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  • Writer's pictureJohn Dempster

Women in the Highlands

We had an excellent evening on Tuesday, when a panel of four Highland-based women authors came together to read from their work and to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing women writers in the north today.

The evening was chaired by Helen Forbes, who invited each of the panellists to read from her work, and then discuss her perception of writing as a woman in the Highlands. Liz Macrae-Shaw Skye-based author of No Safe Anchorage, Love and Music Will Endure, and What It Feels Like to Be Me read a moving account of an imagined conversation between the child Robert Louis Stevenson and a west-coast woman who is currently caring for him.

Margaret Kirk, read an intriguing section from her debut novel, Shadow Man, set in Inverness, the first in a planned series featuring ex-Met DI Lukas Mahler. Mahler is struggling with a migraine on a flight north to Inverness airport, but his copper’s antennae are alerted to the subtly unusual behaviour of a fellow-passenger

Morven-May MacCallum read powerful passages from her novel Finding Joy, one of which described a young woman’s struggle to obtain the right diagnosis for a debilitating condition, which is at last identified as Lyme Disease. And the second passage gave voice to Lyme Disease – one of characters in the novel, Morven-May said, a cynical and infinitely adaptable villain.

Finally, Helen read a gripping passage from her second crime novel set in Inverness, Madness Lies, a sequel to In the Shadow of the Hills. A woman enjoys spending new-found money at Debenhams, but we know that trouble is looming ahead. Someone is watching her. Later her son shoves his new clothes in the washing machine and she sees specks of redness on a sock he has accidentally left out.

There was discussion on many topics, including the depiction of women in crime fiction; the struggle for equality in the way men and women are portrayed in fiction; the impact of the Outlander series; the implications of self-publishing (Morven-May self-published her book, and described the process.); the expectations of publishers that authors are deeply committed to the marketing process. As someone said ‘Creative writing is so good for confidence’

The event was supported by the WEA’s Women in the Highlands project, which marks 100 since some British women gained the right to vote. The evening was introduced by Andrea Johnson, the Project Organiser, who explained that Women in the Highlands is a grass-roots project which aims to make a huge difference to women in the Highlands, empowering them so that they can engage with and contribute to civic society, making a difference not only to their own lives and that of their families, but to their communities. Andrea told us that a milestone on her personal journey to empowerment came when, some years ago, she joined a Creative Writing Group in Dingwall. Creative writing has a liberating dynamic.

Andrea said ‘We want to be raising up the voices of women in the Highlands so that their voice can be heard.’

The panel: l to r - Liz Macrae Shaw, Helen Forbes, Morven-May MacCallum, Margaret Kirk


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