Art and Opportunity


Carey Mulligan as Maud Watts, a foot soldier in the British women’s suffrage movement

A woman’s role in society and social justice interest me and I like to explore these issues in my writing. Recently I went to the cinema to see Suffragette and I was pleased to see that the working class perspective was also highlighted, not just the work of the Pankhurst family and other wealthy women.

Films like Suffragette show how far we’ve come in the pursuit of the right to vote and yet one of the most poignant scenes for me was at the end when a timeline showed how it was much later that women finally achieved suffrage on equal grounds to men in other countries.

mswwebgraphic-470x664px-fa2The opportunities available to women was again on my mind when I went to Edinburgh to see the Modern Scottish Women exhibition at the National Galleries for Scotland and attended an excellent illustrated talk delivered by Alice Strang, senior curator, who selected the works for the exhibition. During the presentation, Alice explained that many of the extremely talented female artists had their careers cut short due to the Marriage Bar preventing them from continuing to hold a teaching post after their marriage.


Hard to pick a favourite but this stunning self-portrait by Doris Zinkeisen stood out.

This seems outrageous and quite shocking these days but although times have changed, I wonder to what degree women of all backgrounds have the same chance to make it as an artist. Many of the women artists featured in the exhibition had come from privileged backgrounds, with parents who were artists themselves and who could afford the tuition fees for art school and trips to Paris for life drawing classes, had access to studios and materials and no real necessity to earn a wage to support a family.


A dreich day made brighter by a fantastic exhibition.

Fast forward a hundred years to 1985, the era of my novel, Talk of the Toun, and the main character Angela is a gifted artist who desperately wants to go to Glasgow Art School. So what’s the problem? She’s hoping to leave the council scheme she’s grown up on and pursue a different path but her parents want her to get a job straight from school, just as they did.

‘Listen hen, ah enjoy making ma nail pictures but it’s a hobby. Ah ken you like tae draw and paint but that’s no something that’ll pay the bills.’

‘It’s mair than a hobby.’

‘It’s awright for the likes of Mr McDougall tae fill yer heid with ideas but he’s no living in the real world. What kinda of job could you get after art school?’

‘Ah could be a graphic designer or a portrait painter or an art teacher or…’

‘Wheesht, when was the last time you saw any of those jobs advertised in The Falkirk Herald?’

‘But there are loads of careers with a degree in art, you can…’

‘Look, yer dad kens what’s best for you, no Mr McDougall. Ah cannae see you in amongst arty farty folk. And ah wouldnae want you tae be disappointed when you couldnae fit in.’

Thirty years on, are things any easier in 2015? I’m not convinced that Angela’s dilemma no longer exists. The talk was free but to visit the exhibition I spent £9.40 on a train ticket and entrance admission of £9 so not a lot of change from a twenty pound note. I’m lucky that I can afford to indulge my interests but how many aspiring artists from a deprived area could access the event and be inspired?



You Don’t Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression


A dream come true! Couldn’t resist a ‘shelfie’ in Waterstones in Falkirk.

After writing hunners of thousands of words over the last ten years which made their way into short stories and three novels I FINALLY achieved my dream of having a book traditionally published. Along the way there were more rejections than boosts but I kept the faith and kept writing and I did it!

Hel 1

With brilliant Falkirk launch host – writer Paul Cuddihy.

The climax of the ‘journey’ was to stand in front of my family and friends and read from Talk of the Toun at the packed launch events in Falkirk and Glasgow in association with Waterstones.

It was so exciting to get to this point but scary too as I didn’t want to disappoint the folk who’d encouraged and supported me along the way. This was a milestone in my life and not only did I want to enjoy it, I wanted it to be a success. I felt under pressure to live up to the hype I’d been drumming up for months. The nerves kicked in days before when it all started to feel surreal when I opened a copy of the Daily Record and the Herald and there was my book and my face in national newspapers. The madness continued with the blog tour meaning there was lots of online book banter and I still found it hard to get my head around the fact that I had readers, like a real writer!


Glasgow launch host – talented writer Karen Campbell.

