Playing a Part in Mixing the Colours


The last time Scotland experienced a solar eclipse was in 1999 and I’ve no idea where I was at the time. But I doubt I’ll forget the eclipse I witnessed on Friday morning. Luckily, I had time to pause on my way to the Mixing the Colours conference so I joined the crowds gathered in George Square. For a matter of minutes a gap in the clouds appeared and a cheer went up in honour of the eclipse.


It was a memorable start to the day and the buzz continued during the conference. I’m a huge supporter of the Mixing the Colours project and attended one of their writing workshops at Glasgow Women’s Library to encourage women to write about their experiences of sectarianism. I have been the victim of sectarianism and it’s a key theme in my debut novel, Talk of the Toun, so the workshop stimulated me to write a short story very loosely based on childhood experiences. As part of the GWL project, I was chuffed to bits to be asked to record my short story for a podcast for GWL. You can listen to my piece, Smelly Catholic, here.

10245368_993640317314535_4791309367103094624_nThe conference was a great opportunity to present the project’s findings through a Knowledge Café exploring sectarianism in the context of wider gender inequality, presentations by Mixing The Colour’s Project Development Worker, Rachel Thain-Gray, Rosie Kane and Dr Margaret Malloch of Stirling University as well as a premiere of the Mixing The Colours film and the launch of the anthology of short stories and poems.

For me, the highlight of the day was hearing readings from other women writers, especially my friends, Ethyl Smith and Emma Mooney whose writing was entertaining as well as thought provoking. Pieces by Julie Robertson, Leela Soma and Marie-Therese Taylor also inspired me and I also enjoyed Magi Gibson’s performance of her specially commissioned Mixing The Colours – A Dramatic Monologue, and a poem by Nicola Burkhill which could be a new anthem for women speaking out about sectarianism.  You can watch Nicola perform her poem here – it’s a powerful piece!

The day of collective action against sectarianism highlighted the need for the inclusion and engagement of women in dialogues around sectarianism in Scotland and I felt privileged to play a very small part.

Have you used your writing to explore sectarianism?

3 thoughts on “Playing a Part in Mixing the Colours

  1. Wow, Helen, your podcast piece was powerful. Well done on the writing, the narration and of course the power of the content. I’m sure what you say will resonate with many women – not just Catholic or Scots either. I hadn’t heard of Mixing the Colours before reading your post, but I’ve now visited their website. What an amazing and excellent initiative. They’re so right, sectarianism is a wide topic. I despair of us humans at times, of our tribalism and the need to exclude, but projects like this one offer hope. Difference is something to treasure, to embrace and it’s what makes us human.

    As for my own writing, I explored the Jewish experience – from the time of the Holocaust to the sectarianism of modern day Israel-Palestine in my second novel.

    Great post, Helen

    Oh and when is ‘Talk of the Toun’ coming out? Can’t wait to read it.

    • Thanks for your lovely feedback Anne. I’m glad you enjoyed my short story. As you say, it’s hard to imagine how folk can use the excuse of religious beliefs to be so cruel to each other. The Holocaust is the most horrific example and it must have been upsetting to learn more about it for your research. But Mixing the Colours and organisations such as Nil by Mouth are working hard to rid Scotland of the ugly side of humanity. My book features sectarianism as a backdrop to the setting. It’s due to be published at the end of Oct.

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