WHEN Betsy Whyte lifted the veil on Scottish Traveller life with her seminal book, The Yellow on the Broom, she drew plaudits for her colourful and captivating storytelling prowess.

The autobiographical novel laid bare her childhood during the 1920s and 1930s when, each spring, her family would set off to traverse the countryside until winter arrived again.

Her great-grandson David Pullar was only a baby when “Granny Bessie”, as she was affectionately known, passed away in 1988. He wasn’t even aware she had written a book until his early teens. Yet, immediately upon reading it, Pullar says he felt a sense of belonging and a kindred spirit in his great grandmother, who like him, yearned for a life among nature and the outdoors.

“This was my heritage and I thought it was fantastic,” he recalls. “There are so many people out there struggling with their own identity but yet I had this; it is part of who I am. Being brought up in the countryside, I connected with what my great granny talked about in her books. Reading her words was like listening to my own mother speak.”

The Yellow on the Broom, published in 1979, was the first book to be written by someone from the Travelling community in Scotland. When its author was a young girl, she would eagerly await the bright yellow flowers to begin budding on the broom, as they did each spring, meaning it would soon be time for her family to leave their winter home and take to the road again.

Pullar, 32, is following in her footsteps with an illustrated story, Wee Bessie, based on his great grandmother’s early life – the first time a dedicated children’s book about Scottish Travellers has been published. It will be officially launched this Thursday, marking what would have been Whyte’s 100th birthday.

Montrose-based Pullar, who is a gardener and chairperson of the Heart of the Travellers (HOTT), worked closely with artist Ruthie Redden to create a tale that he hopes will be entertaining and thought-provoking for young readers.

He secured a £9,000 grant from National Lottery Awards For All to help fund publication and allow a copy of the book – more than 650 in total – to be donated to every library and Traveller site in Scotland. Starting early next year, Pullar will take Wee Bessie on a tour around schools.

Through its lyrical words and beautiful imagery, Wee Bessie captures a joyful and carefree existence filled with adventures, precious time spent with family and nights sleeping out under the stars, yet one where suspicion and prejudice lurk omnipresent for our nature-loving heroine.

“I wanted to adapt her story into a format that will appeal to children between three and seven, an age unlikely to know much about the Travelling community, yet young enough to learn about a different culture with open minds,” explains Pullar.

One of the key messages of the book, he adds, is to acknowledge that people are different – and that we should be open to discussing our differences without prejudice.

“What I am trying to do is let the kids who read it form their own opinions and ask questions about what they see,” he says. “I do not believe in forcing anyone to have the same opinion as me. I am a great believer in people thinking for themselves.”

Pullar’s experience of connecting with the power of his great grandmother’s words is another motivating factor. He would love for Wee Bessie to encourage Traveller children to learn more about their own cultural identity and be proud of their heritage.

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Betsy Whyte married her husband Bryce in 1939, the couple taking a permanent home in the small fishing village of Usan near Montrose. Pullar’s mother Wendy is their granddaughter.

Coincidentally, almost 50 years later, his paternal grandfather Dave bought the same village, albeit by then abandoned and derelict, to be used as a fishing base. Pullar’s parents Wendy and David moved there after they got married.

It was here that Pullar spent his childhood and formative years. He grew up hearing stories about his Scottish Traveller roots and in the decades since has become ever more determined to find ways to share that rich history with a new generation.

“I am the only one in the family that is carrying the flame for old ways,” he says. There’s an edge to his voice, clearly choosing his words carefully when it comes to the labels apportioned to his status in the Traveller community.

“I am what is known as a ‘buck’ – that’s a half Traveller,” explains Pullar. “My mother is 100 per cent Traveller. But my father is not, although there may have been Travellers down the line, some generations ago, according to my grandfather.

“There are not as many full-blooded Travellers as there once were because of people settling in communities and marrying outside the Scottish Traveller community. It has been watered down.

“But I have an identity. I am half Traveller. My great grandmother was a full-blooded Traveller. This is me following in her footsteps – and they are big footsteps to follow in – but I think it is important to keep that story alive.”

The eldest of three sons, Pullar never experienced a traditional life on the road but he does have fond memories of childhood holidays spent helping his mother pick daffodils and neeps.

“We would pack a lunch and a flask of tea,” he recalls. “When I was a bit younger, my brothers and I would run up and down the drills in the fields while she was working. Then, as we got older, we would help out too.

“That is a Traveller aspect I’ve had in my life which is important because a lot of people don’t get that experience. My family are hardworking people and I suppose that need to work hard is bred into us.

“I remember having an old Kingsmill bread bag where we would fold down the sides and put a string around about it so that it became a pouch for holding the elastic bands used to bunch up the flowers. I can smell rubber now when I think about it.”

He believes that a yearning for the outdoors is in his blood. “When I was at school, I would be sitting in class and the teacher was speaking, trying to educate us, and there was me, daydreaming about being outside,” says Pullar.

