Mention The Gorbals to most Scots and they will immediately think of the infamous area of Glasgow known for gang violence, poor housing and high unemployment before much of the housing was cleared and the area regenerated in the late 20th century. Fame and Fortune in the Gorbals follows young Bobby Muldoon (also known as ‘Chicken Legs’) in the third book of Kate Donne’s trilogy, in 1960s Glasgow.
This short book is written largely in dialect, which could prove something of a challenge for non-Scots. Having been brought up on a diet of Oor Wullie, The Broons and Rab C Nesbitt, I enjoyed the dialect and it meant I could really hear the characters in my head. The book shows a side to the Gorbals which is often forgotten: that the area was populated with lots of decent hard-working folk all doing their best to get by.
Bobby is such an endearing character. Although only 16, he seems very mature. He can sense the difficulties in his parents’ marriage and is very much an ally to his dad against his mother’s nagging and rage. He is in love with young Jeannie, who is just about to start training as a nurse and he is hoping to become a bricklayer’s apprentice. The young couple have plans, hopes and dreams – high ambitions it seems for a couple so young.
There are quite a few chapters which will resonate with readers and bring back memories such as family parties where you made your own entertainment and simple holidays at Scottish coastal resorts such as Rothesay enjoying fish and chips, ice-cream and the shows.
It maybe seems a bit daft to read the last in a trilogy without having read the other two but as is often the case, this wasn’t an issue. The book is very much focused on young Bobby and his aspirations and although he mentions a couple of things which must have happened in the previous books, I didn’t feel at any point that I couldn’t follow the story.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable read. As I said, perhaps a bit challenging to non-Scots but I think that the anyone who can understand the narrative will love the character of Bobby and be cheering him on, particularly towards the end when it seems that fame and fortune may come his way. I have to say it couldn’t happen to a nicer young man.
Extract from chapter one: Ructions at The Reillys
Bobby is about to meet his girlfriend’s family!
When ah get tae Jeannie’s it’s no jist er maw an da that’s there. The place is packed wi hunners o wimmen, sittin oan chairs, aw roond the edge o the room. They look as if thur at a wake. Talk aboot gettin tossed tae a den o lions! Thur’s a table in the middle, piled wi food. Ah take wan look at it an start tae feel sick. Then comes the bit ah’ve been dreadin, Jeannie’s da, Hugh. He shakes ma haund an jist aboot breks ma fingers.
‘So you’re Bobby? Been hearin a lot aboot ye, son. Thur’s nae need tae be nervous. Ah dinnae bite.’
Ah open ma mooth an ah cannae believe whit’s happened tae ma voice. It’s aw shaky an ah’m shreikin like a fishwife.
‘It’s a pleasure tae be here, Mr Reilly… when Jeannie said ah should come ah wis dead excitit so ah’m really, really glad ye invitit me an…’ Ah’m a mess. Ah kin feel ma face burnin an ma sweat problem goes nuts. It’s drippin aff ma chin. This is a nightmare. Jeannie’s da looks me up an doon an then he smiles! Ah wisnae expectin that.
‘Ye kin drap the Mr. Reilly bit, Bobby. Ma name’s Hugh but everybody calls me Shug. That okay?’
‘Aye Mr Reilly… ah mean Shug. That’s okay.’
Ah’m tryin hard tae stoap shakin. It’s no workin. Jeannie whispers tae me.
‘Bobby, yer gettin aw worked up. Calm doon an jist be yersell. C’mon, ah’ll introduce ye tae ma aunties.’
Aw naw… no mair folk. This is torture. We dae a tour o the room an ah’m gettin mair an mair worked up. Thur aw askin loads o questions an ah cannae answer cos ma mooth hus seized up wi fright. Aw ah kin dae is smile at thum. As ah pass roond, thur aw dead nice tae me. Then ah hear thum whisperin behind ma back.
‘Whit is she wastin er time wi that wee weed fur?’
‘Wid ye look at um! Ah’ve seen mair meat on a link sausage.’
‘That’s Ena Muldoon’s laddie. Nae wunner he looks sae miserable wi her fur a Maw.’
Whit a crowd o shites. Ah pray ah kin get this ower wi quickly but ah’m panickin cos we’ve still tae eat oor tea. We sit doon fur a while then Jeannie’s maw tells us tae help oorsells tae the food. Ah start tae panic at the thought o eatin in front o thum. Ah take a bite o a sausage roll but it’s dead dry an a big lump o pastry gets stuck in ma throat. Ah start tae choke. Thur’s tears an sweat streamin doon ma face, ah’m coughin an gaggin at the same time an thur aw jist sittin starin at me… naebody moves a muscle. Nixt thing, ah throw up, aw ower Auntie Sadie’s feet. Ah try tae get oot quick through aw the folk but the place is that packed ah huv tae shove ma way past. Ah’m trippin ower feet an chair legs an ah lose ma balance. Ah reach oot tae the sideboard tae save masell but ah knock ower a wallie-dug ornament an it comes crashin doon oan Jeannie’s cat. The moggie gies a blood curdlin shriek an dives oan Jeannie’s Auntie Lily’s lap. She starts screamin, grabs it wi baith haunds, an hurls it across the room. The cat’s terrified an starts runnin in circles roond the room. Efter a few laps it ends up hingin fae the curtains. It’s bedlam. Aw ah kin dae is staund at the door an watch in horror. This is the worst disaster yet.