It’s a privilege to be published and an honour to think people want to spend their hard-earned cash and precious leisure time getting to know the characters I created.

It’s been a helluva ride and I’d like to take the chance to thank those who’ve helped me achieve my dream. Top of the list is my husband Donald, the love of my life, who has always believed in me and supported me every word of the way.

I am also lucky to count Karen Campbell and Anne Glennie as close friends and my unofficial mentors and they continue to be a great source of encouragement and inspiration.



My MLitt classmates from Stirling University.


Pals who took the cover theme to another level!

Credit too goes to my MLitt classmates and tutor Paula Morris, fellow Thunder Point writer Margot McCuaig, and far too many long-suffering pals to name here who acted as cheerleaders, minus the pom poms.

A special thank you must also go to Seonaid and Huw Francis at ThunderPoint who have worked hard to make Talk of the Toun a reality.


Hel 22

Me with hubby and youngest son (unfortunately my eldest son had already left before the family photo shoot!).

Hel 20

Sharing the moment with my proud mum and wee sister.



My dog Jess loved Talk of the Toun – I hope if you read it you enjoy it too!


(Falkirk launch photos credited to Grandaddy Flash photography)









Around the World Blog Tour – stopping at Bonnybridge

Thanks to Facebook, I’ve connected with a friendly group of authors, publishers and bloggers to share our love of books and writing. The founder, Anne Cater, had a “mad” idea to organise a blog tour called The Around The World Book Trip which is a partnership between TripFiction and #BookConnectors ~ bloggers and authors, travelling the world, through fiction.


TripFiction  was created to make it easy to match a location with a book and help you select good literature that is most pertinent and relevant to your trip. A resource for armchair and actual travellers, it is a unique way of exploring a place through the eyes of an author.  For the Book Connectors tour Anne decided to start our ‘travels’ in Scotland and as my novel, Talk of the Toun,  is set in Bonnybridge, a small town in central Scotland, I was invited to be a guest on Reflections of a Reader run by lovely blogger Leah Moyse.

My guest post – The Truth Is Out There is a light-hearted look at one of Bonnybridge’s weirdest claims to fame – it’s allegedly a UFO hotspot! Hop over to Leah’s site to read more…



Summer Lovin’

As Olivia Newton John sang, “Summer loving had me a blast, oh yeah. Summer loving happened so fast” (I know the song but I think I might be one of the few folk on the planet who haven’t seen Grease).

  Too true! It’s almost time for me to hit the road again with my day job… I’m very lucky to only work during school term time but that doesn’t mean I’ve been idle in the last five weeks.  Being with a small independent publisher means there’s no big publicity department or budget to match so I’ve spent a lot of time this summer trying to be my own publicist in the build up to the publication of my début novel, Talk of the Toun, at the end of October. images (1)One of my tasks was to organise a ‘blog tour’ to feature my book on reviewers’ sites. This has taken me waaay more time than I ever anticipated but thanks to Anne Cater, a new group on Facebook was created called ‘Book Connectors’ and it was a huge help in finding bloggers who were happy to support a début novelist like me. There’s no guarantee that the blog tour will make any difference to book sales but it can’t be a bad thing to raise the online profile of the book so I’m hoping the time and effort will pay off. However, by actively seeking reviews of my book, it definitely makes me feel vulnerable to negative criticism and it’s an issue that I need to brace myself for as of course not every reader will enjoy my book. images It’s a pity that the ‘summer’ weather was grim but my time off hasn’t been all work and no play.  Despite not going away on holiday, I’ve acted like a tourist in my own country and managed to enjoy visits to a number of places.  Forget trying to drum up book sales,  I should be on commission for Visit Scotland!

My highlights were…


Newhailes near Mussellburgh is an unrestored stately home with beautiful surrounding parkland.


The Govan Stones in Glasgow are a unique collection of early medieval stones carved in the 9th-11th centuries.

images (2)

The Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh celebrates the lives of three great Scottish writers – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.


An exhibition at Paisley Museum of some of George Wyllie’s most famous works.

download (1)

Gladstone’s Land is a 17th century tenement style house in Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile  which has been authentically restored.


