Potty Politics

HMK & sons

Me with my two ‘babies’.

 

I’m the mother to two grown-up sons but on Thursday I became a new mum again when I gave ‘birth’ to my latest novel, Buy Buy Baby.  My book is a bittersweet story of two very different women united in their desperate quest for motherhood.
download (1)I’ve discussed my strong views on motherhood and identity in a guest post I wrote for Naomi Frisby’s website, The Writes of Woman which generated thought-provoking comments about a woman’s sense of self. It’s a topic that fires me up and so I was very interested to wake up to the latest joust in the battle for the leadership of the Conservative Party where it was all kicking off on social media about Andrea Leadsom allegedly claiming in The Times that, “being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of the country”.

If she’s not been misquoted, it’s a gob-smacking statement to make and imply that anyone, such as Theresa May, isn’t as well qualified for the job because she isn’t a mother. Being a parent should never be a prerequisite to hold down any level of responsibility and here in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon is a phenomenal role model for women, young and old. And then there’s Angela Merkel, another powerful European leader who has led her country for 16 years. I could go on and on with examples of child-less leaders that makes quotes like, “Being a mother gives me edge on May” sound utterly ridiculous.images

Leadsom is now being castigated for her alleged remarks and if it they’re true then it was a condescending cheap shot to suggest that somehow childless women, or indeed men, live in a vacuum and that being a parent makes you a better person.

 

 

BBBBI’ve explored this topic and challenged the ideas about society’s expectations and attitudes to women throughout Buy Buy Baby and hope that the yearning of the two main characters in the novel provokes discussion on such an emotive topic.

Do you think a mother makes a better candidate to lead the country?

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2015 – A Year of Highs!

images1486898_544680102355976_7465735477020805205_nAchieving my ambition of being a published novelist has taken 10 years of writing featuring more downs than ups. And many times I questioned my sanity for chasing this dream.

But there’s no point in wasting energy dwelling on the negatives, the main thing is that 2015 was finally the year when Talk of the Toun (TOTT) made the leap from my laptop to readers’ book shelves!

There were many ‘pinch myself’ moments but I’ve narrowed them down to my top 10 (in no particular order)…

  1. Being surrounded by family and friends sharing my excitement at the launch events
  2. Having TOTT featured in national and local newspapers
  3. Seeing my book on the shelf and window of my local branch of Waterstones
  4. Hearing that there was a waiting list to borrow my book at Falkirk library
  5. Being invited as a local author to take part in library events for Book Week Scotland
  6. Getting 5 star reviews from readers
  7. Answering Q&As and writing guest posts for the blog tour
  8. Being selected as one of Naomi Frisby’s ‘books of the year
  9. Having acclaimed writer Jenni Fagan asking to buy a signed copy
  10. Sharing a stage with one of my literary idols – Janice Galloway
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Talk of the Toun’s launch wasn’t national news but it was a BIG deal to me!

I’m sure the buzz will settle down in 2016 but I’ve already got two events in the diary – one east and one west (more details here) to keep the momentum going and I’d love to see my diary with more opportunities to take Bimbo the poodle out and about and meet readers. I’ve also got some exciting ideas to revisit my previous novel, Buy Buy Baby, so it’s a case of watch this space for developments and see if next year shapes up to be as amazing as 2015…

What were your 2015 highlights? Do you have any new projects planned for 2016?

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My 2015 Reading List

images (4)Last year I listed the books I read in 2014 and it was a surprise to me to learn that from the total of 43 there was a gender bias in favour of women writers with me reading only 15/43 male writers.

cf91fb2755776eb65c8bc0f392dddd42I was interested to see how 2015’s list compared.

I didn’t make a conscious effort to read more male writers and I also felt I hadn’t read as many books this year (before and after my own book launch, ma heid wis mince, and I found it hard to concentrate on reading) so haud me back, the figures were almost identical to 2014’s stats! This time the total was 13/44 male writers – women win again.

I finished all of the books on the list apart from one book, a huge best-seller which I was very late to the party in reading (what’s new? trailblazer I am not!). I might struggle to find anyone who agrees with me but I abandoned it out of boredom and not feeling engaged with the characters.

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John-John Wisdom is one of the most memorable characters I’ve met on the page.

images (2)All others on the list are well worth a read but if I had to choose my top read of 2015 (which is really hard!) then I’ve got to thank Naomi Frisby for recommending Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers. This book appeared on my radar as I expressed an interest in writing using regional dialect and it blew me away with its powerful prose.

You can read more of Naomi’s suggestions for other books using dialect and accents in her excellent article for Fiction Uncovered. Need more recommendations? I rate Isabel Costello’s suggestions featured On The Literary Sofa and I also follow A Life in Books for more ideas for 2016, as well as being swamped by book reviews on the fantastic Book Connectors group on Facebook…

On the X Factor, they announce the results “in no particular order” but here’s my list in the order I read the books.

