Louise Welsh: an inspiring start

Only Michael Malone could get away with referring to our distinguished guest, a University professor and internationally acclaimed author, as a ‘wee wumman wi half the internet to hersel’. Granted, it was his birthday, and he is, like Louise Welsh, a well-known crime writer, but still, cheeky or what? Michael’s witty vote of thanks closed the evening by echoing Fiona’s very clever ‘google-assisted’ introduction. Our speaker set the bar high on this, the first night of Season 2016-2017.

Fiona confided that she’d been daunted by the amount of information on the internet about Louise Welsh. A history graduate from the University of Glasgow, Louise opened a second hand bookshop which she ran for several years before becoming a full-time writer. In the course of her talk she stressed several times how important it is for a writer to be a lover of books. If you want to write well, read constantly was the message. It helps too if you have an MLitt in Creative Writing and Louise has been recipient of several awards including The John Creasey Memorial Dagger, the Saltire First Book Award, the Glenfiddich/Scotland on Sunday, Spirit of Scotland Writing Award and City of Glasgow Lord Provost’s Award for Literature. In 2007 she was included in Waterstone’s list of Twenty-five Authors for the Future. Impressive. She has also written for the stage, including a fifteen minute opera Remembrance Day, music by Stuart MacRae, which was included in Scottish Opera’s Five:15 series. She presents radio features, most recently a five part series following in Edwin Muir’s footsteps for BBC Radio 4, ‘Welsh’s Scottish Journey’, and ‘How to Commit a Murder’ for BBC Radio Scotland.

With work that has been translated into twenty languages, our speaker might have been forgiven for being a non-approachable academic. Far from it. Louise Welsh is engaging and entertaining, warm in her encouragement and generous with her advice. She talked mainly about her trilogy and read dramatically from both the first book, A lovely way to burn and the second, Death is a welcome guest. I went home, purchased Book One and got stuck in.

Louise was candid in sharing her dilemma about how much gory detail is appropriate, or necessary in a novel. Given that she was writing about a modern day plague of pandemic proportions, I imagine the temptation might be to try very hard to portray the imagined awfulness. Louise said she constantly asked herself, ‘How disgusting do I need to be?’

When asked for tips, Louise suggested going on retreat. Her own special place is a caravan at Maidens. She also recommends getting into ‘good habits’ of regular writing and being a little selfish, if that’s what it takes.

She reminded us that it’s a ‘rocky business’ and that we should keep our feet on the ground.

As an opening night, this was a cracker!

PS For those thinking of purchasing a caravan, apologies. Mine is now sold.

Pat Young

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