The Gourlay Girls by Margaret Thomson Davis

The Gourlay Girls  cover

The Gourlay Girls by the Scottish author Margaret Thomson Davis is the second book in her Clydesiders trilogy which was first published in 2000. The setting is Glasgow and it begins with young Wincey witnessing her grandfather’s death. She’s so shocked by it that she runs out of the house and wanders into a neighbourhood that she doesn’t know. She’s soaking wet and bewildered by the time young Florence Gourlay finds her in the street and takes pity on her and so takes Wincey to her own home where she knows her mother will feed her and sort things out.

The Gourlays live a hand to mouth existence in a two room tenement with three generations, the old Gaanny is a ‘greetin faced’ curmudgeon if ever there was one. Her son the father of the family is out of work like most of the men in the area. It’s the 1930s and work is scarce, so the Gourlay females, the mother and three daughters of the family have been taking in sewing to keep starvation at bay, but one more mouth to feed in the shape of Wincey doesn’t seem to be a problem for the motherly Teresa Gourlay.

Wincey’s own family is wealthy and from Glasgow’s west end, so the poverty stricken east end of Glasgow is a revelation to her, but it isn’t long before Wincey feels well-loved and cherished in her new family. That’s something that she never felt within her own family. A sense of shame and guilt over not helping her grandfather when he was dying leads Wincey to opt to stay with the Gourlays instead of making her way back home, the longer she stays missing the harder it is to go back home.

Margaret Thomson Davis could be described as the Scottish version of Catherine Cookson I think. She tells a good story, but isn’t the best writer. Although I enjoyed this book it annoyed me that the author hadn’t managed to write separate voices for all the females, with Teresa the mother’s voice being particularly anonymous, which is surprising as she was supposed to come from the Highlands originally, there was no sense of a Highland accent or dialect.

Otherwise I enjoyed it. The tale begins in 1932 and goes on to the outbreak of World War 2 and with the help of Wincey the Gourlays’ little business has expanded hugely, but that brings problems too.

I’ll definitely continue with this trilogy, the third book is Clydesiders at War.

Read Scotland 2014

It’s time for a Read Scotland 2014 update, in fact it’s way past time as I’ve just realised that I’ve read 15 Scottish books this year, so I’ve gone beyond Ben Nevis as I knew I would. I don’t know what the next level could be called – do you?

I haven’t been very good at linking to the challenge so here’s what I’ve read so far.

1. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
2. Lanark by Alasdair Gray
3. Rockets Galore by Compton Mackenzie
4. A Double Death on the Black Isle by A.D. Scott
5. The Comforters by Muriel Spark
6. Secrets of the Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford
7. The Cabinetmaker by Alan Jones
8. The Daffodil Affair by Michael Innes
9. The Four Graces by D.E. Stevenson
10. The First Book of the McFlannels by Helen W. Pryde
11. The McFlannels See It Through by Helen W. Pryde
12. Sleeping Tiger by Rosamund Pilcher
13. The Clydesiders by Margaret Thomson Davis
14. The Kellys of Kelvingrove by Margaret Thomson Davis
15. Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin – which I have yet to blog about but I really enjoyed it.

A few of these authors have been new to me and of those I think Compton Mackenzie has been the most surprising and entertaining, followed closely by Helen W. Pryde, I must get around to tracking down the rest in her series.

The most disappointing has been Secrets of the Sea House which was just not my cup of tea and was full of cultural mistakes, it isn’t authentically Scottish at all.

I haven’t read any Scottish non-fiction at all but I intend to remedy that soon, so stand by (Lorraine in particular) for a non fiction blogpost – when I’ve rounded up the ones I hope to read this year – which is almost half-way through already. How did that happen?!

The Kellys of Kelvingrove by Margaret Thomson Davis

The Kellys of Kelvingrove was first published in 2010 and this is only the second book by Margaret Thomson Davis which I’ve read. I enjoyed the first one, The Clydesiders but this one really annoyed me, it’s set in Glasgow in the early 1970s which was a time when I was spending a lot of time in the city so everywhere mentioned was well known to me. Unfortunately it obviously wasn’t so well known to Thomson Davis, or whoever wrote the book, I’m beginning to think that maybe it was franchised out to be ghost written, as sometimes happens when a previously successful author has stopped coming up with the goods for their publisher. This seems to be the last book which was written by the author, so maybe she was just getting a bit too old and forgetful when she wrote it – if she did.

Jack Kelly is a Glasgow policeman, married to Mae and they live in a rented room and kitchen, having a very frugal lifestyle. Jack dreads getting into debt. That was the first thing which annoyed me because it made out that policemen weren’t well paid, when of course they were, even before taking into account overtime.

