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Elgin
Elgin

Jessie Kesson lived from 28 October 1916 to 26 September 1994. She was a novelist, a playwright and a radio producer. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

Jessie Grant McDonald was born in a workhouse in Inverness, the illegitimate daughter of Elizabeth MacDonald, a domestic servant. She then moved with her mother to Elgin, where she was raised until removed to an orphanage at Skene in Aberdeenshire, in 1924, because of neglect by her mother. Although she showed great promise at school, Jessie's circumstances meant she had to leave at 16, taking up a series of casual jobs before suffering from a mental breakdown in Aberdeen.

While recovering at Abriachan on the shores of Loch Ness, Jessie met Johnnie Kesson. The two married in 1937 and lived and worked together in a number of agricultural jobs. Jessie began to write in 1941, often about her early life, and with the encouragement of other writers such as Nan Shepherd and then Neil M. Gunn she was, by 1945, writing radio plays for the BBC in Aberdeen. Jessie moved with her husband and their two children to London in 1951, taking a series of jobs in education and radio production to provide an income while she wrote.

She went on to write a series of influential plays and novels that addressed issues which she had personally experienced. Her play The Childhood, broadcast in 1949, led to a government review of its policy towards problem children. She also helped produce Women's Hour for many years and worked on over 90 radio plays. One of her novels, The White Bird Passes was dramatised for TV in 1981, and Another Time, Another Place was made into a film.

Jessie Kesson was awarded honourary degrees by the University of Dundee in 1984 and the University of Aberdeen in 1987. She died, a few weeks after her husband, in 1994, and their ashes were scattered on the shore of Loch Ness at Abriachan, where they had first met.

This biography draws on research first published in "The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women".

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