I am very excited to welcome Helen MacKinven on the blog today.
Helen is a debut author of contemporary fiction novel Talk of the Toun. In her day job, she works with numbers travelling all over Scotland to deliver teacher training in maths. By night, she plays with words writing short stories and novels.
Welcome, Helen. Tell us a little bit about you…
For the last ten years I’ve been writing contemporary fiction and exploring the use of Scots dialect in dialogue to create an authentic voice for working class characters. I enjoy writing flash fiction, short stories and my debut novel, Talk of the Toun, is the third novel I’ve written but the first to be published.
My book 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
In 2011, I took a career break to go to Stirling University to do an MLitt in Creative Writing but I’m now back on the road with my day job which involves travelling all over Scotland to deliver maths training for teachers. After watching one too many episodes of Escape to the Country, I moved to a three hundred year old cottage in a small rural village in North Lanarkshire to live with my husband. I have two grown-up sons but I have filled my empty nest with twelve chickens, two dogs and two pygmy goats.
What inspired your novel, Talk of the Toun?
One of the assignments for the MLitt was to write a 4000 word A to Z on any topic with an average of around 153 words for each letter of the alphabet. 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.
What is the hardest thing about being a debut novelist?
As I don’t have any high profile personal connections in the media or literary world it can feel as if my nose is pressed up against the glass and I’m on the outside looking in. Also, as I’m published by a very small independent publisher I didn’t have the support of a publicist so it was down to me to try to access opportunities to reach readers at events and be featured in print media. The majority of my PR queries haven’t even received a reply which is disappointing but not surprising in a flooded market. But I’ve been very lucky to have the support from online book bloggers which has been great and really appreciated.
Where and when do you write?
I’m not a ‘morning’ person and I’m more of an owl than a lark so I prefer to write at night. I think the habit started when I worked full-time and that was the only chance I could carve out of my day. My writing routine is to have a bath, get my pjs on and although I only work part-time now, I still prefer to go through to my bedroom to write and stay cosy in bed.
Are you a planner or a pantser?
A bit of both. I don’t have each chapter planned out but I have a rough idea of the overall narrative arc so I know where the story is going, I just need to work out how to get there. As I go, the plot can change so it’s good to have a bit of flexibility.
Do you do any research? If so, any sites or sources you care to share?
Talk of the Toun is set in 1985 and I found loads of ‘I love the 80s’ type sites online that brought back memories of the fashion, music, TV, films etc. I started saving 80s images on Pinterest that related to the novel’s setting and the 80s and this helped me evoke a sense of the era. https://uk.pinterest.com/helenmackinven/
Do you read inside your genre or out when writing?
My reading choices are varied and based on word-of-mouth recommendations I pick up on Twitter and book review blogs. My favourite genre is contemporary Scottish and Irish fiction. I don’t avoid these genres when writing as I feel it’s helpful to be inspired by other writers. I seldom read historical; crime and romance novels and genres that I’m not keen on are science fiction, fantasy and erotica.
Your author heroes?
I write the type of book I want to read. I admire authors such as Jackie Kay, Janice Galloway, Anne Donovan, Roddy Doyle, Maggie O’Farell and Irvine Welsh to name but a few. I could go on but you get the idea, they are writers of Scottish and Irish contemporary fiction who bring the world I know alive and help me understand it better. I want to do the same, and give a voice to Scottish working class characters that don’t often feature in fiction.
Thank you, Helen, for joining us today.