To Writers on Burns Night: ‘Sláinte Mhath’

Sleekit (also spelt ‘sleeket’) is my word for January 25th, Burns Night. When we asked some of our favourite Scottish writers for tips for Burns Night stories, Ian Rankin  came straight back to us with this:

And what a word it is, redolent with meaning; not just ‘having a glossy skin’ but, in its true Scottish sense, ‘artfully flattering, ingratiating, crafty or deceitful.’ Perhaps that might inspire a politically-themed story? After all, Burns himself was not just an 18th Century romantic poet but a covert radical, an advocate of the freedom of the press and a supporter of the French Revolution.

If you’re not familiar with ‘To a Mouse’, one of his most famous poems, you can read it here  Glasgow writer Karen Jones  tweets this about the ‘wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie’.

So, a story about the impact man has on the animal world, how man and creatures co-exist or not?  John Steinback was clearly influenced by these lines from the poem: ‘The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men /Gang aft agley’ and changed the working title of his 1937 novella about George and Lennie from Something That Happened to the punchier Of Mice and Men.

Karen tweets about the dark comedy in Burns’s poems, especially ‘Tam O’Shanter’. Morag Joss also turns to ‘Tam O’Shanter‘ and selects elements for a story which seems to have real crime potential.

Val Mc Dermid  uses ‘Tam O’ Shanter’ as a starting point for a story about friendship, as the ‘drouthy neebors’ gather:

while Sarah Hilary suggests a twist to the theme of Auld Lang Syne, which is a pledge to enduring friendship. Her tweet says: ‘How about a story of how Auld Lang Syne became a hit in China where it’s called You Yo Di Jiu Tian Chang or Friendship Forever and Ever?’ Karen offers a complete story starter here:

And, for a bit of fun, this from Denise Mina: 





So on Burns Night indulge in a dram or two of ‘usquebae’, address your steaming haggis or vegan alternative with ‘Sláinte Mhath’ and read or listen to a recording of Burns’ mesmerising verse. Think about darkness, skulduggery, friendship, love, political intrigue, nature, destruction – or whatever takes your fancy and get writing. Send us your short stories (up to 2,2200 words) by Monday, April 11th 2022. Details here

And good luck!

Jane Riekemann