After he was involved in the Ibrox Stadium disaster Jack didn’t feel the same way about his neighbourhood and decided to rent a much larger house in the much posher area of Kelvinside, close to Kelvingrove Art Gallery. That’s when Mae starts getting into financial difficulties, unknown to Jack.

That’s as much as I’m going to say about the storyline which is thin and not credible to me but there were lots of details which were wrong and drove me mad. Such as the mention of Buckfast as the alcohol of choice for youngsters and winos. In the 1970s it was only Lanliq and Eldorado which were drunk by ‘alkies’. Buckfast hadn’t reared its ugly head.

There’s actually a mention and description of The Royal Concert Hall at the top of Buchanan Street which wasn’t even built until the late 1980s and the description of Buchanan Street itself is of as it is today – pedestrianised and a popular destination for buskers, which it definitely was not in the 1970s.

There were various other anomalies and a very tedious ‘history’ of Gretna Green. It might be fine if you aren’t a Scot and don’t know Glasgow well but it just wasn’t for me.

Do you ever come across mistakes in books like that, and if so, does it put you right off?

The Clydesiders by Margaret Thomson Davis

I thought it was about time I got around to reading something by Margaret Thomson Davis, my mum was a fan of her books years ago.

The Clydesiders begins in 1914, just before the outbreak of war and Virginia is in service, not allowed to be seen by the family she was working for. She’s from the east end of Glasgow where life was grim and the houses insanitary, overcrowded and infested with vermin. There really wasn’t any space for her to live at home with her parents and two older brothers, but life working for the Cartwright family wasn’t easy either. The book ends in 1920.

I really enjoyed this, the story is woven around actual facts and I always like social history, I’d really rather know about what was going on in ordinary people’s lives than the aristocracy.

In Glasgow during World War 1 living conditions for the majority of the population were dire and it caused a lot of social unrest. The landlords kept putting up the rent on flats which were really unfit for human habitation and something had to give, especially when you consider that most of the menfolks were off fighting in the trenches.

Men like John Maclean, a teacher, fought against the oppression of the people and there were rent strikes and riots in the streets. The name Red Clydeside was coined and in 1919 the British government sent tanks into the streets of Glasgow. The men were only asking for a maximum 40 hour working week, and after serving in the war I don’t think that that was too much to ask. Bolshevism was the terror of the day, given that the Russians had just had a revolution, but it was a terrible response to men who had spent the last four years fighting for King and Country. Most of the working men didn’t have a vote at the time as you had to own property before you could vote, so the Suffragettes weren’t the only people in need of voting rights.

I read this as part of the 2014 Read Scotland Challenge.

Library Sale Haul


Last Saturday my local library had another booksale. The last couple of sales I was really lucky to get some good history books but no such luck this time, in fact the selection of non-fiction was poor so I didn’t buy any.

I did end up buying plenty more fiction though, and honestly I need more books like a hole in the head but we can’t pass up a library booksale as we would be wondering what gems we had missed out on.

So my haul was:

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D.James. I know that a lot of people have been disappointed with this book but I like P.D. James and I thought that at a cost of 50p I’d give it a go anyway.

Frederica by Georgette Heyer. I really prefer Heyer’s murder mysteries but I’m reading her regency romances too, although I already have about half a dozen unread ones in my pile.

Problem at Pollensa Bay by Agatha Christie. This is a collection of her short stories which I think will be interesting.

Sweet Danger by Margery Allingham. This is an Albert Campion book from 1933, my favourite crime fiction era.

Death of a Valentine by M.C.Beaton. I’ve just realised that this is a Hamish Macbeth murder mystery and I’ve only tried one of those and I gave up on it fairly early on, oh well, I might give it a go anyway.

Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death by M.C.Beaton. Sometimes Agatha is exactly what I want to read, daft but somehow comforting.

The Kellys of Kelvingrove by Margaret Thomson Davis. I don’t think I’ve read anything by this author before, if I ever did it was way back in the mists of time. My mother was a fan of her books though, it was the title which caught my eye as the Kelvingrove/Glasgow Uni area of Glasgow is our old stamping ground and it’s also set in the 1970s which is exactly when we were there.

The Complete Borrowers by Mary Norton.
I bought this to give to a young friend of ours. I have a hardback copy but I loce children’s classics and I don’t want to part with my own copy, hope she likes this one too.

So those should keep me busy over the coming winter along with my ever growing pile, and I bought more today in Edinburgh, but I’ll tell you about them another time.

As ever, Jack bought far fewer books. He came away with: Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. and

The Infinities by John Banville. Looking at the blurb I might give these ones a go sometime too.