Blog tour author feature – Talk Of The Toun by Helen MacKinven

By | November 3, 2015

An uplifting black comedy of love, family life and friendship, Talk of the Toun is a bittersweet coming-of-age tale set in the summer of 1985, in working class, central belt Scotland.

Lifelong friends Angela and Lorraine are two very different girls, with a growing divide in their aspirations and ambitions putting their friendship under increasing strain.

Artistically gifted Angela has her sights set on art school, but lassies like Angela, from a small town council scheme, are expected to settle for a nice wee secretarial job at the local factory. Her only ally is her gallus gran, Senga, the pet psychic, who firmly believes that her granddaughter can be whatever she wants.

Though Lorraine’s ambitions are focused closer to home Angela has plans for her too, and a caravan holiday to Filey with Angela’s family tests the dynamics of their relationship and has lifelong consequences for them both.

Effortlessly capturing the religious and social intricacies of 1980’s Scotland, Talk of the Toun is the perfect mix of pathos and humour as the two girls wrestle with the complications of growing up and exploring who they really are.

I’m really delighted today to be part of the blog tour for debut author Helen MacKinven, whose novel Talk of the Toun was published by Thunderpoint on 29th October. Helen is yet another author who I met through being part of Book Connectors: my recent adventures have meant that I’ve had very little reading time recently, but having seen the wonderful reviews it’s getting it’s most definitely on my “must read” list for the month ahead. I’ll be reviewing it on Being Anne this month, but do check out some of the other excellent reviews featured on the blog tour so far.

I’m delighted to welcome Helen to Being Anne, with a lovely piece on why she writes. Over to you, Helen…

Recently on Twitter I noticed a hashtag was proving popular with writers. It was #WhyIWrite and the responses made interesting reading as well as making me think about my own reasons for writing.

Many of the #WhyIWrite tweets were profound statements like ‘To soothe my soul’ and ‘Because I can’t not write’. Really? You can’t function without writing? Bit OTT in my opinion but each to their own. Another popular theme was escapism. ‘Because my notebook is my own little world where anything can happen.’ 

The tweets that reflected my feelings were related to having the desire to find a creative outlet. The Scots word ‘makar’ describes a creative artist, especially a poet. Poetry is not my thing but I do love to make stuff and always have since childhood. I’m quite arty farty and enjoy drawing and painting with water colours, I can crotchet and embroider, I’ve made mosaics and ceramics, and I also love to make stories.

It was only in my late thirties that I began to write fiction, up until then my storytelling was only for the ears of family and friends and usually started off with, “You’re never gonnae believe this…” But as an avid reader I began to wonder if I could spin a good yarn on paper too. The more books I read, the more I wanted to have a pop at writing one myself. Could I pull off this personal challenge? Unlike some writers who dabble with short stories and build up to writing a full length novel I dived head first into writing my first book. And of course it was like my first attempt at using watercolours – it wasn’t a prize-winning prose. But the fact that I managed to go the distance and complete a novel meant I was keen to improve. In the same way that I got better at painting by going to evening classes to learn from a professional artist, I did writing workshops, went on two residential Arvon courses, bought books (the best was Stephen King’s On Writing) and did what everyone tells you not to do and gave up the day job to be a mature student and go back to uni to do an MLitt in Creative Writing.

I wrote a second book, which attracted a literary agent but not a publishing deal but the feedback was encouraging enough to fire me up and try again with a third novel. No one could ever describe me as a quitter! My third book, Talk of the Toun, is the one that truly reflects ‘my voice’ and finally secured a publishing deal to launch me as a debut novelist.  The impulse to create is obviously part of who I am as a person which means I want to write a fourth book. It may not be published but #WhyIWrite is simply because I enjoy doing it and that’s a good enough reason for me. 

Thank you Helen – and I must tell everyone that the blanket, watercolour and mosaic in the picture are all Helen’s own work. I wish you every success with Talk of the Toun, and I’m looking forward immensely to reading it very soon…

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 grown- up sons but has filled her empty nest with two dogs, two pygmy goats and an ever-changing number of chickens.

Do follow Helen on Twitter: she also has a Facebook author page.