Jessie Kesson - Novelist & Playwright
Jessie Grant Macdonald was illegitimate, born in the workhouse in Inverness and brought up in the backwynds of Elgin. "The lane was home and wonderful". When her mother contracted syphilis Jessie was moved in 1924 to Proctor's Orphanage, near Skene, Aberdeenshire, "a cold place for the heart". These childhood experiences form the basis of her novel The White Bird passes (1958), later televised by the BBC. The novel is eloquent about Jessie's anquish at being seperated from her mother, who for all her problems was still a figure redolent with magic and whose love of music and literature was the source of her daughter's unique literary talents and determination to be a poet and writer.
Deprived of the university education she craved, she left the orphanage in 1932 to go into service, but suffered a nervous breakdown. Sent to croft near Loch Ness she met Johnnie Kesson, a cattleman, whom she married in 1934. The couple had a son and daughter. Abreachan was the backcloth for The Road of no return a story in Where the apple ripens (1985).
Johnnie's career took them to Rothienorman which formed the setting for Glitter of mica (1963) and during the war to the Black Isle where the presence of Italian prisoners gave the idea for the novel and film Another Time, another place (1983) .
In 1940 her poem Fir Wud caught the attention of Neil Gunn and she became a contributor to The Scots Magazine. Encouraged by Nan Shepard she entered a short story competition which she won, and this was followed by an invitation to write for BBC Aberdeen, over 30 features and plays subsequently being broadcast.
Jessie Kesson lived in London from 1947, the move being essential to permit her to write unfettered by temptation of the Kailyard. She carried her country with her "Morayshire...the heart, Aberdeenshire...the mind" and it was with enourmous pride that she excepted honorary degrees from the Universities of Aberdeen and Dundee in the 1980's. She produced Women's hour and also wrote over ninety plays for radio and TV, notably You never slept in mine.
Jessie Kesson's writing was of of the highest quality, pared to poetic essence. The White Bird passes in its story of Janie is a triumphant poetic tale of a spirit that poverty cannot diminish. Glitter of mica relays the changing fortunes of the isolated parish of Caldwell as seen through the tragic story of the Riddel family, while the stories in Where the apple ripens depict those who haunt the fringes of society, the old, the homeless, the lonely.
Jessie Kesson combined regional interests with larger themes and although adopting Scottish idiom and character her writing is universally accessible. She gave a genuine voice to the experiences of woman and painted an honest depiction of the rigours of life. It is her authenticity, her earthy humour, her extraordinary memory and intellect, her deep feelings for her childhood and the human condition that make this author outstanding and important to the development of Scottish writing. Jessie Kesson died in London on 26th September 1994.