Clydebank Museum is the venue to see work by acclaimed artist Joan Eardley which includes works which have never been on public display before.

[#Beginning of Shooting Data Section] Nikon D70 Focal Length: 420mm Optimize Image: Custom Color Mode: Mode II (Adobe RGB) Noise Reduction: OFF 2006/04/06 14:58:22.8 Exposure Mode: Shutter Priority White Balance: Direct sunlight -1 Tone Comp: Normal RAW (12-bit) Lossless Metering Mode: Multi-Pattern AF Mode: AF-C Hue Adjustment: 0° Image Size:  Large (3008 x 2000) 1/1600 sec - F/5 Flash Sync Mode: Not Attached Saturation:  Normal Exposure Comp.: +0.7 EV Sharpening: Normal Lens: VR 300mm F/2.8 G Sensitivity: ISO 320 Image Comment:                                      [#End of Shooting Data Section]

Agarty Red Kites in Doune is Scotland’s only feeding station where visitors can watch these spectacular birds..

download (3)

“Still” by sculptor Rob Mulholland is a stunning mirrored figure standing in Loch Earn in Perthshire.

images (4)

Innerpeffray Library in Perthshire is Scotland’s oldest free, public lending library: a  hidden gem of a museum.


Cultybraggan outside Comrie is the fascinating site of a Nazi PoW camp designed to hold some 4,000 Category A prisoners.

Do you buy books based on the recommendations of book bloggers?

Have you been somewhere special over the summer?

Pinterest Passion and 80s Rewind

Years ago I’d rip photos out of magazines and keep them in poly pockets filed inside A4 ring binders with dividers sorting them into categories such as ‘bathroomhbx-march-2014-cover-mdn’, ‘kitchen’, living room’ and ‘bedroom’ – hey, don’t judge, everyone needs a hobby! The cuttings were all ideas for interior design. It’s something I’ve always been interested in as I’ve moved house six times as an adult, so it’s lucky that I‘ve loved decorating each home.

Looking back, I’ve probably spent quite a few pounds on magazines like House Beautiful and Ideal Home to then tear out pages showing ‘before’ and ‘after’ home makeovers. Nowadays, there’s no need to buy these expensive magazines to gather ideas, the images are only a click away online and I don’t need to paste the photos on to ‘mood’ boards. It’s so much simpler now there’s the Pinterest website, a virtual pin board to store all the images that I would hope to feature in my dream home decor.

After watching too many episodes of Escape to the Country, I feel jammy to live in a three hundred year old cottage in a rural village and have no intention of moving again in the near future. But I’ve discovered another use for Pinterest as more and more writers are using the website to share the inspiration for their novel with their readers.

downloadUntil my book is actually out there, I don’t have readers but as I’ve had a bit of a break from my day job I’ve started to dabble in building a Pinterest board for my book, Talk of the Toun. My novel is set in 1985 and I’ve found hunners of Pinterest boards indulging in 80s nostalgia.


I’m 2nd from the left in the front row.

I was also able to upload images of the Falkirk area setting for the book and if anyone wants to know what a council house in Bonnybridge similar to the one Angela, the main character might live in, then it’s now easy to visualise. Recently on Facebook, a new group has sprung up called, Bonnybridge Banter and the page has been buzzing with folk posting pics of their school class photos and of the area past and present.


Sleeves record shop in Falkirk – THE place to go to buy the latest no.1 single.

Of course, some readers might not want to have preconceived images related to the novel force-fed to them but there might be others like me who want to relive the 80s and might appreciate a sense of the setting as a character in itself to enhance their enjoyment of the book.


For me as a writer, and as a reader, Pinterest is a guilty pleasure where I can pretend I’m still a teenager (sad, I know) or where I can get an insight into the visuals that fired up other writer’s imagination.

If you fancy remembering the fashions, hair, makeup and music of the 80s then my board will transport you back to when Strawberry Switchblade was in the Top Ten with Since Yesterday. But I warn you, Pinterest is HIGHLY addictive…

Do you have a Pinterest board? Do prefer to imagine your own ideas and images for a book you’re reading?