Ah get tae the lavvie an lock masell in. Whit a great way tae introduce yersell tae yer girlfriend’s faimily. They must think ah’m aff ma heid. Ah’m jist aboot in tears when Jeannie knocks the lavvie door.
‘Bobby… ur ye ok? Let me in.’
‘Naw Jeannie. Jist leave me. Ah’ll be oot in a minute…’
‘Ah’m no leavin ye. It’s awright Bobby. Ah’ve said ye wur dead nervous aboot meetin thum. They understaund. Let me in Bobby… please?’
Ah let er in an she sits beside me oan the lavvie flair.
‘Jeannie… ah cannae breathe right… ah’m a bag o nerves. Ah’ve… ah’ve heard o folk… that huv… choked tae death cos they cannae breathe right. Ah think ah’m dyin…’
‘Och, Bobby… yer no dyin. Ah’m here noo so jist take a big, deep breath an try yer best tae calm doon.’
Efter whit feels like an age, ah manage tae breathe again. Noo, ah jist feel dead ashamed. Nixt thing, Jeannie’s maw an er aunties ur bangin oan the door, askin if ah need a doctor. Jeannie says ah’m fine an ah jist need tae get hame.
We try tae nip oot withoot onybody seein us, but it disnae happen. When we get tae the front door Jeannie’s da is there, waitin fur us.
‘Jeannie, ah’d like a wee private word wi Bobby. Can ye gie us a minute pet?’
Jeannie leaves me wi er da an the panic starts again. Ah dae ma usual an think the worst. Within a couple o minutes ah’ve convinced masell ees oot tae get me. Ah imagine um tellin me if ah dinnae treat Jeannie right he’ll gie me aGlesga Smile. That’s where yer mooth gets wider wi the help o a razor blade. Ah couldnae huv been mair wrang.
‘Bobby, ah want tae thank ye fur makin ma lassie sae happy. She’s been like a wee bird, chirpin aboot the place since she met ye. Yer a smasher, Bobby Muldoon. Aye… a smasher. Oh… an that reminds me… dinnae worry aboot the wallie-dug. Ah’ve hated the sight o it fur years.’
Whit a relief. Suddenly, ah feel six feet tall. Ah nivver get compliments an ah cannae believe Jeannie’s da called me a smasher. No the best choice o words efter whit jist happened but ah’m feelin chuffed. Noo ma legs ur like jelly… but in a guid way.
Jeannie walks hame wi me. We wur meant tae stay fur maist o the night but ah spoilt it fur er. The mair ah think aboot the mess ah made, the mair depressed ah get. Ah’m staggerin as if ah’m pissed. When we get tae ma bit ah’m like a wet rag. Ah jist sit oan ma bed fur ages starin intae space. Jeannie hauds ma haund.
‘Bobby, there’s nae need tae be fed up. C’mon, smile. It’s awright.’
‘Naw, it’s no Jeannie. Ah’m awfi sorry.’
‘Dinnae be daft Bobby. It wis jist a wee accident. The sausage rolls wur shite onyway, so ye huvnae missed much.’
‘But whit aboot yer Auntie Sadie? Ah puked oan er feet, fur fuck’s sake!’
Jeannie starts laughin. Ah’m confused, cos tae me it wis anythin but funny.
‘Auntie Sadie’s a pain in the neck. She’s a trouble maker. They call er the Gab o the Gorbals, ayeways talkin aboot somebody. Ah’m no worried er shoes ur ruined.’
‘Then yer Da…’
‘Aye. Whit did he want? Whit did he say tae ye?’
‘He said ah make ye happy.’
‘See! Ah telt ye it wid be awright. An by the way… ees right… ye dae make me happy. C’mon Bobby. Let’s no sit in an be miserable? Thur’s a new film oan at the pictures. If we hurry we’ll catch the start? It’ll cheer ye up?’
Cheer me up! Aye right! The film wis aboot Frankenstein, experimentin oan folks’ brains an ah finished up even mair jittery than ah wis already. It didnae help that ah wis starvin. We left the pictures early.
My thanks to Kelly for my copy of the book and inviting me to be part of the tour. Fame and Fortune in the Gorbals is available now as a papreback or an e-book and you can order a copy online here: Fame and Fortune in the Gorbals
From the back of the book
‘Robert James Muldoon. That’s me. Sixteen years auld, four feet three wi bright red hair an legs like a chicken…’
It’s 1969 and Bobby, as he is usually known, has spent the last year dealing with one crisis after another. He’s a Gorbals’ boy though so with sheer determination and a witty sense of humour he’s moving on. Thanks to some carefully considered action plans and the support of Jeannie, the love of his life, Bobby has so far overcome every obstacle in his path. Now he and Jeannie have a plan to create a good life for themselves. Will Bobby finally become a confident, successful young man? Or will he go one step further and find…
Fame and Fortune in The Gorbals?
About the author
Kate Donne lives in Dollar, Clackmannanshire with her Welsh husband Steve, her dog Brodie, two tractors and eight chickens! Kate runs her own personal development company, and spends her spare time writing.
She graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow with a BA Degree in Dramatic Studies and was awarded The Dorothy Innes Prize, The Arnold Fleming travelling scholarship and The Charles Brooke memorial prize.
Kate has spent many years involved in the arts and has been a professional singer, a director of musical theatre and an actress in many plays and musicals. Her poetry has been published in various anthologies and she was shortlisted for The Tarbert Book Festival writing competition 2017 with her short story Frae a Haggis.
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