There is one way to live forever – but it happens to very few people. It is to be immortalised as a character in a work of fiction, in a book which becomes a classic, which will be read hundreds of years after you were alive. This is an honour which does not happen to many people. But I have just found out that it has happened to my mother.
My mum always wondered about a passage in the legendary Alasdair Gray’s famous Scottish novel ‘Lanark’. At one point in the book the central character described a conversation with two girls at a Glasgow School of Art dance. The description fitted herself and her friend Heather who were in Fourth year when Alasdair Gray was in First year, and the conversation described was very like a conversation which she remembered they’d had.
Last month my sister Susan went to his talk at the Glasgow Literary Festival ‘Aye Write’. She queued for ages to see him and when she finally got to the head of the queue, very nervous, she said:
“You once paid my mother a lovely compliment at an Art School dance, you said she looked like alabaster and honey.”
“No, I said marble and honey.”
Then Susan said:
“Was that a line you used with a few girls then?”
“No, I only ever said it to one girl.”
Then he went on to tell Susan that it was his first ever Art School dance in 1952 and that this tall blonde (this would have been our mum, Maureen Rennie) and a smaller brunette (her friend Heather) both danced with him.
He said that they were older than he was and he got the impression that to an extent they were toying with him. Then he smiled and said:
“but I rather liked it!”
He said to Susan that he knew that he didn’t stand a chance, but that when he was dancing with our mum:
“I said to her ‘you are like marble and honey’ and she said ‘Am I?’ and I put it in ‘Lanark’.”
Then he asked:
“Has your mother died?”
“Yes, a few years ago.”
He smiled ruefully and said:
“Damn it! That keeps happening!”
My sister Susan had her photo taken with him. She also asked him to inscribe a copy of ‘Lanark’ for my birthday.
To think that a conversation with our late mum inspired a passage in what has become a classic of Scottish Literature. Mum always wondered about it, and now we know for sure.
Here is the dedication he wrote in a book my sister bought for me.
Here is Alasdair Gray with my sister, just before he signed the inscription above.