Scabby Queen

Kirstin Innes by Becky Duncan 3_sq
Written by


‘Listen, let me tell youse something. In the town where I grew up, the women were glamorous. I’d watch my mum getting ready for a night out at the Labour Club, the same place she went to every Saturday night, sat in the same seats in the lounge, drank the same gin out of the same glass, probably. And she treated it like, I don’t know, the Oscars or something, mate. I’d watch her piling blue eyeshadow up to her brows, doing that Liz Taylor sweep with a pencil all the way round. She’d have the rollers in for four hours before she went out, she’d spot-clean her best suit or her old dress and have it hanging up in the kitchen by the kettle. She made her face up like it was an art, and my stepdad, he’d put his suit on, and a fresh tie, offer her his arm, and they’d step out into the street with all the neighbours they saw every day for work or at the shops, all of them done. All of them with that Saturday-night sparkle on, like it would be a dishonour to step out without it, like it was church or something. And the Labour Club, that same old building with its tired walls and the haze of fag smoke, that would become somewhere else, just with one wee tinsel curtain hanging over the stage, the sparkly bow tie on the old boy who sang Sinatra well into his seventies.

‘I’d be allowed to go along and stay up too late, bag of crisps and a bottle of ginger, forming a gang who crawled under the tables with all the other weans. I’d sit there, watching the women’s faces, the laughs they put on, the shimmering rainbows around their eyes, mysteri- ous streaks of dark stuff cutting through their round cheeks, and I’d understand they were all casting a spell. They were all, by the power of these potions, by mutual agreement, transforming this place, where people worked hard jobs for never enough money, where every choice was difficult, where everything was functional and ugly, into Holly- wood, or Las Vegas, some projection of what they’d seen in the movies. Where the same old spouse you woke to every morning was suddenly Lee Majors or Farrah Fawcett, where you lived next door to Burton and Taylor, where auld Archie from up the loan really was a member of the Rat Pack; where money didnae have to matter, just this once.

And it could only be sustained if everyone kept buying into it together. Oh my God, when there was a wedding! Doreen who did the hair was booked out from six a.m., and there was always some fancy ones who’d get the train through to Ayr for it, make the journey back with these beehives and sculptures poking out over the tops of their coats.’

They all watched her as she paused for breath, no one jumping in. Clio never spoke about her family, so this flood of words, the silty Scottish accent she usually toned down around them – it was some- thing else.

‘What my mother taught me was that you always looked your best. It was a matter of honour with her – you let it all go you might as well shout to the world that things are sliding, that you’re not coping; it lets the rest of the team down, when they’re dealing with things just as hard and worse. She never let anyone outside of me and my stepdad see her in her housecoat; I hardly ever saw her without her make-up the whole time I was growing up with her.

‘It’s a working-class thing, this. Youse don’t get to tell a working- class woman that her lipstick isny feminist, because it’s a signal of solidarity. This is a great big slash of solidarity I’m wearing across my face right now.  You ask a working-class woman who was brought up in a certain way at a certain time to ditch her make-up in order to raise her consciousness, you’re asking her to break a bond she’s made with her working-class sisters. No offence, doll, but going make-up free is a luxury for bougie women because they can always afford to buy more; it can be just a temporary state, a bit of play-acting between times. You don’t need it to convince the world you’re more than it thinks you are.’


Press for Scabby Queen

janice galloway
‘Kirstin Innes has written a fat, firecracker of a book, revolving around the suicide of Clio Campbell, a Glasgow chanteuse, whose story emerges through the voices of friends, acquaintances, enemies and journalists with space to fill. It’s about women and silence, oddballs and adventurers and stupid mistakes; about ‘no need to worry about me’ Scottishness and ‘getting by’ as practised by every culture on earth. Best of all, it’s about joy and hope and the pressing need to seize the day while one can.’
a. l. kennedy
‘Scabby Queen is a life and death struggle of a book: wounded, angry, beautiful, righteous, beaten and triumphant. Kirstin Innes is aiming high, writing for readers in the early days of a better nation’
rodge glass
‘A hugely ambitious novel that fulfils the promise of Kirstin Innes’ debut Fishnet and then some. You won’t forget Clio Campbell, but Scabby Queen’s punch also comes from the sophisticated, nuanced way Innes undermines simplistic biographical takes … Full of heart and dirt, fire and fury, Scabby Queen positively crackles with tension and drama throughout’
gavin francis
‘A blistering firecracker … succeeds in building a singular vision of our political moment and how we got here. I didn’t want it to end’

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