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In her own words:

"Every work I've ever written contains ae 'ootlin'. Lovely Aberdeenshire word. Somebody that never really fitted into the thing."

Introduction

Jessie Kesson Skene School photoTo say that Jessie Kesson's life was 'complicated' would be an understatement. Prof Isobel Murray, her biographer, said of Kesson's early years that they were "experiences that make even such childhoods as Charles Dickens's look tame." To do justice to Jessie's life in a small space is virtually impossible, so this is of necessity a very condensed version. Anyone interested in more detail (and who wouldn't be?!) should read Prof Murray's award-winning biography Jessie Kesson: Writing Her Life (Edinburgh, 2000).

Childhood: Elgin

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Orphanage: Skene

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photo: Proctor's Orphan Training Home

Proctor's Kirkville Orphan Training Home had a strict but not unkind regime. Its job was to train the children for service, and matron had to be objective in her dealings with the children. As Jessie said: "It wisnae an awfa place. It wis jist a caul place tae the hairt." She did very well at school and her dominie, Mr Murray, was particularly impressed with her ability at English. The White Bird Passes, her first novel, was dedicated to him, as he'd said to her "One day I'll open a book and I'll know you've written it."

Deprived, however, of the university education she craved, she left the orphanage in 1932 to go into domestic service as a 'kitchie deem' at a local farm. Unsuited to this work, after six months it was arranged that she should move to Aberdeen to take a commercial course.

Hostel to Hospital

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"Jessie's main strategy for survival and for creative writing was to write her own life, but what she constructed was a necessary myth of her life, and from the start of her writing life she omitted or suppressed some areas of her experience."

Abriachan

After leaving hospital, she was 'boarded out' - sent to work at a croft at Abriachan, near Loch Ness. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. It was at Abriachan she met Johnnie Kesson, whom she married in 1937.

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Cottar Wife

After the birth of Avril, their first child, Johnnie took a job as an unskilled cattleman at Westertown, a farm near Rothienorman. Jessie was now a 'cottar wife'. She used her experience of farm life in both her later novels, Another Time, Another Place and Glitter of Mica. Jessie claimed in later life that she only started to write in 1941 after a chance meeting on a train with Dr Nan Shepherd. However, she was already being published, most notably in the North-East Review, during their time at Westertown.

photo: Jessie with BBC radio producer Elizabeth Adair

In 1945 she did her first radio piece for the BBC. A year later, her son Kenneth was born and the family moved from farm to farm, often as close to Elgin as possible, where Jessie's mother was desperately ill in hospital. After Liz's death in 1949, Jessie went off to London with Avril, leaving Johnnie and Kenneth behind in the cottar hoose incase it didn't work out. She quickly found a job cleaning at a hospital, and wrote a radio play Forty Acres Fallow which the BBC accepted. When she received the fee for the play, she sent for the family.

Writer in Exile

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In London, Jessie took a variety of jobs over the years - cinema cleaner, shopgirl in Woolworths, and a number of different roles in social work. Her most unusual job was also her favourite: as an artist's model, posing nude for classes at the local Art College. It was "the only time in ma life I got paid for standin or sittin an simply thinkin ma ain thoughts".

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Radio, Television and Film

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Scarlet Goon

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'Here, very much against her will, lies JK'