Today's Quines

QUEAN, n. Also quen, quien, queen, quene, quein(e); quine
1. A woman, almost always a young, unmarried one, a lass, a girl, esp. one in early womanhood (Sc. 1808 Jam.; Per., Fif., Lth., Ayr. 1915–26 Wilson; n.Sc., Ags., Per. 1967, quine). Sometimes used with a mild disparaging force.

From Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Dictionaries of the Scots Language Ltd.
Watercolour illustration of Chris Guthrie looking out of window

The central character of the novel, Chris Guthrie is notable for her quiet strength, resilience and indomitable spirit in facing the events in her life. Today, something of Chris' spirit lives on in all women who persevere through challenges and adversity with the same tenacity, resilience and boldness. This section contains personal responses to the novel by modern quines, most from the North East of Scotland, who carry Chris' spirit forward today through their lives and work.

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland

'Sunset Song' is, without a shadow of doubt, my favourite book of all time. That I would have said that without hesitation when I read it for the first time back in my teenage years is not surprising. But that I say it still, more than 30 years and hundreds of great books later, demands more examination. My conclusion is that the love I feel for 'Sunset Song' is not just an appreciation of its considerable literary quality; it is as much, maybe more so, a reflection of the profound impact it had on me at a formative time of my life. In no small way, I owe my love of literature to 'Sunset Song'.

Read more from Nicola Sturgeon

Peesie's Knap watercolour illustration

'Poor Ditching Boy'
Performed by Iona Fyfe, singer and songwriter

Written in response to the novel by singer, songwriter, and guitarist Richard Thompson founder of the folk rock group Fairport Convention in 1967.

Wis there iver a winter sae caul an sae sad
The river ower weary tae flood
The storm an the win.
Cut throw tae ma skin
Bit she cut throw tae ma blood

I wuis luikin fir trouble tae tangle ma line
Bit trouble cam luikin fir me
I kent I wis stannin on treacherous grun
I wis sinkin ower faist tae rin free ...

Download the full lyrics to Ditching Boy (PDF)

'Mother's Mirror'
by Stephanie Martin, Student, Glasgow University

Stephanie was a Robertson Trust intern from April–September 2020 and contributed to the development of this learning resource. These short extracts are from a longer, reflective piece she wrote in response to the novel.

Having grown up in the Castlemilk community in the South East of Glasgow, 'Sunset Song' speaks to me in terms of my own connection to home, especially as a woman because the affinity of a woman to her land is often missing from the Scottish literary canon. To anyone who knows Castlemilk from a distance, it may come as a surprise that a novel set in the North East of Scotland could conjure up familiarity for someone from a city like Glasgow. But to those who know my home well, I'm sure it will come as no surprise that the beauty and grit that Chris experiences in the Highlands of Scotland exist in their own ways as far South as Glasgow, especially since Castlemilk is trimmed in woodland and greenery.

As a working-class woman in modern Scotland, I can relate poignantly to Chris' experience of duality in her identity. The way I speak fluctuates depending on where I am and who I speak to. The 'English Stephanie' comes out in formal settings, like work or when I'm speaking on the telephone to doctors (and when I'm writing!), whereas the 'Scottish Stephanie' speaks in a strong Glaswegian dialect like those in the community where I grew up. In the schools of Castlemilk the children will be taught to 'speak properly', setting aside the dialect they use in the streets, while beyond the school gate an entirely different system of language is most in use.

While the author of 'Sunset Song' is a man, when I read this novel I feel a strong sense of relatability to Chris and her family / neighbour's characters because I think Lewis Grassic Gibbon communicates the broader historical and societal issues they face effectively through his class-based perspective. There are aspects of the novel which are definitively of its time, such as the verbally explicit racialized language and the pervasive presence of religion in early 20th century Scotland, however thematically I feel that Chris' story is as poignant as ever.

'Mother's Mirror' Stephanie Martin

The breath of the moon
Makes the curtains sigh,
It's light cutting through
In stripes that pattern
My naked skin like a tiger,
Fiercely feminine
As I cradle my round belly
And gaze at my reflection
Staring back at me from the mirror.

My body is a landscape
My breasts and belly, mountains
And my skin, smooth to sight
And textured to touch.
Above my brow the sun shines
Out upon this fertile landscape,
Out into the mirror,
Out beyond the mirror.
Landscape art in flesh, framed by glass.

Download the full lyrics to Mother's Mirror (PDF)

'Heart of the Land' by Frieda Morrison, broadcaster and musician

I’ve tried to leave the North East a few times – whether via work or by sheer necessity but I've always been pulled back like so many others. And if they couldn't come back, many have written about this area from a distance like James Leslie Mitchell otherwise known as Lewis Grassic Gibbon. The North East isn't just a skelp of land, culture is as potent a force as the soil itself. It's a wye o livin, a wye o thinkin an a wye o spikkin. Our cultural identity stems fae the land and the sea.

He must have been aware of these precious links as he travelled around this district as a farming journalist and someone who grew up here and the Mearns. 'Sunset Song', the first book in his Scots Quair trilogy was the first book I read at school in the rhythm of my own language. It remains my favourite.

'Shy Geordie' by Lilian Ross, Singer and Storyteller

I was fortunate to be introduced to 'Sunset Song' at the age of 14 by my then English teacher.

For me, this book was a revelation! Mainly because of the rich use of the North East tongue (Doric), which was picked oot in italics in the text.

Ye see, amongst hundreds of other children of that era, I was discouraged; even punished for using oor 'Mither Tongue'. Bit here it wis, written in a book! Familiar phrases, jocular jibes and poetic gritty language that instantly struck a meaningful connection wi me.

The character portrayals and dilemmas of Chris, Ewan, Lang Rob, Chae and the rest were authentic, familiar and memorable. The settings, landscape, sounds and smells brought alive by Gibbon's pen drew familiar parallels in my ain young life. Suddenly MY culture, my language and way of life; took on a hale new significance. Nae langer tae be discouraged, hidden or looked doon on. This wis a passionate story. A love-hate battle between the grim toil; yet love o' the land. Between family responsibilities and that ache to reach for some ither better life.

It was real and true in all its devotions tae the folk and the landscape. A universal narrative written in an individual, unique style that gripped my attention.

A book well worthy o' the reading. Its power and significance have grown and grown since my first reading. I loved it and still do.


This song began life as a poem written by Helen Burness Cruickshank, born in Montrose in 1886. Helen demonstrates her technique of poetic response to an all too familiar circumstance in the 'Fairm Toons' of illegitimate birth. However, in 'Shy Geordie', the community response is an endearing and positive one. The Angus-based folk singer Jim Reid set Cruickshank's words to a fine tune and recorded the song in 1984 on his album 'I Saw the Wild Geese Flee'. Recorded here by Lillian Ross with the permission of Springthyme Music.

Download the full lyrics to 'Shy Geordie' (PDF)

Water colour illustration of crossroads at country roads