of the line-up for Perth’s Soutar Festival of Words this weekend alongside the likes of Booker prize-winner Douglas Stuart.
The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson has been translated into a number of dialects – including Dundonian and Doric – and Scots actress Elaine C. Smith created the Glaswegian version.
Soutar Festival of Words organiser Kirsty Brown of Culture Perth and Kinross (CPK) explains: “My sister had shared little Jessica reading The Gruffalo so I just got in touch with Jessica’s mum via Facebook.
“I sent her a message saying Jessica would be absolutely brilliant at our festival. Then I sent Elaine a message and her agent said she’d love to do something with Jessica.
“Elaine is going to talk about how regional dialect is so important and then Jessica is going to come on and recite the story.”
The Soutar Festival of Words runs online from April 23 – 25. Now in its second year, it originally launched in 2019 to run every two years, but CPK has now confirmed it will become an annual event from 2022.
The festival will include readings, performances and conversations with writers, poets and storytellers from Scotland and the globe via CPK’s YouTube channel and Zoom.
It’s such a beautiful book and we couldn’t have asked for better.”
Headlining the event on April 24 is Scots author Douglas Stuart, who won the 2020 Booker Prize for his debut novel Shuggie Bain. It tells the story of a young boy growing up in poverty in 1980s Glasgow.
Kirsty says the CPK team are “cock-a-hoop” at managing to get Douglas involved as he is in huge demand: “We were so lucky in that one of his best friends does a lot for Perthshire Pride.
“Our events officer had mentioned to this friend how wonderful it would be to get Douglas to the festival and he offered to get in touch with him.
“It was absolutely phenomenal. It’s such a beautiful book and we couldn’t have asked for better.”
Kirsty goes on: “The festival is about celebrating Scots language, literature and culture with the spirit of William Soutar bringing it all together.”
A ‘fascinating man’
Renowned Scottish poet William Soutar was born in Perth on April 28, 1898 and lived in the city almost all his life. He published several collections in English and Scots, including a widely-loved book for children called Seeds in the Wind.
He died in October 1943, aged only 45, at his parents’ home in Wilson Street, now known as the Soutar House.
Soutar spent his final 13 years bed-ridden as a result of ankylosing spondylitis, a type of arthritis which causes long-term inflammation of the joints of the spine.
Kirsty explains: “He was an absolutely fascinating man. He wore a bow tie all of the time and lay in his bed. He had mirrors in his bedroom so that he could look at all of his books as he was lying there and point to the ones he wanted.”
Although unable to leave his home, Soutar had great relationships with other leading literary figures in Scotland, including Hugh MacDiarmid.
A film by Douglas Eadie, The Garden Beyond, will be screened on April 25 giving an insight into the life and mind of Soutar.
The eyes of the world will certainly be on Perth this weekend. Kirsty adds: “One positive that has come out of this last year is we have got worldwide audiences who will understand who Soutar is and connect with him.”
Free music on April 28
There will also be pre-recorded live streams of readings from Scottish novelists and poets as well as events for budding writers.
Musical interludes across the weekend’s events will be provided by Perth-based singer and composer Debra Salem, from her album In A Sma’ Room, inspired by the poems of William Soutar.
Back in 2012, Debra took part in a project to put some of Soutar’s poetry to music. The result was a stage show developed with Perth-based writer Ajay Close.
Whenever she and fellow musicians – jazz pianist Paul Harrison and guitarist and composer Kevin MacKenzie – played the songs live, people would ask if there was an album they could buy.
“They would come to the show and ask if we had made recordings of the music. We always thought ‘we must do this’,” Debra explains.
Due to the musicians’ hectic schedules, as well as lockdowns, the album was only released in early February, meaning they haven’t been able to do any more live performances.
But, in the spirit of celebrating Soutar’s birthday, Debra has decided to make In A Sma’ Room available to download free via Bandcamp for one day only on April 28.
Debra, who is looking forward to performing the music again when possible, adds: “I thought we would let the album be free for that day.”