I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Helen Mackinven’s brilliant debut novel, Talk Of The Toun. I have read and loved the book and would highly recommend it, you can read my review here
Welcome to Helen and thanks for kindly answering all my questions.
Can you tell us a little bit about Talk of the Town and where the idea for it came from?
One of the assignments for the MLitt course I did was to write a 4000 word A to Z on any topic with an average of around 153 words for each letter. I chose to write about the first 18 years of my life and felt that this assignment conveyed a strong sense of my writing voice. After the course, I wanted to use some of these short pieces as a stimulus to write a fictional story of what it was like to grow up in the 1980s in a working class town in central Scotland.
The end result was Talk of the Toun which is an uplifting black comedy of love, family life and friendship. It’s a bittersweet coming-of-age tale as two girls wrestle with the complications of growing up and exploring who they really are set against the religious and social landscape of 1980s Scotland.
How did you plan/research your book? Do you just start to write and see where it takes you or are you a meticulous planner?
I followed the ‘write what you know’ advice for Talk of the Toun as it’s set in the area where I grew up and also the main character is 17 in 1985 which was the same age as me at that time. This made it easier to write as I’m blessed with a good memory although I used the internet to check facts for the 80s references. The downside of the internet is that I could easily lose hours indulging in 80s nostalgia!
I didn’t have each chapter planned out but I had a rough idea of the overall narrative arc so I knew where the story was going, I just needed to work out how to get there. But I allowed flexibility with the plot as the book progressed and I got to know the characters better.
The cover is fabulous and very in keeping with the humour in the book, did you have a say in the design?
Yes, I was lucky to have my ideas taken on board. I think that one of the benefits of being with a small independent publisher is there is more opportunity to have an input into the cover design as I’ve heard that writers with big publishers don’t always get the chance to feedback on the artwork. This was the fourth version of the cover as I didn’t feel that the previous versions quite captured the tone and themes in the book.
The poodle on the front is called Bimbo and is the gran’s dog and they’re like a comedy double act throughout the story. Also a key theme of the novel is identity and so the idea of reinventing a more glamourous version of your persona whilst also hiding behind sunglasses relates to the main character’s desire to leave her small town behind and make a new life in the city.
What’s the best bit of writing advice you have been given?
When I did my MLItt course I had the privilege of having a masterclass with DBC Pierre the 2003 Man Booker Prize winner. After the session he chatted to the class whilst signing copies of his book Vernon God Little and the message he wrote inside my copy was, “Be free to fail – only by staring into the abyss can we write!” This gave me a much-needed confidence boost to ignore my inner critic and keep writing.
Which are your favourite authors, and why?
I love to read contemporary Scottish fiction and I admire the work of Janice Galloway, Jackie Kay, Anne Donovan, Karen Campbell, Kerry Hudson and Damian Barr to name but a few. These writers give a voice to working class Scottish characters in the same way as Roddy Doyle brings Dubliners to life in an authentic setting.
Do you have plans for a second novel?
Although Talk of the Toun is my first novel to be published it’s actually the third novel that I’ve written. I’ve got an idea for a fourth novel and I’d love to think it might be my second novel to be published but it’s very early days. I’ve made notes and I’m almost ready to have a go at writing a story set in a Lanarkshire town after the Scottish referendum result which also features a local historical event related to the Leningrad Siege. Wish me luck!
We certainly do wish you luck, but if Talk Of The Toun is anything to go by you won’t need it. 🙂
Helen MacKinven writes contemporary Scottish fiction, with a
particular interest in exploring themes such as social class and
identity, using black comedy and featuring Scots dialect. She
graduated with merit from Stirling University with an MLitt in
Creative Writing in 2012.
In her day job Helen MacKinven works with numbers, travelling all
over Scotland to deliver teacher training in maths. By night, she
plays with words writing short stories and developing ideas for her
next novel. Helen’s short stories have appeared in a number of
anthologies and literary journals, such as Gutter magazine.
Originally from the Falkirk area, Helen now lives in a small rural
village in North Lanarkshire with her husband. She has two grownup
sons but has filled her empty nest with two dogs, two pygmy
goats and an ever-changing number of chickens.
Talk Of The Toun by Helen Mackinven is published by Thunderpoint and is available on Amazon via this link: