Bringing the Women of the Necropolis to Life

Any regular readers of my blog will know that I’m a big fan of the work of the Glasgow Women’s Library and have been on two of their heritage walks. I plan to go on all five of their walks and this Sunday I completed my third outing with their excellent tour guides – Anabel, Esther and Joyce.


The Glasgow bridge’s name comes from the more famous crossing in Venice.

This time the theme was ‘Women of the Necropolis’. I’ve passed the Necropolis or City of the Dead, many times but I’ve never ventured inside so this was a real eye opener as I’d no idea that there were so many fascinating stories behind those ornate iron gates.

It may well have been the first day of ‘flaming June’ but what started as a light shower turned into torrential rain as we walked across the Bridge of Sighs to enter what is the earliest garden cemetery in Scotland.


Corlinda reading a palm and surrounded by her clan.


My pal Veronica and I followed our intrepid guides round the Necropolis to learn about women such as Corlinda Lee aka ‘Queen of the Gypsies’ who allegedly read Queen Victoria’s palm and toured the country to host ‘gypsy balls’, a Victorian version of T in the Park where folk could gather in an encampment to eat, drink and be merry gypsy style.




Isabella would’ve needed more than a brolly to keep her dry on the GWL tour!

Another remarkable woman was Isabella Elder, a wealthy philanthropist who championed a better standard of higher education for women by financially supporting Queen Margaret College. The first woman to graduate from QMC in 1894 was Dr Marion Gilchrist and when Isabella died, it was a tribute to her that the female doctor she helped to gain her degree was the one who signed the death certificate.

The Necropolis was built to commemorate the great and the good of Glasgow and most of the women buried there are only acknowledged by their role as a wife or daughter. But if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll discover the stories of many fascinating women. If ever I need inspiration to write about remarkable women from the past, a wander amongst the tombstones would unearth tales of characters worth bringing to life. Who wouldn’t want to write about a night at a gypsy ball hosted by Corlinda or the struggle to become a doctor in a male dominated profession?

Has a graveyard or woman from the Victorian era ever stimulated an idea for your own writing?


My favourite angel statue in the Necropolis – Glasgow style means a flower is an essential summer accessory.



Entering the Dragons’ Pen

download (1)It’s always great to be a witness to a pal’s success and I was lucky enough to find myself back at the Glasgow Women’s Library to cheer on my fellow MLitt classmate, Ethyl Smith at the Dragons’ Pen event.

downloadEthyl was one of eight finalists (she’s so talented that she made it to this stage last year) who had interpreted the theme of ‘Illuminate’ and written a short story of a maximum of 1000 words. The finale of the competition was for Ethyl to read her story, ‘Seein’s Believin’, aloud to an audience and four literary judges.

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Ethyl feeling the fear and doing it anyway!

To say that I was in awe of Ethyl’s confidence is an understatement. To put yourself and your writing out there and up for criticism is not for the faint hearted. Respect!

I listened to Ethyl read her piece and wondered if I’d ever get the chance and be brave enough to do a reading of my work. The irony is that although my ‘day job’ is delivering training sessions involving me talking to large groups of people for a full day you would assume that I’d be comfortable with public speaking. And yet I would still be nervous about reading my work in public. The reason is that it would be my work and there would be nothing to hide behind.

So it seems I have an issue to overcome. I wouldn’t describe myself as shy, but that doesn’t mean that I’m an extrovert either and an article I came across called, 23 Signs You’re Secretly An Introvert struck a chord.

imagesClick on the link to see if you’re an innie or an outie.

And contrary to the perception of even my close friends and family, I identified with several of the indicators, in particular number 8 and of course number 22.

But although I believe that I’m more an introvert than extrovert, if I’m ever successful in achieving my dream of being a published writer then one day, hopefully soon, I’ll have to face my fear and share my words. But I’m grateful that I’ve had Ethyl to lead the way.


Mixing the Colours – Writing about Sectarianism

I’ve been to lots of reader events in 2013 but it’s been well over a year since I’ve attended a writing workshop. I’ve deliberately avoided signing up for workshops as I felt that after finishing my MLitt course, my writing had been workshopped to death and the life critiqued out of it. I also felt it was hard to justify spending any more money and adding to the hunners and hunners I’d already spent pursuing my writing ambitions.

downloadBut I saw a workshop advertised that really appealed to me for several reasons. The main reason was that it addressed the issue of sectarianism and this is something I’m very interested in and it is a theme which features in my WIP. Also, the workshop was led by poet and writer Magi Gibson and I knew she was an excellent tutor. And the event was free! So it was a total no-brainer to head to the wonderful Glasgow Women’s Library.

The workshop was organised as part of the Mixing the Colours project to challenge the view of women in relation to sectarian issues in Scotland. Scottish writing has stories, poems and dramas that explore the Catholic/Protestant experience. It’s part of our history, part of our culture, but women’s voices are all but silent.

Magi asked the group to share their experience of sectarianism and what it meant to grow up as a Protestant or a Catholic girl in Scotland.  It was fascinating to hear the diverse range of experiences and I knew that the group would produce thought-provoking pieces of writing. As a prompt, we were all asked to start writing with, “I remember…” and put these experiences down on paper.

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The lively group of women went very quiet as we all scribbled furiously before sharing our writing. And what an inspirational group! The writing styles varied and meant that some of the tales made us laugh out loud whilst others made us gasp in horror. But the key feature of them all was a talent for giving a voice to the issue of sectarianism from a female perspective.