“I knew I wanted to do something working with nature or wildlife. I chose horticulture. I am proud to work outside. There is a lot of people turn their noses up at the idea of being a gardener, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. You can sleep at night knowing you have done a hard day’s work.”

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Last year, Pullar took part in Sense of Identity, a film and touring exhibition celebrating what it means to be a Scottish Traveller. Afterwards, he began looking for a new project and that’s when the inspiration for Wee Bessie struck.

“I woke up at 3am with the few words of a poem going around in my head,” he recalls. “I got up out of my bed and went through to my desk. I wrote the story out within half an hour.”

After her success with The Yellow on the Broom, Whyte wrote a second book, Red Rowans and Wild Honey, published posthumously in 1990.

It charts her story to the end of the Second World War, covering her adolescence and the period after the death of Whyte’s father when her mother brought four children up alone as the family travelled from place to place hawking wares, fruit picking and tatty howking.

“On one of the pages in Wee Bessie, there’s a rowan tree with a bee’s nest in it,” says Pullar. “That is a reference to Granny Bessie’s second book. There’s lots of little details like that if you look closely.”

Another scene shows berry picking in Blairgowrie. “That is where the majority of Travellers throughout the country would all come together at the berry time,” he says.

It doesn’t shy away from highlighting the prejudices faced by the Travelling community. We see a policeman arrive at dawn to move Wee Bessie and her family on. Then later, Bessie sits in a tree high above the school playground as she hides away after being bullied and ostracised.

Pullar talks about the importance of depicting a night-time scene with the family gathered around a campfire. “The mother and father are telling stories and Wee Bessie is listening,” he says. “All the animals are coming from the woods and listening too.

“This is the passing down of oral lore, such as stories and ballads, as well as plant-based remedies. They were living off the land and needed to be familiar with what plants were available to use. It was an informal education where they learned life skills.”

While his great grandmother wrote about her childhood in the 1920s and 1930s, Pullar deliberately sought to make his book timeless. “I want someone to be able to pick it up 50 years from now and still think it is relevant,” he says.

Wee Bessie represents a disappearing way of life. It shows how things have changed and evolved for Scottish Travellers over the past century. “It used to be that Travellers had a route that they followed,” he says.

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“They knew where they were going and who they would be working for. They would have their set farms and because they went with the seasons, each season would have a different task. Whereas today, things are a bit more opportunistic in terms of where they go.

“In Granny Bessie’s day, it was a simple life free of burden. They had their pony which pulled the cart with all their belongings. They had very few personal belongings with them – only what could fit in the cart or in a sheet on their back.

“Today everyone has debts and I am not without them as well; I have a mortgage and vehicles. They tie you down. It feels like dragging a big heavy weight behind you.

“In the old days, they just got up whenever they wished and moved on. That is something to be envied. I do think more people are looking towards that lifestyle. They want less clutter in their homes and to be free of all that burden.”

This isn’t the first time The Yellow on the Broom has been taken to a new audience. It was adapted for stage by playwright Anne Downie in 1989 and toured across Scotland. The play enjoyed a revival last year with performances at Dundee Rep and the Macrobert Arts Centre in Stirling.

Pullar believes there is still more to share from the remarkable life of Betsy Whyte. He is currently working on an anthology of her stories alongside collecting other people’s recollections and appreciations of a woman who became a paragon for Scottish Travellers.

He emphasises the strong sense of community and family bonds that his great grandmother extolled in her own books. “Although they didn’t have very much money, what they did have was that closeness as a family,” says Pullar.

“They pretty much spent all their time together as a family. The kids would go with their parents into the fields to work. Today, parents and carers are out working all day, the kids are in school, they come home and get to spend a couple of hours together in the evening.”

There is, says Pullar, a deeper message behind the image where Wee Bessie sits on the periphery. “A word that is often used nowadays is marginalisation,” he says. “In respect to the way they chose to live, Travellers wanted to be on the margins because they preferred their own company.

“They were usually on the outskirts of town – not in the town like Travellers often are these days. Back when Granny Bessie was travelling there was a lot more countryside and green space. Whereas people now are fighting for green space because all developers want to do is build.

“On these former green spaces, you will often see supermarkets or housing schemes. Nowadays Scottish Travellers haven’t so much been pushed into the town as the town itself has grown out around them.

“They are perhaps using a space they have used for 100 years or more, but as the towns have spread out into what was once countryside, they find themselves no longer on the outskirts. In some cases, traditional stopping spaces have been developed on.”

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Writing the book has been a journey in itself. “What I have discovered is there is a great hunger and desire for people to learn about their own heritage and family histories,” says Pullar. “They want to feel like they belong somewhere.

“I have my story but there are some people who don’t have that. I’ve found people are keen to hear more about the Traveller aspect of their heritage. After all, if you don’t know where you have come from, how do you where you are going?”

Wee Bessie by David G Pullar is published by HOTT Press, on Thursday, priced £9.99. To order a copy, visit heartofthetravellers.scot