Someone made a comment that my début novel, Talk of the Toun (TOTT) has just about every ‘ism’ featured in it – racism, sectarianism and sexism. This was not a conscious decision on my part, it was purely to reflect the societal norm of the main characters whose environment is a working class small town in central Scotland in the mid-80s.
When I organised a blog tour for TOTT, several of the hosts asked me to take part in a Q &A. This was quite daunting as until the questions popped into my inbox, I’d no idea what they would be and only hoped I’d be able to answer them. Some of them were light-hearted, such as, “Do you have any strange writing habits?” but there was a recurring theme that focussed on the darker issue of women’s sexuality which is explored in TOTT.
I was often asked how I felt about attitudes to women regarding sex and pregnancy and how relevant I felt this was to today’s outlook.
For me as the writer, it was a case of trying to create a realistic situation and use my own memories of the attitudes to sex and pregnancy when I was a teenager in the 80s. Like the main characters, I was brought up as a Catholic and was indoctrinated at school and within the home that to become pregnant, unmarried, would bring shame on the family and scupper any thoughts of further education or a career.
The first chapter in the novel has a scene where the senior pupils are shown a graphic anti-abortion film and this was based on my own experience at school. Being force-fed these messages meant that sex was equated with fear amongst me and my friends, your worst nightmare was to fall pregnant. I feel that attitudes like those highlighted in the novel are realistic in certain communities at that time and made an impact on how young women grew up to view their bodies and their sexuality. However, although times have changed, I wonder how many other young women are still on the receiving end of negative images and concepts?
Have things improved? As regards female sexuality, in one sense women may feel empowered by the choices available to them nowadays but you only have to examine statistics on the conviction rate for rape to realise so much more needs to be done to address the stigma attached to certain crimes. I’d like to hope that Talk of the Toun might stimulate discussion on this issue and whether or not society is a better place for women in 2016 than it was in 1985.
But until I believe that there’s no need to still talk about it, I will always be an ardent supporter of International Women’s Day!