 

  1. Us by David Nicholls
  2. Baracuda by Christos Tsiolkas
  3. The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce
  4. The Fields by Kevin Maher
  5. Academy Street by Mary Costello
  6. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (abandoned)
  7. The Humans by Matt Haig
  8. Rise by Karen Campbell
  9. The Vacationers by Emma Straub
  10. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  11. Mixing the Colours anthology by Glasgow Women’s Library
  12. The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester
  13. Elizabeth’s Missing by Emma Healey
  14. A Book of Death and Fish by Ian Stephen
  15. We Are All Called to Rise by Laura McBride
  16. A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale
  17. The Last Days of Disco by David Ross
  18. The Good Son by Paul McVeigh
  19. Find Your Thing by Lucy Whittington (non-fiction)
  20. Sane New World by Ruby Wax (non-fiction)
  21. Haus Frau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
  22. Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers
  23. How To Make A Friend by Fleur Smithwick
  24. Alight Here: An Anthology of Falkirk Writing
  25. 4a.m. by Nina De La Mer
  26. Island of Wings by Karin Attenberg
  27. As Easy As A Nuclear War by Paul Cuddihy (short story collection)
  28. The House of Hidden Mothers by Meera Syal
  29. Outline by Rachel Cusk
  30. The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink
  31. Jellyfish by Janice Galloway
  32. Dead Babies and Seaside Towns by Alice Jolly
  33. The Rocks by Peter Nichols
  34. The Vigilante by Shelley Harris
  35. The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah
  36. Ridley Road by Jo Bloom
  37. Truestory by Catherine Simpson
  38. The Reel of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
  39. Paris Mon Amour by Isabel Costello (publication date TBC)
  40. The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley by Jeremy Massey
  41. The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer
  42. Fishnet by Kirstin Innes
  43. The Beautiful Game by Emma Mooney
  44. Stop What You’re Doing and Read This – 10 essays (non-fiction)

Did you have a favourite book in 2015? How many books did you read this year?images

 

 

The Birds That Never Flew – Pure Dead Brilliant!

I’m chuffed to bits at the prospect of being published by ThunderPoint later in the year and it’s an honour to be in the company of one of their other writers, Margot McCuaig.

Margot with the great new cover featuring a metaphor from the novel.

Margot with the shiny new cover featuring a metaphor from the novel.

As well as being a novelist, the multi-talented Margot is highly successful at writing, producing and directing documentary films. She also freely shares her knowledge and skills with other women writers as a mentor in the fantastic WoMentoring Project. Before I signed my publishing contract, she graciously offered me advice and guidance and her thought provoking blog posts never fail to make me reflect on what it means to be a writer.

I couldn’t wait to read Margot’s novel, The Birds That Never Flew (TBTNF),  the contemporary Scottish dialect used throughout, the exploration of dark themes and the use of dry humour is the same style of writing I enjoy reading and writing. TBTNF was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize in 2012 and longlisted for the Polari First Book Prize in 2014 and has been relaunched at Waterstones in Argyle Street,  at an event hosted by the bestselling Scottish writer Sara Sheridan.

Margot signing my copy of her book.

Margot signing my copy of her book.

It was great to hear Margot discuss her work and as a feminist, her desire to write about strong female characters. I was also interested in her use of Glasgwegian dialect which she feels, like me, is essential to make the dialogue sound authentic. The writer, Naomi  Fribsy wrote an excellent article on the issue of using regional and cultural accents in writing and I’d advise anyone interested to read this piece. (beware, Naomi recommends her favourite novels written in non-standard accents and this meant I added to my tbr pile again!)

Buddha Da by Anne Donovan is one of my favourite books and I can’t imagine it written in any other way and another book that I also rate highly is Push by Sapphire, a stunning credible voice.

When I was looking for a publisher, this was the response from one publisher, ironically based in Edinburgh.

“The Scottish dialect in your novel flows effortlessly and was appreciated and understood by the Scottish members of the team. But readers unfamiliar with Scottish dialect found the novel too demanding and challenging.
We suggest that you submit your novel to a publisher more focused on publishing Scottish novels.”

I LOVE books that make the characters sound real and don’t know how that would that be possible if the writer didn’t use their natural speech? Do you agree?

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Feminine Fiction

ByAbXFtIQAIGln0Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been to see Anne Donovan, Carys Bray, Kirsty Logan and Kirsty Wark read at events. As a bookaholic, it comes as no surprise to learn that I’m a bit of a book festival fanatic and travel all over Scotland to hear writers talk about their work. My 2014 festival jaunts included trips to Dundee, Linlithgow, Stirling, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Auchinleck.

Now that it’s November, I realise that I’ve no more festivals lined up and it made me wonder how many I’ve been to this year.

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A small selection of some of my favourite books by female writers.

The tally was interesting (to me anyway) because one fact that jumped out was that out of the 13 events, only 3 of them featured male writers. Of course, this isn’t a scientific study of data and it could simply be that more female writers appealed to me on this year’s festival programmes but it made me take a quick look at my bookshelves to see whether the female bias was reflected in my book choices.

Sure enough, my book event preferences did match a very obvious slant towards female writers, one that I’ve never been consciously aware of until now. Why do I favour female writers? Is it because the books they write contain subject matter which appeals to me more? I’m not a book snob and like to believe I have an open mind towards most fiction genres (except science fiction!) but I’m not a big reader of romances, chick lit or erotica which are often associated with women writers. My shelves aren’t full of candy pink book covers with images of stilettos and handbags. The types of books I tend to enjoy most are literary fiction  and memoir, and in particular, Scottish contemporary fiction, which explains why my favourite book events of the year were with Janice Galloway, Jackie Kay and Anne Donovan.

shes-a-writerAnd I then realised that most of the writers I follow on Twitter are female (I haven’t got the time or ability to collate the stats) and the blogs I read regularly are all written by females too! I’ve no idea why that is, maybe because generally speaking in social situations I enjoy the company of women more than men.

One of my favourite blogs is The Writes of Woman and Naomi Frisby explains the rationale behind her blog here. Naomi sums up far more eloquently than I ever could why the issues of supporting and promoting female writers need to addressed.

downloadI’m also hugely impressed by the work of the WoMentoring Project who offer mentors for female writers to highlight that, “In an industry where male writers are still reviewed and paid more than their female counterparts in the UK, we wanted to balance the playing field. Likewise, we want to give female voices that would otherwise find it hard to be heard, a greater opportunity of reaching their true potential.”

Do your reading habits reflect a gender imbalance? Are most of your favourite writers predominately male or female?