The piece which I produced was based on a childhood memory of being verbally and physically abused because I was brought up as a Catholic but lived in a council scheme dominated by Protestants. This was not an isolated case and I witnessed many forms of sectarianism on both sides throughout my childhood and as an adult in the workplace.

NBM-Boy-PosterI do believe that times have changed for the better and organisations such as Nil by Mouth are doing fantastic work to tackle the problem and to rid Scotland of the destructive social impact that sectarianism has upon our lives and upon our society. But I’m keen to be involved in any way I can to help raise awareness of the issue.

The group is going to get-together in two weeks after polishing our initial drafts and I’m looking forward to meeting up again to benefit from the energy and ideas of talented women. I hope to incorporate my piece into my WIP or as a short story so I’m glad I took myself and my writing back into a workshop setting again.

Is sectarianism an issue that has featured in your writing? Do you regularly attend writing workshops?

Joan of Art

imagesIn my last blog post, I praised the writer William McIlvanney for his work capturing working class life in contemporary fiction and giving a voice to the people he grew up with in the west of Scotland.  I’m fascinated by authentic representation of working class culture and heritage and so thanks to the wonderful Glasgow Women’s Library, I was able to learn more about one of my favourite artists – Joan Eardley.


Back Street Children Playing, 1960

If McIlvanney used words, Eardley used paint to give us a credible portrait of the reality of life in deprived areas and she is famous for her paintings of ‘street urchins’. She also painted stunning seascapes whilst living in the remote village of Catterline in Aberdeenshire and her atmospheric paintings of stormy seas are powerful and full of energy.

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Flood Tide, 1962


A beautiful ‘coffee table’ for an art lover. I hope Santa reads this blog!

Christopher Andreae has written a biography of Eardley and his talk, ‘Summer Sea, Winter Sea’ at GWL was a fantastic insight into the artist’s life and work. I love art but I’m no art critic so it was a real privilege to benefit from Christopher’s knowledge of her work.

Sadly, Eardley died aged 42 from breast cancer and I was left wondering how her career would’ve developed if she had the chance to live longer. Christopher’s slide show highlighted that Earley is one of the most influential painters of her generation whose paintings and drawings reflect urban and rural Scotland.

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Some of the Samson Children, 1961

Her portraits of the children of inner city Glasgow and her east coast seascapes are a rich source of inspiration for a writing exercise. Her vibrant paintings of children make it easy for me to imagine my dad and his siblings playing in the street all those years ago. My dad was one of a family of fourteen children who operated a ‘first up, best dressed’ lifestyle and their childhood stories would fill several books.


Have you ever used artwork as a prompt for your writing? Are you a fan of Eardley’s work?

If you want to know a wee bit more about Eardley’s life and work, this short film is a good introduction.

Hidden Gems of Garnethill

-When you work from home, it’s easy to let your world become very small. Some days I realise that I’ve only gone as far as the wheelie bin (don’t you envy my rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle?).

I’ve written about suffering from cabin fever before and how important it’s for me to get out and about and not to stagnate at home. I can’t complain, I’m very lucky to live in a beautiful countryside setting and there’s a lot to be inspired by on my doorstep.  But it’s healthy to meet new people and learn new things, especially about the past and how it has shaped the world we live in today.

downloadI studied Higher History at school and have always had a fascination for the stories behind people and places.  But when I was at school, the history lessons were as dry as a stick, copying from textbooks and basically being taught to pass a test. There were no field trips to bring the subject alive and it’s surprising that my interest in history survived a very dull school experience.

gwl-logoThat’s why I’m making up for lost time and looking for experiences that will educate and inspire me more than my schooldays. Thanks to Twitter, I came across the work of the Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) and was intrigued to see that they organise a series of heritage walks around the city with different themes.  I love Glasgow and history so it was the perfect combo.

imagesI went on my first heritage walk on Sunday afternoon with my bestie, Veronica and the added bonus was that it was a beautiful sunny day. We met up with the others and our tour guides on Sauchiehall Street to explore the, ‘Hidden Gems of Garnethill’. For those of you unfamiliar with Glasgow, Garnethill is at the heart of the city centre .  I worked for Glasgow City Council for 15 years and was based not far from Garnethill and I’ve read Denise Mina’s novel, ‘Garnethill’. But I knew little about the area and had never taken the time to stop and appreciate its grand tenements, painted gables, park chockablaock with public art, stunning synagogue and Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s world famous Glasgow School of Art (GSA) building. These are just a few of the fascinating landmarks which helped to tell the stories of some of the most remarkable achievements of women in Glasgow’s history.

Our brilliant tour guides told us about the women who pioneered European art movements, designed the banners for suffragette processions, created the first women’s Library in Scotland and made Garnethill the vibrant community it is today. I now plan to do the tour of the inside of GSA and visit the National Trust for Scotland’s Tenement House which is an amazing time capsule of life in the early 20th century.


Our tour group learning about the talented ‘Glasgow Girls’ who once walked up the stairs of GSA.

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Scotland’s oldest synagogue opened in 1879 and is the country’s premier Jewish house of worship.

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Can you spot the ornamental ‘chookie burdies’ on top of the lamp posts? The birds were designed for a lighting project to enhance the area and relate to the city’s Coat Of Arms

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A close up of a nappy pin within the mural at Garnethill park dedicated to the International Year of the Child in 1979.

It costs £7.50 for a GWL walk which is excellent value for two hours packed with stories of inspirational women and a new perspective of Glasgow.

I aim to work my way through GWL’s other heritage walks so stay tuned…I’m booked to go on the East End heritage walk in August. I might see you there!

Do you feel the need to get out of the house and seek external inspiration too?